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That sex talk… early and age-appropriate

Q: Archbishop J, is the Catholic Church against sex education for children?

The short answer is ‘No!’. In fact, we advocate age-appropriate sex education for all children. They should get it at every stage of their development.

Today, children have much more information than in the past; often, they have information that we adults do not have. But they lack the necessary guidance and values. We need to create safe and healthy containers for the knowledge they receive.

Parents have the first responsibility for their child’s education. At the end of Baptism, we remind parents of this and add: “May you be the best of teachers.” Parents’ negligence hinders a child’s proper development. The first teaching comes by observation and witness. Once this is sound and imbibed by the child, there is a good foundation.


First principles

Sex and sexuality are integral to our being human. It is how God created us— “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). We must start by accepting this: God made us as we are, as males and females.

Pause and reflect on this. God designed and created everything related to manhood and womanhood. This is a vital beginning. Many times, we view manhood and womanhood through negative lenses. We look at the burden and pain, or the awkwardness of being male or female. We need to begin by recognising the grace of being male and female.

Everything that makes you male or female, God designed, created, and gave you as a gift. If parents understand and live this, children will receive their bodies as gifts. They will learn about being male and female healthily and fully.

Unfortunately, parents pass their shame or unhealthy views of sex to their children. This affects how they receive their bodies and their openness to speak about their concerns.

If you’re too ashamed to speak to your child about sex, then seek help. The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) can accompany and assist through programmes and resources.

First, speak with someone you trust, your spouse or close friend, about the hesitancy. Naming the challenge is already a step in the right direction.

Second, find someone you trust and ask them to talk with your child about this sacred and amazing topic. Remember to view this within the realm of the sacred.

If you need further help, read Beyond the Birds and Bees by Gregory and Lisa Popcak.



In the womb, a child experiences the specificity of their sex and its implications. At every stage, from birth through the teen years, your child experiences the wonder of God’s creation. They feel it in their body, mind, and spirit. Don’t underestimate their curiosity. They need an age-appropriate understanding of what they see, hear, and experience.

Once they’ve got language and some independence, the communication needs to start early. Whether we like it or not, incest is a challenge in our country. Children need to learn about good and bad touch. Private parts are private. They must know they can speak with you from an early age about anything in this area. There are no bad questions.

Tell them: “If someone touches you and you feel icky, you can speak to me about it”. We’ve got to protect all our children against sexual abuse. That’s a fact, and it’s integral to the first communication. Teach them what is essential for safety at various stages of their young development.

From the beginning, please use the correct words for your child’s private parts. Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina and later breasts. There are cases where a child tried to communicate abuse. But the words for the girl’s private part at home was “cookie”. The teacher did not understand what was being communicated. Children need to hear and use the correct names for all the parts of their bodies.


When is the right time?

I know professional parents who believed that their daughter, at 11 years old, was not ready for “the talk”. The child was a mature 11. No matter what you think, your child is ready long before you realise. Your children need guidance on this vital part of their life. Engage them through open questions.

Boys bump into pornography around nine years old. They will speak about it and move on if they have a trusting relationship with an adult. Or they will hide in shame, and it will suffocate their soul.

One parent said to me, “All the devices in the house belong to the parents. The children can use them under specific conditions. They can use them only at set times and only in safe public spaces. After a time limit, they must return them to where they are kept, in public. They need to speak about anything strange that they saw or heard.”

You have no idea how many children bump into pornography early. If they can speak, it’s a blip that passes, and they return to innocence. If they can’t speak about it, then they feel shame. This suffocates their sexual development. They get trapped in a cycle of shame and guilt. They engage in sexual behaviour with pornography, followed by self-pleasure, then intercourse. A healthy conversation with parents could help a child avoid much anxiety and shame.

The phone belongs to you. Your child can use it under certain conditions. This is an important principle. Then, you can look through the phone occasionally to see what they are browsing and ensure your child’s safety. The same principle, as with the bookbag, applies.

Long before her first period, a girl needs to know the beauty of womanhood. She needs to know the changes that will come to her body and moods, the monthly cycle, and what to expect. This should be communicated as sacred transformations. In ancient Israel, the Red Tent was set aside for menstruating women. It was a place for the women to gather and pass on wisdom from generation to generation. It was a rite of passage and an initiation into the sacred.

Remember, God made the female body this way. It is the sacrifice of womanhood.

Long before the boy enters puberty, he needs to understand the changes that will come to his body. He needs to expect and be excited for this new stage God has planned for him.

When he starts having involuntary erections, he should understand this. Testosterone causes an erection. It raises desire and lowers the guard against restraint.

From early on, our boys need to understand that this is an opportunity to make a sacrifice for God. Experience the feeling but choose consciously not to act on it.

Communicate with your child from an early age and build on it at each new stage. Create a safe environment for your children to ask their questions.

A 12-year-old boy, when asked about puberty, said: “It dangerous”. When asked why, he blurted out: “You could make baby.” He did not receive the mystery, the sacred, or the responsibility. He did not get the sacrifice of becoming a man.


Key Message:

Your children are exposed to more information than you think. Talk about sex and sexuality early. Set good rules for devices. Make a loving space for them to explore and speak.

Action Step:

Reflect on how sex and sexuality were communicated to you. If you have children or grandchildren, get the adults to speak openly. They should discuss how to communicate with the children. Contact the AFLC at; WhatsApp: 299-1047 and join the Virtual Reading Club on Beyond the Birds and Bees hosted by CREDI and AFLC. Purchase a copy of Beyond the Birds and Bees.

Scripture Reading:

Rom 12:1–2