As longtime readers know, the topic of teaching a healthy sexuality to our children is near and dear to my heart. So I was thrilled to get the chance to review Growing Up In God’s Image: A New Approach to the Facts of Life Talk, by Carolyn T. Smith ($10, Full Quiver Publishing, 2012). As I read this book, my overriding thought was how well it illustrates the deep roots and far-flung implications of Church teaching on marital sexuality.
Smith organizes the text around three central concepts:
1. Spousal love reflects the love of the Trinity
2. Spousal love reflects the love of Christ for each of us in the Eucharist
3. Spousal love is sacramental love.
The opening pages offer thoughts for parents. This leads quickly into THE TALK itself, which is so complete that if you were so inclined, you could read it word for word to your adolescent. (Not that you should, but all the words are there.)
Smith includes separate talks for boys and girls. The girls’ talk covers physical changes (with reference to diagrams provided in the back of the book), the monthly cycle, practical issues of self-care, hormones, male anatomy, and an acknowledgment that all change is gradual.
Smith’s husband provided the text of the talk for boys. It covers the same ground, plus more. I thought it was interesting that God’s purpose and plan were addressed in the boys’ talk, but not in the girls’. To me, the topics are equally important for both. For instance, I found this nugget from the boys’ talk particularly meaningful: “The word ‘adultery’ is related to the word ‘adulterate’ which means, ‘water down, weaken, or make cheap.’” (p. 27) A very telling insight, and one I would imagine would really stick with an adolescent. Of course, parents are free to borrow material from one talk and use it for both boys and girls as appropriate.
Following THE TALK, Smith circles around and covers her major points again, this time in greater depth, offering parents background and opportunities for deeper conversations with their children.
Overall, the information is terrific. The talks address the whole person and not just changes in the reproductive system. Tying adolescence and physical maturation to behavioral changes (i.e. self-care) and to the way we treat others is a beautiful way to introduce sexuality to our children.
On the down side, the talks are far too long and far too in depth to accomplish in one sitting. No kid in the world can process those talks in one session.
For the “in-depth” part of that statement, I refer to the boys’ talk, and to the detailed explanation of sexual intercourse provided later in the book. As I read, I flashed back to THE TALK my mother gave me. At that time, I found the whole idea of what happens during sex so disgusting, I couldn’t even think about it enough to understand it. While that did a great job of inoculating me against premarital sex, it also set me up for a whole lot of emotional hangups once I got married.
The only way to avoid this, I think, is to broach these topics incrementally. Although Smith notes that certain foundational concepts in the book, such as being created in God’s image, can be taught in early childhood, this material is aimed toward near-adolescents and up. What is missing is what to do between kindergarten and the fifth grade.
Children don’t need to be burdened with too much information too soon, but if they’re kept completely in the dark, they’ll be blindsided with the whole works at exactly the age where everything is “gross” anyway, and that will color all their future attitudes toward sex. I think this could be largely avoided by teaching some intermediary steps.
That being said, I admit I have far less expertise than the author, who has ten children and fourteen grandchildren. I speak only from my own experience struggling to come to right understanding of sexuality over the course of adolescence and young adulthood.
Even so, Smith has created a terrific resource. In her family, the book comes out again a couple of years after the initial TALK, and she gives a copy of it to them when they reach adulthood. Clearly, Growing Up In God’s Image is not meant to be used and set aside; it teaches parent and child alike to approach Godly sexuality as an ongoing process of discovery.
Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, liturgical composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display at www.kathleenbasi.com.