From time to time, I get emails from readers. I want to say first of all that these make my day. Some of them are heart-warming thank yous, but most are requests: requests for gift ideas for struggling readers or for help finding a new read-aloud after the bittersweet end of a beloved series. I love both of these species of email, each for their own reasons. But the second kind gets by far the longer response.
It might surprise you, though, to learn that there is a third species of email. Or, perhaps, a sub-species of the second kind of email. It is a request, but it always points to the same topic—the one sitting heavily on the shoulders of many parents, giving us wet willies and making life uncomfortable.
Do you know of any good books for teaching my kids about sex?
I love this question because it means that:
a) there are parents out there who are deliberate in how they discuss sexuality with their kids, and
b) there are parents out there who are willing to talk to their kids about sex at all. (I also like feeling like the cool aunt that people feel comfortable asking about, you know, awkward stuff.)
To be honest, my kids live a pretty sheltered life. They are not, to my knowledge, hearing cuss words from other kids on the playground* or throwing caution to the wind as they click link after link on YouTube. But even so, they still bring some interesting ideas to the dinner table, and we want to give them room to raise questions and debate issues and have clumsy follow-up talks with us.
We might shelter our kids, but we can’t insulate them. We don’t want to.
We want them to recognize pornography for what it is and to know what to do when it finds them. We want them to know how to love and empathize with those whose views differ from our own, but to still hold fast to the truth and offer it as a gift—not use it as a bludgeon. We don’t want them to be mystified by their own bodies but to recognize them as good, if sometimes comical, gifts from their Creator. And we definitely want them to know how to respond if someone tries to hurt them.
To that end, I have read a lot of books on a lot of awkward topics. The good news is that there are a lot of good books available by Christian authors. But I finally whittled my list of favorites down to nine. Here they are.
*Good grief, I hope not, since the “playground” is our yard and the “other kids” are their sisters.
I included age recommendations here, but please use those as guidelines for purchasing books but not for determining which conversations your kids are ready for. You know your children far better than I do, so I strongly recommend pre-reading all of these books before reading them with your children.
Also, this is a long post dealing with some weighty and potentially divisive topics. You all are a gracious lot and I love corresponding with you. If you have specific questions or want to challenge me on something, I welcome that. But I encourage you to do so privately (via email, please) and respectfully. Thank you.
God Made your Body, by Jim Burns
Recommended Ages: 4-6
This book is a simple doorway into later discussions: Jim Burns explains what makes boys boys and girls girls, and he does so in a fun and welcoming way. The focus here is not just on private parts, but on the whole of our wonderful bodies—parts of which are private. He also introduces conception and pregnancy in a gentle, age appropriate way. (Read the full review.)
How God Makes Babies, by Jim Burns
Recommended ages: 6-9
This book picks up where God Made My Body left off. Addressing the same material but at a greater depth, it’s recommended for slightly older kids. These books are both part of a longer series that increases in depth as kids age, but I haven’t read the others. Have you? Are they good? I want to know! (Read the full review.)
God Made All of Me, by Justin & Lindsay Holcomb
Recommended ages: 2-8
This book takes a more serious turn. The focus here is on equipping kids to know what to do if they find themselves at risk for (or victims of) sexual abuse by presenting one family’s conversation about this difficult topic. The authors anchor the whole book in an understanding that our bodies are good and that God crafted every part of them for good and specific purposes.
They also discuss the difference between a secret and a surprise, and define what sort of touch is good and what isn’t. Another thing I like about this book is that it says emphatically that it’s okay for kids to say “no, thank you” to any kind of touch if they don’t want it: a hug, a kiss, a high five—none of those are okay if they’re unwanted. This is a great place to begin those hard conversations. (Read the full review.)
Please note: The story itself is very kid-friendly, but the material in the front and back of the book is geared toward parents only and could be upsetting for kids.
Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, by Kristen Jenson & Gail Poyner
Recommended ages: 7-12
Pornography is a subject worth addressing specifically with our kids, and Good Pictures Bad Pictures is the best way I’ve found to bring it up. The authors define pornography simply and explain what an addiction is, how it starts, and what we can do to prevent one from forming. They do this through the context of a mother and son having a warm conversation, and they break the story into short readings, ideal for tackling individually and building slowly to an understanding of how our kids can respond wisely and quickly when they encounter questionable content.
A Child’s First Book About Marriage, by Jani Ortlund
Recommended ages: 4-9
This book only mentions sex once, quietly, but it is all about the context in which sex and romance belong. Jani Ortlund explains beautifully what marriage is, first sitting at the child’s perspective and asking, “A lot of people get married. Have you ever wondered why?” She then goes on to explain not just what marriage is, but what many people believe it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be. I appreciated the way this book doesn’t pick up any of the spicy language that surrounds this topic in our culture but discusses a sensitive subject with honesty, gentleness and grace. (Read the full review.)
The Ultimate Girls’ Body Book, by Dr. Walt Larimore & Dr. Amarylis Sanchez Wohliver
Recommended ages: 9-12+
Every chapter in this book answers a question that girls might ask about their bodies. These range from topics that introduce puberty to weightier, more complex topics in the back of the book. The authors answer from a gracious, Christian perspective, blending medical knowledge with a deep respect for the girls they write for. They treat the reader like she deserves to understand how her body works, yet point her to the gospel again and again. This is definitely the best book I’ve found on this subject. (And for those of you with sons, good news! The Ultimate Guys’ Body Book is available, too!)
The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop
Recommended ages: 6-9
This book uses allegory to introduce the subject of sexual purity. Through the story of a young princess, Jennie Bishop illustrates the idea that we are each given a gift worth saving for the one we marry. This is a lovely story, and I think that, paired with some of these other books, it could start some beautiful conversations. (And there’s a partner book for boys called The Squire and the Scroll! I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.)
Gender, by Brian Seagraves & Hunter Leavine
Recommended ages: You!
Subtitled “A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors,” this skinny book gives a solid, biblical perspective on gender, both outlining what our culture says about it and what the Bible teaches. In three sections, the authors outline how we might discuss the topic of gender with our little, big and nearly grown kids.
They offer, too, ideas for how we can lovingly interact with friends and neighbors who hold differing views on gender, and how to treat one another with grace through those conversations. You may not agree with everything the authors recommend (I can’t say that I did), but the foundation of this book is solid and makes a great starting place for discussions.
Mom, Dad . . . What’s Sex?, by Joel Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson
Recommended ages: You!
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet. But our church hosted a conference with the authors a few months ago and it was a great time of awkwardness, hilarity, heavy truths, and the gospel (so much gospel).
You may recognize Jessica from Give Them Grace, a book she co-authored with her mom Elyse Fitzpatrick (and one that I re-read every few years). Or you may recognize both Jessica and Joel from the podcast they host with their mom, Front Porch With the Fitzes. Or maybe you don’t recognize their names at all, and that’s fine.
But you should still read this book. The authors don’t treat purity as a finish line—as though waiting for the wedding night is a mark of high-ranking holiness—but recognize that we, as Christians, are saved not by fulfilling our “purity vow” but by Christ and Christ alone. The finish line we’re aiming for is much further down the road, and the reward is much bigger. In fact, marriage is a purifying part of that race, not its end. Their perspective is humble and refreshing; their advice wonderfully practical.