Start Talking to Your Kids about Sex: A Review

Robin Barfield
Reviews 3 mins

Julia Sadusky, Start Talking to Your Kids about Sex: A Practical Guide for Catholics (Ave Maria, 2023)

My children were not impressed when they saw this book on the dinner table. They audibly groaned and made their objections clear, suspecting that Dad was going to begin a clunky and awkward conversation. I do not blame them. Talking with your children about sex is almost inevitably embarrassing for both sides, with stuttering explanations often driven by a desire to protect our children by sheltering them. Yet Sadusky wants us to avoid this awkwardness by having such discussions earlier. If it is a normal part of family exchanges from the outset, then it never becomes awkward and clunky. It also protects our children from sexual harm and shame by enabling a family culture where these conversations can occur.

Julia Sadusky is a clinical psychologist who has written several other books on gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction. This one is her most practical, written with parents of young children in mind and addressing real questions in a direct and straightforward but pastoral manner.

The book is made up of ten chapters covering a variety of questions around touch, strangers, sleepovers, technology and the thorny issues of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. The chapters are not short, but each takes time to unpack the complexities behind the questions and situations. Sadusky draws on a wealth of research and experience as she writes. She has produced a really accessible book that gives good advice without being prescriptive and still holds to an orthodox Christian sexuality.

Sadusky has produced a really accessible book that gives good advice without being prescriptive and still holds to an orthodox Christian sexuality.

This volume is for parents of under-9s, with a follow-up book for parents of teenagers still to come. This means that the questions can be quite specific and perhaps not what you might be expecting. I particularly appreciated her response to whether we insist that children should hug and touch family members or others who insist on it. This is so often done through parental embarrassment. Her encouragement to resist this as an important part of children learning consent and protecting them against abuse was well heard.

The real strengths of the book lie in Sadusky’s ability to help parents to give positive answers rather than giving in to a culture of fear. There were several points where she addresses this directly, aware of her readership and the possibility that fear can shut down the conversation with children. Her clarity of thought and encouragement to be direct with children, rather than running away, leaving it to others, or using euphemisms are to be commended. The desire to avoid shame and to encourage open conversations around the body with children challenged me particularly. Would my own children feel able to tell me if an appalling case of abuse occurred?

It is quite possible that recommending a Catholic book is surprising to evangelicals. There are only a few points where the differences between the two poke through. In general, we share a lot of common ground when it comes to human sexuality. If anything, many Catholics have a stronger doctrine of the body than many evangelicals, and this shows in some of Sadusky’s answers. I would say to potential readers: do not let this put you off!

There are no Bible verses particularly. Yet Sadusky speaks from a clear Christian worldview that informs her psychological practice and her parenting advice. This may be a strength. There are no misapplied verses out of context, instead an alertness to differing parenting approaches is present.

There are some weaknesses. At points it did feel like Sadusky was trying to squeeze a variety of questions into one chapter, on a vague premise of them being connected. The chapter on overnight trips felt particularly tenuous at points. Also, the final chapter on technology access could have been longer; it felt as though there was much more to be said here.

The lengths of the chapters may put readers off as these are not short and pithy responses that she gives, yet Sadusky demonstrates each time that there are not simple answers that are one-size-fits-all. Rather, parental approaches need to be worked out by each parent depending on their child and situation and Sadusky provides good information and advice to do this.

I wish there were an evangelical equivalent to this, but there is not. I would encourage evangelical parents to read this, without caution. If you are feeling nervous or feel in danger of reacting against cultural trends in your parenting of a young child, then this could be a very wise purchase for you. This is an uncommon and perceptive resource.