While it once may have been possible to shelter our children from inappropriate exposure to sexuality, today it seems to be an impossible goal. Even parents who have made every effort to appropriately safeguard their family may find themselves unhappily surprised at what their child’s friends have exposed him to. In addition, outdoor secular media such as billboards, bus ads and newspaper covers portray disturbingly graphic images that force us to confront the fact that our children are being exposed to ideas and ways of life we may consider to be harmful to their souls and their mental health.
Furthermore, as we become more and more aware of the existence of sexual predators in our midst, and the terrible damage that survivors of sexual abuse experience, it is even more important for parents to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their children about sexuality. If children do not possess clear knowledge and age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, they will find it difficult to protect themselves against those who seek to abuse them. We must find a way to inoculate our children by appropriately and respectfully exposing them to Torah ideas about sexuality and modesty, so that the first images and concepts that fill their developing minds are the proper ones.
If some readers are concerned that talking about sexuality with their children is somehow immodest, consider this segment from a teshuvah of Rav Moshe Feinsteinzt”l. The teshuvah was written in response to criticism Rav Moshe received in regards to controversial ruling he issued. Rav Moshe allowed artificial insemination to be performed under certain circumstances and was accused by some, as permitting what in their opinions was technically adultery. His response to that complaint reminds us that what is “unclean” or “impure” is only defined by halacha, and not our own neurotic feelings of shame:
“I am impressed that there are those who can be found who are unafraid to give rebuke. But in truth…your complaints come from a perspective that is external to the Torah, and without realizing it, this has affected…[your ability] to understand the mitzvos…the laws of the Torah are true whether they are lenient or strict, and we do not derive chumros from ideas external to the Torah” (Igros Moshe)
It seems that when Rav Moshe said, “We do not derive chumros from ideas external to the Torah,” he was referring to his critics, whom he believed were influenced by Christian notions of sexuality, while he was deriving his ruling from the strict halacha. In the same vein, those who have difficulty tolerating an age-appropriate Torah discussion about sexuality with their children may be under the influence of notions of shame and disgust toward what the Torah considers to be a mitzvah.
True, the halacha requires extreme modesty in regards to sexuality and other matters. As it states in the Gemara:
“Everyone knows why a bride enters the chuppah (marriage canopy). Nevertheless, he who defiles his mouth [with obscene language], even if his fate has been sealed for good fortune for the next 70 years, will have his fate overturned to bad fortune.” (Shabbos 33b)
However, this alone does not rule out discussions of sexual matters since presumably there is a difference between obscene language and purposeful, educational discussion.
More on this topic in Part III.