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The Four Sons of Sex Ed

We all know the 4 sons of the Seder, right?

The wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know how to ask.

But what if I told you, that those same 4 sons, who represent the ways we can approach and teach children at the Seder- are the exact same sons present in teaching our children healthy sexuality?!

This is why I love being a values based, Jewish sexuality educator!

Jewish tradition and text have a wealth of wisdom relating to sexuality, which sadly doesn’t get enough attention or expression.

Ok, so who are the four children when it comes to healthy sexuality?

The Wise One– this kid is always asking questions, and they’re deep ones too! How does a baby get into the Ima’s belly? How does the baby know when it’s time to come out? How come Ima and Abba’s beds are separate sometimes and together other times? Why does covering my body convey my respect towards it? And why do other people do it differently?

These children challenge you to define your values and communicate them; you love having these conversations with them. They usually have lots of follow up questions too, and they accept your answers and wisdom, allowing you to give yourself a pat on the back at how well you’re parenting them and teaching them what you lacked growing up.

The Wicked One- they have lots of questions too, but you usually feel uncomfortable with them.

It seems as though they’re asking to get a reaction out of you, or to show you how much they’ve learned from friends and movies already. They know how to erase their search history, and how to hack the internet filter by age 8.

Even when you answer their questions, or try to have conversations about their body, puberty, and ‘the birds and the bees’- they block your efforts, tell you they know already, or the classic ‘ew, grosssss’, Dad!

Their follow up questions leave you feeling baffled and unprepared, and you’re constantly trying to figure out what you did wrong. 

At the end of the day, you feel like you just can’t get it right with them, and are worried that they’ll grow up insecure about their body, confused and frustrated with their sexuality, and will feel that you failed them by not providing the information and connection they needed.

Sometimes you even feel that conversations about sexuality draw a wedge between you, rather than connect you as a parent and child.

The Simple One- this is the kid who asks a straightforward question and is satisfied with the answer you provide. No follow up questions or deep conversations ensue. They’d be happy with knowing that ‘Hashem puts the baby in the mommy’s tummy’, without wondering how or why.

When talking to this child, it’s important to tune into our ‘parent gut’ and see if they are open to hearing a little more- it can be tempting to not give them full explanations, (‘Yes! I got off easy with her’), but if our goal is to provide comprehensive sexuality education for their benefit, we must seek out the times when it’s appropriate to impart the pertinent knowledge.

At the same time, it’s important to respect their knowing of what they are ready for, and not to flood or overwhelm them with information they are not interested in, or open to hearing and internalizing.

The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask- don’t fix what isn’t broken, right? Wrong! First of all, your kid isn’t broken

This is the kid who just doesn’t ask questions. You wait and wait to follow their lead so you can make sure they develop a positive body image, and learn to set boundaries and trust their body- but they just don’t ask. Not about how babies are made, or why they can’t have whatsapp until 8th grade. It’s as if none of these topics interest or are relevant to them!

Our role as a parent for this child is- ‘At Ptach Lo’- You open for them. We need to initiate the conversations. Don’t assume that because they aren’t asking questions, they aren’t interested.

Or that if they aren’t interested, it doesn’t need to be taught.

Yes, there are kids who are less interested in talking about their bodies etc. And that’s fine- we are not trying to force all kids to be the same. At the same time, there are certain topics, for example, the changes they’ll go through at puberty, that all kids need information on. There are skills that are crucial to develop, such as practicing consent. Beyond that, they need to know, and experience, that they have permission, an open ear and an address to talk about these topics- and it’s our role and responsibility as parent’s to make ensure that.

As you were reading, you might have already begun thinking which one of the kids in your life falls into which category, and what you were like as a kid and teen as well.

But the truth is, that just like the classic explanation of the four sons at the seder, there’s a bit of each of them in all of us.

As parents, the more we practice talking about these topics, the more honed our sensitivity and skill will be to recognize what kind of response and direction our child needs from us at each given moment.

The mitzva of remembering the exodus is highlighted on Seder night, but it is also a mitzva that we must do every day. Similarly, when relating to sexuality education, there are the big talks where we set aside time to have focused conversations with our “four children”, but there is also the daily responsibility to notice opportunities for teaching and discussion, of modeling healthy body image, embracing healthy touch, and imparting the sexuality messages and values we want our kids to absorb from us.

Wishing us all wisdom and joy in this special aspect of ‘v’higadeta l’bincha’, ‘and you shall tell your sons’.

About the Author
Yonina Rubinstein, BEd, is a certified sexuality educator, coach and group facilitator living in Israel. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed book, ‘Sexuality After Childbirth,’ and runs the highly popular course ‘Growing Together: Raising Sexually Healthy Children’ (2 new groups opening November 2021). She is also the founder of the Facebook community, ‘Jewish Parents Raising Sexually Healthy Kids and Teens.’ With Yonina's unique approach blending professional knowledge, a holistic outlook, and practical skills, she is redefining sexuality education in the Jewish world.
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