Take Courage! Parents and the Dreaded Conversation
An anti-drug commercial opens with a middle school student innocently walking in the door from school, only to discover the dining room table covered with sex education materials—including scale models! The father casually suggests they could talk about drugs instead of sex.
Though humorous, the commercial poignantly illustrates a sad reality: Sex is the last topic kids and parents want to discuss. Research demonstrates that fewer than 15% of parents discuss sexuality with their children. It is tragic that this crucial area of life and obedience is sorely neglected in most Christian homes. We are woefully neglecting God’s calling as parents if we fail to address this issue from a biblical perspective. The most important aspect of our calling is to pass on the faith to our children, providing a biblical worldview and helping our kids see their lives as caught up in the story of God’s redemption.
Just as in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, the 21st-century American church has the opportunity to be radically counter-cultural: We can honor Christ with our sexuality in a sexually insane culture. But our children need to be trained, and that begins by stepping out of our comfort zones and risking the “dreaded conversation…”
1. Start with yourself
How do you speak to your kids about sex? Begin by looking inward. You cannot instill a healthy understanding of sexuality in your child if your own perspective is warped by past (or current!) sinful experience, sexual abuse, or unbiblical thinking about sex. First, many Christians approach the blessed sexuality of Christian marriage with a shame-based prudishness that is as unbiblical as wanton promiscuity. We need to see that, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is unashamedly positive about sexuality. The ecstasy of sex is by design! God concentrated the nerve endings in our genitals and crafted the glorious intensity of an orgasm. Sex is a good gift he invites us to delight in.
Song of Songs is a “God-breathed” celebration of human sexuality. Historically, the church allegorized this book, limiting it to a description of the relationship between Christ and the church. Even modern interpreters can be a little gun-shy. For example, our English translations make accurate, but very “safe,” decisions in rendering the original Hebrew—which would make most of us blush. So, educating our children begins with bringing perspective on sexuality into conformity with the wonder of God’s design.
Secondly, all of us are born with a fallen sexuality that needs redemption in Christ. Living in a fallen world, we are impacted by our own lust and the “full-court press” of a sexually insane culture. “Good” sex is ripped out of its covenantal design of deep relational and spiritual intimacy and diminished to outward, physical appeal. We believe the lies of porn and romance novels. Sex becomes centered on self. Personal gratification eclipses God’s design of selfless service. And the shame of our past sexual sin doesn’t magically disappear when we enter marriage. Apart from intentionally working through those issues, many couples remain crippled in this area of their relationship. Further, many of us live with the deep scars of sin and exploitation against us. The gospel speaks to all these things, but you must be willing to expose them to the light.
Starting with personal examination assumes married couples will discuss these things together, prior to engaging their children. Make sure that you have a mutually agreed upon strategy. Be prepared to respond when the questions start coming.
2. Start positive
It is very sad that most conversations about sex with our children (especially teens) focus on the negative. Begin by offering a biblical perspective on the blessing of sexuality. After all, the issue initially arises because children want to know where babies come from. Thus, in their eyes, it is naturally the glorious blessing God created it to be. Rather than a dreaded, one-time ordeal, sexual conversations should begin early and continue throughout the child’s life.
3. Do it together
Further, it is essential for both parents to be engaged. Candid conversation demonstrates that in God’s design, shame does not have to accompany sexuality. When sexual conversation is restricted to the same-gender, parent it fosters misunderstanding because every other subject is readily discussed as a family. Treating sexuality as a natural, healthy aspect of Christian living is the beginning of the best sex education you can offer your child.
This provides an additional challenge for single parents. They should prayerfully consider the assistance of other family members or close friends. Since my wife’s passing, I have been blessed to have other women come alongside my daughters and help them in areas I can’t speak into as a man. This underscores the importance of living the Christian life as a “body.”
4. Start small
If you wait until your child is 10-12 years old to talk about sex, you missed the boat! Statistics reflect the average age of exposure to pornography is 9. Many men I work with began masturbating prior to puberty. Kids today have instant access on their cell phones to material that was unavailable in adult bookstores 20 years ago.
When do you start? As soon as your child begins to ask questions, they are ready for accurate, age-appropriate answers. At 4, my twin girls asked questions about pregnancy, and my wife explained that God made a “special hug” for mommies and daddies to enjoy and that sometimes this makes a baby. That was enough. As they became aware of physical gender differences, we began to discuss the mechanics more specifically and use “technical” terms for body parts. Take advantage of natural inroads—I remember drawing sperm and an ovum on a napkin at the dinner table. Be careful to not go overboard in detail, but allow their questions to dictate the depth of the discussion. Starting young is easier on everyone. A child with no shameful associations regarding sex or their genitals makes the conversation less embarrassing for the parent as well.
As your child moves through elementary school, it is important to start explaining ways in which sexuality is affected by the curse. Sober warnings about pornography and the dangers of inappropriate touching are crucial (I began the latter even before my children could talk). Explaining, from a biblical perspective, issues of same-sex attraction is often necessary because this issue is becoming more prevalent in extended family, neighbors, or schoolmates. Even in the midst of these discussions, be sure to keep Christ and his redemption of broken things at the center.
5. Expand and ramp up
Although beginning with “family-wide” conversations as children approach puberty, it is appropriate to allow for gender-specific instruction about bodily changes, masturbation, etc. Again, single parents must recruit the help of other godly adults to participate in this crucial season of a child’s life.
The teen years provide a wondrous opportunity for parents to begin conversations that are more vulnerable. Proverbs 5-7 presents a great blueprint. Beginning repeatedly with “my son…”, these passages poignantly depict the lure of sexual sin: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil” (5:3, ESV). Proverbs 7 describes in great detail sexual sin’s promise as the adulteress expresses her ability to satisfy every craving of the young fool. The father is essentially telling his son, “This looks good. It looks foolish to pass this up!” However, biblical wisdom is seeing the end from the beginning, so the father warns, “But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (5:4-5).
Although these passages speak directly to fathers and sons, the same principles apply to mothers and daughters. Are you honest with your teen about your own struggle with temptation or do you present yourself as one who is past all that? These passages urge gut-level honesty and transparency, walking alongside our maturing children, teaching them as individuals that sexual integrity depends upon God’s grace and the community of faith to remain pure.
As your child ventures out to college and adult life, the conversations should continue. Be willing to ask frank, uncomfortable questions about the pressures they face—outwardly and inwardly. Your sober warnings focus on safeguarding the treasure God has given to them in their sexuality.
Does it seem overwhelming? As in all of parenting, God promises to give us more grace and wants us to grow in our relationship with him as we face these challenges by faith.