A few years ago I was hiking with a group of moms from my boys’ elementary school. Among the group of thirty friends and acquaintances, I ended up on the trail with two women that I only knew casually. As we climbed the winding path beneath a canopy of trees, one of them started sharing about her eight-year-old son who was asking questions about sex. She was shocked that a child still in elementary school was already curious and fretted about how to handle his questions. My heart started to pound faster, not because of the hill we were climbing but because I knew God was prompting me to say something. It seemed clear that she was grasping for a plan to navigate these uncharted waters of parenting.
After she finished sharing, she looked to her friend and me and asked, “So, how do you guys handle the whole topic of sex with your kids? I feel like it’s just opening a big can of worms.”
Her friend grimaced before answering. “I just avoid it and change the subject. It’s so awkward.”
I breathed a prayer and chimed in with a different perspective. “Well, my husband and I started talking about sex with our boys when they were pretty little. We knew by talking about it with them when they were so young would make it less awkward when they were older. Plus, it would enable us to be the first ones to share information with them, so we could begin to shape their views about sexuality. We wanted them to see us as credible sources of information so they wouldn’t be embarrassed asking us questions.”
Both women looked surprised and stared at me wide-eyed. Finally, one responded, “Seriously? You started talking about it with them before they were even asking about it? Wasn’t it awkward? Weren’t you embarrassed?”
We continued walking as I shared about the different resources we’d used to guide our conversations. I explained that talking about sex with our kids happened in short snippets over time. We had an open dialogue so that we could address issues and questions in age-appropriate ways rather than having “the talk” that people dread so much. We wanted to give them time to absorb information little by little so that they could build on their knowledge base.
When the hike ended, one of the women asked for more information on where to find resources, which I gladly shared. As I drove home, I started thinking about the paradox in our society regarding sex. Our culture is saturated with it. Even when we’re not seeking it, we’re continually bombarded with magazine covers, TV shows, music and billboards with overt or subtle messages about sex. Our kids are learning about it all the time through their exposure to popular culture. And yet, for as sex-obsessed as our western society seems to be, most parents dread educating their kids and having frank conversations about how to handle their sexuality as they mature.
For followers of Jesus, we should know better. If we’re not actively engaging in shaping our kids’ sexual identities, we are letting the world do it for us. What they’re learning is completely contrary to God’s plan.
First and foremost, we need to have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about sex. Before we can talk with our kids, we need to know and embrace God’s boundaries for it. A quick glance at any concordance reveals that the Bible has much to say on the topic. Here is one passage from the many choices:
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, NIV)
In case we need further clarification about God’s plan for sex, the book of Hebrews emphasizes that God intends it for marriage alone.
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4, NIV)
We cannot allow our culture to influence our kids with the idea that the Bible’s teaching about sex is outdated or irrelevant. It may surprise you to learn that when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians they were living in a sex-saturated culture. In her session five video in the Children of the Day study, Beth Moore shared information about how people viewed sex in Thessalonica during the time of Paul’s ministry there. I looked up the commentary she referenced and found this description:
“In antiquity, ethics was the domain of the philosophers and not of the gods. Normally religion did not have anything to do with the moral-ity of the worshipers. In fact, a number of cults promoted a lifestyle that would have been viewed as immoral from a Christian perspective. Dio-nysus, the god of wine and drunkenness, is depicted in reliefs, statues, and mosaics with a vine and grapes laced through his hair and a down- turned empty cup in his hand, a symbol of drunkenness…The god promoted drinking wine and encouraged this solitary so-ber man to seek the sexual pleasures Aphrodite brings. Aphrodite was herself the symbol of sexual license and the patroness of the prostitutes.”*
For Christians, maintaining sexual purity then was as difficult as it is now. Despite this, we must not forget that God created sex. He is not trying to take away our fun by placing clear boundaries around what is and is not part of His plan. He wants what is best for us, not what is easiest. Helping our children to understand this when they are young enables them to enter the teen years with a clear sense that God has something better for them than casual sex with random people. It protects them from the lifelong scars that come from being sexually active in each new relationship they enter before marriage. We are setting them up for a much healthier view of their sexuality than the world offers. Giving them clear explanations also helps them resolve to wait for covenant relationships with their future husbands or wives. Praying for them helps too.
My hiking partner was right in one way: teaching our kids about sex is a lot like opening a can of worms. It can be messy and complicated trying to deal with that tangled and writhing mass of topics that make us squirm. But when we control the can opener and the pace of emptying the can, we get to take out one worm at a time to examine it carefully. It’s a lot less overwhelming that way.
Maybe you’re open to the idea of talking with your kids about sex, but you don’t know how or where to start. First, pray that God will give you wisdom, calm your nerves, remove the awkwardness and provide good opportunities to begin the dialogue. From my experience, I found it’s best to set aside time intentionally with one child at a time. Here are a few resources that you also might find helpful:
-Christian author and speaker Maryflo Ridley was the first person who helped me understand the importance of teaching our kids and shaping their sexual identities while they were still young. Her website has a host of great resources:
-For parents of kids from Kindergarten through middle school the God’s Design for Sex book series by Stan and Brenna Jones is a great jumping off place. It has age appropriate books to read with your kids at different stages in their development (the first one is for ages 5-8 and they go up from there)
-For parents of elementary age kids:
The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart by Jennie Bishop is a great book to build a foundation in your kids that values purity. It doesn’t discuss sex specifically, but lays a foundation for future conversations.
-For parents of middle school and high school aged kids:
Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney
Five Conversations You Must have with Your Son by Vicki Courtney
And the Bride Wore White by Dannah K. Gresh
Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis (this book is more about what true manhood is, but the principles in it connect to how to treat women and sexuality)
-Other Websites for parents of teenagers:
If you need a little courage to begin this journey, click on the link to hear Shane Harper’s song “Hold You Up.”
Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com
*The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letters to the THESSALONIANS, GENE L. GREEN, © 2002 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing copied from http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/pdf_links/9780802837387.pdf