Parenting (and discipling) and Sexuality
How should Christian parents and the Church as a whole approach sexuality with children and youth. I don’t have all the answers, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about.
Talk about sex like it’s a part of life.
Too often the whole of sexuality comes down to “the talk.” Yet that approach usually results in a parent and child who endure a few awkward minutes without accomplishing anything. It’s not helpful to quarantine a topic that is an integral part of life and identity to a single conversation. Can you imagine doing this with anything else? We’d see no reason to have a single talk about making friends, resolving conflict, or connecting with God. Yet sexuality is just as much a part of life as any of these things, especially for teenagers!
Talking about sexuality may make us more uncomfortable than other topics, but if we are intentional about letting sexuality be a part of life we will make more impact and not have the pressure of “the talk.”
Start addressing the subject early on.
When sexuality is approached as a part of life there are appropriate ways to talk about it at almost any age. As the end result of being honest about where babies come from and how they’re made I told my kids how sex worked when they were 6 and 8. I didn’t set out to do it, but I had already made the decision to be open and honest as these things came up. The crazy thing is they weren’t freaked out by it like I expected and they didn’t ask 100 questions. They just said, “okay,” and moved on with their day.
Obviously it is a parent’s responsibility to decide what to share and when, but ask yourself, is your hesitance to be honest about sex with your kids something you’re doing to protect them in some way or just a function of your own discomfort with the subject? As we’ve made the decision to be open to conversations about sexuality with our kids we’ve been amazed how easily they’ve handled it. You may find your kids can me more mature about sexuality than you are!
Give your kids a better vision for sexuality.
Our culture doesn’t have a very compelling vision of sexuality.
- It is purely physical. Not much different than going hiking with someone. (And thus pornography is no different that checking the score of the game.)
- The most important thing is pursuing pleasure. Even if that comes at someone else’s expense.
- It is impossible to survive without sex. (This results in attitudes like believing virginity is ridiculous and a wife is somehow responsible for her husband’s affair because they didn’t have enough sex.)
- Having a single sexual partner in life is boring, not desirable.
What our culture ignores is any emotional or spiritual aspects of sexuality. But ignoring those aspects doesn’t make them cease to exist. As parents or leaders we must have a compelling and holistic vision of sexuality and be able to communicate that to our kids over time. Our reasons for confining sex to marriage has to go beyond not wanting to get someone pregnant.
Don’t be afraid to be clear about boundaries.
As a young man the main place where sexuality was approached from a Christian perspective was in youth group. In this setting sexuality was reduced to identifying “the line” and sticking to it. The line was the magical place where appropriate physical affection turned to sin. I’m not a big fan of reducing sexuality to line setting. However, as I look back, I am grateful for the role these black and white conversations served in determining how I did and didn’t engage in sexuality before I was married.
I fully believe the most important thing we need to do for our kids is communicate a powerful and holistic view of God’s intention for sexuality. However, on a practical level it is also important to talk candidly with kids as they get older about sexual boundaries. “Sex is a powerful experience of the oneness between a man and woman within a lifelong commitment that reflects the relationship of Christ to His Church,” is less practically effective than “Don’t take your clothes off.”
I still wrestle with this one some because of some of my baggage from line setting. But within a holistic perspective on sexuality there are clear and practical principles needed. I set these for myself to this day. For instance, out of my perspective on God’s desire for sexuality I will not spend time alone with a woman other than my wife. That is not a rule for the sake of having a rule but a boundary to help me live in line with my beliefs and desires.
We cannot let sexuality be reduced to practical boundaries, but these are very helpful in the context of a bigger vision.
First, let me get this out of the way. I don’t mean lower your standards or act like sex is no big deal. But come on, you were a teenager once.
I can’t speak for women, but I remember what it was like to be a teenager as a young man. I thought about sex all the time (or sexually related things). I had no idea how to handle the overwhelming desires. Now that I’m older it would be easy to forget what that felt like in dealing with my own kids. But it’s imperative that I remember.
Too often our approach to sex in the church completely neglects the reality of sexual desire (which is God-given by the way). We tell kids to wait until they’re married. A simple solution for those who are married or at least are older so their desire has waned enough that it’s manageable.
What this means practically is another discussion. But developing a positive approach to sexuality in our homes and in the Church requires that we take the power of sexuality seriously. As parents and leaders we cannot love our youth if we act like following a Christian sexual ethic is a no-brainer.
Set your kids up well for marriage.
When we focus exclusively on keeping kids from having sex it can send the message that sex is bad and dirty. Then, when they get married, our grown children are supposed to automatically flip the switch and enjoy what is now perfectly permissible. Yeah, that doesn’t work.
I’ve met too many people who have never been able to really flip that switch. They don’t enjoy sex because they still have a part of them that feels they’re doing something they shouldn’t. Instead of enjoying the gift of sexuality with their spouse they hold back and never fully receive God’s gift in this area.
Parents spend tremendous time and energy trying to do what is best for their kids. If you want the best for your kids in the area of sexuality then send them into marriage believing that sex is fantastic, exciting, and worth the wait. Destroy the impression that sex is bad or dirty whenever it comes up.