Talking with our kids about sex is never easy. Consequently, many parents don’t do it...which reveals itself in damaging and unnecessary mistakes. Most often, parents claim they just don’t know what to say when it comes to sex and teens (or tweens).
On numerous occasions, I’ve written about why we need to talk to our teens and tweens about the subject of sex. Now it’s time to talk about what to say! In other words, what good is it for me to tell you that you should talk with your kids about this, but not provide any ideas of what to actually say!
Some of you have heard me speak about purity, sex, or relationships at conferences or camps. Some of you have even used my talks on this subject like the talk, “A New Beginning” in my book, 10-Minute Talks. You've seen my candid approach. In my experience speaking to teens and tweens for the last 20-years, combined with my own experience as a parent of three teenagers, I find four facts about sex that we just can't keep to ourselves.
Here they are.
FACT #1: SEX ISN'T NAUGHTY
Perhaps we should start talking about sex the way God designed it...as something good!
Sex isn't naughty, it's not inappropriate, and it's not shameful. The Bible isn't afraid to talk about it in graphic detail and we shouldn't be afraid to, either. The Bible opens with the story of a naked man in a garden who wanted a partner. God saw this and didn't want Adam to be alone. So what does God do?
'Poof.' A naked woman!
Then what does God tell Adam? "Go forth and multiply!" How's that for a sexual green light???
God is so awesome!
The Explicit Truth
Why isn't the Bible scared to talk about the subject of sex? The Bible isn't afraid to talk about sex because it's revealed as a gift (even though sex was sometimes abused in Scripture). The Bible tells us the unedited truth throughout its pages. Take Proverbs 5:18-20, for example:
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer-may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man's wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
I love using this passage to talk with young people about sex for several reasons. First, it's always good to drive students to Scripture, and for some reason, young people always like passages like this one. This passage is a voice not often heard in the world today-mainly because it's pro-marriage. It talks about marriage not only in a positive light, but also about the passion and intoxication that this kind of relationship brings.
It doesn't hold back on the specifics; it brings up the fact that a man can enjoy his wife's breasts (and it's not naughty to do so). How often do you hear this in the church? Not often. But you hear these kinds of details everywhere else in our sexualized world.
The Bible is also realistic about the consequences of looking around at other women (more on this in FACT #2). If you read further in this same Proverb, it goes into more detail of living out this kind of folly.This is an amazing passage to go through with young people today. It paints us a pretty graphic picture of how wonderful it is for a man to enjoy his wife sexually. The passage isn't even afraid to talk about her boobs!
Oh boy...look what I just did. I just made a bunch of people mad. Why? Because I said "boobs."
Think about this for a second. What word do you think the Bible would use today? Consider the world we live in. The word "boobs" is an innocent and commonplace term in actuality. Most teenagers would use the words "boobs" with their own parents before they would say the word "breasts." Most teenagers are used to hearing a lot worse from sources just a click away on iTunes. Take a peek at what literally millions of young people are hearing from rap star Tyga; the words he uses for women and their breasts, in his hit song Rack City that was #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week are completely derogatory. (Google the lyrics if you're curious.)
My point here isn't to argue the word "boobs." Use the word "breasts" if you think that would work better. Just let me ask you a bigger question:
What are you afraid of?
Too Much or Too Little?
Are you afraid of telling our kids too much? Do you really think our kids live in a shoebox? Do you think they've never heard of "boobs" before?
When it comes to talking about sex with our kids, we can err on the side of giving them too much information, or too little information. Which side would you prefer to err on?
I've met a lot of parents who, in fear, would rather err on the side of telling them too little. I'd love to ask these folks a question. What happens if you tell your kids the unedited truth about a little more than they were already exposed to? Is it dangerous to tell them that sex is an amazing gift from God that they can enjoy when they are married?
Do you think if you show a teen or tween this above Scripture he or she is going to start downloading porn? Do you think that if you use the word "boobs" that they are suddenly going to start thinking about boobs?
(Important Note: Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should throw discernment and wisdom out the window. It is possible to cross lines on certain subjects like porn, masturbation, anal sex, etc. But as long as we address the issues included in the Bible in an unapologetic and fearless manner, we should be OK.)
So, why are too many of us afraid to share too much that we settle for sharing too little?
What if we do share too little? What if your kids would really like to know about sex but are too scared to ask? What if they have questions that aren't being answered because we're tiptoeing around the issue? Should they raise their hand in youth group or walk into their mom's room before bedtime and say, "Mom, I'm masturbating every night. I'm going for a world record! I can't stop. It started with the JC Penney's catalogue but now it's internet porn. Help!!!"
The One and Only "Sex Talk"
A few months ago I met a young teen mom who became pregnant during her first year in college, got kicked out of her house, and had the baby on her own. Everyone in the church knew. Huge ordeal! It's years later now, she's living back at home and she's back in church with her toddler, living with the day-to-day struggles of being a single mom. As she was reflecting back and telling me about her mistakes, I asked her, "What will you do differently as a parent to help your own kids not make the same mistakes?"
Without hesitation she responded. "I will talk about sex more!" She adamantly continued. "Not once-all the time! My parents never talked about it. My dad couldn't talk about it. He sent my mom into my room once to have 'the talk.' It wasn't enough. I had questions, struggles and desires and I knew that they didn't want to talk about it. So I didn't ask them. I found out on my own."
I hear this perspective all the time.
Three weeks ago I met a college kid with a 2-year-old son. After hearing him share his heart, I asked him the same question, "What would you do to equip your son for these kinds of life decisions?" He didn't even blink. "I'm going to talk about sex with my son a lot!"
De ja vu?
He continued. "My dad talked with me about it once. Youth group talked about it once a year, but they never answered my questions."
He gave me specifics. "When I went to college, I would go into my girlfriend's dorm room. I just thought, this is so cool! This is what happens in every movie! I didn't think through anything. No one had told me specifically, 'If you get alone with a girl that initiates sex, it will be impossible to stop!' I want my kid to know the truth. I'm going to prepare him for that day so he doesn't have to figure it out on his own."
Wow! Is it possible that some of us are unintentionally holding back the truth that our kids need to hear because we're being so careful to edit what we think is profane.
We need to start talking openly and honestly about sex. I'm not trying to give license to flippant use of course slang. Far from it! Personally, when I'm talking about sex in a youth group setting or with my own kids, I like to use a word that is the least offensive or "creepy." This can change from crowd to crowd. Some people will tell you to always use the scientific words. Just make sure you know your audience. Some kids will cringe if you use words like "intercourse" or "coitus."
But definitely don't hesitate to share a passage like the Proverbs passage above. Believe it or not, you're going to encounter people who say that it's simply inappropriate to talk about the subject of women's breasts at all. This is just bad discernment with no Biblical backing. If this were true, then why does the Bible talk about breasts (time and time again)?
The Bible isn't afraid to talk about body parts and sexuality in lurid detail. If you think the Proverbs passage is explicit, then check out Ezekiel 23:19-21. You may need to sit down, first, though.
The fact is plain and simple. The Bible isn't ashamed to talk about good sex the way it was intended, and it's not afraid to denounce sexual immorality just the same. This Proverbs passage talks about how husbands should enjoy their wives' breasts. If you think the word "boobs" is offensive, then just use the word breasts. The key is, these body parts are not something bad. Sex is not naughty. God created this whole process. It's not bad or dirty or shameful.
We need to communicate this to our kids! We need to present them with a holistic Biblical picture about sex.
So often, Christian adults are afraid to talk about "the naughty thing." Satan loves this! The church has unintentionally propagated this lie for years. Our kids have learned that sex is naughty and we don't talk about it!
Our kids sneak around to find answers elsewhere...from the people who are talking about it: their friends at school, movies like Friends with Benefits, songs like Last Friday Night, and TV shows like Two and a Half Men and Jersey Shore.
Don't be afraid to tell our kids the truth. Sex is amazing, a gift from God. It's something they'll eventually get to experience when they find the right person and commit to them in marriage.
This isn't naughty...it's just good teaching.
Fact #2: CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES
"Consequences aren't fun. Can't we just pretend they're not there?"
That's the message entertainment media is communicating to young people today...and it's quite a popular one, at that.
A few nights ago my wife and I watched a rerun of CBS's creatively funny, The Big Bang Theory (one of the 5 most-popular shows on TV on any given week). In this particular episode, the sensitive nerd, Leonard, hooks up with his friend's sister the day he meets her. As they're getting up from sleeping together, he gingerly mentions his willingness to go further with the relationship. She callously objects, clarifying that sleeping with him didn't mean anything.
This show progressed with no apparent consequences. Such is TV today. (For more on this absence of consequences, check out the pie chart at the bottom of this article I wrote about our culture's silence on sexuality.)
Do our kids know that this isn't the way sex is supposed to be? Sex isn't intended to be a recreational activity that we do with people we meet each day. It's something much greater than this. Are we talking with our kids about the truth? (By the way, we can easily use "media moments" to have great discussions with our kids.)
Our kids won't know unless we talk with them about it.
We need to understand that sex isn't naughty. Sex is a wonderful gift that a man and woman can enjoy together when they commit to each other in marriage. Proverbs 5:19 reveals this enjoyment in explicit detail:
May her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
This is the way that it's supposed to be. This is just a glimpse of good sex.
But our own flawed tendency is to take good things and try to twist them and make them better. It's something that has happened since the dawn of man. Adam and Eve could have anything they wanted... "but that forbidden fruit sounds really good!" We're inherently flawed. Men like their wives' breasts, so why not enjoy other women's breasts too? Why not "hook up" with anyone we want purely for fun.
As you well know, our culture even has terms for this, like "hooking up" or "friends with benefits." A movie of that same title might just accurately represent how young people actually view relationships today. Ypulse's Gen Y expert Melanie Shreffler seems to think so:
"Friends with Benefits (the movie) is a good representation of Millennial relationships. They believe that relationships can develop from friendships and from one night stands.... Millennials believe in trying things out before settling on a decision."
This isn't anything new. Mankind has always tried to do things their own way rather than God's way. It's Sin 101. "I believe in you God... but I really want to enjoy this temporary thrill." The book of Genesis is full of it.
Consider the Consequences
That's why this Proverbs passage goes on to offer some great advice on consequences. Look at verse 20:
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man's wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
The poet makes it clear. Why would you go outside of marriage for sexual pleasure? Sex is meant for marriage. If you read the verses that follow you'll see some of God's reasons why:
For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly.
What an awesome passage to talk about with our kids! Choices have consequences. We could probably even ask our kids to name some of the consequences the verses list here:God sees everything we do and is examining our actions, our evil deeds will ensnare us, we'll be tied down by our sins....
We could also have them list some modern day examples of each of these. (Yes, I just gave you discussion questions!) And for further teaching, we could also open up 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and teach about the concept of sexual immorality. (I always define sexual immorality as the "voluntary sex of an unmarried person.")
God wants us to enjoy sex in marriage; He also wants us to literally flee sexual immorality. (You might ask kids what it means to "flee.")
Of course, sexual immorality isn't limited to just sex; porn is another shade of this same dreaded color. In that case, open up Matthew 5:27-30 and read Jesus' words about lust. This is a great passage to talk about, especially with our boys. We need to talk with young people today about the increasingly difficult task of fleeing porn.
The Bible isn't ashamed to talk about sex and consequences in graphic detail. Why should we be scared to do the same? For some reason, God chose to tell us the truth in explicit detail. Sometimes these details show us just how much God loves us, even though we are terribly fallen and corrupt. Look at Genesis 38, for instance.
Then Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death also.
Oh snap! That's in the Bible?
Perhaps we should edit this "filthy" material, eh?
I'm not saying that this is a "go to" passage when teaching 6th grade Sunday school, but you might want to consider how you're going to answer your kids' questions about it when you're reading through the book of Genesis as a family.
In our family Bible reading, we actually encountered this passage just a few months ago. It lead to a great discussion about how much God loves widows and orphans and doesn't like anyone to take advantage of them. Onan was denying Tamar an heir, an act that God detested. The rest of the passage is pretty explicit as well. Judah sleeps with Tamar, thinking she's a prostitute, and she gets pregnant. Consequently, Judah is going to have her burned to death for committing adultery (even though he did it, too). It has twists and turns like a Shakespearean play. Amazing story.
But when you look at the genealogies, Tamar's line is the one from which Christ was born! What a great lesson for teenagers about how God takes the sinful pasts of mankind and uses it for good! Yes, sin has consequences, but God loves us despite our mistakes.
These passages include some pretty graphic stuff. And for some reason the Bible doesn't edit the stories. We need to teach our kids about these kinds of real life consequences and God's love for us throughout.So don't keep these facts to yourself. Share them in explicit detail. Sex isn't naughty. It's a gift from God to enjoy in marriage!
Choices have consequences. Sex outside of marriage hurts us and the people around us. When we have sexual thoughts or think about sexual situations with people other than our spouse, it hurts our relationship with God and our spouse. Only His grace can bring healing.
FACT#3: SEX IS A PROCESS AND NOT SIMPLY A 'HOME RUN'
"How far can I go?"
That's the most common question youth workers hear when they speak to Christian students about sex. (Did you catch that I said "Christian" students?) Young people in the church have heard Bible verses about "fornication" and "sexual immorality" and they've heard us teach that they're not supposed to go "all the way."
So how far can they go?
If we were teaching teenagers the explicit truth about sex...this wouldn't even be a question. Furthermore, if young people understood how sex truly works, they might just be a little more careful and not set themselves up for failure. It's about time that we teach kids that sex is more than just "a home run."
I've probably heard it a thousand times: "I know we're not supposed to have sex. So instead, we just...." Now, fill in the blank with one of many various sexual activities kids have at their disposal: making out, touching each other, having oral sex, having anal sex....
Shudder if you will, but adults don't seem to agree on what "sex" is either. Is sex just "intercourse"? Most Christian adults will agree that oral sex and "petting" (another awkward term) are each some part of sex, but what about physical touch? A boy groping a girl's breasts over her shirt, for instance. Is this sex? Is this kind of touch appropriate for Christian teens and tweens?
Our kids want to know. And frankly, no one is talking about it (probably because it's so awkward).
No wonder our kids are confused. So many of us just teach, "Don't have sex!" We give them the 1 Corinthians 6 passage about sexual immorality being wrong, and we leave it at that. We never even define sexual immorality. Interpretation is left up to the pubescents with screaming hormones and undeveloped brains.
Let me be clear. When Paul tells us to "flee" from sexual immorality in that passage, he's not just telling us, "don't have intercourse!" Sex is so much more than just "a home run." God created sex as a process that starts with a little flirting, usually kissing, consensual touching, and soon it grows with incredible momentum to "go all the way." Sex is the whole process. We can't skip the beginning stages. In the same way, we aren't supposed to start the beginning stages and then just abruptly halt the process. When we try this...we fail miserably!
Setting Them Up for Failure
The blame rests with us. It's our fault.
Young people today constantly set themselves up for failure because they simply don't understand sex. The biggest reason that Christian young people don't understand sex is because most Christian adults won't talk about sex in explicit detail.
I've talked with literally thousands of students about sex. Whenever I meet teen moms and listen to their story, 99% of the time they tell me, "I had questions, but no one was there to answer them." We need to teach our kids the unedited truth about sex!
God created sex as this amazing process that starts with a just a look. Guy notices girl, girl notices guy. Attraction. Eventually kissing. Kissing leads to embracing. Embracing leads to caressing. Caressing leads to skin-on-skin touch. This kind of touch eventually results in pleasuring each other by touching the breasts and genitals (some people are really feeling uncomfortable now). Sometimes this leads to oral sex...and eventually...intercourse.
Eew. There's that scientific word again.
It's amazing how many words, terms and analogies we've come up with to describe this process. Baseball is an analogy that was common when I grew up.
"Did you get to first base?" (That was kissing.)
"I went to second base." (That was touching above the waist.)
"Third base!" (Touching below the waist.)
"Home Run!" (Everyone agrees that this is "going all the way.")
The interesting question I like to propose to young people is, "Which of these bases is sex?" Or "How many bases are you supposed to round with your boyfriend or girlfriend?" I've rarely met a young person who doesn't name a base.
Why Is It So Difficult to Stop?
Most students reduce sex to "just" intercourse. To them, sex – and only sex – is a "home run." To them, the other bases are fair game. I always ask, "Then why is it so difficult to stop when you're on second base?"
The fact is, the whole process starts when a guy and girl begin kissing each other. That's the way God made it. It's actually a very amazing gift. We need to remember that this isn't something dirty we're talking about here. In fact, when kids ask me, "Why is it so difficult to stop?" I always surprise them with my answer: "Because you're not supposed to stop!"
God designed sex as a process. When a man and woman commit to each other in marriage, they get to enjoy an intimate act of passion with each other that is so special that it's reserved for just the two of them together, no one else. It's a bond between them..."a bond that happens to feel freaking amazing!!!!"
Okay...you don't have to add that part!
But when a man gets alone with his wife and starts running his fingers through her hair and telling her she's beautiful...it starts! Kissing, embracing, touching...it all progresses. (Warning: Here comes the explicit details that Christians are afraid to talk about.) The man's penis gets hard, sometimes a result of a simple kiss, a nibble of the ear... a touch. Why? He's so excited, and he wants more! But remember, God designed it this way! The more the woman is caressed and touched, her vagina becomes wet, in preparation for what's about to happen. All this touching and caressing builds excitement, and soon neither can help themselves any longer. He longs to be inside her, and she longs for more.
Wow, this sounds like a harlequin novel!
At this point I like to throw in a little surprise when I'm talking with young people about sex. I usually say this: "And at this point, before they go 'all the way'...they both stop, shake hands and walk away."
Kids always just stare at me like I'm insane. So I go on.
"Nope. That's not what happens, is it? In actuality, it would take a tornado or a herd of buffalo to stop what was going on in that room between that man and that woman. And why?
"Because sex was already started. The process of sex started with a touch and a kiss and eventually built to this amazing climax when the two finally 'go all the way.'
"This is what sex is, the whole process. Not just 'going all the way.' More than just 'a home run.' The fact is, you shouldn't even go up to bat with someone you're not married to. This whole process is to be saved for marriage."
Students always appreciate my honestly.
Yes! I always get students asking me, "So you're saying that kissing is wrong?" Again, the answer to that question is explicit. If I'm just talking to guys, I'll be explicit, but with a touch of humor to lighten the mood.
"Anthony, the answer to that is probably in your boxers. If you're at your grandma's birthday party and the whole family is gathered around the table and your girlfriend gives you a kiss on the cheek when you bring her a piece of cake...then you're probably okay. But my guess is that if you're alone with your girlfriend on the couch making out, the process of sex has probably started. If 'Little Anthony' is standing at attention ready for battle, that's a good sign that the process has started. That's why it's a good idea for you not to kiss your girlfriend without your grandmother in the room. 'Little Anthony' is scared of Grandma."
It's painfully obvious that this is one of the reasons that young people fail sexually. They put themselves in situations where they "start the sexual process" and then can't stop.
I love to have students talk about these types of situations they put themselves in. I come up with hypotheticals and let them run with it:
"Your parents are gone and your boyfriend comes over to your house to 'study.' Good idea, or bad idea?"
"You and your girlfriend are alone, lying on the couch watching a movie. She's laying on you. Good, or bad idea?"
I ask them to reflect on past situations? When did it become difficult for you to stop?
Sometimes there are kids present who haven't put themselves in those situations yet. It's good for them to hear the other kids share their stories and experiences. It's good for them to set some guidelines before they get into these situations.
Sadly, whenever I teach this whole "sex-is-a-process" to students, they always say, "I've never heard this before."
Why are we so afraid to tell young people this truth?
FACT #4: SHARING PERSONAL EXPERIENCES ARE HELPFUL
OK, so far, I've shared a lot of "facts" about sex. But are facts the best way to communicate with young people today?
Granted, facts are necessary, especially when you're talking about sex, but nothing beats the power of a personal story.
When communicating with teens about sex, we should share personal experiences. Sex-education should never become just a bunch of facts. Try sharing a story from your own life.
Yesterday, I asked my 16-year-old daughter to proof FACT #3 above. When she was done I asked her what she thought. She liked it, "especially the example about Anthony getting a kiss from his girlfriend in front of his grandmother. That example answered the question so many of us are wondering; how far can we go?" She continued. "Sure, you said, 'Don't event start the process.' But that story explained it in a way I could understand."
Good stories bring facts to life.
Some of the most powerful lessons are taught from our own life experiences. I've taught on the subject of sex hundreds of times. Some of the most powerful venues were the ones where I had someone come up and share their own story.
A few years ago I taught about sexual purity to a group of junior high girls. After teaching much of what I've shared above, I had a mom come up and share her own story. All the girls knew this mom because she was a volunteer leader and led a small group with many of the young girls sitting there. This mom shared a story of the first time she had sex. It was her prom. She was 16-years-old. She liked the guy so much and wanted him to like her. She gave away her virginity that night, only for him to break up with her a few days later.
As she shared this vulnerable tale from her own life, the young girls in this room cried with her, moved by her story.
As I looked at the feedback from that evening, they enjoyed my presentation and were able to cite some of the truths I shared, but all the girls unanimously cited this woman's story as having the most powerful impact that evening.
We all have stories to share.
Our kids need to hear stories of purity and the heartbreak we were spared; they need to hear stories of failure and the consequences we experienced. Don't be afraid to share these stories and the lessons learned. Often, they will be the most remembered "fact" shared.
No, there isn't a "FACT #5," but let me assure you of one last certainty that applies to our communication about sex: In every situation in life – including talking to your teenager about sex – the worst course of action we can take it to do nothing.
Yes, we'd love to "get it right" every time we talk with our kids about sex. But chances are, we're gonna be nervous, or they will be nervous, or the setting won't be absolutely perfect, or you won't have an answer for every question they ask...or all of the above!
Have the talk anyway.
Your kids will be glad you didn't keep this to yourself!
If you liked Jonathan’s candid approach to this subject, you’ll really enjoy his books like, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, and Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. Right now you can get FREE U.S. shipping on these books and others on Jonathan’s Recommended Books page.
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new
Get Your Teenager Talking,
The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket,
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
, and youth ministry
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation
, and the
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across
North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents
on his websites, TheSource4YM.com
. You can follow
Jonathan on his blog
, getting a
regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and
their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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