Is “Don’t Have Sex” Enough for Teens?

Stop sign with hand

By Epson291 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

A friend recently pointed me to a blog post by a couple working in youth ministry. The topic was something entirely different, but in the post, the authors said, “I would have much rather talked to [kids] about sex or drugs or something, because those are pretty concrete topics. We’d stand up and say, ‘Don’t do it.’ End of talk.”*

As you can imagine, I cringed.

What the authors talked about in the rest of their post was helpful and on point, but they completely missed the boat on sexuality. And I would hate for that to be the only lesson my child received from youth ministry leaders at my church.

“Don’t do it” is not enough.

Since when was “don’t do it” enough in any context? When you tell your toddler not to touch the stove, you explain that it is hot and can hurt her little hand. When you tell your elementary child to look both ways before crossing the street, you explain that traffic could be coming and he must wait until it is safe to walk across. When you tell your middle schooler to do her homework, you explain that she will need this information and good grades to continue on the path to success. When you tell your high schooler to mow the neighbor’s lawn, you explain that Mrs. Smith is too old to push the mower herself and that God wants us to help others.

Whatever we tell our kids — whether yours or ones you teach — we give reasons for why they should do X and not do Y. Of course, we tailor those reasons to their age and maturity, but we say something nonetheless.

And there is no “end of talk.” Teaching children and teenagers what constitutes sexual purity and how to maintain it is not a one-and-done proposition. It’s like teaching them manners. Has any parent ever told their child to use “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” once and been heeded?

You have to be willing to step up and have conversations (plural) with your children. And youth workers must be willing to discuss this topic as well, not simply with a “Don’t do it” message, but an explanation of why.

A plaque with Deuteronomy 10:12-13 hangs on a wall at my house:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”

And as James MacDonald has said, when God gives commands, he isn’t just saying “Don’t.” There are reasons. Our loving Father is saying, “Don’t hurt yourself.”

Oftentimes, we hear the usual warnings about pregnancy and STDs, but there are deeper reasons why God wants us to wait until marriage for physical intimacy. In a recent guest post at Sheila Gregoire’s To Love, Honor and Vacuum site, the blogger said it beautifully:

I want my children to understand how important purity is because it affects more than the just the now. It is far bigger than whether or not they get pregnant or catch an STD; it affects their hearts, minds, and souls.

This woman had a terrible sexual past from which to recover and understood the pain and scars that came from that experience. I attest as well that the consequences of my premarital choices regarding sexuality were not so much external as internal — deep wounds in my heart, mind, and soul.

God has healed me, but it was not without challenge and change. I’d love for every teenager to avoid that hardship. We have to stay open to discussing sexuality with our children and our church youth.

There are also reasons why teens want to have sex, and not because they have thrown out God altogether. Many of them haven’t. They just need information, guidance, and explanations about God’s design for sex.

The Skit Guys have a great video about this (which would be wonderful to purchase for your youth group). Ask as you watch how available you really are to discuss sex with your teens.

What messages did you receive from adults about sex when you were growing up? What have you told your own children about sex? Is sex a topic easily discussed in your family or church youth group?

*By the way, I’m not sharing the link to the article because that’s not the point. This couple’s main topic was well-handled, and I wish them blessings in their youth work.

22 thoughts on “Is “Don’t Have Sex” Enough for Teens?

  1. simplysexuality

    I definitely agree with you that telling kids to simply not have sex is not good enough. It needs to be an ongoing conversation at home and at church if they’re in a stable youth group and especially if they have a small group leader/mentor. I didn’t hear much about sex from adults growing up. Most of my sexual education came from pornography. Unfortunately I think I’m part of a generation that has received much of its sexual education from porn. I speak and blog about sexuality now and one of my goals is to make it a more accessible topic in youth groups, families, and the Church generally. I think the Church has been silent on this issue for way too long and now there is a lot of shame surrounding it…we have a long way to go 🙂

  2. Alecia

    Read that same article today. She made some great points on topic but I also cringed when I read that. I’ve often heard, and agree with, that the number one reason why kids have sex is because nobody gave them a good reason not to. They need reasons. And they need open ongoing communication with us to feel free to talk about things when they have questions and concerns.

  3. Anonymous

    I grew up in a christian household and with a father who was very willing to talk about sex, about how special I was and that God had a plan for me, to wait for marriage. Unfortunately, no one ever told me that one day I would want to be wanted that way, that it would give me a sense of power and belonging and that I would have to be on my guard all the time. I made bad choices before I was married, slept with many men who were not worth my time and some who hurt me very deeply. I think that young christian men need to be taught to hold women in respect and make them feel special, as friends, and you women need to be taught that purity means so much more than just “don’t have sex.” I heard a speaker put it this way once, “there should be no intercourse, no outer course, no upper course, no lower course.” They told me don’t have sex, they didn’t tell me not to drink about boys, not to give blows, or not to allow myself to be touched because it “felt” good.
    I also had a problem after my first encounter with premarital sex in that I didn’t know who to talk too. I felt like every one thought that I should know better and there would be no forgiveness. It took me a long time to ask for God’s forgiveness and then BELIEVE that He had forgiven me. I think that not only should we not teach “just don’t” but we should teach forgiveness and compassion and looking to the Lord to help us feel special and wanted, because to Him, we ARE.
    I hope one day to teach my daughters that waiting means more than not having sex, and to teach my sons that it is their privileged and right to help guard a young woman’s purity. I think we have all been to quiet about this, and we need to vamp it up. I’m not a huge fan of true love waits, because all that ever taught me was that I should know better than to have sex. I pray that I am able to use my own life experiences to teach my children differently, Lord Willing.
    I’d also like to add that my sexual past caused a lot of problems between my husband and I, and we’ve only been married two months. I still have to remind myself that he is not THEM, that HE waited for ME, that he LOVES me and only ME, that he will be there when I wake up in the morning. The scars of sexual promiscuity go so much deeper than just loosing your virginity…

    1. J

      You’ve come a long way, but I feel for all you’ve gone through. Hang in there, and definitely use your experiences to educate your children. Blessings!

  4. mamarachael

    I read that article, but didn’t even notice that one line as anything more than contrast. But I think you are right, we need to be able to talk about ‘why’ of these instruction.

    I knew my parents ‘did it’, and that they loved each other, and I got most of my info about sex from books my mom gave me. Nonetheless, I didn’t really start hearing the message that sex affects intimacy and purity is more than the lack of STDs and such until nearly 5 years after I was married. I think that was because the internet needed to reach a point of maturity for that message to get preached loudly.

    Anyhoo, I hope to give my children the message that sex in marriage is beautiful and to be pursued, but it becomes ugly and painful outside of marriage. Lots to think about, for sure.

  5. Greg

    Wow; yes! Where to start on this? The church needs a *massive* wake-up call and dose of truth in regards to sexuality. Scripture and personal testimonies like the recent guest post on Sheila’s blog are what need to be given front-and-center stage of church on Sunday morning. Young people and singles need encouragement to remain pure. Not pat answers, opinions, or “Christianese”. Just truth, and the why’s of God’s design behind them.

    Thankfully, some churches are taking this seriously, but the message to the church everywhere should be: “Wake up and smell the ashes.” Pornography is everywhere (even in church leadership), marriage is being redefined in multiple states as we speak, morality in the Boy Scouts is being challenged…how much longer will the church choose to remain silent?

  6. Elizabeth@Warrior Wives

    Yes, this has bugged me ever since I got married almost 10 years ago. Never once did I have a real conversation about sex with a single older Christian woman before my wedding night (well, apart from the one session on sex during pre-marital counseling). Not that we need to go into great detail about specifics to teenagers, but it really would have been helpful to understand the huge importance that sex plays in marriage, why it’s such a gift in marriage. All I ever heard was, “Let’s get you a promise ring and don’t have sex.” Even after marriage, there weren’t any older women talking about sex to the younger wives, and if they talked about it at all, it was in euphemisms. My husband and I went to a marriage conference at our church a few weeks after we were married, and at one point the speakers split us up (men and women) to talk about sex. The woman declared that since Christian women have a tendency to not speak openly about sex, we were going to be different, we were going to be open during this session! Aaaannnnd then she proceeded to call it “special physical time with your husband” for the entire rest of the session. Fail.

    The other problem that I just read about in a really interesting book on singleness (Altared by Claire and Eli) is that if the church adds more than just “don’t do it” to the sex conversation, they often tell you that “true love waits” and that if/when you wait, sex will be amazing after marriage. And that’s just as much of a lie! Sex in any marriage takes some work and attention to develop throughout your lives together. But the authors did feel that it was important to teach teenagers the value of self-denial; some of us never end up married and almost all of us will need to deny ourselves at some point in serving our spouse’s needs (including sexual needs/desires).

    Sorry, that was a little bit of a rant…:)

  7. happywife

    I saw that same article last week, and honestly took her line about “don’t do it” very tongue in cheek. I don’t know this woman, and have never read anything else of hers, but I certainly wasn’t going to jump to any judgements about one sentence in an article that wasn’t even about sex. Her article was about social media I believe, not how to talk to kids about sex so I would cut her some slack about that reference. The point she was making was that she would have found it easier to talk to kids about sex than identity in Christ.

    1. J

      I had no idea how many others read that article! Perhaps the comment was tongue-in-cheek. Dealing with issue here so often, I’m sure that I am sensitive about how we discuss sex. (Plus, I disagree that it is easier to talk about sex than identity in Christ. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment.)

      As I said before, that wasn’t the point of their article, and they handled the main subject well. That quote from the article, however, reminded me that we still have a ways to go in the church to fully understand how to talk to teens about sex.

      Thanks, HappyWife!

  8. Amy M.

    I will be passing along the video clip to our Youth Pastor — I have to say, I didn’t see it coming, but in just that short clip, I want everyone to see and hear why our children don’t feel led, mentored, empowered, special and important in the places that matter to them in their hormone-driven years.

    Hearing that 17-year old girl/actress say, “I’m not smart enough, I’m not pretty enough, skinny enough to be anybody extraordinary,” breaks my heart. I see it in the faces of kids my children go to school with. They’re all racing to be somebody, and they’re racing straight to the world.

    Thanks for sharing this, J. Great post.

  9. Anonymous

    I don’t remember having any real ‘talks’ with my parents except for the typical “don’t do it” mantra. Unfortunately, my Mom never explained to me that I would get to a point where having a boy like me and want me in that way would become a nice change of pace to the somewhat inevitable self esteem issues a teenage girl suffers from. I just knew that sex was something you didn’t do until marriage…not whether it was fun or good or anything. Plus, my parent’s marriage was not the happiest, so examples of loving behavior were few and far between.

    When I did give in before marriage, I fell hard and fast and never realized just how emotionally attached I would end up being to the poor boy. I made decisions based on him and did whatever I could to spend all my time with him. Meanwhile, we continued having sex, and the guilt became worse and worse. When we eventually broke up after dating all through high school and one year of college, I felt so worthless and had so little self esteem, I jumped into relationships too early and for all the wrong reasons…I just wanted to feel loved again, and therefore had sex again in new relationships for all the wrong reasons.

    When I met my husband, those same patterns were there, and once we were married, our sex life suffered. I was lucky to fall in love with a wonderful man who tried to show me that married sex was a good thing and it was okay for me to enjoy it, but I still felt guilty for my past choices, and still had the idea that sex was ‘bad’. I found myself just going through the motions and actually making my husband feel unloved and unwanted since I wasn’t really an active participant, but just a warm body.

    Luckily, things are much better now. My marriage came to a breaking point, and we almost lost each other before we realized we needed a change. Thanks to your blog, and others like it, I now see things much differently and our sex life is better than ever. I am so sad for all the years I wasted, not truly enjoying my husband and our intimate times together.

    While I still have many regrets regarding my past, I am thankful for the experiences it has given me, because now I know what to tell my kids when they get to that age. I can help my son understand how important it is to make the right choices for himself and the young women that will be in his life. I can also help my daughter to recognize her true beauty and worth as a child of God, so she won’t feel the need to find her worth in other places.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Anonymous

    Well… I was told I would burn in hell if I dud that. And I would be sent off to reform school if I got pregant. It messed me up and I am still trying to have a healthy view of sex today at age 48.
    I think that was wrong and controlling.

    1. J

      And that’s not what God says about sex! My heart breaks for those who got such a twisted perception of this gift for marriage from God. I pray that you can get that healthy view of sex as God intended.

  11. Paul Byerly

    I don’t mean to sound like I am picking on your title (really) but if we wait till they are teens we have already abdicated our right to educate them about the morality of sex.

    1. J

      Paul, you know I completely agree! My title was just in reference to what sparked my thinking. You’re absolutely right that we have to start long before kids reach their teens.

      In the teens, however, I think it’s time to give them deeper reasons and strategies for staying pure.

  12. Anonymous

    Yeah and it’s worse in Africa. It’s law and that’s final. The results of this attitude from parents are enormous. There is little or no parent-child relationship. We got a longer way to go and I thank GOD for a new generation of youths who believe otherwise and are looking up revolutionary measures. I found this blog today and I’m already enjoying it. Thanks J!

  13. Kate and Brad Aldrich

    J. Thanks for a great post! I think it is so important that parents understand that saying “Wait” or “Don’t” isn’t enough! Not only do we need to tell them why, we need to prove it to them! Why would a teen wait for sex in marriage if everything they have seen and heard about sex in marriage is that it is “boring” or “difficult” or “blah”! We know those messages are in the popular culture, so unless your own marriage is actively showing something different, you are emphasizing that message!

    I actually just wrote a guest post on Hope at Home, a great adoption blog challenging parents about this same idea! http://hopeathomeblog.blogspot.com/2013/04/when-you-dream.html

    Thanks for a great post J!

  14. Anonymous

    As a youth pastor, the best thing I do to teach my young people about sex and purity is to be openly intimate with my wife. We are the couple that sits super close to each other, holds hands a lot and isn’t ashamed to give a kiss goodbye. We are not gross or overly mushy or explicit but our teens know that there youth pastor and youth pastor wife love each other very much and from some of the responses I’ve heard when they’ve talked to us they know we have a happy and fulfilled martial sexual life. When we are the right kind of example I can easily say that purity is the right thing to do because God designed purity to allow you to have a relationship like me and my wife and this is designed on purpose and by design by God. We try to scare young people about sex to much. Instead of scaring them lets inform them of the beauty of sex God’s way. This will work so much better and the best way to teach it is by example.

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