I contend that there are two sets of people you do not — not, not, not — want to think specifically about having sex: your parents and your children. Sure, you want them to have a fulfilling intimate life (in the right context), but you don’t want to actually imagine it. *shudder*
And yet, parents need to teach their teenagers about sex. So how can this be done . . . while preserving everyone’s sanity and dignity?
Here’s what I’ve learned about talking to teenagers about sex.
Converse, don’t lecture. Don’t teach your teen like a student in a Purity 101 class, giving him lectures, and then merely checking for understanding. Teenagers are growing toward adulthood and gaining independence. They won’t respond to simply be preached at.
This is a time when they are open to discussing deeper topics, especially those that apply to their lives. They are seeking knowledge and wisdom, and if you can communicate that in a conversation, you stand a far better chance of making headway.
Make sure that you are not hogging the conversation by doing most of the talking. Let them talk and express what challenges they are dealing with and what they think about sexuality and purity. Then share your wisdom and the teachings of the Bible to inform and shape their views.
Let them ask questions. Don’t shy away from tough questions. Your teenager needs to know that she can come to you with difficult questions about sexuality and purity, and you will be her mentor. Be prepared that you might get asked anything from “What is BDSM?” to “How do oral contraceptives work?” to “Why does God make us wait until marriage?” and anything else they can come up with. If you don’t have the full answer, don’t sweat. Answer as best you can and let them know you want to think and study about it more. But if you put your teenager off, don’t forget to return and revisit the topic with what you’ve learned.
Now if they ask specifics about your sex life, you are not obliged to answer. Sex itself is a private act. You can choose how much to share, but you do not owe your child a run-down of your sexual history or your current practices. Keep your answers honest but general. Examples?
TEEN: How many sexual partners did you have before you married dad?
MOM: Your father is aware of my history, but I don’t think you need to know the specifics. The point is that I wish that your dad had been my only one. That’s what God designed, and that’s what I want for you.
TEEN: How often do you and mom have sex?
DAD: It depends. But healthy married couples usually engage in sex a few times to every day of the week.
TEEN: That much?!!! Ick. [I added this line so you’ll be prepared. 🙂 ]
Let them confess their struggles. Perhaps they’ve already messed up in this area. No one is perfect. And teenagers are facing a culture that constantly pushes a wrong message about sexuality. Even if we didn’t have that culture, we have God-given sexual desires within our bodies that we must learn to surrender to His plan. That’s a real challenge for a young person — absolutely doable, but a challenge nonetheless.
If they’ve looked at porn, gone too far with a date, or even had sex already, please don’t explode. Look at your daughter or son as a sister or brother in Christ, and help them to get back on the right path. Guide them with love, wisdom, patience, and practical ways to handle the temptations they are facing.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Of course, you may feel desperately hurt and saddened by your teen’s choices, but if God encourages us to confess and grants mercy when we repent, surely we can find a way to be merciful to our children.
Enlist help if you need it. If your teenager confesses something out of your league to handle, such as a porn addiction or sexual abuse, it’s time to get help. It is not a violation of your teen’s trust to do whatever you can to help them when the stakes are so extreme.
Let him/her know that you will be there to love and support them, but that you need to seek professional help. Talk to your pastor, look for Christian-based resource groups that handle these issues, install Covenant Eyes or other software on your child’s computer, seek a qualified counselor and then make sure your teen feels comfortable with the counselor, do whatever you need to address the specific situation your teen is facing.
Sweeping the issue under the rug or saying, “never again,” won’t cut it. You need to take extra steps to protect your teen’s emotional, sexual, and spiritual health.
Keep talking. Make sure your teenager knows this isn’t a one time convo. One conversation isn’t enough. Remember when that gangly teen was a little kid? All the times you had to remind him, “Say thank you,” before he did it on his own? Or the number of times you showed her how to tie her shoe before she finally got it?
So why do we think a biblical approach to sex can be taught to kids in one shot?
Keep talking as opportunities arise: When you see a scantily clad girl in a beer ad on TV. When a single friend or relative turns up pregnant. When a newspaper article reports STD statistics. When your preacher mentions Song of Songs in his sermon. (C’mon, preachers, be bold.)
The point is to look for those “teachable moments” and start a conversation, even with the simple question, “What do you think about that?”
One final tip: We often demand that our kids look us straight in the eye when we’re saying something important and we want to know they’re listening. On this subject, Let. That. Go.
Remember how I said that you don’t want to think about your parents or children having sex? Teenagers will be much more forthcoming about sexuality if they do not have to look you in the eye. Try shoulder-to-shoulder conversations as you sit on the couch, ride together in the car, go fishing, play basketball or a board game, etc.
So what are your tips on talking to teens about sex?