In my umpteen years of marriage, my husband and I have spent quite a bit of conversational time trying to explain our own family to the other. You see, our families of origin are quite different:
- He grew up in a church-once-in-a-while family. I grew up as the daughter of a preacher man.
- His family considers watching TV together a reasonable bonding activity during holidays. My family plans intricate recreational calendars that engage us conversationally.
- His family grew up pinching pennies. My family grew up flipping pennies, as in “heads, I’ll buy this, and tails, I’ll buy that.”
- His family finally owned a radio when it came standard in their car. My family boomed music through a well-coordinated stereo system, and we all danced and sang in response.
- His family says 30 words a day. My family picks up their slack and says 3,000,000 words a day.
You get the point.
You’ve likely experienced the point. You and your husband came from different families, whether that includes big variations or minor quirks. And sometimes those differences require explanation or present challenges to work through.
So what about when it comes to sexuality? Have the differences in your families’ approaches to sex affected the current intimacy in your marriage?
Some families were open and vocal about sexuality; others never, ever talked about it. Some families valued modesty; others let it all hang out. Some families preached purity before marriage; others said something like, “Just use a condom, son.” Some families taught that sex wasn’t all that important; others made too big a deal about it.
Whatever your parents’, grandparents’, and other relatives’ approach to sexuality in general, and more specifically marriage, it likely has had an effect on you. Even if that effect is to do the absolute opposite. That’s still an influence. When that impact is vastly different — when one of you grew up hearing one thing, and the spouse grew up hearing an entirely different thing — you may end up with differences and misunderstandings you need to work through.
You may need to explain what your family’s philosophy and morality was, how it affected you, and how you want things to be similar or different. You may need to listen to your husband explain his experiences growing up in his home.
- Was porn prevalent in your home?
- Did your mother talk about sex negatively?
- Was staying sexually pure before marriage a strong value?
- Did you feel comfortable asking questions when you needed answers?
- Did you feel shamed for having sexual feelings and urges?
- Were you aware that your parents remained sexually active?
- Was sex in marriage considered a gift from God?
These are just a few of the questions you can ask. But a conversation about where you came from and how your family’s perspective impacted you can help the two of you now get on the same page in your own marriage.
Your upbringing is not destiny. Childhood experiences certainly play a role in who we become, but we have a choice. In Joshua 24, before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, their leader Joshua reminds them of what God has done for them, how their ancestors frankly blew it by going astray, and how they have a chance to select their own path: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . .” (v. 15).
If your family left you with a legacy that is hurting the intimacy of your marriage, it’s time to talk that out with your spouse and seek a better way.
If you were left with a positive impact, then discuss what they did right and how you want to continue that legacy for your kids. The Bible encourages us to teach our children and their children about the faithfulness of our Father (see Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 78:4), which includes His generous provision of physical intimacy in marriage.
How has your family of origin positively or negatively affected your current marital intimacy? Have you talked about these differences with your spouse? Have you chosen to do something different as a result?
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how to talk to teens about sex. This week, I wanted to cover a what on talking to kids about sex.
Here’s one what: Teach young children the correct words for their body parts.
Now I know some of you are objecting already. I once had argued this point with one of my best friends until my tongue turned blue, so I’ve heard the reasoning:
They can learn those names later. What if they repeat it in public? They don’t need to know about sex parts until they’re close to doing something with them. Teaching them the names will increase their curiosity. Those names sound icky.
Look, I’m not suggesting you give your children diagrams and show them where the clitoris and the frenulum are. But from early on, use the correct words of penis, testicles, and vagina.
Because it sates their curiosity. Toddlers soak up the words for anything and everything around them, excited to know what things are called. And children are naturally curious about their bodies. Naming body parts is a common activity in year two or three. They want to point to stuff and hear you identify what it is, so they can learn the word. If you act flustered, or avoid naming each part of their fascinating, God-given bodies, they wonder what’s up. In fact, calling the whole section simply “private parts” or whatever may increase their curiosity. Because inquiring growing minds want to know. Naming the part and moving on sates their curiosity.
Because it demystifies these parts. There is nothing less wonderful about having a penis than having an eyebrow. (In fact, plenty of men would testify that they could yank out every last eyebrow hair but would never want to live without their penis.) Talking in a straightforward manner about a child’s private area demystifies those parts. They are accepted as another aspect of the wonderful body God has given them (Psalm 139:13-14).
Because you establish yourself as a knowledgeable source. If your kids start hearing about penises and vaginas elsewhere, and you’ve never called them the correct names, what might they conclude about your level of knowledge or comfort in discussing the subject? Why should they ask you a bunch of questions about their bodies and sex when you can’t say or don’t know the proper names for those body parts? Use the words, be the expert. Make sure they know that you can handle whatever questions or concerns they have, so that you position yourself, the parent, to be the one to teach both physical facts and spiritual values at the same time.
Because they can communicate better with adult resources, if needed. Your child may at some time need to discuss a health problem with a nurse, doctor, or adult supervisor that involves his/her private part. If your family has named it a beedlebum, that means nothing to the adult. Language is meant to foster communication between people, and it could be important for your child to know the right terms to discuss potential problems with others. Also, I pray that no one ever, ever, ever goes through this . . . but what if your child was molested or approached by a molester? He/she needs to know the proper terms to report what happened.
Because it encourages them to stay away from crasser names. I’m not naive. Of course I expect children, especially teens, to hear, and perhaps say, such crass words as cunt, pussy, prick, wang, etc. However, when you arm people with better language, they are more likely to use it. I personally don’t have a huge problem with less crass words, such as dick or balls, but the words you teach someone are more likely to be their go-to terms when they discuss the subject. You can decide what best reflects your values, but penis, vagina, and testicles are universally recognized and not inappropriate.
Because there’s simply nothing wrong with penis, vagina, and testicles. Making a big deal out of it . . . makes it a big deal. Make the big deal about what your child does with these parts, not what they’re called. Teach him/her the right values about his/her body, health, purity, and sexuality. Put the focus where it belongs.
Now of course, you should talk to your child about appropriate use of these terms. Just as we teach our children time and context with other topics, such as Aunt Harriet’s new hideous hairdo, how long the preacher goes on and on, and what color our skin is (as a child, I wanted to call blacks “chocolate people” . . . which I thought was super cool and a total compliment — who wouldn’t want to be chocolate?!! — but my parents gently instructed me that it might be construed another way).
You can gently instruct your child about appropriateness when he yells, “My penis itches!” at the Thanksgiving table or she proudly informs a friend, “My vagina is the hole in the middle.” We managed to convince our children not to give away the Santa secret to friends for years, so trust that you can teach your children to handle the information in a honorable way.
But teach them the correct words for their body parts.
What do you think? How have you handled this instruction with your children? How was it handled with you?
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?
After sharing this story with close friends, I’ve been told that I must blog about it! Okay, okay. Here’s the story (told in my fiction-writing voice):
Climax, here I come. My husband brings me to the peak of pleasure — not like Mount Everest, but more like Mount St. Helens. Heat rises through my body and I erupt in a series of delighted noises as we reach the pinnacle together. We collapse onto the sheets, panting heavily and happily. Dear God, what an amazing gift this is.
Descending back to hum-drum home life, we look at the clock and conclude that we need to clean up and go to sleep. It’s seriously late. We’d worked hard to get our kids in bed tonight. They were at least an hour past the normal bedtime and close to getting their precious necks wrung. Of course, now I picture them tucked under their hairy blankets with fluttering eyelids and cracked mouths, as innocent as cherubim.
I rise and use the bathroom, while my husband washes his hands.
My ear twitches at the sound. What was that?
The tapping repeats. “Are you okay?” A small voice seeps through the bedroom door.
Oh. My. God. Really, God — did you know our kid was awake?
“Just a minute,” I answer, a new wave of heat rising in me, this one like a lightning bolt sizzling through my nervous system. I glance at my husband with eyes wider than volcano craters. “Oh my gosh,” I whisper.
He smiles and shrugs. Men. He could probably have sex with our kid knocking on our door the whole time.
“I heard something,” the small voice continues. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine,” I say — thinking as I speak, sound normal, sound normal, sound normal . . .
I shimmy into my pajamas and open the door. The knob clicks as the door unlocks.
My jammied kid stands there, looking sleepy and concerned. “Maybe it was the cat, but it didn’t really sound like it.”
My stomach flutters. Thank God for pets. “Well, the cat is in here,” I say.
“Oh, I guess that’s what it was.”
“You need to head back to bed.” I pray that my tone is no more than a 2.0 on the Richter scale of anxiety. “Good night.”
My child’s perplexed expression melts into relief with my reassurance and embrace. I tuck my child into bed and scurry back to the bedroom.
My husband awaits — tucked under the covers, looking smug and satisfied. I know what he’s thinking: Who cares who heard? I made her bellow like a banshee.
I roll my eyes. Men.
There’s actually more to this story. The next day when this child described the event to an older sibling . . . well, let’s just say the older sibling was less willing to blame the cat.
I fully expect the kid who overheard the sexual interlude to one day realize what was really going on. If the child then asks for brain bleaching or therapy, my response will be, “Hey, we told you to go to bed. Maybe you should have listened.”
But all of that is okay because yes, kid, your mommy and daddy have sex.
In fact, it’s reassuring to children to know that their parents experience a loving, and even private, relationship that establishes the foundation of their family. They don’t want the details, but them knowing that you have sex is a good thing.
How do you show your children that you delight in God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage? Without revealing details that are nobody’s business?
Flirt in front of your kids. It’s no big surprise to older children that you are sexually intimate if they catch you smiling, winking, touching, and kissing in front of them. You need not have a make-out session in their presence for them to get the hint. They can see from small gestures that you desire one another, that you have chemistry and romance, that your deeper marital connection trumps the latest relationship drama at their school. As you demonstrate that romance doesn’t die when you say “I do,” you’re subtly communicating the healthy message that mommies and daddies have sex.
Carve out alone time. Let your children know that you need time to be alone as a couple. When they are very young, this may involve getting them to bed early or bartering babysitting with other couples or sending them to grandma’s once a week. As they get older, you can simply tell them, “Mom and Dad need some time alone.” Send them to their bedrooms or to watch a TV show or movie while you and your honey retire to the bedroom. Older children will probably figure out at some point what you’re actually doing in there, but they don’t want to hear about it. Most will happily get out of your way. Still, they are getting the message that dads and moms have a unique relationship apart from the kids they raise and that it’s good for husbands and wives to stay connected this way.
Don’t feel guilty. If they do hear you or — heaven forbid — walk in on you, don’t apologize. At least don’t apologize for engaging in sex with your spouse. If you forgot to lock the door, fine; be sorry for that. But treat your sex life with your spouse as a matter-of-fact reality. As in this is what moms and dads do. Sex within marriage is not something to feel guilty about. Your kids should know that this is a normal, God-designed aspect of marriage. You don’t want them to feel that sex is a guilty act . . . because it isn’t when engaged in according to God’s plan. Of course, it isn’t a public act, so do your best to keep it private between you and your spouse, but if your child does get the notion that something was going on, don’t feel like you have to explain or feel guilty. You didn’t do anything wrong. (In fact, if they overheard you, maybe you did it really, really right.)
Use euphemisms. As I’ve already stressed, that you have sex is fine for your kids to know; how you have sex is not what they should or want to know. If asked directly by your kids what was going on, a raised eyebrow might suffice. They don’t need details. They don’t want details. They will choke to death on embarrassment if they get details. Euphemisms are a lovely thing when dealing with this issue because your child can know that you were engaged in sex without it slapping him/her in the face. “We were having ‘alone time'” is a perfectly good answer. Or come up with your own euphemism.
It’s healthy for your children to know that sexual intimacy flourishes in marriage. When you and your spouse hint at a quality sex life in marriage, it protects them against societal messages that sex is for singles or that sex drives die after the wedding. Research shows otherwise, but they’ll believe what they see with their own eyes even more.
No, I don’t plan to explain the particulars to my child. Yet, I’m pretty sure my children know that their father and their mother have a physical desire for one another and that we enjoy sleeping together. How much sleeping and how much other activity goes on in our bed is a private affair.
But yes, kid, your mommy and daddy have sex.
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.
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.