“My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to understanding… for the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword…” (Pr. 5:1-4).
Parents, not peers, should be the first to teach kids about sex.
Unfortunately, this is not true in many Christian households. Some of us feel uncomfortable discussing the topic with our own spouse… How much more with our children! Others feel disqualified because of our own mistakes. Still others deal with sexual shame due to abuse, and talking about sex makes us relive our horror.
The Scriptures speak significantly about sex, but they don’t often speak about speaking about sex. Below are some guidelines that I’ve learned through Scriptural principle, parenting, counseling, and answering the questions of curious teenagers while I was a Youth Pastor.
When Do We Say Something?
1) Start the conversation early
Many parents put all their stakes in “the conversation”, but they don’t teach anything about sex prior to that conversation. This approach can be emotionally traumatic to a child who’s suddenly expected to go from zero to 60 without warning. Below are some simple talking points for early conversations:
- Body parts – As soon as children can understand English (and even before!) they’re ready to begin “the conversation”. My counselor recommended long ago that we call our children’s sexual organs by their real names: not “wee-wee” or “va-va”, but penis and vagina. Why? Because euphemisms subtly communicate that we’re ashamed of certain body parts. Translated into adulthood, you can imagine the ramifications.
- Sexual boundaries – Besides “penis” and “vagina”, we also refer to them as “privates” to teach our kids boundaries. Things that are “private” are not meant to be “public”. Curious kids will naturally try to stare at and touch others’ privates, especially during bath time, so this becomes a recurring lesson. The lesson of boundaries is reinforced by parents who respect kids’ privacy as they get older, and who don’t let kids see them naked once they’re old enough to be clearly aware of the physical sexual differences between mom and dad. These early distinctions between “private” and “public” boundaries set you up for a more explicit teenage conversation: sleeping around makes our private parts public (Pr. 5:16-17), demeaning our self-worth while expressing its lack.
- How babies are made, part 1: Even my four-year-old knows that babies aren’t delivered by storks. They are created when, “Mommy and Daddy have a very special ‘married kiss’.” Part of this ‘married kiss’ involves a ‘seed’ moving from Daddy’s body into Mommy’s body, and going into an egg (we don’t mention the penis and vagina at this stage). Nobody even bats an eye. Our goal here is not merely to teach basic biology, but to lay a foundation for understanding sex as marital intimacy.
- How babies are made, part 2: This is the what most people think of as “the conversation”, and it’s a lot less intimidating for both child and parent now that you’ve laid the groundwork. At this point, all you do is bring definition clarity to sexual intercourse. We’ve already had this conversation with my easily embarrassed ten-year-old daughter, and the conversation was no big deal to her because she was ready.
Just as conversations about sexuality begin before “the conversation,” conversations about sexuality continue after “the conversation.” As kids get older, you will discuss pornography, masturbation, fooling around sexually, fornication, and more.
2) Follow the guideposts
Most parents don’t discuss sex enough, but it’s also possible to err on the other side – delving out too much information, too quickly. How do you know when to say what? Unique factors play into every situation. Here are some guideposts to follow:
- Is the child in public school, private school, or home schooled?
- Does the child have older siblings?
- Is the child curious? (i.e., pay attention to what questions they are asking)
- What is the child’s ‘emotional’ age? (there’s a difference between emotional and chronological age).
There are also universal factors to heed: our children are growing up faster than ever before. At the turn of the 20th century, the average girl had her first period at 16 or 17; today the average age is less than 13.  With the advent of cell phones, internet, and social media, kids are receiving sexts, viewing porn, and finding out about sex earlier than ever.
What Do We Say?
3) Teach biblical standards.
There’s been a common refrain in the church in recent years: “1st century sexual norms don’t work in 21st century.” The 40% of children who are born outside of wedlock might disagree. Parents need to know and teach biblical standards at appropriate ages. Do you know what the Bible says about fornication? Masturbation? Fooling around sexually? Homosexual behavior? Pornography? This makes me think I need another blog on the subject… maybe? We’ll see…
4) Don’t just teach what, teach why
Soon after God gives the Ten Commandments, he teaches the Israelites to show their children the WHY behind the WHAT (Deut. 6:20-25). If we give our children rules without reasons, we train them to be legalistic robots instead of friends of God. Here are a few reasons why God created sex. Conveniently, they all begin with P because I’m a Preacher, and I do that 😉
- Procreation (Gen. 1:28 – did you ever notice that the first command in the Bible is, ‘Have sex’? I’m pretty sure God’s not embarrassed about this topic!)
- Promise (Gen. 2:24 – the covenant of marriage is sealed by sex)
- Pleasure (Pr. 5:18-19; Song of Songs 5:1 – in both passages, God tells married lovers to be intoxicated with sexual pleasure)
- Passion (Song of Songs 4:9-10 – the first ‘bedroom scene’ of the song portrays lovemaking as a profound expression of romantic passion)
- Protection (1 Cor. 7:5 – married sex protects us from sexual temptation)
- Proclamation (Eph. 5:32 – married sex proclaims the Gospel by pointing to the mystical union between Christ and the church)
5) Discuss the beauty of sex, not the dirtiness of it. Pornographers and Puritans have the same core message: sex is dirty. The former embraces the ‘dirtiness’ of sex, and the other shuns it. Both are wrong. Too often the church has shamed teenagers – and mostly, they’ve singled out teenage girls – into the otherwise noble goal of being pure for their future husbands. They do this by using fear tactics, characterizing sexual sin as the worst of all sins. If the young lady ‘stumbles’, she is a filthy sinner. If she ‘keeps herself pure’ for her husband, it’s nearly impossible to flip a switch when she gets married and suddenly believe that sex with her husband is beautiful. As believers in Christ, we must major in Gospel-motivations that emphasize beauty and grace, not shame-based motivations that emphasize filth and fear.
Dealing With Our Own Shame
6) Don’t let your own mistakes hinder you. Solomon had one thousand sex partners, and he died in sexual rebellion against God. Yet this didn’t stop him in the Scripture above from warning his son about the dangers of illicit sex. This is not an excuse for us to break our own standards; it’s a reminder that we can’t let our failures hold us back. When the children are old enough, I would even advise sharing about your failures with them. If mom and dad slept with each other before marriage, tell them. If there have been struggles along the way, share those too. Don’t forget to share why you regretted it later – this is a powerful teaching tool. It also shows your teens that you’ll have grace for them when they fall short.
7) Walk in the light. Sin not only make us feel guilt; it also makes us feel shame. Guilt says, “I made a mistake,” and shame says, “I am a mistake.” Our natural reaction to shame is to go into hiding because we feel like damaged goods (Gen. 3:7-8). As long as I remain in hiding, my shame remains – even if I’m the only one who knows. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). In other words, if we come out of hiding and into the light of friendship with God, sharing our failures in “fellowship with one another” – perhaps a best friend or a pastor or both – then the power of Jesus’ blood manifests to cleanse us from shame. If that wasn’t spectacular enough, Jesus’ blood is still more powerful. Not only does He cleanse us from the shame we feel over our own sins; He cleanses us from the shame we feel over those who’ve sinned against us. In the age of Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nasser, and the whole #metoo movement, how refreshing it is to know that Jesus’ blood has the power to set us free from the shame of sexual abuse.
The Most Important Step
“Walking in the light” is the most important step for anyone to understand when it comes to teaching our kids about sex. If a parent is ashamed of sex, that parent will be sexually unhealthy (usually manifesting as either being asexual or promiscuous), and the parent’s shame will be imparted to the child in the way sex is either discussed or not discussed.
Grace-based parents are not afraid to talk about sex, and their kids are not afraid to talk to them about sex. Grace emboldens everyone, empowers everyone, and emancipates everyone from shackles of shame.
Grace-based parents are the best parents because only they can raise grace-based kids.
 Facing Codependence, Pia Mellody, pg. 167. Mellody is one of the preeminent voices on shame, boundaries, and codependence in America. She suggests that children should not see their parents naked after about age 4 or 5.