The Truth About Sex & How It Affects Our Parenting
Due to the Josh Duggar sex abuse revelation, there is a lot of talk. Everyone has their opinions, but we don’t know all the facts, and even if we did, there’s nothing we can do at this point to affect real change in THAT situation. So I don’t want to get into an in-depth conversation where we attempt to Monday-morning quarterback things that happened in someone else’s family more than a decade ago.
But there are things I know about sex. There are things we all know. There are biblical truths and facts about our bodies that are undeniable.
And I think those facts ought to influence how we parent.
[Please note: under each fact below, I share how that fact influences the ways that Doug and I parent our seven children. I want to point out that our oldest child will be 13 this summer. What that means is that I’ve done a good portion of this multiple times over now, but it also means that there is a large portion that I have NOT done. In those areas, I am sharing out of observation of wise and unwise practices of others, the teaching of biblical truth that I have received, and the plans that Doug and I have thought through in regard to how to handle future things. I am a Christian woman writing as a fellow-traveler who has some thoughts about these things, rather than a seasoned guru who has raised forty-two godly children to adulthood.]
While we can’t solve every problem “out there,” we CAN bring about change within our own homes and families.
Here are NINE facts about sex and the ways they affect our parenting:
#1- SEX IS DESIGNED BY GOD.
So there’s no reason to hide from it or pretend like it doesn’t exist. It’s not some sneaky hidden thing we never talk about. Children growing up in Christian homes should not be the most ignorant about sex, but rather, should be the most clear about God’s good pleasure in it, and what He made it for, and what it’s not meant for.
#2- SEX WITHIN HIS PARAMETERS IS GOOD.
So we don’t treat it as if it is bad. It is not. We don’t try to hide that we like touching, playing with, kissing, and being around each other. A godly couple being physically connected is a wonderful thing, and our children should (in appropriate ways– through hugs, winks, hand holding, kisses, snuggles, perhaps things like loving pats on the bottom, etc.) know that we love each other and that we share a unique, physical relationship that is different from simply a friendship or close family relationship.
#3- SEX OUTSIDE HIS PARAMETERS IS SIN AND ALWAYS ENDS BADLY.
So we don’t treat it as if it is good in any way. It is not. We don’t watch movies or TV that celebrate sex outside of marriage (whether as teens, as dating couples, as adultery, or in homosexual relationships). No matter what, even if our hearts or inward lusts want to pull us down the path of liking the story (Titanic, reality TV shows with dating couples, Bridges of Madison County, Fifty Shades of Gray, etc.), we clearly communicate that sex outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage is bad. Because it is.
This is not a gray area in our home. These boundaries are clearly defined and talked about. We do not couch sin in more appetizing language: “affairs,” “got physical,” “no one can really judge,” “making out,” “different strokes for different folks,” etc. This isn’t bigoted against any group. It’s biblically judging ALL sexual activity according to God’s standards. It provides the backdrop for every TV show we watch (if something unexpected comes up, we pause to discuss as needed, etc.), every extended family situation we encounter (“how can she have a baby? she’s not married…” “why are there two men together?” etc.), and every future sinful temptation they may feel. This is part of an ongoing, continual conversation in our home.
Simply put: sex, in any form other than inside of marriage, is sinful. We want to communicate this clearly and often in our home.
#4- SEX IS A COMMON, POWERFUL TEMPTATION.
There is no temptation that will overtake our children except that which is common to man. What is common to man is this: they have bodily urges that will likely drive them TOWARD sexual expression. Paul described the desire as “burning.” We would be doing our children HARM if we didn’t assume that most of them will encounter challenges to their character in this area.
Many of the Bible’s “greats” fell prey to its tempting pull: David (with Bathsheba), Lot (drunk, with his own daughters), Samson (with a idolatrous wife), Solomon (with an insatiable desire for sex, he possessed hundreds of wives and concubines) and others. So, because we know this, we do not treat our children as if they are going to, all on their own, be innocent as doves until their wedding day without great assistance, accountability, education, governance, and discipleship.
We don’t treat them as if they are stronger than some of the most God-fearing men that ever lived. We don’t act as if sex isn’t going to be a draw in their lives. We don’t treat them as if they can endure the temptation of everyone in the world around them seeming to know all about this thing that they seem to never stop doing and talking about, and not have any internal pull of curiosity and exploration. We don’t act in ways that would indicate we don’t think our children could be tempted “by THAT.”
Basically, we don’t treat our children as if they are Jesus incarnate.
No, instead, we recognize that “THAT” (sexuality) is something that tempts almost all of us in one way or another. We recognize that they are sinners, with great potential for foolishness and wickedness in their hearts. And therefore, we do not put our children in situations where there is easy access to sexual content or sexual contact if it all possible. When there is not the ability to protect against this (say, she is getting to the age where she will go to college and have internet access outside our home, or he will be around friends with internet-capable devices for a few days’ time), then we talk explicitly and purposefully about what temptations will exist, how we can war against them, what measures can be in place to bring accountability and wisdom into the situation.
We also teach God’s Word to them, clearly, in regard to the potential temptations and sins they may face or be surrounded by. We remind them of the Gospel: their need for Christ, and His full payment on their behalf, so that they might be freed from the power of sin in their lives.
Certainly careful, purposeful sheltering may be a significant part of our parenting while they are young, but ultimately, temptation comes to us all. It is not sheltering that can save my children, but it is ultimately God’s Spirit alive within them and His Word ruminating in their hearts and minds that will bring conviction, shape their hearts, and keep their character. Over time, it is the Gospel that will guard my children in this area of their God-given sexuality.
CHRIST IN OUR CHILDREN, at work in their hearts, is what can save them from their sin. Nothing else.
#5- SEXUAL SIN IS “OUT THERE.”
Real life in our real culture necessarily means that our children will encounter sexuality in all its depravity. It’s on book and movie covers at Costco. It’s on commercials and advertising posters. It’s on the roadside billboards and packaging at the grocery store. You can’t get away from the lure of sex. It is OUT THERE.
Which means, we deal with it. We do not treat it like it does not exist. We talk about what to do with our eyes… but we don’t stop there. We talk about what to do with our hearts. “How do we avoid taking in wickedness and cherishing it inside?” “How can we honor God with our thinking?” “How can we honor other women and men– even those who have let pictures be taken of themselves– by not treating them as things? How can we treat them as fellow image-bearers of God?”
#6- SEXUALITY IS SOMETHING OTHER PEOPLE MAY TRY TO TAKE.
It happens in situations of molestation. It happens in situations of rape. It happens when a teen friend sidles up to another friend and says “look at this” and holds out an image on his phone, stealing innocence and introducing sexual thought and visuals where there was none. It happens. And it happens frequently (yes, even in the homeschool community if you haven’t been paying attention to Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard and Josh Duggar and whoever else comes out next).
The first time I remember hearing about sexual molestation was in a situation with a distant family friend in a church circle we had attended for a short time. The main thing I heard was something commonly said in these situations: “We would have never thought it would be Tom. He was such a NICE man. He was a deacon, served faithfully, and was so friendly.” Again and again I’ve heard these same refrains… I’ve heard them enough to make me be kind across the board, but to be extremely cautious in who I entrust with my children.
Being “nice” is not necessarily a sign that someone will not abuse children. Being a “leader” in church or Christian community is not necessarily a sign that someone will not abuse children. I don’t want to be suspicious of everyone in the world, and yet, I want to be shrewd and wise. I try to pay attention and look for signs of sexual abuse and lack of supervision within families. These two things (signs of sexual abuse and lack of supervision) make me cautious and unlikely to leave my children in someone’s care.
The statistics are startling:
- About 25% of girls are sexually abused before age 18
- About 10% of boys are sexually abused before age 18
- 82% of juvenile sexual abuse victims are female
- 13% of youth report receiving unwanted sexual advances and sexually explicit material via the internet
- about 60% of sexual abuse is by known people who are not family members (i.e., babysitters, family friends, neighbors)
- about 30% of sexual abuse is by family members
- about 10% is by strangers
- The younger the victim, the more likely it is that he/she was abused by a family member.
So, as a parent, what does this mean for you?
How will it affect your policy about sleepovers? What about who you trust to babysit? How will you warn your children about the possibility of sexual predators? What about how soon and how often you leave your children in the care of others? How soon will you allow devices, under what circumstances, and with what precautions? And what about the friends they are around? Will you allow them to be around friends who have phones and tablets? At what ages? How will you handle group settings where you may or may not know all the people present? And there’s a lot of “other people” living right there in your home… how will you protect them all from one another and from the sin within themselves?
Here are some of our norms (I share these not to compel you to follow in our footsteps, but to give you an example of how we sort these things out and to give you some ideas for things you may need to consider.):
- Our family does not, generally, participate in sleepovers. There is an occasional exception when we need to travel for a conference and need someone to watch our children. But for us, this is where the line has been drawn.
- Our family does not, generally, have internet-accessible devices without parental controls. Once they get to an age where they are around friends with internet-accessible devices, we have already talked explicitly and often about pornography, its fleshly pull, its damaging outcomes, and the seriousness of that sin.
- After they are out of the crib, we separate children by gender, and do not generally put them in the same bed with one another (though hotel stays and short-term travel have sometimes necessitated it).
- Except for short in-home situations (i.e., “please play blocks here in the living room with the 3-year-old while I go lay down the 1-year-old”), we do not currently leave our oldest, preteen boys in charge of our other children. This is not because we think our sons are terrible, wicked people likely to do horrible things. NO! They are delightful, and absolutely splendid with their younger siblings. They will make WONDERFUL husbands and fathers one day! Rather, we recognize that every human being has an inbuilt propensity toward sin, and that pre-teens and teens are still learning to manage and sort out their own hormones and physical responses. so we do not put our older children in situations that may provide unaccountable access and opportunity to lord over another, smaller child. We also recognize that there is a mix of hormones, curiosity, and sin nature residing in the bodies of our children… these are common “ingredients” that may lead an otherwise “good kid” to act foolishly if given the opportunity. Perhaps in a few years’ time, once we have enough children to have a plurality of babysitters (i.e., perhaps 3 children who are all responsible & trustworthy), then we may consider letting them (in a group) keep an eye on younger siblings while we have a date or something. But at this point, no matter how badly we might like time “just the two of us,” it’s just not worth it. There will be all the time in the world once the kids are gone for us to go out alone how ever often we feel like, but right now, our top priority needs to be the protection and oversight of these children God has entrusted to our care. And that means thoughtful, shrewd protection from sinners *outside* our family, protection from one another, and protection even from themselves and their own foolishness.
- We generally keep our kids close to us. Our default position is “near enough” to our children to hear and correct sin, and keep them from habitually acting like fools. Yes, in the short term, that’s harder work, but in the long run, I think it’ll make for less regret.
- We also regularly (probably 4-6 times a year in a purposeful way) talk with our children about the privacy of their genitals, and what God’s purposes are for their bodies. We talk specifically about who is, and who isn’t, allowed to see/touch their private areas (mom/dad if helping with toileting or bathing, and occasionally the doctor if there is a problem). We ask pointed (but not leading) questions about if anything has happened that has made them uncomfortable, if they’d like to ask us or tell us anything, if anyone has done anything or said anything to them, etc. (I plan to share more about this in a future post, but don’t want to get derailed here getting into all those specifics.) From a young age, we regularly use books and media, and purposefully educate our children about what the Bible says about sex. Through on-going conversation in daily life, we work to instill caution and wise discernment in our children in this area of sexuality.
SEE THESE ARTICLES FOR MORE SPECIFICS:
- Is it Biblical to Teach Our Kids About Sex?
- The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Birth to Age 2
- The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, from Ages 2 to 5
It is wise to recognize the reality of these statistics, and that sexual abuse happens even among those in conservative Christian circles, and adjust your parenting procedures (which sometimes may require you to be quite different from “norms” around you) to protect your children.
#7- SIN NOT ONLY SOMETHING “OUT THERE;” IT IS “IN HERE.”
Here is where many of the systems that have captivated homeschoolers have stopped. Sheltering can not be our primary, long-term strategy. Keeping them from “that wickedness out there” is not (by itself) a sufficient parenting method.
Now see, here is where I have to be careful that my own wounds do not unduly influence my words.
You see, I was the not-good-enough public schooled girl with too much black eyeliner and a past. I was the one that the plaid-donning, pristine, ATI homeschool girls were not allowed to be around. But the thing is: by the time I met them, Jesus had truly captured my heart. I really wanted to walk with Him and learn to be a disciple. Yes, I had a past, but my Good Shepherd had come after me and drawn me from my wandering back into His fold. He was doing a major course-correction on me. But they were focused on keeping their daughters from external, perceived bad influences. And I get that, to a degree, so I don’t want to be too hard on those mamas. They were doing the best they could.
But here is where my concern comes out: I’m not sure many of those pristine homeschooled girls were ever told (in fact I’m not sure their parents even believed) that their biggest potential problem in life would be their own stinky, self-centered flesh. Instead, I think they were often (whether by words or simply by example) encouraged to look at and avoid the potentially-bad stuff in other people, nd perhaps never told to examine their own hearts for the sin lurking there.
And please, hear me: this isn’t me casting stones– this is the main problem we all have.
We– ourselves– are all just rotten sinners. It’s what comes naturally to every single one of us. We selfishly want to wield kingly control over everything and everyone around us. We don’t need exposure to pornography in order to be sexually sinful in our minds. No one forces us to have hatred and foul judgments well up within us, and selfish desires and envy and greed rise to the surface of our hearts. These things spring out of us! We have foolishness, wickedness, and the potential for terribly vile behavior all right here within our own skin.
Oh yes, the companion of fools will suffer harm, but we don’t have to continually rub shoulders with fools in order to suffer harm, because you see, our most constant companion is US, and we are utterly wicked at heart. Each of us, without the grace of Christ and the Word of God running through our minds, is very likely to be WRONGLY counseling our own heart. So even without fools for companions, we constantly have OURSELVES with us, which leaves us walking around all the time with a sinner as our biggest counselor.
So then, as parents, we must be careful with the people “out there” but we also need to teach our children the truth about themselves: that they are sinners. And we must teach them how to fight sin. While we certainly can and should exercise discernment and caution in the influences around our children, we can not stop there. We cannot be satisfied to just teach them to avoid the bad influences “out there,” but rather, we need to be teaching them to fight sin in their hearts, and lies that they’re believing, that would destroy them from the inside out.
We should watch our children with discernment, seeking to learn what their individual set of struggles (as we each have a propensity toward particular sins more than others) may be, and protect them even from themselves, as much as is possible while they are in our home. Which means certain children may have different ages they can, for example, get a Facebook account, or be given the freedom to go to an event with same-aged peers, or be able to read or watch certain things. When we recognize that our children are individual sinners, we realize we are not only charged with protecting them from the influence of bad company, but also charged with helping protect them from themselves.
Of course, in addition to all of this, WE MUST NOT BE HYPOCRITES. We cannot claim to believe that God is working to bring us into conformity with the image of Christ, that all things are possible for Him, and that He is able to change hearts, but not be submitting ourselves to that constant work of change. We must be doing battle with sin… we cannot teach them what we do not know. We must live before them life as a disciple and invite them to join us as co-journeyers.
While Doug and I are clearly the primary authorities God has set over our children, we are also fellow beggars before God. Everyone in our home– including the two of us– is in need of the grace and light of Jesus to invade our hearts and draw us toward conformity with Christ. It is not enough to teach our kids “what’s right” — we must be living before them a life of increasing devotion to and delight in Jesus.
As our children grow, we have conversations of increasing depth and frequency, about the reality and the draw of of sexual sin, and how it will consume your life and steal your joy. As they approach young adult life, we begin having conversations about the beauty of sexual intimacy within marriage, how it typifies Jesus Christ and the Church, and why it is good and pure and desirable and honorable within God’s defined parameters.
Suggested resource for parents of pre-teens-and-up: Passport2Purity
#8- AFTER THE FALL IN GENESIS 3, PRIVATE PARTS ARE COVERED.
We aren’t told explicitly what parts Adam and Eve covered after the Fall in Genesis 3, but it is clear that Adam and Eve’s attempts at self-covering weren’t adequate. Their tendency was to do too little. God slaughtered an animal and gave them “garments of skins” to wear, which certainly would have been more fully-covering than their own loincloths made of leaves.
What this means for us as parents is that we don’t treat nakedness as funny/cute/something to joke about. We clothe our children from a young age in a similar manner to the ways we desire for them to continue… that means, we don’t encourage clothing in either gender that shows off their private parts, clings to their bodies, or sexualizes them. We are discreet in the photos we take (and share).
Modern women often say, “I should be able to wear whatever I want, others need to control their own minds, eyes, and hands. I’m not responsible for their lust.” And some mothers internalize this message and think their children should be able to wear whatever (or nothing) and go unscathed, without dealing with the lusts of others. But the truth we all know (see #6 up there) is that other people are sinful. At no point in life on earth are we living in Heaven. We aren’t working with a bunch of saints. And even if you assume that everyone in church is a saint (which I believe is a faulty assumption), we are not all fully sanctified saints.
And in our homes, we still need to be careful. You might be thinking, “oh, come on! They’re brother and sister! That’s not an issue for them.” Well, considering recent issues in the news, and probably other stories that have happened in your own extended family or extended church family, I’d encourage you to reconsider.
God has made us as sexual beings. Because we are sinners, when we are left without guidance, accountability, and correction, those desires can come out in a variety of sins.
Please understand: I believe that sexual abuse is always wrong, no matter how someone is dressed. A woman who is raped was never “asking for it.” A child who is molested never “deserves it” because of how they are dressed/not dressed.
And yet, because we know that we are surrounded by sinners, we want to wisely, discreetly clothe our children (before they are able to decide these things for themselves). Because we live amidst sinners, we clothe our bodies in ways that do not show off or draw attention to our private parts. Clothing our private parts in ways that inspire the imaginations of others to wander (or that give a pretty full picture of what is underneath) is not loving to the people around us and does not honor God’s practice of covering that began immediately after the Fall. So we cover our private parts. We cover them at home. We cover them away from home. We cover out of respect for God and others.
#9- SEXUAL RESPONSE IS SOMETHING PHYSICALLY INBUILT.
There are physical things happening inside and outside of every adolescent body that are drawing out inbuilt responses.
We need to talk about these things with our children as it is appropriate. Yes, that makes for some sometimes uncomfortable topics. Wet dreams. Masturbation. What to mentally “do” with curiosity or sexually explicit images that come our way. We share with them that just because you feel a physical thing happening, it doesn’t mean you have to act on it: we are thinking human beings, not just instinct-driven animals. We tell them, “God has built your body to respond in certain ways so that when the time is right with your husband/wife, you can enjoy sexual intimacy to the fullest.”
It does our children no favors for us to KNOW about reproductive-oriented things that WILL HAPPEN to them (whether that’s periods for girls, wet dreams/erections for boys, and hormonal and physical changes for them both) but never clue our children in to these things. In fact, I believe it is dropping the ball of parental responsibility for us to NOT teach our daughters and sons about these basic biological things that God has built into their bodies.
When we talk about these things in our family, we start talking about it before it will happen. And we talk about the context (“Sometimes this might happen when you…”), as well as the long-term God-ordained reason for it (“God made your body in this way so that, at the right time, if God wills, you will be able to make a baby with your husband/wife.”).
Additionally, this means that we do not act as if our pre-teens and teens are not hormonally charged. Our sons and daughters will struggle with sexual temptation. As mentioned above, we do not leave them in charge of younger siblings without caution and accountability (perhaps in groups of babysitters). If in a dating or courtship relationship, they will not naturally (on their own) go the way of chaste behavior and careful interactions… no, that will only come with careful teaching, great purpose in accountability and structure, and the heartfelt participation of the couple in the process.
We are not being loving, purposeful parents if we hide our heads in the sand and act as if our children will not encounter something every healthy child since the dawn of time has encountered. Appropriate, God-centered education about why God has made their bodies as He has is something that loving Christian parents should give to their children.
As parents, we should be a protective force for our children, protecting them from both the outward, inward, and in-built influences that might pull them into sin.
THIS IS AN OVERALL, ON-GOING CONVERSATION
As I mentioned above, these things are always going on in our home as part of an on-going conversation. This leads to some occasional surprise conversations (conversations that may be more physically specific, or more confessional about sin, than you probably were with your own parents), but Doug and I believe that this is good… our children know that they can come to us when they have questions about something happening with their bodies, or in their minds, and they know that we will not lie to them or cover the truth.
They know that they can ask us anything and receive an honest, loving, biblical answer. Continual communication enables our children to have ongoing dialogue with the people who love them best and are most committed to their long-term good (us) about the situations they’re encountering in their real lives. This takes work and time, but it’s oh so worth it.
We may feel nervous to talk about these things, but I believe that is cultural rather than biblical. Biblically, people talked about sex all along the way:
- The Old Testament law talked very specifically about which sexual acts were and weren’t approved by God, and the law was to be taught within the family and read out loud to all of Israel (no mention of kids being separated) annually.
- Solomon recorded the dialogues between he and his bride and included sexually explicit details. He also explicitly taught his (apparently young) son that he should one day be satisfied by his wife’s breasts and intoxicated by her love.
- Jesus mentioned various sexual sins throughout His teachings
- Paul (a single man) talked specifically about both biblical and deviant sexual practices, and even about the norms for sexual intimacy among married couples.
When we avoid talking about these things, I believe we are ranking our own cultural discomfort above the implications of the nine truths above.
Doug and I don’t want to leave our children to flounder in such an important area of their lives. Instead, we want to give them the right framework for understanding sex, and these are some of the ways that we’ve worked to open up dialogue and instill biblical truth into the hearts and minds of our children in this area.
How have you addressed some of these things with your children?
- Is it Biblical to Teach Our Kids About Sex?
- The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Birth to Age 2
- The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, from Ages 2 to 5
- A Child Left To Himself: A Practical Bible Verse About Parenting Little Sinners
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