Imagine living in a world where husbands wooed their wives with Adam’s passion—bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh—and sex was enjoyed. Imagine living in a world where, after the stress of each day, husbands and wives found comfort in sexual intimacy as David did with his wife after the death of their child. Imagine living in a world in which the only reason for not having sex with your marriage partner was the urgency of prayer. It would be a sex-crazed world.1
Unfortunately we don’t live in a sex-crazed world. We live in a sex-twisted world where Adams and Eves are in conflict, and where Davids and Bathshebas commit adultery.2
The abuse of sex in this world is scary. Abuse and infidelity in the church is scarier. For many, recalling their own experiences with sex increases the fear even further. But there is nothing like seeing our children grapple with issues like pornography, dating, sex and marriage to get us really frightened.
We need to view sex as God does. He has made us sexual beings, and has made sex for marriage. Protecting our children from the world will not prevent sexual feelings and temptations being an issue for them, and it won’t equip them. So how do we bring up our kids in a sex-twisted world to know the joy of sex as God intended?
10 wise tips that have been passed on to us
1. Model that marriage and sex are good, and you are thankful
The old adage is true: what kids learn is more caught than taught. Being content and growing in love and service together in your marriage (including your sexual relationship) is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. This includes showing physical affection in front of the kids and having time alone without them.
A by-product of this is that kids won’t have all their needs met; this is good for them! Our two parenting principles are ‘benign neglect’ and ‘dinner together every night’—i.e. don’t make kids the centre of the universe, but give them opportunities to learn responsibility, resilience and how to entertain themselves, while being supported in love.
Some marriages are harder than others. But even in a difficult marriage, or as a single parent, a godly parent can be a positive model to their children.3
2. Teach that marriage and sex are good, and to be thankful
We are fallen people. We need to learn how special sex is, how wonderful it is that God created it, and that he knows the ways to express sex that are our for our good. We need to learn to be thankful for sex and treasure it. We told our kids over and over that sex is good. The day they said “there they go again, saying sex is good” was the day we knew we had hit the mark. When the kids said or saw something inappropriate (e.g. in a movie), we would say “What a shame, that is so sad—sex is such a wonderful gift from God, it is sad to see it being abused and used to hurt people”. When they were facing sexual issues we would remind them to be careful: “Marriage is special and important. Be wise about what you will take into your marriage.”4
3. Relationship education
In our society we spend a lot of time educating children about sex and ‘stranger danger’, but we need to spend more time educating them about relationships. We often stress that kids have to be nice to everyone, and fail to teach them to discern behaviour and make judgements. Even some Christians are emotionally manipulative; we need to teach our kids appropriate emotional behaviour. Healthy relationships are outward-looking, task-focused, and don’t involve endless hours of analysis.5 Christopher Ash’s book, Marriage and God, with its emphasis on marriage being about doing the work of the kingdom, not self-indulgent companionship, is helpful in this regard.6
Be proactive in giving your children a healthy view of singleness and marriage. Our identity is found in Christ, not in whether we are in a relationship or not. One of the pressures on young adults that leads to unwise decisions is society telling them they’re incomplete without a relationship. Understanding and valuing Christ, our personhood in him, and his view of marriage will help children manage their sexual behaviour.
4. Sex education
It is important to teach sex education early and often, not only because kids are exposed to stuff early, but also because as they get older they may not want to talk with you about it. When you talk about sex remember to put it in the context of marriage and relationships. Some quick pointers:
- Encourage your children to feel able to ask you questions, assuring them you will answer honestly.
- If you are not sure where a child is at when they ask a question, reply with a clarifying query to find out their real issue.
- Have a good range of sex education books on the kids’ bookshelf that they can pick up and read when it suits them.
- Use the proper names for body parts. It is helpful for creating a positive, ‘normalizing’ attitude. It’s easy to pick up slang later.
- Be honest; sexual feelings are real and strong. Teach children about limerence—the intense romantic desire for another that deeply affects our emotions, physical state and judgement. Sharing your own experiences can be instructive.
5. Understanding the stages of development
Get up to speed on the developmental stages children go through, and respond appropriately. For example, puppy love in eight-to-twelve-year-olds requires a different response to relationships between fifteen-year-olds.
We need to support teenagers as they undertake the tasks of adolescence. When confronted with a situation, talk through what is the wise/unwise thing to do, and help them anticipate difficulties and articulate ways to be responsible. For example, when one child had a girlfriend we weren’t keen on, we didn’t put the girl down but said, “We understand part of growing up is finding love outside the home, and becoming independent of us. But part of the process is doing it in a way that maintains relationship with us, and it also involves making wise decisions. It may be worth listening to our advice.”
6. Be a good communicator and listener
Addressing sexual issues in the heat of a moment of discipline is very difficult—often you are misconstrued or not heard. From an early age discuss issues in everyday family conversations. For example, when friends’ marriages break up, it is a helpful time to discuss these issues with your children. Share with your children what you appreciate in your partner (the kids may protest but persevere!). Lay the foundation early—while they may forget some of it in the heat of adolescence, hopefully they will return to it when the hormones settle down. Listen to understand issues from your child’s perspective.
7. Teach self-control
Sex and self-control are often discussed together in the Bible. We all find self-control and delayed gratification difficult. We spend time repeating rules to our children that they already know, and miss that what they are finding difficult is how to control their behaviour. Since most of us find it difficult not to reach for that extra chocolate biscuit, you’d think we’d be more understanding in this regard! So when our kids were having difficulty controlling themselves we’d say, “I know you know the right thing to do, and I can see you are having difficulty doing it. I will sit here with you and help you do it.” Or, as they got older, “What are ways we can work out to help you do the wise thing?” Finally, remember to teach self-control in little things, such as waiting until thanks has been given before eating.
8. Enable them to practise hospitality and service
In 1 Thessalonians 4, sexual purity isn’t just about controlling your body—the flipside is learning brotherly love, godly living and work. Providing a hospitable home in which kids are comfortable to have friends over not only makes supervision easier, but also teaches your children a lot about relating to others. Don’t always prescribe activities, but give children opportunities to organize social events.
9. Attend a good church with young adults
The twenty-somethings at church have been very influential on our kids. We are fortunate to go to a church where the staff and young adults take time to talk to our kids and treat them as people, and where the youth group is run by adults in their twenties and thirties, not just older teenagers. Work in partnership with your youth leaders—be informed about what they are teaching the kids, pray together, share concerns about a child’s behaviour.
Our son has a long-distance relationship and relies on Christians having him to stay when he visits or is visited by his girlfriend, so they aren’t staying in the same house (a rule they came up with). This would not be possible without the generosity of other Christians, and has taught us the value of Christian community in helping young people to live in a godly way.
10. Grace (and humour)
We are saved and transformed by grace. Sex is often set up as the unforgivable sin; it is not. Teach and model grace and forgiveness to your children. Finally, many parents are super-intense, constantly asking their kids questions, seeing if they are okay. Relax. Enjoy life, muck around together—and they will enjoy being with you and not seek pleasure elsewhere.
1Gen 2:18-25; 2 Sam 12:15-25; 1 Cor 7:1-7.
2Gen 3:16; 2 Sam 11.
3For a great example of this read Chapter 12 of Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Woman, Crossway, Illnois, 2001.
4Jason Stevens, Worth the Wait, CMC Australasia, 2008.
5Lori Rentzel’s work is helpful: Emotional Dependency, IVP, Illinois, 1990.
6Christopher Ash, Married for God, IVP, United Kingdom, 2007.