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How to Explain Lust to Your Children

Last Updated: October 23, 2020

John Fort

John Fort, MST, is the Director of Training for Be Broken Ministries where he oversees online training on Pure Life Academy. He is also a co-founder and board member of the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit. John is a regular speaker on parenting and is the author of Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship.

How do we teach our children to avoid pornography and damaging sexual situations, while teaching that sex is good and was created by God?

I have found it helps to remember that children’s first encounter with sexuality on a personal level is through feelings, not physical acts. God designed us to experience sexual interest, curiosity, and even excitement. Lust, on the other hand, occurs when those normal feelings get out of control. If we do not help our kids differentiate healthy feelings from lust, children typically develop feelings of shame around their own sexuality. This is the last thing we should want for our children.

Why We Need to Differentiate Between Lust and Normal Feelings

I confess I never really thought about teaching the difference between lust and normal sexual feelings until my son was 13 years old. I was having an accountability conversation with him and he suddenly looked down, a look of shame appeared on his face, and said, “I messed up this week.” Those are not words parents love to hear particularly when talking to your child about anything sexual. I braced myself to prepare for the worst. I asked him to explain, and this is what he said:

“I was in gym class, and this girl was wearing short shorts. I saw her and messed up.”

You are probably asking the same question that was running through my head at the time—how, exactly, did he mess up? I asked how he messed up, but he wasn’t able to explain, not because he was hiding anything, but because he didn’t know how to explain what happened. So, I asked, “Did you keep staring at her?” No, he looked away immediately. “Did you fantasize about her, either then or later?” No. “Did you masturbate later on thinking about her?” No.

I was then quite confused. These are the things we were working on him avoiding, so in what way had he fallen short? Then it finally dawned on me what had most likely happened, and I felt like an idiot. We talked a while and my suspicions were confirmed: my son had felt sexual attraction and excitement and was sure he had done something wrong as a result. Sexual feelings were still pretty new to him, and he didn’t know the difference between normal feelings and lust. He thought he sinned against God.

How I Explained Lust to My Son

I thought fast, knowing I had to help him out, or he would be left thinking he was defective in some way. The following is what I ended up explaining to my son.

Biology

We are all designed by God to start feeling sexual attraction around the age of puberty. This means there will be times we feel strong sexual feelings when we see people of the opposite sex, particularly if they happen to be wearing few clothes, such as the girl he saw in the gym.

This is a good thing, not a bad thing, because if this never happened to us, we’d never get married and there would be no more children.

Those feelings can hit us like a ton of bricks, all at once, with no warning at all. This is a biological reaction of our bodies. We cannot control it, and we don’t need to worry about it.

If anything, when it begins to happen, it only indicates that everything is working correctly as God designed. It is also good to have people, parents in his case, we can talk about times we experience these feelings.

Temptation

If we linger on these initial feelings, or keep looking at a very attractive person, we may then start wanting to imagine what they look like naked, or what it would be like to kiss them, or do something sexual with them.

This wanting to imagine those things is called temptation.

We have moved from experiencing a normal biological reaction to feeling tempted to do more. Even this, however, is not sin. It is only sin if we carry it out through fantasy or watching porn. We can still walk away, even when we feel tempted.

Lust

When we carry out our temptation through fantasy or looking at pornography, we have begun to lust. Lust is allowing ourself to focus on sexual thoughts and not trying to stop. Lust is harmful to us, and it is sin.

I got a scrap of paper and wrote it out for him to see more easily like this:

Biological Reaction > Temptation > Lust

My son experienced a biological reaction to seeing a scantily clad girl his age. He thought he “messed up” because he thought those feelings in themselves were a sin. This is pretty common when children first experience feelings they never felt before.

The last thing I wanted him to feel was shame for being a normal young adult. This feeling he had, I explained, was good. Turning those feelings into a fantasy is not good, but to have them is normal. My son was very relieved.

How We Want Our Kids to Respond

Why is this important to teach our kids? Because if they believe they have sinned when they have merely had a normal bodily reaction, it is easy for them to give in to lust because they think they are already lusting. By teaching children that a sexual feeling is normal, shame can’t get ahold of them and drag them into fantasy or give them an excuse to use pornography.

What I wanted my son to do next time he experienced a similar feeling was tell himself, “Yep, everything is still working right. Good to know! Now, who can I go talk to so this doesn’t turn into a temptation?”

  • Comments on: How to Explain Lust to Your Children
    1. Mack on

      Very nice article.Thanks for your sharing.

      Reply
      • Marsha Smith on

        This is a great article but it would be even better if it talked about lust being healthy and beautiful when you have it with your spouse. Saving yourself for after you are married and being faithful to your spouse in every aspect makes for the best sex you could ever experience.

    2. Samantha on

      I want to start off by saying that I think that it is wonderful that you can have such open and honest conversations with your son. If more parents developed open God centered accountability relationships with their children I truly believe we would see a great change in our youth and adult culture.

      I believe that the subjects you touched on are very important. Children should not be taught to be ashamed of the fact that God designed us to be sexual creatures. I do feel that it is important to teach our children that God designed us and intended us to share that gift of sexual intimacy with one. For that reason I feel that it is important to teach our children that physical attraction alone is a very poor guide for seeking that special one out. While it is important for children to be taught to understand and not be ashamed of their bodies or their biological reactions to the opposite sex, it is even more important that we teach them that every body is a beautiful work of art created in the image of God and deserves respect. That respect should include the respect we give our own bodies out of respect for the God who created us to do good works for Him. I could get into and discuss the impact of loss of Godly modesty in our culture (even among the daughters of God) but I would be here all day. Let me just say that there is a very great difference between dressing to express and highlight our God given feminine beauty and dressing to entice. Young boys and girls do need to be taught the difference between the two and how to appreciate (in a pure and Godly manner) the right one and avoid the wrong one. The Bible teaches us how to do this so I don’t feels it’s necessary to go any further.

      I do want to say again that I agree with the points touched on this article. Puberty is a very powerful and confusing time for children and they need to be taught how to handle and process their newly developed interest and biological reactions to the opposite sex in a Godly and healthy way. I do believe that these conversations with our children need to go deeper if we want our children to learn how to look at people the way that God does and that is by looking at and valuing a person for who they are on the inside and not allowing our wordly opinions of or fleshly reactions to what’s on the outside to get in the way of that. I think we can all agree that sometimes our bodies and minds can get in the way of God’s way.

      God Bless you and good luck as you continue to have great conversations with your son! Being a parent is a powerful and wonderful blessing.

      Reply
      • John on

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I did not take the time to go into the many other things we taught our son (and daughter as well) related to attraction. We talked a lot about how attraction can hijack the brain, especially in teens, and make it very difficult for them to think clearly. We also worked hard to help them differentiate between physical attraction and emotional connection. As you suggest, there are many things we need to teach our children while we have them.

        We just need to keep those conversations going!

    3. Michele on

      Thank you for putting this out there. It is difficult to know what to say to our children sometimes, and you have given some great advice that will be really helpful.

      Reply
    4. Darryl on

      good article…my question would be.. when do you consider an act similar to this to be lust/sin?

      for instance while working out at a health club, there is pretty much always women who are dressed in fitting and attractive fitness clothing…if i’m tempted but look away, i agree that is not lust…however if you’re tempted by the attraction of women in their fitted workout apparel and you find yourself glancing/looking more than once but without any sexual desire but rather more admiration of beauty and attraction, i would still consider that act as lust even if you didn’t have fantasies or promptings to fulfill viewing pornography or self-gratification

      would you agree or no?

      Reply
      • Steve on

        Yes I agree with that!

      • Steve on

        Yes I agree with you Darryl on that!

    5. Lisa on

      I agree with your comments here in the article. What a wonderful relationship you have with your son! Jason Evert helped me even as an adult to know how to channel those appropriate desires with the end in mind – the end being the marital act which is a complete giving of the self to another.

      When sexual feelings arise, if it is not an appropriate time to act upon the them – whether I am a young adult, single or married person, one thing to do is to offer some type of action for another. if possible, for that person one is attracted to or for another person. It could be a physical act of kindness, some sort of labor or Other generous thing for that person. It helps to tie in the intellectual and emotional piece to the sexual feelings and channel them in an appropriate way. Over time it becomes a habit. It was a beautiful insight for me and I hope for you as well.

      Reply
    6. Davina Morris on

      What is the best way for me to talk to my Daughter who is 12 and my Son who is 11 about sex? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Davina,

        When we think about good sexuality education, we like to use the term “scaffolding.” This means you build a good, solid structure of many talks and life choices that help children learn healthy patterns about the body, emotions, boundaries, and consent. You start by using correct terminology for their body parts when they are young. You teach them to recognize and name their emotions. You help them understand that they are responsible to make good choices for themselves, as well as respecting the boundaries and choices of others. You teach girls to say NO and you teach boys to respect that NO, about all sorts of issues, so that when your girls need to say NO and your boys need to hear NO with regards to sex, they’ve had plenty of practice.

        Here are some titles that might be helpful to you at this stage:

        Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex, Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster
        Protecting the Gift, Gavin DeBecker
        The Gift of Fear, Gavin DeBecker

        There is also a wonderful curriculum called Our Whole Lives that addresses sexuality education from a lifespan perspective.

        I hope that helps,
        Kay

      • John on

        Another good resource is :Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sex” by Focus on the Family. For boys, Freedom Begins Here has a great DVD: Father + Son: Talk About Sex, that helps get the conversation going. And don’t forget to discuss pornography. How to Talk to Your Kids about Pornography by Educate and Empower Kids is good for older kids.

    7. Samantha on

      John, it sounds like your children are very blessed to have such caring and thorough parents!

      God Bless!

      Reply
      • Beth Forsythe on

        Kay…I think that the discussions about saying no and respecting no need to go a little deeper. I think there are a few stereotypes being used there that eventually cause harm. First, being that boys want sex and girls don’t. That can cause shame for the girl when she experiences feelings of desire. She will think that she is bad because good girls wouldn’t want that. The second issue is for boys. We need to also teach them to say no and that it’s ok. That same stereotype hurts them too. What if the girl is making the moves and not saying no. They feel like they can’t stop it because boys are “supposed” to want to. I have found that what often happens is that girls, who are not feeling love and security in their families, seek after a boy to fulfill that need. Believing that boys want sex, they initiate that believing that they will then be loved and secure. What I’ve found through talking to many friends is that when boys have sex the first time, it’s usually because they felt pushed by the girl. Now after the initial experience that’s a different story. Just something to think about and also prepare your son for.

    8. C on

      Even As a grown man, I find this explanation helpful.

      Reply
    9. Misty White on

      I want to know how you would address children having unnatural sexual feelings for the same sex. I loved the article but how does this apply to children with unnatural sexual attractions that cannot be explained by biology and tend to lead to shame?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Misty,
        You might find help here, at the website of Christian pediatrician Joani Lea Jack.
        Peace to you,
        Kay

    10. MJ on

      Absolutely brilliant post: clear, concise, and TRUE!

      Reply

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