The following is adapted from Sexpectations: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Healthy Relationships (p.89-94), which releases on August 8, 2023.
When my son was sixteen, he attended a youth group meeting during which the male leader spoke with the guys about pornography and enumerated the ramifications porn could have on marriages and families. He learned that porn could seep into all areas of life and that many couples aren’t able to withstand the damaging effects. The addiction drives wedges in relationships with spouses and trickles down to the children. Many marriages end in divorce.
The conversation was a turning point for him. He had been hiding his pornography use from us again, and one of the main reasons he felt convicted to seek his parents’ help was learning the devastating effects porn could have on his relationship with his girlfriend, presently or down the road. And he didn’t want to ruin his future marriage by defiling it with pornography. He looked outside himself, realized his actions influenced others, and chose a selfless love for his eventual bride-to-be. I’m grateful his youth leader broached this awkward subject because this opened the door for us to talk with him.
The Church Has Fumbled Sexual Teaching
My son’s youth leader was an outlier. The church, in general, has done a poor job of teaching about sex. We’ve tiptoed and talked in hushed tones. We’ve ignored and pretended, hoping the subject matter will slip into the background and resolve itself. We’ve also been brash and bold, only to be scolded for being old-fashioned and out of touch. But as Christians have flailed and failed, the issue has escalated, causing us to cower or act dumbfounded. We’re simply afraid of getting it wrong—for good reason.
Historically, we’ve botched it up, and it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand than confront our own mess and start over. But we won’t win this battle by feigning its existence. Society is more confused than ever, and the next generation deserves to know the truth. Let’s be courageous enough to admit our shortcomings and try again.
Purity Culture Missed the Mark
The purity culture was in full swing when my older children were young. As they entered puberty and I had the talk with them, I also encouraged them to take a pledge or a vow of purity. I’m not saying this was inherently wrong, but the emphasis of purity culture centered on what not to do, rather than what to do.
In the article Purity Culture and Its Unfortunate Intersection With Porn, Lisa Eldred, a content strategist at Covenant Eyes, explains that the education of purity culture on abstinence and modesty originated with positive motives but resulted in performance-based teachings. Rather than promoting a relationship with Jesus, purity culture taught teens to wonder how far was too far and whether dating or courting was the proper way to get to know a potential spouse. In the meantime, parents rarely talked about sex in a positive light, if at all.
Eldred points out that as this movement was gaining ground, the Internet was introducing pornography to the world. Since parents didn’t understand the importance of filters and monitoring screen time, teens—girls and boys alike—found their sexual outlet through watching porn. This, combined with the wait until you’re married or you’re damaged goods message of purity culture, led to secrecy, guilt, and shame.
When teens failed to keep the standards set for them within the purity culture—when they broke their vow of purity—they felt defeated. The Church (and, truthfully, the parents who bought into this purity culture trend) failed to link sexual missteps with Christ’s redemptive power. Understanding Christ’s selfless love, grace, and mercy he extends should be the motivation behind a pure life. We are pure because he makes us pure. We walk in obedience to his Word because he first loved us and we love him. And when we falter, we return to him, receive his grace and mercy, and become cleansed—purified—through his blood.
Children Need a Positive Picture of Sex
When we talk about sex and sexuality with our children—yes, we must talk about it—let’s start with Christ and his redemptive power. After all, marriage is to reflect the picture of Christ and his bride. We are cleansed and made whole through his blood. He is faithful to purify us and make us holy. Let’s help our children grasp the freeing power of the gospel message so they willingly admit their wrongdoings to a loving God and seek his grace.
We don’t have to discuss the specifics of our sex lives, but we should paint a positive picture of sex. It’s not taboo. It’s not a sneaky, shameful behavior. We desire our children to enjoy sex and have positive sexual experiences—at the right time, under the right circumstances, with the right person.
Take an honest appraisal of your thoughts and feelings regarding sex. Some parents don’t talk about sex and sexuality because they don’t have a healthy view of it themselves. For years, I equated sex with love. I assumed if the sex between us was good, the relationship was good. While there is a connection, one does not equal the other.
I remember the first time I invited Christ into the bedroom. I realized God was all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful, so he was there whether I acknowledged his presence or not. I opted to seek his guidance through the process. Before then, I kept my spiritual life separate from my intimate life, like it was a secret. When I prayed through my sexual experiences, I felt more relaxed and comfortable.
How do you view sex? Do you see it as a God-given gift? Do you believe it’s a healthy expression of selfless love between a husband and wife? Is it for pleasure as well as for procreation?
Once you’ve deciphered your views and perspective on sex, talk with your children. Remind them that sex is an important component of marriage and is intended to enhance a relationship and bond between a husband and wife. Our objective is to help them understand when sex is appropriate, teach them how to exercise self-control until marriage, and explain what selflessness looks like in the bedroom. Even within intimate relations, love “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:5–6).
Helping them understand selflessness within the context of agape love now sets them up to succeed in future relationships.