Talking with Your Children about Marriage & Sex

One of the more dreaded of parental responsibilities is telling children about sex. This conversation is often so awkward that both parent and child wonder what good could come from it. Sometimes, there is no actual conversation. A parent might hand a book to his or her child and say, “Read this and let me know if you have any questions.” There is a degree of irony in this awkwardness. On the one hand, it is almost impossible to avoid being confronted with sex. Movies, billboards, commercials, songs, news reports, casual conversations, TV programs etc., form a cultural bombardment of sexual themes that invade daily life. On the other hand, at least in most Christian households, sex is not talked about as a part of regular family conversation. So as soon as your children have unsupervised access to the world outside your home, they will begin to hear of affairs, gays, oral sex, liaisons, people being “hot,” people being “turned on,” masturbation, and any number of references to sexual activity, ranging from subtle to crude. Witness one of the headlines in today’s USA Today (Jan. 20, 2010) – “Sex on TV: it’s increasingly uncut and unavoidable.” So what is not talked about at home is confronted with regularity outside the home. The reality is that your children will likely hear about sexual activity and sexual perversion long before you actually sit down to talk with them about what sex is. You know this and your children know this. As I said–it’s awkward.

This awkwardness has come about because the world and, unfortunately, most Christians view sex in the same way. The world views sex as something distinct from marriage. In the world’s thinking, marriage is a place where sex may occur, but marriage is not necessary for sex. There are no restrictions in modern Western culture on when, where and with whom sexual activity may take place. Restricting sex to marriage is at best a well-meaning but archaic religious more that is simply a denial of basic human nature and needs. So discussions about sexuality focus on having sex that is pleasurable and safe. This view is the perspective embraced by advocates of sex education in our school system. Masturbation, homosexual sex, and straight sex are all appropriate. This is the inevitable outcome when marriage and sex become separated from each other. The truth is that God designed sex for the setting of marriage alone. This is where the discussion about sex must begin.

This point may not seem to be important, but it is. Sex and marriage must be discussed together. Let’s look at Genesis 1:28 and 2:24:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

When asked about divorce, Jesus Christ put these two passages together to define what marriage is.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

God made man male and female. He gave them the directive to have children, to fill, subdue, and rule the earth for his pleasure. The call to be fruitful and multiply is specifically tied to marriage in Genesis 2:24 and in Jesus Christ’s commentary on this same passage. This relationship of husbands and wives is consummated when they become one flesh as a result of their union. Pre-Fall this meant that in marriage men and women were to be united as one flesh to carry out God’s mission of having dominion over the earth for God’s glory. In the perfect sinless world before the Fall, this calling could mean nothing less. This is further underscored by Paul’s quotation of this same passage in Ephesians 5. Here Paul likens this one flesh relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and his church.

This, then, is where you must start in teaching your children about sex. Sex is not fundamentally a biological, physiological activity. Sexuality is a necessary aspect of God’s purpose for man to occupy and control the earth for the glory of God. All of the physiological phenomena that happen to the human body while engaging in  sexual activity is expressly designed by God to remind husbands and wives that they have been called to unity, intimacy and procreation in their mission to have dominion over the earth. Sexual activity is designed for a man and a woman who are obeying God in marriage in order to bring honor to his name. The idea that sexual pleasure is designed merely for self-interest is pagan at its core. It is dishonoring to God to talk about sex in abstraction from marriage. Sex is specifically designed for marriage and for nothing else.

This principle means that you want to lay the proper foundation for talking about marriage and sex with your children. This will provide a more natural transition when you talk with your children about the specifics. The next few posts will address:

when to talk about sex and what specifics should be covered at what age,

what sexual attraction is, and abuses of God’s provision for sexual activity.

In some ways, these topics should be a part of your everyday talk as parents, but there is still the appropriateness of having a specific discussion when the time is right. I wanted to lay this foundation first: marriage and sex go together. This one parameter will help you to present sexuality in a way that honors God and blesses your children. I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts.

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