When to Talk about Sex & Marriage

The theme of this series of posts is talking to your children about sex and marriage. As I indicated in the first post of this series, I deliberately keep sex and marriage linked because that is how the Bible presents them. Sex is not designed or intended for self-pleasure. Sex does bring pleasure, but engaging in sex for the primary purpose of fulfilling personal desires is the gateway to lust. As Ephesians 4:17-19 teaches, sensitivity to others (the biblical motivation for sex) is the opposite of sensuality (the self-serving pursuit of pleasure). Sensuality leads to sexual perversion and to God’s harsh judgment of abandoning people to their own desires, condemning them to the ultimate consequences of their desires (Romans 1:18-32). Thus, when you teach your young children to prefer others above themselves and to find joy in sharing their toys and time, you are already preparing them to enjoy and honor God in marriage and sexual relationships.

One significant responsibility of being a biblical parent is to anticipate the temptations and struggles that your children will face in life. Talk about sexual themes has become part of our cultural landscape. USA Today continues to run its story on sex and television on its website. Note the opening lines of the story:

If sex sells, TV programmers are adding inventory to an already humongous sale.

Viewers are about to see full-frontal male nudity, heterosexual, homosexual and group sex, and graphic scenes rarely — if ever — seen on mainstream TV.

While you may be carefully screening your children’s viewing habits, you can be confident that these images coming to mainstream TV will be seen and talked about by children that your children interact with. This cultural context means that you will need to talk with your children about sex and marriage earlier rather than later. The USA Today article exemplifies the cultural, pagan view of separating sex from marriage. This view is one that you need to counter early on. Here is an excerpt from my book, Everyday Talk, that addresses the timing issue:

You don’t have to begin talking about sex the way the world does. Graphic content and biological illustrations are not profitable for discussion about sex with your very young children. It is better to keep it simple and conceptual in the beginning.

Tell them something like this:

“Sex is something special that God created for married people. It is a way for mommies and daddies to be close and special with each other. Sex is a blessing because it is designed to help husbands and wives know each other and bring joy to each other. Sex is also how God makes babies grow inside of mommies. But, sometimes people who aren’t married want to be close like that, and that is bad.”

Initially that is all that you need to say. Learn how to commu­nicate these thoughts to your children in your own words.

The idea is to build on this theme as your children grow older. It is not difficult to imagine a seven-year- old asking, “Mommy, what is a homosexual?” or “What is a gay person?” At that age, it is not helpful to enter into a discussion about the physical aspects of homosexuality. Rather, you could say that it is a type of behavior that is disobedient to God because people who are not married are attempting to find pleasure in ways that he has forbidden. Since sex is designed for a man and a woman who are married, it is therefore wrong for people of the same sex to engage in sexual activity. You can tell your seven-year-old that you will explain more to him later as he matures, but that for now, this is what they need to know. Sexual behavior of any type is reserved by God for marriage.

The important concept to grasp is that talk about sex and marriage will have to be updated incrementally, rather than having one comprehensive discussion at a time just before puberty. You should still have a major discussion about marriage and sex, but there should be many preliminary ones leading up to it. That is different than the more traditional way many of us expect this conversation to happen. However, the overtly sexual nature of our culture demands this more intentional, purposeful approach. One consequence of the church failing to be salt and light is that our culture is increasingly buying into a shameless, pagan view of sexuality.

The USA Today article also ran in its print version. This scenario is not impossible to imagine – your ten-year-old son picks up a copy of the paper that your husband left laying on the kitchen table. He got the paper on his recent business trip; he didn’t have time to read the paper, but thought that others in the family might want to look at it. Your son finds the front page article on sex and TV and reads the opening lines that I copied above. You are not present when he glanced at the article. Try to put yourself in his place. Nudity, group sex, etc., on mainstream TV – temptation has arrived. Your son needs a game plan about how to handle this information in a way that pleases God and protects him. This situation is exactly what Proverbs 6:20-24 envisions when it describes what godly parental instruction should accomplish for your children. Here is what verse 22 says:

When you walk, their counsel will lead you.
When you sleep, they will protect you.
When you wake up, they will advise you.

Your son needs to have the godly counsel of his parents’ wise instruction leading him as he reads the words of the article in USA Today. Chapter 7 in Proverbs then gives a concrete example how this instruction can provide counsel. The father in chapter 7 sees a brazen wife leading a foolish young man into adultery. Instead of closing the curtain and diverting his son’s attention from the unfolding drama outside their window, this father calls his son over and provides a running specific commentary on what is taking place. This father knows that one day a woman like this will confront his son with the wicked, but tempting, offer of sexual pleasure apart from marriage. So he prepared his son for what he would someday face. This kind of instruction can become life-saving counsel.

The point here is to realize that your children will be confronted with the opportunity for sexual activity and thoughts long before we are comfortable talking about these things. In this situation, if you have followed the example of Proverbs 6:22 and chapter 7, your 10-year-old son will have already heard from you that this kind of thing is becoming more prevalent in our culture. He will have already heard that this culture is engaged in a sensual pursuit of sexual pleasure outside of marriage. (This scenario applies equally to daughters.) Again, you can avoid some of the graphic details with younger children by saying that the activities referred to in the article are all against what God has commanded. But children 10 and older will need something more specific. You can reference affectionate embraces, kissing, and warm physical contact between folks that are married as things that God has reserved for marriage. For example, it is a good thing for mom and dad to kiss each other, but not a good thing if they kiss people they are not married to. You can explain that this sort of physical interaction leads to more intimate sexual activity that is appropriate only for married people to have. When the world offers passionate kissing and related activities as normal for people who are not married, a trap is being laid similar to the one described in Proverbs 7. Yes, sexual activity is pleasurable; that is why it is tempting. Stress to your children that sex outside of marriage is selfish and destructive, even though at first it may appear to be rewarding and beneficial. That is the line of temptation used by the adulterous wife in Proverbs 7. However, the mind ruled by faith rather than sensuality takes believes God’s words as truth rather than believing the lies of sexual temptation.

This kind of in-the-trenches battle against the wave of sexual temptation is one for which you must prepare your children. By placing sexual activity in the context of marriage you can more naturally engage your children about the deceptive allure of sex outside of marriage. In one sense, “the talk” about sexuality should be an ongoing, expanding one. However, you still must have a time when you prepare your prepubescent children for the changes that will occur in their bodies and in their own thinking. Exactly when that talk should happen will be different for each child–but make it your business to have that talk before these changes begin.

In the next post we will talk about what to say when you do talk with your children. In this light, I am pleased to announce a new book from Shepherd Press that talks specifically about discussing these very issues with your son. It is called The Talk. If you are a subscriber to the Shepherd Press Newsletter you can keep track of when this book will be available. If you are not a subscriber you can sign up here.

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