How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex
My wife and I recently found out we are having a son. To be honest, I was super excited. I have four sisters and about 300 female cousins (slight exaggeration) so I just wasn’t convinced I would pass on the family name by having a boy.
After a few days of thinking about what it would mean to raise a son, some fear began to set in. Which isn’t surprising if you know me. But I began to think of my experience growing up as a boy and becoming a young man. The temptations, struggles, spiritual attacks, cultural pressures.
Because I was in the midst of preparing a parent seminar on the topic of God’s design for sexuality, I began thinking about the sexual temptations and pressures my future son will face. As his father, it feels daunting. I’m going to have to prepare him for a daily war.
No, his struggles won’t be any different than mine or any other human on the planet since Genesis 3. We all fight the same sins to varying degrees. But as I glance around the world today, the challenge for today’s kids feels different. It feels like the task of navigating sexual temptation and honoring God with your body is more difficult than ever before.
It feels that way because here’s the reality that I shared in that parent seminar* with the parents of students at our church.
The Reality: Our kids are being exposed to sex earlier and more often than ever before.
Two major events happened in the world of technology when I was in high school. Facebook opened its platform to everyone over the age of 13. Then the first iPhone debuted. I think we all know how those events impacted the world.
Through these changes and more, technology has reshaped the way we are tempted sexually. Pornography went from a dirty magazine behind the gas station counter to the smartphone in our pocket. It became portable, private, and prevalent. Now 70% of porn is viewed on a smartphone.
Technology is exposing our kids to sex at an ever-increasing rate. These stats make that clear:
Stats vary, but most agree that the average age a child is first exposed to porn today is between 10-12 years old.
By the time teens today reach 18, 93% of guys have seen porn, and 62% of girls.
50% of teenagers say they come across porn at least once a month, when they aren’t seeking it out.
But it’s not just porn. We know television, movies, music, and pop culture in general have become more and more sexualized. Anyone else remember when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo slept in separate beds on tv as a married couple? TV standards are a little different now.
Our kids are learning about sex earlier than ever before. That’s our current reality. And here’s the big problem with that.
The Problem: Most kids are not being taught God’s design for sexuality.
God’s design for sexuality is found in the Bible, where we learn that sex is a good gift from God reserved for a lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.
Like all things, sex has been corrupted by sin and evil. The world argues that sex can and should include anything at anytime with anyone. Any other belief is oppressive and harmful.
Whereas God’s design for sex is selfless and giving, the world’s is selfish and receiving. God’s design for sex is deep, meaningful intimacy that builds over a lifetime of love and commitment. The world’s is cheap, shallow, and fleeting.
Which version of sexuality do you think kids are exposed to more?
Our culture relentlessly teaches our kids the perverted, distorted version of sex. While the one place that holds the truth about sex, the church, only gives them silence.
Sadly, the church has often viewed sex as taboo, awkward, or even worse, dirty. Talking about sex has been reserved for the annual purity talk in youth group, where kids learn everything that’s wrong with sex. The overemphasis on the “don’ts” leaves young people with a warped view of God’s good gift. And the list of rules leaves them with cold hearts and shame.
For many, the home has been no different. Some parents say almost nothing about sex because they feel embarrassed, ill-equipped, or even unqualified due to their own sexual baggage.
Other parents simply follow the pattern of their parents. When they believe their child is old enough, they grit their teeth and sit them down for “the talk.” They get it all out of the way, as painful as it is, and then hope for the best.
The good news is there’s a better way. Pastors, parenting experts, and doctors all agree (which is rare) that there’s a better solution to talking to your child about sex.
The Solution: Create a culture of continual conversation.
Rather than have one big talk, the goal is to have lots of conversations over the span of a child’s life. It’s creating a culture in your home where your child is able to ask questions, any question, and where talking about sex isn’t awkward.
I grabbed this language from Jonathan McKee’s book called More Than Just the Talk. In his book, he explains the why and the how of talking to your child about sex. He gives lots of practical wisdom and advice, so I encourage you to read it. But one part that stood out was a report from the Journal of Pediatrics entitled “Beyond the Big Talk.” These doctors concluded that parents should seek to have many conversations about sexuality with their children. They found that adolescents with parents who talked more about sex were actually more likely to delay intercourse.
This was not a Christian report. It was in a secular journal of medicine, and it happened to affirm something the Bible teaches us in Deuteronomy 6. God commands parents to teach their children about Him continually. "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
This is not a one-time “talk.” It’s many conversations where you share with your child about God and his design for everything, including their sexuality.
One of the big practical takeaways from McKee’s book is focusing on interaction, rather than overreaction. I already see this struggle in myself. When my daughter does something wrong, my gut instinct is to be big, loud, and scary. But I think we all know that this isn’t usually the most effective method for communicating something important to our kids.
McKee says the goal is to interact. When your child is exposed to sexual content, ask questions, rather than only giving them commands. When your child asks you a tough question, try dialogue, rather than only monologue. And when your child messes up, because at some point they will, try grace rather than judgement. Yes, every child needs discipline and correction. But most importantly, every child needs grace. Use every opportunity you can to highlight the world’s false narrative concerning sex. And point them to God’s good design instead.
At the end of the day, when your child sins or struggles sexually, they are either going to come to you or hide from you. Interaction builds that bridge.
Lastly, don’t minimize your influence as a parent. It’s always interesting to me. When kids are surveyed about the things that influence them the most, they almost always list parents first, above peers, media, and coaches. But when parents are asked where they think they rank, they usually put themselves last.
There is no doubt. No one has a greater influence in your child’s life than you. That’s the good news. No matter what they are exposed to, no matter how much the world bombards them, no matter how bad they mess up, you have the last word. You hold all the aces. You get to point them to the truth that they will never forget (Proverbs 22:6).
So don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s not too late.
Maybe you feel like it is. Your child has already fallen into sexual sin. Too many years of silence have already gone by. Maybe they are even out of your house.
It’s not too late.
Use your influence, use your words, and most importantly, use God’s Word to equip them with God’s design.
*I always try to make clear: I’m not a parenting expert. I have zero experience parenting teenagers. I read books and study and learn, and then I share that info with parents.
More Than Just the Talk by Jonathan McKee
Mom, Dad…What’s Sex? by Jessica Thompson and Joel Fitzpatrick