How Should Christian Parents Talk to Their Kids About Sex Before Marriage?
It’s a question that every Jesus-loving parent must grapple with: How should I talk to my kids about sex before marriage? It’s a tough question not only because of the sensitivity of the issue, but because of the evolving complexities of today’s changing society. Many parents feel unequipped to handle this task, and understandably so. As a youth pastor, I broach this subject fairly frequently with my students, partly because I know the pervasiveness of the sexual world in which they live, and partly because the Bible is so jam-packed with passages that address this subject matter it is hard to avoid it even if you tried.
There is much more to sexuality than this blog post intends to cover. Specifically, I want to help parents talk with their kids about sex before marriage. I think it could be helpful to start by covering some approaches that should be avoided.
Approaches NOT to Take
- Don’t say anything. Many parents simply avoid broaching this subject with their kids altogether. Maybe it is because they are afraid to. Maybe they feel unprepared or unqualified. Maybe they feel like a hypocrite because of their own sexual past. Maybe they feel like the church, youth group, or school will take care of it. Whatever the reason, let me say it plainly: not saying anything is the worst thing you can do. For starters, you are your child’s parent, charged with the responsibility of teaching them God’s ways and guiding them through the challenges of life. You are commissioned by God to raise them. To avoid this issue is to neglect a major calling for which you will be accountable. Additionally, if you don’t say anything about it, you need to know you are the only person who is staying mum on the issue. Your child is getting influenced by everyone else’s opinion on the matter – friends, family, neighbours, celebrities, teachers, and the voice of the media through music, movies, the internet, you name it – and your silence, with so many other voices shouting at the top of their lungs, is a foolish response.
If you don’t say anything, you are the only person who is staying mum on the issue.
- Just give them “the talk”. Some parents (often dads) sit down with their child once to explain the birds and the bees. Not only is this an experience usually awkward enough to make children and parents both squirm, but it is not sufficient for giving solid guidance. Obviously, there comes a point when children need to understand what a fallopian tube is and where babies come from, but believing that this comes in a one-time-shot is faulty thinking. Children and teens need guidance, which comes with many conversations over a long period of time. It’s never just one-and-done.
- Assume sex is the only issue to cover. While talking about sex is important, there is much more to the picture. Parents need to talk not only about sex but about sexuality. This includes all kinds of sexual activity, not just “standard” sex. In today’s age, this sadly also includes the need to discuss pornography, sexting, and various other forms of sex-by-technology.
- Use pregnancy and STD’s as primary motivators. Next to saying nothing at all, this is the second-worst thing you can do. Unfortunately, I hear it all the time, and it has been the basic teaching of the church for some time: “Don’t have sex before marriage – you could get pregnant! Don’t have sex before marriage – you could get an STD!” These are true statements, and the wise person would take them to heart. Acquiring a sexually-transmitted disease, or becoming pregnant (or impregnating) before you are ready will bring a host of difficulty into a young person’s life. But they are not the main reasons for avoiding sex before marriage (more on this in a moment).
- Make sex sound bad. Some parents, trying to curb their child’s sexual appetites, try to make sex sound unappealing. Not only does this treat young people like they are naive, but it wrongly projects a negative image of one of God’s precious gifts. Sex is good, particularly when used within its God-given confines, and to speak of it otherwise is offensive to God.
- Give the impression that God is holding out on them. The opposite of speaking like sex is boring is to speak of it as if it were the most amazing thing ever. Then, to say that sex is meant to be reserved for marriage, a parent is subtly sending the message to their child that God is keeping something good from them. They are conveying the notion that God is the kind of person who keeps us from having fun, when in reality, God’s design for life is meant to lead us into the “abundant life” (John 10:10). Sex is like fire: it is a wonderful thing when properly contained, but outside its appropriate limits, it brings only destruction.
- Make sex before marriage your pet issue. Some parents that speak up and take initiative in speaking to their kids about sex can go too far by making it the issue that they harp on over and over. It’s not bad to talk about this stuff on a semi-regular basis with your kids, but don’t do it at the neglect of other important issues, such as their social lives, their walk with Jesus, their grades, etc. Parents need to show concern in all areas, and in so doing are helping their children to see that God desires us to surrender to him in all areas of our lives, not just what some consider the “big” areas.
- Come from a purely heterosexual viewpoint. Newsflash: your child might be gay! Actually, they could be homosexual, bisexual, transgender, or any other non-hetersexual orientation that is labelled nowadays. Yes, your child, the one whom you have loved and raised in church and taught right and wrong to. At the very least, they are likely confused to some degree about sexuality – and in today’s day and age, how could they not be? It would be so sad for a parent to attempt to be responsible and speak to their child about sex outside of marriage, only to be missing the more pertinent struggles they have going on. Parents need to keep an open mind about this, and consider that there could be more complex situation going on than they realize.
Newsflash: your child might be gay!
Elements of the Right Approach
With all of this being said, there are some key things to keep in mind when tackling this subject. Here are a few things TO do.
- Let them see that they can be honest. Sex is an icky subject for children to talk about with their parents. It will not come naturally. Therefore, parents need to work at making touchy and taboo subjects ones that can be broached. Does your child see deep hypocrisy when you talk to them about the need to honour God? Do they believe that if they show any sign of struggle with sexual sin that you will freak out on them? In short, do they feel hesitant to really open up with you? Creating the kind of environment where this happens takes a lot of work over a period of time. But if any of the above questions can be answered with a “yes”, you can forget having much influence on them.
- Show concern for their whole lives. Sex before marriage is a big deal, but it is not the only deal. Your child has lots of things they are dealing with, both internally (hormone changes, discovering their identity, finding their own faith etc.) and externally (friends who are unreliable, bullying, schoolwork etc.). Parents need to show interest in all these areas, and give guidance in them as well. If young people only hear about sex from their parents, they develop a skewed view of what it means to live fully for God, and it sets them up for a greater sense of failure if they sin in this area. Well-balanced parenting is healthy parenting.
- Help them see that this is ultimately about worship. The Bible connects our sexuality with worship (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Ephesians 5:5). Those who sin sexually commit idolatry. What this means is that sex before marriage, or any sexuality outside of marriage, is the result of worshipping a false god – be it pleasure, a boyfriend/girlfriend, or feeling important. It is deeper than just making a mistake. It is the result of a heart that has strayed from God. Therefore, the way to combat temptation is to find satisfaction in God. A teen who is pursuing Jesus is far less likely to be pulled into the trap of getting involved with someone sexually. Making this connection helps young people understand what is going on in the deeper levels of their heart.
- Make their spiritual and emotional well-being the primary motivation for doing it right. As mentioned earlier, accidental pregnancy and STD’s are given as motivation to avoid sex before marriage. That makes sense, but it should not be the primary motivation. Why? Because having a baby or getting sick aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you. They are, in fact, easier to deal with than the emotional and spiritual scars that come from becoming sexually active too soon. I would encourage parents to help their children to see that sex before marriage will result in personal harm. Sex is designed for marriage because it is meant to bond two people together. But to have that bond with someone you have not committed to for life is dangerous, because inevitably that bond is ripped apart when the relationship doesn’t last (and they rarely do). Sex is more than a physical act. Something happens on the soul-level that connect two people, and teens (or even adults) who are having sex for the fun of it, or even because they think they love each other, are going beyond what they are ready for. This is especially true for girls, who typically have sex for the emotional connection, while guys typically have it for the physical pleasure. In these instances, girls usually take the brunt of the pain, and are left with low self-esteem, low-self worth, and confusion about what love really means. Spiritually, it also invites a great degree of guilt and shame and derails a strong relationship with Christ. In other words, sex before marriage wreaks havoc on the emotional and spiritual health of children, and that is far worse than any other consequence. Parents, you need to help them see this ahead of time.
- Give grace. Even teens who don’t have sex before marriage will struggle to control their sexuality. Jesus spoke of the need to have self-control even over the sexual eye of the mind (Matthew 5:28). This is no easy task. No one, except for Jesus himself, escapes through their sexuality without sinning. Allow your kids to make some mistakes, show forgiveness, and give encouragement to keep on striving for purity. A grace-based approach, rather than a heavy-handed one, is a stronger motivator for holiness.
- Don’t wait too long. Last I read, the average age of first exposure to pornography was 12. I’m almost positive that the number has since then gotten even lower. It’s a terrible thing, but kids are being soaked in a sex-saturated world at a younger and younger age. Your children are no exception, even if you take strong measures to protect them. If parents wait until their child is in puberty or later to talk with them about sex, they have waited too long. It is better to err on the side of too young. If not, you can be sure that your child will have already had their sexual views shaped by others before the time you get to them. Don’t let that happen. And as mentioned earlier, good parenting in this area will involve many conversations, not just one or two.
Parenting is tough work, but it is both an great honour and a great responsibility to have children and raise them right. Every parents knows that they are figuring it out as they go, but by following some of the pointers here, you can miss the major ditches and stay on the right road in terms of guiding your children towards a godly sexual view. Ultimately, what they will do with that information is up to them. Make your best efforts to demonstrate godliness and show them how it leads to blessing and a better life. In the end, we all raise our kids to jump out of the nest and fly on their own. May we each be diligent to prepare them for that day so that they may spread their wings and soar, experiencing the freedom and joy that God intends for them.