The problem with most Christian sex education approaches I’ve seen:
- It’s delayed as long as possible.
- It begins with and primarily addresses the question: “where do babies come from?”
- It’s characterized by shame, nervousness, and uncomfortability.
- It’s embarrassing for the kids as well as the parents—and dreaded by both.
- It’s compartmentalized, approaching it as “the talk” rather than as a process.
- Its focus is on intercourse, not sexuality as a whole.
- Delaying it naively assumes that: 1. Burying our heads in the sand will make this issue go away. 2. Sex education isn’t necessary until puberty. 3. Kids are not already being taught at an early age about sex by the world. 4. Kids either aren’t interested in or aren’t able to handle the truth about sex.
- It’s clinical, impersonal, and passive: “The ahem.. penis gets inserted into the ahem… vagina.”
- It doesn’t allow for ongoing discussion day by day in the course of real life.
- It’s a subject parents HATE to talk about.
Do you suppose that’s the way God views sex? I don’t think so. He didn’t invent sex to be a “dirty little secret”. He invented it to be one of his greatest blessings to humanity.
- It begins in infancy and continues through the teenage years.
- Its focus is on marital intimacy and satisfaction, long before it’s about babies.
- It instills awe and wonder at God’s amazing design.
- It’s comfortable, natural, and anticipated with eagerness.
- It lays a foundation of truth early on and builds on that.
- The principles are modeled, discussed, and reinforced through all of life.
- Its focus is on sexuality as a whole, not just intercourse.
- It’s a subject parents LOVE to talk about because they have the opportunity to instill life-changing values that run counter to our culture.
Three Disclaimers: 1. This approach presented here ideally assumes a strong, healthy marriage is being modeled—the proper context for sex. Single parents or those in dysfunctional marriages will need to teach the same values verbally and theoretically, rather than modeling them.
2. This approach is written for those with very young children to encourage sexual education as a lifestyle. For those who neglected to properly educate their older kids, I’ve added some suggestions at the end on how to make up for lost time.
3. In this short format, I’m presenting 11+ years of sex education condensed down into a few short pages. Therefore it may seem like we’re dumping a lot of information on very young kids. Keep in mind that this information is doled out little by little over a decade or more.
My recommended approach…
- It begins in infancy with the identification of body parts. God made our sexual organs and they can be acknowledged and named without shame.
- Rather than identifying the sex organs (including breasts) as dirty or forbidden, they should be identified as being special and set apart from all the other body parts. So special, in fact, that displaying or discussing them is properly kept private (within the family for now, spouse later). It’s inappropriate to show these parts publicly—that’s why we have laws against public nudity. But the parts themselves aren’t bad—they’re just so special and private that they’re not shared with outsiders. You can show anyone your arm or your leg or your ear, but there’s something different about these parts. They’re the most intimate things you have to share and ultimately you will share them with your future spouse.
SENSUAL ATTRACTION BETWEEN PARENTS
- I believe that sensual attraction between parents must be modeled in front of the kids at a very early age. They need to see that God created physical craving (hormones) as a way to strengthen marital love and bond husband and wife. This way when the kids reach puberty and begin to experience hormones, they’ll understand their proper context and purpose. Many parents appear to be asexual to their kids—a perception that will not help parents seem authoritative on the subject later when kids are looking for answers about their own emerging sexuality.
- The husband should show his visual attraction to his wife by whistling at her in the shower and verbalizing his attraction to her beautiful naked body. This teaches them how God has wired the male brain. God created this attraction as a way to help make sure the husband stays delighted in his wife. It’s a good thing so long as his eyes stay focused on his wife. This is a very important truth to teach them and talk about regularly as they grow older.
- Recently, I came across a web link to a Britney Spears music video and decided to have the girls watch it with me. They were shocked to think of how Britney’s body was being shared with other boys and men who were not her husband. We talked about what they already knew: that boys can become excited visually by a woman’s body. They found it sad to consider that so many boys look at her as an object. I told them how glad I am that their mom is only sharing her body with me and how special that makes me feel.
- One day we were at the mall and my then 5-year old ran over and threw herself in front of the Victoria’s Secret window display and proceeded to shout: “Don’t look over here, dad!” I was amused and proud: she knew that a husband’s eyes properly belong only to his wife and that she should be his only source of sensual delight. I wonder how many other mall shoppers were convicted by this truth coming from a 5 year old.
- Acknowledging this truth about men being wired visually allows us to teach Scriptures that most parents avoid even through the teen years. As soon as they began to read, I exposed my girls to the Song of Solomon and passages like Proverbs 5:19 “may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” Rather than shocking them or grossing them out, this simply reinforced to them the truth that I had taught them long before: that sensuality is a healthy part of God’s design for marriage. Bible stories, such as David gazing at the bathing Bathsheba begin to make sense and serve as a caution about misusing what God intended only within marriage. This knowledge about guys being visually attracted to a woman’s body also encourages them to be modest, not sharing their beauty with just anyone!
- For daughters, this understanding of a woman’s body being the delight of her husband alone can help as you discuss their own physical maturity. Learning and talking about the two Scriptural purposes for breasts (delighting your husband and feeding babies) encourages them to not base their self-esteem on their rate of breast development. And they need to know that size doesn’t matter—their husband will be delighted in them just the way God made them. We talked recently about the “ideal” breast size and our conclusion was that it’s whatever size God made you.
- For sons, talking about the way God designed our eyes to be attracted to women’s bodies is important in helping them understand their temptations and resist them. They need to know that their eye attraction is normal, but that it should be saved for their spouse. “Eye candy” is a cheap substitute and will never satisfy.
- Of course every kind of love should be modeled by the parents (encouragement, compliments, acts of service, time together, tenderness, etc.) But physical contact between the parents must also be modeled. Parents who reserve all physical contact for the bedroom rob their kids of learning about this important aspect of marriage. Hugs, shoulder rubs, snuggling, tussling, and sensual kissing (not just a peck), should be regularly seen by your kids from infancy on. They need to see these activities as belonging to healthy marriages and that God designed these as a way to provide great delight and bonding. They learn through this that physical touch strengthens your marriage and thus their family. They also learn that we are made with physical attractions and desires. And that some of those desires are to be met by your spouse only. Knowing this prepares them for the day when their hormones will kick in. Parents who appear asexual will not be consulted when teens begin to wrestle with their own sexuality. Knowing that the desires are good but are intended for a future spouse will give them reason to wait for that spouse. Knowing this about physical desires also gives them an understanding of the world they live in. Flipping TV channels has given us many good discussions about the physical attraction of those portrayed. Couples seen “making out” are evaluated based on their marital status and those who aren’t married are viewed with pity since they’re hurting their future marriages by not following God’s design.
THE SPECIAL SNUGGLE
- Besides the physical touching parents model in front of the kids, reference needs to be made to what we called a“special snuggling” that parents do behind closed doors because it’s so private and wonderful. This concept can be taught at a very early age (2-3). Give this activity a code name, in case they ever mention it outside the home! We called ours “doing the special snuggle” and we made it clear that it’s something God made for marriage, bonding, and pleasurable delight and that when they got older we’d tell them more details. It needs to be seen as a type of “glue” that makes mommy and daddy’s marriage stronger. It can be very vague at first, but as they age you increasingly give more clues. The clues you drop may include these: it starts with regular snuggling and progresses beyond, it’s something normally done in bed, has something to do with being “buck naked”, it’s best to not be interrupted during, has something to do with enjoying each other’s private parts (which we established long ago as belonging to the spouse).
- There are many advantages of acknowledging the existence of a type of “special snuggling.” A practical one is that you don’t have to make sexuality a big secret. There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy. You can request the kids to give you 30 minutes privacy and they’re perfectly happy to do so, because they know that whatever you’re doing in there is a private but good thing and which is somehow like glue for your marriage. It’s in their best interest for you to have your time together. When our bedroom door is closed and locked our kids know what’s going on, but it’s not a big deal at all.
- One night we had plans for a morning “snuggle” but to our dismay one of our girls crept into our bed after a “bad dream”. I mentioned to her that she was welcome to stay for awhile, but later if we decided to do our “special snuggle” I’d send her back to her bed. What was her response? Horror? Disgust? Not at all. She just said, “That’ll be just fine!”
- Another advantage of this knowledge is that they can better understand Bible stories and concepts such as “do not commit adultery” or David’s sin with Bathsheba. You simply define adultery as “doing the special snuggle with someone who’s not your husband or wife”. They’ve already learned about the reality of physical, sexual attraction and that God made it for marriage exclusively. So without even knowing the mechanics of sex, they can grasp these principles. This knowledge of the existence of intimate physical contact also helps them interpret the sex-saturated world around them. Teenagers making out on the street corner or a racy scene flashing on the TV or a provocative billboard now elicit comments like: “I’ll bet they’re gonna want to do the special snuggle next.” “They’re probably gonna want to take their clothes off.” “I wish they’d start thinking about their future husband.” They’re learning about the ungodly context we live in and how it falls short of God’s ideal. By addressing these concepts at a young age, they’ve learned the truth first and then the error is exposed for what it is. This is a different outcome than in those families who try to ignore sexuality, hoping our kids won’t think about it, or paint sexuality as essentially “evil” or “disgusting”. To keep from our kids the beautiful concept of sexuality in marriage is teaching them an untruth. Many teens I work with can’t fathom their parents having sex—even for their own conception! My kids already know that sex is a normal, regularly partaken of, God-ordained blessing in our marriage. In fact for awhile one of our kids thought it’s something parents are supposed to do every day! (That gives new meaning to the Scripture that says not to neglect your marital duty!)
- During this time of knowing the sex concept without details, sometimes kids will ask where babies come from. At this point it should be sufficient to say simply that God sometimes gives married people babies. If they know of an unwed mother or a live-in situation, then you can expand it by saying simply that God sometimes gives babies to people who do the “special snuggle.” That’s as much detail as they probably need. After all, God put the moon in place and he put Baby Jesus in Mary’s tummy. They’re not engineers—they aren’t seeking a detailed explanation of the process!
FILLING IN THE BLANKS
- But eventually it will be the eagerly anticipated time to fill in the details about how sex actually works. This is the moment that most parents dread, but I longed for this day with anticipation. But at what age should this disclosure be made? When you’ve laid the foundation of healthy marital sexuality, the concern isn’t going to be the shock of the revelation. But I think the timing depends on two things: the environment and the child’s social maturity: 1. The Environment. The world teaches our kids about sex all the time and since I want her to hear it from me first, I have to gauge when it’s time. Parents must first consider what the child is being influenced by. The timing for homeschoolers might be somewhat later than those in public school, just from the standpoint of what they might hear on the playground—although anyone with a TV or in view of billboards had better not wait too long! 2. Social Maturity. Can she keep this a secret from others? Does she tell her friends Santa is a myth?—then it’s probably too early for her to keep this secret. The last thing you want is for other parents to complain to you about your child being a source of sex information! (Although chances are your kid will explain the truth about sex better than the average parent!)
- It’s a hard balance to find, but if you’re going to err, I’d say err on telling it early so they hear it in the context of wonder and awe, rather than as distorted and disgusting. Our oldest was seven ½ and that was the perfect age for her. Our youngest is that age now, but not quite ready to keep a secret. Hopefully soon!
- So what exactly do you say? With our oldest, we made a date, telling her that it was now time to tell her the amazing details about God’s “special snuggling”, which we now recognize by its common names: “having sex” or “making love”. There was a sense of anticipation as we sat in our living room! I explained how amazing God made us. And he made us two ways, male and female—in many ways the same, but in some ways different. We reviewed what we had shared before how God made women so beautiful and the two purposes of breasts. We talked about the opening girls have called a vagina and how God made it a place of pleasure when stroked by her husband. We talked at length about the remarkable male sexual organs (which she was obviously less familiar with). These organs also are places of pleasure when stroked by the wife and interestingly, when this happens the husband’s penis actually grows about twice as big and it becomes hard and sticks up, and feels even more pleasure. Now isn’t that just amazing and interesting? Now why do you suppose God created the man’s penis in such a way that usually it’s small and soft, but during this time it grows big and hard? What if it was big all the time? That would be inconvenient! Why does it grow at all? Hmmm, that’s a mystery isn’t it? Do you think God knows what he’s doing? He sure does. Let’s stop talking about sex for a minute and let’s go back to something I taught you a while back: how to identify connectors. What do we call the two ends of a hose? Or electrical plugs? That’s right, male and female. (I had purposefully taught her about all about how to identify “male” and “female” connectors with this day in mind.) How do you know which end is the male? Right it fits inside of the female end. Good. At that moment a light bulb came on and she finally had all the pieces fitting together. “I think I solved the mystery! The husband’s penis fits inside of the wife’s vagina, right?” It was exciting to watch her experience the joy of discovering God’s truth. We went on to explain that God created those parts like puzzle pieces, fitting together perfectly. We then talked about the burst of pleasure that occurs during this time of closeness. This is the most intimate human experience there is and that’s why God made it to be enjoyed by husband and wife alone. They create a special memory together during sex that they share only with each other. It’s their greatest physical expression of love and it’s a great gift from God. I think it’s important to teach sex for delight before teaching sex for procreation. After all, couples will have sex potentially 1000’s of times, and yet only get pregnant a dozen or less. Humans have successfully accomplished God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth! Now sex is more often about intimacy and delighting in your spouse than it is about conceiving offspring. But the revelation of how babies are made needs to be taught at some point shortly afterwards. Having gotten through the tricky part, now it’s easy.
HOW ARE BABIES MADE?
- After having established sex in marriage as about intimacy, then we later taught, “Oh, and by the way, you’ll be amazed to learn that once in a while, God uses this amazing act of intimacy and love as His way of creating babies. Then we taught her about sperm and eggs and the amazing invention of testicles and how these sacks regulate the temperature of the sperm at 3 degrees below body temperature, pulling up tight if it’s cold and loosening up if it’s hot. Amazing! We talked about how the same tube that handles urine somehow miraculously switches tracks and allows the sperm to shoot out into the woman during sex. We talked about how amazing it is that the woman’s body knows how to count to 28 and it sends out an egg every time. And how the fertilized egg burrows itself in the womb and begins giving the baby nutrients. We explained it all in the context of wonder and discovery. There was no shame, no embarrassment, no regrets. Only amazement!
- The only thing that we didn’t share at that time was regarding hormone changes and the woman’s menstrual cycle. A year later, her third grade class was doing a unit on sexuality and I kicked myself for not seeing the note until the same day—after the class was over. I had wanted to be the first one to talk about those things. So we talked as soon we could—the day after the class. I had wanted to get the first word in, but in this case I had to be the second. One of the values for me was to portray the menstrual cycle not primarily as “unpleasant” or “disgusting” (which was the effect of the school teaching) but rather as another example of God’s wonderful, perfect design for your life. And how amazing and exciting it will be when God, in His perfect timing, chooses to transform her from a girl to a woman. His biological timer will cause changes in her body that will enable her to be a wife and mother instead of a little girl. Oh, how exciting that will be! I explained how having a period was really a cleansing process which flushes out the important blood supply and nutrients that would have helped a baby grow. And how even if the menstruation process may be unpleasant and admittedly an inconvenience, yet it’s a small price to pay for the blessings that will likely lie ahead. God knows what’s best for you and He made you that way for a purpose. I explained God’s wisdom and goodness in making the menstrual cycle 28 days, giving a wife 12 opportunities a year to get pregnant. 12 gives a lot of opportunities without too many. Imagine if the cycle happened every 5 days—you’d never get a break! Imagine if the cycle happened only 4 times a year and a couple was struggling with infertility. There would not be many chances to conceive. God’s ways are perfect. So even though the benefits of the reproductive cycle won’t be needed for awhile (hopefully a long while!) yet we rejoice that God is putting the pieces in place that will make her the woman God created her to be.
- Parents with boys should have a similar conversation about “wet dreams” and how it’s a natural release of excess sperm and should not be perceived with guilt or shame. Again, he should realize that God is putting the pieces in place to make him the man God created him to be.
A LIFESTYLE OF SEXUALITY EDUCATION
- Sexuality education continues all the time in our home, practically every time we interact with the world. Sometimes the opportunities present themselves unexpectedly. Sometimes we need to take initiative in interpreting the world with them. My most recent teachable moment was to go through a Seventeen magazine with my oldest, comparing what it says about body image and sexuality to God’s ideal design for sex in marriage. She had never seen such a magazine before, but she learned a lot about what is taught in the world’s classroom and why it’s a distortion of God’s truth. When the day inevitably comes where one of her friends shows her Seventeen, she’ll know the context in which it’s written and hopefully will be able to share God’s truth with the friend. I’d rather expose her to a little of the world with the right perspective at my side, than let her stumble upon things that she hasn’t been trained how to interpret later on when I’m not around.
Addendum: So what if you’ve let your kids grow up without teaching them these truths?
Unless you have very young kids, you’re likely reading this and recognizing that you haven’t taught the whole truth about sexuality in marriage. Can you go back? No. But you can start from where you are and rebuild the foundation to bring you up to speed.
- Stop being asexual parents and start being normal humans with hormones and thus someone who can be consulted in such matters!
- Show your physical attraction to one another. Start small and gradually become more open about it.
- Slowly, but increasingly, start to communicate the reality of sexual delight in your marriage. Eventually you need to become the expert on this subject that they’ll consult before listening to the world’s “experts” like Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus.
- Begin to talk about subjects that maybe you haven’t spoken candidly about before like guys’ eye-attraction, lust, modesty, body image, fashion, hormones, body changes, pornography, masturbation, sex, etc. Practice first on easier topics and eventually progress to the big ones.
- Provide commentary on the world. As you begin approaching sensual subjects you can at first be more analytical and concept-oriented. “It makes me sad to see how that TV couple is jeopardizing their future marriage.” As you grow more comfortable with these topics you can become more personal, “It’s a shame that that TV couple will never know the sexual blessing your mother and I enjoy because we saved ourselves for each other.” I’ll frequently “talk” to the actors on TV and give them my advice!
- Ask questions about sexual topics. Again, start simple and progress as your sphere of topical discussions increases. “Why do you think Lady Gaga dresses that way?”
- Enter their world and discuss it. Watch MTV for an hour with your son or daughter. Afterwards, let them ask you questions and you ask them some. Talk about news headlines like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the homosexual agenda, redefining marriage, etc. All provide many opportunities to pass on your values on sexuality.
- Your kids have undoubtedly learned the biological facts about sex already through school programs, friends, the media or a book you may have handed them! Yet, there is much more you as a parent can teach them about the “theology” of sex and it’s proper context. Read through the Song of Solomon with them or do a Biblical study of sex and marriage.
- Talk to others about their “teachable moments” with their kids. Make sexual education a topic that we’re all more comfortable addressing.