Sex and the Christian Family

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The continued mishandling of sex in the Christian community…

It’s not working.

The Bible is clear. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only legitimate context for sex. I don’t deny that at all. I just don’t think the conversation can stop there. The Bible also speaks of men and women falling in love. An entire book celebrates the physical expression of love in sex (Song of Solomon). Prostitutes are redeemed, Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning, Paul enjoys the single life. There’s more to sex in the Bible than “just don’t.”

We’re falling down on the job in a major way. We tell people “don’t, don’t, don’t” and they “do, do, do,” sometimes with awful and twisted consequences. Parents are on the front lines here. They are the ones teaching the next generation. They need to move beyond “don’t.” Now, someone out there is going to say, “You’re not a parent, so what do you know?” I know enough. I know plenty of people who have been abused. I know people who maintained every shred of their purity before marriage and I know people, myself included, who didn’t. I know that kids have questions and we need to get better at answering them, in age-appropriate ways.

In no particular order:

Move beyond “don’t” and into “why.” It’s not enough to tell anyone not to do something without explaining why. God Himself doesn’t even do that. He either spells it out clearly or reveals the reasons through events. So it must be in our conversations about sex. Kids need to know why saving sex for marriage is the right thing to do, especially as they get into those years of raging hormones. They need to know about more than STDs and abortion. They need to know about emotional attachments, spiritual dulling and baggage. They need to know about long-term consequences.

Kids need to be told that they are normal. It’s normal to be curious about the body, both your own and others. It’s normal, as we age, to develop crushes and have desires. There is no shame in that. God designed us this way.

Boundaries. In telling kids that they are normal, the importance of boundaries must be emphasized. They need to know that their curiosity doesn’t give them license to do whatever they want. They also need to know that their “no” means something and it’s not right for their “no” to be ignored.

– An explanation of boundaries must begin at an early age. Kids need to be told that it is NEVER okay for anyone to touch them anywhere in any way that they don’t like, and certainly never okay for anyone to touch their intimate places. They need to know that they should and can IMMEDIATELY tell their parents or other trusted adults if something inappropriate has happened.

– If your kid comes to you and tells you that she has been violated, you need to take action. Not tomorrow. Not later. NOW. If you don’t, you communicate to him devastating things: You don’t believe what he says. You don’t value her. You think that it’s fine for him to be abused.

– If the perpetrator is your own kid, he or she needs to receive immediate help. (He/she should also be removed from the house if he/she is abusing the other child/ren). You cannot deal with this on your own. You need the services of a professional therapist or a pastor with extensive counseling training.

– Boundaries within dating should be discussed. I don’t believe that God frowns when a kiss or a hug is exchanged, but those kisses and hugs can escalate quickly. Again, that’s normal. We are sexual beings. What safeguards will dating children have in place? The point is not to be legalistic, but to develop a realistic standard based on God’s word and the maturity of the child.

Teach them the correct words. Vagina. Penis. Breasts. Testicles. Uterus. Ovaries. Orgasm. And my computer isn’t bursting into flames!

Responsibility. This is one area in which I think we fail most consistently, in several ways:

– Kids need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that it is NOT their fault if someone chooses to abuse them. All the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.

– Young ladies need to be told that they are not responsible for the actions of men. I do believe that women should dress with dignity, understanding that they are beautiful, intricately designed daughters of the King. We should dress in a way that honors the Lord by honoring our bodies, not putting every inch of skin on display. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules, though. What one woman is comfortable with another may not be. Bottom line: even the loosest turtleneck made of the heaviest fabric will not keep a man from lusting if he has a mind to do so, and this is not the fault of any woman.

– Young men need to be told that Jesus never advocated lust management or blame-shifting. Marriage was not meant to be simply an outlet for a man’s sexual desire. It is not fine for a man to indulge his lust with his wife. Sex is meant to be an expression of love and an avenue for deepest connection. If a man struggles with lust, he must recognize that as his struggle. His struggle is not made easier by the availability and increasing mainstream acceptance of pornography, nor is it made easier by a woman’s lack of understanding her own dignity in the way she dresses. Nevertheless, his struggle is not to be blamed on any woman. His choices and thoughts are his own.

The conversation must be on-going. Too many parents stop at an explanation of how babies are made. That’s not enough. Kids need to know that they can come to their parents with any questions, any confusion. They need to know that their parents are safe and won’t drag them over the coals.

Your story. Kids need to know how and why you struggled. They need to know why you feel so strongly about this. They need to know when you failed and when you succeeded. They need to know your regrets and what you’re thankful for.

Jesus. From the earliest age, like within the womb, kids need to hear about Jesus. They need to be told about God. They need to hear how wonderful and awesome and holy and perfect and loving He is. They need to know that they can talk to Him about anything. That they can pour their hearts out. They need to be told, in clear and simple terms, about sin and the cross and the Resurrection. They need to know how important it is that they ask Him for forgiveness and ask Him to be the Lord of their lives.

Grace. It must be explained, emphasized and given. Because even the best Bible study, the most comprehensive conversation, the best explanations as to “why,” the most authentic sharing of story cannot keep people from making choices. Kids are sinners, just like their parents. They need to know that stones will not be hurled at their heads. They need to know that the wonderful Jesus you’ve told them about can and will forgive them of anything they’ve done. They need to know that you’ll forgive them. They need to know that they can forgive themselves.

This is far too important an issue. We cannot keep bungling it. Kids cannot keep suffering because we’re too uncomfortable to say the word “penis” or too ashamed to tell them that we had sex before we got married. We, the adults, need to grow up and step up. We’ve got to stop wringing our hands and screaming “no!” We’ve got to stop shaming the next generation because they have the same questions, struggles, longings and desires we do.

We need to do better.

We must.

My journey to faith. (15)

May 23, 2015: After reading this post, a friend of mine pointed out that pornography isn’t just a “man’s issue” and modesty isn’t just a “woman’s issue.” She is entirely correct. Increasing numbers of women turn to pornography (though it may be labeled “erotica”). Women enjoy looking at attractive men just as much as men enjoy looking at attractive women; there’s a reason Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad has never faded away.

So, the conversation about pornography and modesty must include both girls and boys. They all need to be taught how to present themselves in a way that honors both God and the body. And while kids should be told that it’s normal to notice and appreciate physical beauty, they must also be taught that people are not objects.

Photo credit: Shelby Deeter
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14 thoughts on “Sex and the Christian Family

  1. Absolutely wonderful. I am so happy to see this topic being brought up in the context of our faith. Working in public health, I see so many people who treat sex like a commodity or a form of communication or social engagement rather than a bond between two lovers. One of our programs here focuses on working with a group of kids from a local high school and teaching them how to recognize risky behaviors and situations (not necessarily sexual, can be applied to everything in life) and how to come up with ways to avoid them.

    There are obviously dangers of STD’s out there. No matter what your age, you have a very high chance of contracting Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, let alone some of the scarier diseases and conditions. People tell me “I will just get medicine and it will be all better”. Not for long, since Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are now becoming resistant to many of the antibiotics out there.

    Putting the STD’s aside, I completely agree that this needs to be an very open conversation with our kids. They are going to learn it regardless, wouldn’t you want them to learn it from you?

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  2. Excellently stated, Marie. Your words are spot-on. Our kids are just coming into the age where they are ready to hear more specifics about sex. I love your suggestions and the honesty you espouse. That’s what is needed in each aspect parents face as their children grow. And the grace you encourage? A necessity. Well written!

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  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! To all of it, YES! This is what my husband and I have said about this issue. I know so many parents who do not talk about it with their children. My husband and I have talked age appropriately with our children explaining many of these kinds of things you’ve said. They know the names of the body parts. They know about boundaries and as they get older, we share more. We want to be upfront and honest so they can make wise decisions. This is the best article I’ve read on this topic and the whole situation. Thank you for sharing, Marie!

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  4. Hello Marie – First, thank you so much for following my blog – its awesome to see people interested in what I write, as I am sure you know the feeling.

    Second, this article is awesome! I’ve made the point many times that guys will lust over a girl no matter what they are wearing if they cannot control themselves. And that pornography, molestation, and other things needs to be discussed with both genders.

    As you saw by my own post, I really Hate how people can rally behind a Christian celebrity like Josh Duggar and make light of his actions – all because he’s a Christian. I’m sorry, but molestation should NEVER be tolerated, excused, or brushed off. Christianity calls us to a higher standard of living, and if the Christian community is to react to something like the Josh Duggar scandal, it should be with disgust over whats been done, compassion for the victims, and advocacy against how the family handled it, and against rape culture in general.

    For Marie’s readers, I have a similar post here:
    http://lambtheology.com/2015/05/29/on-josh-duggar-and-sexual-abuse-the-church-needs-to-do-more/

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    1. The whole mess is just so…messy.

      I watched the interview that the Duggar parents did with Megyn Kelly for Fox News. I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish with it, but they only managed to make things worse in my opinion. I get that they probably are genuine when they say that the did everything they knew to do, but behind how they handled the situation is a whole host of beliefs about God and sexuality.

      Nobody in the Duggar family needs to be flogged, but I do think they need to get out of the spotlight. I hope that this will stir the people of God to take steps toward battling abuse in our homes and churches.

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