My parents didn't talk to me about sex. Maybe your folks didn't either. Many parents of the previous generation were silent on the topic. In their defense, they raised us in a time when sex before marriage, though it wasn't uncommon, was still considered taboo in many circles.
A time before sexting and the sharing of lewd photos via Snapchat. A time when you could buy a pack of gum without being lambasted by mostly exposed airbrushed breasts on magazine covers. A time when network television didn't flaunt casual sex as the highest form of pleasure and fulfillment. My two oldest boys are on the verge of puberty, and they are about to walk into a minefield of over-the-top sensuality and sexual perversion.
It scares me. But it also motivates me to have those conversations my folks didn't have with me. Thinking through the things I wish I had known as a teen helped me formulate conversation topics to help my kids navigate through their teenage years. These five topics may give you a starting point with your kids too.
1. You Get What You Ask For
I want my kids to know that God will protect them from temptation, but if they mindfully choose to walk right into it, he just might give them what they ask for.
I asked for it when I was 18. The tall, handsome track star pursued me the summer I graduated, and I made a conscious decision to ignore the fact that his ideas about physical purity did not mesh with God's. I stepped right out from under God's protection by purposely ignoring his will, and he let me reap what I had sown.
I'm sure it pained God greatly to watch me choose the world and distance myself from him. But I'm also sure it didn't come as a surprise. The Bible is packed with stories of prodigals who were dissatisfied with God's way.
My favorite is the story of King Saul. Not content with God's plan, the Israelites asked for a king (1 Samuel 8). The king God gave them was a coward who was found hiding behind some luggage when he was supposed to be accepting his crown (1 Samuel 10:20–23). If that didn't make the Israelites regret asking God for a king, his poor leadership skills certainly did. And to add salt to the wound, according to Beth Moore's study, David: Seeking a Heart Like His, Saul's name literally translated means, "You asked for it."
We all join the ranks of the Israelites when we decide our plans should trump God's. I desire for my kids to understand that God's way is always better than the world's way.
2. Draw a Line and Stay Behind It
I want my kids to know that when they "ask for it" they open themselves up to slackened moral behaviors. I knew from my church background that sex was wrong before marriage. But I put zero thought into all the stuff that leads up to the sex act.
As I got deeper into a bad relationship, I found it nearly impossible to make God-honoring decisions in relation to purity. My decision to date a person with lower standards led to my standards slipping. I will encourage my children to draw a clear line long before they get there.
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn't have a purity section that says, "It's okay to hold hands, but it's not okay to cuddle." Or "Go ahead and cuddle, just keep the kissing to a minimum." It's a bit of a gray area. The key is to avoid playing with fire. My aim is to encourage my kids to ask, "How far can I stay away from sex in a dating relationship?" instead of "How close can I get without getting burned?"
I chose to play with fire, and I did indeed get burned. But armed with more knowledge, I may have made better choices. Though knowledge doesn't guarantee good decisions, I plan to put as much ammunition as can I into my kids' arsenals to help them avoid bad choices.
3. Sex Is Good
I want my kids to know that sex is good. Though I succumbed to physical temptations, I still had an underlying belief that sex is bad. And I brought that belief with me on my honeymoon.
Maybe it was due to the lack of talks I had with my folks, or any other respected adult for that matter, or maybe it's because the only thing I remember my pastor saying on the topic is that dancing is evil because it leads to sex. I don't know exactly how it became ingrained, but I do know that if we lead our kids to believe sex is bad, even if our intentions are good, they will have a heck of a time changing their opinion on their wedding night. My goal is to teach my kids that though the world has distorted it, God created sex and he made it beautiful.
If we have the guts to provide our kids with a biblical picture of sex, we may save them from a difficult internal battle going into marriage.
4. Your Spouse Is Worth the Wait
One of the key things children will learn about sex will be from what they see in our daily relationship with our spouse.
When it comes to teaching our kids about the beauty of two becoming one flesh in marriage, our example is more important than our words. I'm not saying we should share intimate details of our relationship with our kids. I am saying they should see physical affection and hear words of affection in our homes.
"I love you's" and bear hugs flow freely at our house, and as often as my husband, Corey, tells me I'm beautiful, the boys have to believe their dad thinks I'm the prettiest woman on the planet. We will fight and get grumpy sometimes, but if we work at loving each other well, our kids will take notice and desire a love like ours.
5. God Forgives and Keeps No Record of Wrongs
I wish we could know that teaching our kids all the right things would ensure they do all the right things, but we can't. Ultimately their life choices are just that. Their life choices.
It's important to me that my kids know there is forgiveness to be found, even when their poor choices result in unpleasant consequences.
I will go to the grave with regret. I've made mistakes that I can't erase from my mind. But God erased them long ago. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness in the midst of our brokenness and failures are perfectly complete. According to Psalm 103:12, he has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. What a great verse to cling to when regret pulls us down.
Maybe you awoke on your wedding day without regret. Maybe you made a few bad decisions in your single years. Or maybe you had to overcome an immense amount of baggage from previous relationships.
Regardless of our histories, it is our responsibility to share the truth with our kids. (No details are needed—our kids don't need to be exposed to the particulars of our sin.) But if in fact we have screwed up and experienced forgiveness, what a lovely and real picture of redemption we can paint for our children.
Our God is a God of beautiful things. He doesn't force his hand on us even when he knows our choice is bad. He doesn't leave us when we screw up. And he can redeem what we have made ugly into something beautiful.
We may never be comfortable talking to our kids about sex. But because preparing our kids for the future is more important than our personal comfort, we should take steps to help set them on a positive path.
Kim Harms is a TCW regular contributor and freelance writer living in Huxley, Iowa, with her husband and three sons. In addition to writing, she operates 500 Dresses, a clothing ministry to Haitian children, and can be found online at KimHarms.net or on Twitter at @kimharmsboymom.