I got sick the day my school had scheduled for six-graders to watch a sex education film. We’d all anticipated learning more about the “birds and the bees” from this public school film about adolescence and the difference between boys and girls.
Sensitive to my missing out on this grand occasion, Mom sat down with me in the living room that morning and lovingly walked me through the differences. I couldn’t look at her so I put my head on her lap and for some reason I responded to the news by quietly crying. Perhaps it was embarrassment, and I remember feeling left out of this rite of passage of children at my school.
This was not the only time Mom and Dad helped me understand my sexuality, but they also gave me the old James Dobson book on adolescence and we had a few awkward conversations about what the cows were doing in the fields, one time in particular when I exclaimed, “Look! That cow is jumping on the other one!” Mom explained and I was mortified but glad she told me so I didn’t go blabbing at school how one cow was trying to jump over the moon and didn’t quite make it.
This of course, was not the end of sexual education. Some was passed on to me by fiat. I have subscribed to Sports Illustrated since I was eleven, and I believe it’s the best sports magazine in the world, but one week a year, it epitomizes all that’s wrong about that difference between men and women and once again makes objects or idols out of human women. So this time of year I would come into my room and find my Sports Illustrated on the bed, sans the cover and interior of the Swimsuit issue. Mom was protecting my young mind and heart from objectifying women. Over the years I finally understood the lesson she was trying to teach me: that women are not made for the purpose of augmenting and airbrushing into idols. They are made for loving relationships with God and other humans.
Our culture and sexuality
Lauren Winner wrote Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Brazos, 2005), and it is fast becoming one of the most read books on young adult sexuality. Here’s a quote from the book about what we are made for.
Our bodies and how we inhabit them point to the order of creation. God made us for sex within marriage; this is what the Reformed tradition would call a creational law. To see the biblical witness as an attempt to direct us to the created order, to God’s rule of creation, is not to appeal to self-interest in a therapeutic or false way. It is rather to recognize the true goodness of God’s creation; things as they were in the Garden of Eden are things at their most nourishing, they are things as they are meant to be. This is what Paul is saying when he speaks to the Corinthians: Don’t you know that when you give your body to a prostitute, you are uniting yourself to her? To ask that question is to speak the wisdom of Proverbs in the idiom of law. It is a law that invites us into the created order of marital sex; a law that rightly orders our created desires for sexual pleasure and sexual connectedness; a law, in short, that cares for us and protects us, written by a Lawgiver who understands that life outside of God’s created intent destroys us. By contrast, life lived inside the contours of God’s law humanizes us and makes us beautiful. It makes us creatures living well in the created order. It gives us the opportunity to become who we are meant to be.
Jill has also lovingly walked with me through sexual temptation, in particular when the Swimsuit issue has come in over the years. I certainly must continue to learn the discipline of the lust of the flesh and eyes, but it also helps to avoid contact where temptation lay. So last year I called and requested Sports Illustrated skip that issue on my subscription. This year, it didn’t come at all.
“The Sex Talk” has morphed into many talks and at an earlier age in our home. Talking about sex seems to come much earlier for my children than it came in my experience growing up. I was in junior high before I understood what homosexuality is, and I had barely discovered the differences between sexes. Now, I talk to my children often about sexuality and what they hear from friends, what they might overhear on television or see on billboards, etc.
Jill and I read a four-part book series on sexuality to our children (ages 6, 9, 12) that helps us talk about sex in God’s design in formal ways to boost the informal discussions we have along the way. Stan and Brenna Jones have written a must-have series on God’s Design for Sex that is divided into Book 1 for ages three to five, Book 2 for five to eight, Book 3 for eight to eleven, and Book 4 for eleven to fourteen. Each book ramps up the story of our sexuality and God’s design with increasing detail and explanation.
So far we’ve read the first two books to all our children (we’ve given Book 4 to our twelve-year-old to read on her own), often together and giggles and smiles and hidden faces behind throw pillows ensue, but they love it, and it’s truly a joy to walk them through changes in their bodies and minds and being able to share sexuality through the eyes of faith and God’s design rather than defaulting to reacting whenever we find out they’ve heard something at school or from a friend. We’re like a good local TV station: “You heard it here first!”
Soga cultural views of sexuality
In my novel, High Places I wrote about the rites of passage that allow a young boy in Uganda to become a man. Part of this process is to build and move into his own hut. This allows more privacy for the parents and builds a sense of ownership and responsibility in the young adolescent. Girls often are given in marriage at young ages, after they develop physically, but much of that is changing in those who are realizing that girls deserve education as much as boys do, so some girls are given different rooms of the house or another hut to live in as well.
Often, an aunt or uncle takes a child aside and reveals to them the mysteries of sexuality and marriage. There are taboos of speaking about sexuality with certain direct relations. In fact, a daughter-in-law is not even allowed in the same house with her husband’s father. This is to protect from indiscretions and shameful relationships.
Early parameters for Israel’s sexuality
From Israel’s earliest days as a people, God has set boundaries around their sexual lives, calling this and everything else they do in body as a holy act that must remain worthy of their walk as “my people who are called out” (Hebrew term for title of Leviticus). The holiness codes of Leviticus repeatedly show that the sexual act that creates another life is a sacred act. In Leviticus 18, immediately following an introduction to separation from Egypt and Canaan and their ways, comes a litany of prohibitions about sexual perversions, starting with the general and becoming more and more specific and grotesque, including beastiality and giving children in prostitution and even sacrifice. At the end of some of the prohibitions is the statement, “I am the Lord.” This says that sexuality is under the authority of God who cares about what we do under the covers. It says something about the nature of God. He cares about and gives parameters for sexual life (18:7-18).
Sharing faith in God for our families means giving important parameters and guidelines for sexuality, communicating what Godly intimacy is, what God desires, practice of self-control, and learning about beautiful sexuality in marriage. There’s no way this can be achieved in “the talk” but in a purposeful and gracious conversation over many years with our children as they grow and mature.
You can read a longer and excellent excerpt from Lauren Winner’s Real Sex.