Talking to your children about sex: Part 1

Let me start very personally with a few examples of how I was educated as a child about sex.

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. The way Sports Illustrated uses sex to sell the magazine and now continues this through the year is degrading and debasing to women and leads men into continual lust for more.

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 — don’t confuse this book with a very TV show by the same name), and it has 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.

My wife, 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 a few years ago, I called and requested Sports Illustrated skip the Swimming Suit issue on my subscription.

In part two I’ll share a few things about how Jill and I have talked to our children about sexuality.

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