I was recently asked to share some tips with parents of teenagers about “How to talk to your teen about sex?” at our church. I guess I have gained a reputation for not being shy about the topic. Honestly, I used not to be comfortable with the topic at all because I had multiple skeletons in my closet when it came to sexual sin. But as my daughters grew, it became a necessity to be able to have those open conversations so they could avoid the same mistakes I made. I also realized it was not enough to just teach them about the mechanics of what sex is. I needed to be willing to address the deeper issues surrounding sex, especially for teenagers.
So here are my tips for talking to teens about sex (and they are teen approved!),
1. Play it Cool!
The natural state for most parents (especially within the Christian church), when finally finding the courage to have the “birds and the bees” conversation with their kids, is to be awkward. All I want to say is, read the “Song of Solomon.” God is not awkward on the topic of sex. He is actually pretty straightforward since He created it.
So when talking to your kids, approach it from that light. God created sex and there is beauty in it when enjoyed in the confines of God’s Holy Boundaries. In that context, there is no shame in sex and that is part of the message you want your kids to take away. But you also want them to feel comfortable talking to you about struggles they may have (masturbation, porn, etc). By playing it cool (even if you have to fake it), you create a safe space for healthy conversations.
You also need to play it cool if they ask you something or make a statement that triggers all the alarm bells inside of you. If you give them a disappointing look or blurt out, “How could you?” you have essentially shut the doors of communication. Keep the doors open because it is the only way to help them correct “bad” thinking or “bad” behavior.
2. Establish that Sex within God’s Boundaries is Good
Before even diving into the “don’ts,” you need to establish that there is no shame in holy sex (sex within marriage with mutual consent). Teens need to understand the beauty of sex and how open God is about it in the Bible. Take them to Genesis 2:24 and explain the implications of “becoming one flesh” and how God commanded man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. The only way to be fruitful and multiply is to have sex in marriage.
Show them the Song of Solomon. Let them chuckle at the language of romance back in biblical times. And show them how open God is about sex. This sets the stage for the conversation about sex that occurs outside of God’s boundaries.
3. Remind Them that God’s Boundaries Are for Their Own Good
God made the boundary for sex very small. Anything outside the confines of marriage between a man and a woman is off-limits. However, God established his boundaries for the good of his people. Fundamentally, I think kids know that. Just ask them what are some practical consequences of sex outside of marriage. I think you might be surprised at their responses. I recommend reading my book, “Holy Boundaries: Sexuality Bible Study for Teens and Parents” for a full discussion on this topic.
3. Have Lots of Conversations
Nothing is more traumatizing for a teen than to have him or her sit with you for an hour during a formal conversation about sex. And it is even worse, to never have a conversation again.
Instead, have lots of small conversations in the car, while they are having a snack, when they are actually taking their time to talk to you! The more you start talking about it, the more they will know that it is safe to talk to you. If you are introducing the topic for the first time, you can ask, “Hey, do you know what sex is?” They will probably mumble some response. If they say yes, then say, “Sorry, you didn’t hear about it first from me, but I hope now we can have more open conversations about it.” And if there is not much of a response from them, move on. Leave the next part for the next car ride.
4. Use “Taboo” Terminology
No teen wants to use the word “masturbation” or “porn” in front of their mom or dad. Chances are, however, that your teen may have questions about those topics and may even struggle with them. They need to hear from you that is okay to talk to you about such things. So be the first to use words like “homosexuality,” “same-sex attraction,” “masturbation,” etc. It signals to them that you are in the know and they are not going to rock your world if they have questions (and if it does rock your world go back to tip number 1, fake it, and play it cool).
5. Acknowledge the Prevalence of Sexual Sin Among Teens
Even if your teen is pretty innocent when it comes to sexual sin, statistically someone they know is heavily embroiled in it. Having conversations now about what you know is common among teens leaves the door open for future conversations if they ever have questions or concerns, or begin to struggle in a particular area.
When my teen had questions about things she heard, she asked me, and thank goodness she did! I would hate for her to have asked Google on a borrowed phone and been seared with images she should have never seen. But the reason she asked me, was because she knew I would know and would help her understand without any judgment.
6. Acknowledge the Shame Surrounding Sexual Sin
As someone who has struggled with sexual sin since she was a child, I can tell you shame can consume you. And if your teen is struggling or embroiled in sexual sin or sexual temptation (masturbation, porn, sex before marriage, same-sex attraction), shame is consuming them too. The only way for them to reach out to you is if you become the person they can ask for help. The first step to being that person is acknowledging the shame.
Let them know how you know shame overshadows a person struggling with sexual sin or even just sexual temptation. Share your own struggles and your own shame. The best conversations I have had with my daughter are when I have shared with her my own battle with sin (sexual or non-sexual). Let them know that even in sin, they are loved and your only desire–and God’s is to walk alongside them and help them crawl out of the darkness they are in.
7. Do Not Prioritize One Sexual Sin or Temptation Over the Other
Teen hypocrisy radar is out of this world. And the enemy uses that to his advantage. Therefore, if we elevate LGBTQ sin over heterosexual sin, our teens will be able to sniff it out a mile away and we will lose credibility in their eyes. Our message has to be consistent and biblical….and biblically, all sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong. Therefore to ignore incidents of heterosexual sin in the church while coming down hard on homosexual sin is hypocritical. So be consistent in your messaging and your actions.
8. Teach Them the Bible
I cannot overemphasize this enough. Teens need to know their Bibles. If teens do not see the Bible as God’s word, they have no foundation and can be easily swayed one way or another. And the only way for them to trust in God and his word is for them to actually know it. For that reason, I created two Bible studies for my girls, a simpler and more basic one for my tween daughter on puberty and sex, Preparing our Daughters for Puberty, and a more in-depth one, Holy Boundaries. After going through the Holy Boundaries Bible study, you and your teen will have a much deeper foundation on identity, sex, and gender from a biblical perspective.
My teen daughter walked away from it with more scriptural knowledge on the subject, but what moved me more is how she grew to understand God’s love for her. I was not expecting that (and I wrote the study!), but that motivates her to love God and to aim to live within his boundaries of safety.
If you have other tips you would recommend, feel free to share them below!!
Other articles that may interest you:
- Six Practical Tips to Protect Children from Sexual Predators
- Puberty and Sex: Why Christian Parents Should Have the Talk Early
- How to Teach Kids Godly Disobedience
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