Author Dannah Gresh speaks candidly about God’s design for sexuality and offers a biblical perspective on why physical intimacy is reserved for a committed marriage. She also offers advice for how parents can talk to their kids about sex. (Part 1 of 2)
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Dannah Gresh: I think what Satan's lie to us is and what the counterfeit is, is that sex is a physical thing, when in fact, it's not. The physical is just the conduit to what God truly designed for us to experience.
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John Fuller: Well, that's Dannah Gresh and she joins us today on "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: You know, John, Dannah always brings great insights for us, especially in this area of sexuality. And uh … it's important for us to talk about. I know I've mentioned it before. It's easy to say, okay, uh … we're gonna avoid this topic. But you know what? We continue to hand it over to the enemy of our souls when we do that. And uh … what we want to do is have a discussion about teen sexuality uh … that preadolescence, what do you do in talking with your daughter specifically, but also your son about these topics.
And we hear from so many of you parents who are struggling in that area and I'm tellin' you, I drove Troy to school today and I had that same kind of angst, because he and I were talking about are there any kind of sexual expressions going on in your junior high? And it's just … I could tell he was squirming, but you have to engage your children in this topic, because the culture is pulling 'em right through that doorway and if you don't uh … present a case for a Christian view of sexuality, I think you'll lose your kids so quickly, you'll be lookin' up after it's over.
Jim: And you've already lost before you get started. So, you know, have a bit of thick skin today. Understand that we do this with the right spirit. God created our sexuality as a gift. It's a beautiful gift in the context of marriage and that's how we want to frame it today and I'm lookin' forward to the discussion.
John: And we … there are uncomfortable conversations you have to have with your kids. I've had those kinds of—
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
John: --discussions with my girls and it's probably happening … it probably has to happen earlier than you think.
John: And those are just some of the reasons that we're so glad to have Dannah Gresh here with us. Dannah is straightforward. She's candid. She's biblical in her thinking about this topic and uh … if it isn't clear yet, we'll be pretty direct about sexuality and having conversations. Younger children probably need to be occupied elsewhere today.
Jim: Hey Dannah, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Dannah: It's always my honor to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jim: Okay, John and I just did a mini confession on all this. What did you think of that conversation we were having?
Dannah: I think that was beautiful. (Laughter) And you know, as I was listening, I was thinking, yes, because um … I just did a nationwide focus group of moms of tween girls—girls as age 8 to 12. And one of the questions that I was seeking an answer to was really um … are Christian Evangelical parents having the conversations about sexuality at the right time?
And it is earlier it is earlier than we're really comfortable with. And so, um … I asked these moms of 8- to 12-year-old girls, how many of you with daughters age 9 to 12 have begun to talk about sex, at least began the conversation?
And less than 50 percent of them had, which was shocking to me, 'cause that's very dangerous. They risk allowing their friends, the world and culture—
Dannah: --to build the foundational values about sexuality. And when I asked why, most of the moms said something like this. "Well, she hasn't brought it up yet." And so, what I love about what you said, Jim, is that you were being proactive about—
Dannah: --saying, "Hey," you know, you weren't … you like… this wasn't an in-depth conversation. You're just kinda saying, "Hey, what kind of language is happening in school? I'd love to know about it. I've love to hear about it. Let's talk about it." And if we're not proactively seeking out a platform to build the foundation of our child's sexuality, the world will build it for us them.
Jim: Well, and it's almost like the kids, even from good homes, the kids who are going to school, they realize that this is no-man's land, that if they bring the … if they bring these things up with their parents, it could be um … taboo and it'll be a lecture, rather than a conversation about what's really happening. And that's the tone I'm tryin' to set with my boys is, let's have a discussion about what's really happening in the world and why it's being presented the way it's being presented. What is God's design for that? But Dannah, speak to the parent. There are going to be parents that are very uncomfortable with this. Uh … talk to that person who thinks, hey, this isn't the way it should be discussed.
Dannah: Well, I think, you know, this book that I've just written, What Are You Waiting For? Is frank. Um … There are words in there that will turn off some readers. One girl read my book. She was a college-age girl and she read it and said, "You know, I'm not comfortable with words like 'masturbation' and uh … 'self-gratification' and 'oral sex.' I just don't want to talk about those things. And this author talks about them as if she's talking about a recipe for pancakes."
And so, I wrote back to her and said, "Well, if you want to get a recipe about pancakes, go to www.allrecipes.com. But if you want to talk about sexuality, then read my book, but you know, this isn't gonna be a lighthearted walk in the park, because what … the war zone that we're in, in terms of sexual theology and our hearts being bloodied by sexual brokenness mandates that we talk about this.
And the example that I have from the Scriptures that kind of, I think legitimizes the approach that I take is the Apostle Paul, who in 1 Corinthians faces some really nitty-gritty questions about sexuality. This is a culture, the Corinthian culture was a culture that was very much like ours, wrought with uh … the divorce revolution was really at its height, that men and women could … well, men could divorce at will and remarry at will. Homosexuality and gender issues were very… very public, normal things in the Corinthians culture.
So, culture was very much like ours and he gets some very direct questions from the Corinthians, things like, is it even good to be married? Um … because it's all … sex is so messed up. Because sex is perverted, shouldn't we just abstain in marriage? That's a question that the Apostle Paul answered. Of course, that question was way off course. If my spouse is unsaved, should I just get divorced?
He answers very practical questions that were relevant to what was happening in the culture and that's what I seek to do in this book. And our culture is dealing with issues of young women struggling with pornography and erotic literature. Masturbation, is it right; is it wrong? Hook up, you know, I think something like 81 percent of teen … or 81 percent of college students are fully sexually active. And the most …
Jim: Eight-one percent.
Dannah: Eighty-one percent.
Jim: Yeah, wow.
Dannah: And the heartbreaking thing about that is the volume of sexual partners that they will have by the end of their college experience.
Dannah: For men, it's about 9.7; for women it's about 7.1.
Jim: Um … what I love, Dannah about what you did also in the book is the scriptural application, the … the Hebrew text and the way you pull the words like yada.
Jim: I don't even know if I'm saying it correctly, but—
Jim: --um … talk about that application and what … what the Lord is showing us through the … the use of language.
Dannah: Well, what I have seen is, that the Christian conversation can sometimes sound just like a big "Thou shalt not." And we treat sex and we talk to our children, we treat sex um … it's almost as if we would say, "We're putting you on a diet." But we don't tell them that there are benefits. It's just, No chocolate cake for you. No lasagna for you, none of the good stuff. You are just gonna have a miserable … vegetables for the rest of your life." (Laughing) I mean—
Dannah: --none of us are gonna sign up for that. We don't take time to explain your body's gonna be stronger. Your brain's gonna be healthier. You're gonna feel better. You're gonna look better. We don't tell them the benefits and we treat sex that way a lot of times when we talk to our children.
Dannah: We make it one great big no without talking to them about the beautiful benefit that science defends so beautifully, that a monogamous lifetime partnership yields a greater sex life than a … a sex life wi …
One of the most fascinating studies to me is they asked men, Indiana University asked men over the course of their lifetime—these were older men—and they asked them, how great has your sex life been? And the men with one lifetime sex partner reported the highest level of sexual satisfaction. The lowest level of sexual satisfaction was reported by men with the greatest number of sex partners over their --
Jim: --yeah, it … it's uh … goes against the grain of what you would think it would be.
Jim: And why is that?
Dannah: Well, it's because sex is sacred and God designed it to work a certain way and that's, I think, the saddest thing about allowing the culture to have the conversation about sexuality without us having the conversation.
And sex, according to God's Word, is a beautiful sacred act. In fact, the word that you mentioned, yada, it's found for the very first time in Genesis 4:1, where it says, "Adam lay with his wife, Eve and she became pregnant and gave birth." And when I read that, I thought to myself, the dude was so not just layin' there. This is a very bad translation, you know. It didn't make any sense.
And so, I opened my Hebrew dictionary and I found that the word there was yada. And it means to know, to be known, to be deeply respected. And it was really when I found that word that I began an eight-year journey, circling every use of the word yada in the Scriptures. It's so fascinating to me that this word doesn't speak to the physical act happening at all. It transcends the physical. To know, to be known, to be deeply respected, what a sacred interaction that's happening between Adam and Eve. So, it transcends the physical.
Now the mind-blowing thing as I studied it and I circled over 900 uses of it throughout the Old Testament, but it's used only a handful of times to talk about the intimate moment that a husband and wife can have. It's used more often to talk about the intimacy that we can have with God, in verses like, "Be still and know (yada) that I am God." What a… what a sacred word.
This word, God says, "Listen, I want you to understand the intimate love that I can have with you, the intimate knowing that we can experience together." And when He creates this earth, He says, "Oh! Things are gonna get a little messy. I don't know if you're gonna remember, so I'm gonna paint a picture for you, a picture of a man and a woman in a passionate holy marriage bed, so that you can understand My love for you." That is sacred.
Jim: Ah, I … I love the view of that and how God relates to us in that way, the intimacy of it. And again, not just sexual, but the knowing of one another. And uh … you know what … what strikes me in that description that you gave of Adam and Eve is how short-lived human physical expression in a pure God environment was. It was very brief. I mean, Adam and Eve before the Fall, that seems like it was a very brief time that they had that kind of God-instructed, God-ordained, God-breathed human sexual interaction and then it was broken.
Jim: And it's been broken ever since. And uh … it's sad that we don't experience that fullness that God has for us in the way that Adam and Eve would've had in those first um … few moments of life together.
Dannah: Yeah, I think we're fighting to get that back. Everything in us is pointing our hearts to going back to what we once had. And it's not just … we haven't just lost the intimate connection with God. We've lost the intimacy that we can have with each other.
Jim: Yeah. And let's talk about that gender uh … I guess application and this is, even now we're … we're looking at the gender issue. It's hard to talk about gender and everybody's uncomfortable with it, because it's politically incorrect, but men are wired differently than women and—
Jim: --MRI scans of the brain show that. Science shows that. Um … it's more acceptable now to understand that in scientific circles than it is in the pop culture, 'cause everybody wants to be unisex.
Jim: But the reality is, God has wired us differently as men and women. Talk about that.
Dannah: One of the most fascinating pieces of research that I discovered as I was writing this book was, the differences in the brain structure in the male and female and particularly, how the brains received sexual memories and sexual experiences.
Um … the male brain is on average, heavier than the female brain, but the part of the brain that stores sexual memory, emotions, uh … bonding and um … romance, th … that is the deep limbic system, this walnut-size mass in the middle of the brain, the thalamus. It is two to three times larger in the female.
Jim: Oh, interesting.
Dannah: And so, the … as I've looked for years at trying to understand, okay, men and women are all … I mean, we're all in the same boat of struggling with sexual sin. But women seem to feel the pain of it for so much longer.
Dannah: It can be …
Jim: Men are more flippant about it--
Jim: --if that's a fair word.
Dannah: And women just literally have more geographical space in their story of pain, more geographical space to bond. Um … there is … Dr. Joseph McIlhaney of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health says—
Jim: Good friend of ours.
Dannah: --he's a wonderful, wonderful research, a wonderful physician and he says that the connection and the bonding between two people when they have sex is not just an emotional thing. It is very physiological. The brain chemicals that wash across this part of the brain um …, oxytocin, dopamine, create a … a glue-like adhesive effect—
Dannah: --between two individuals. Now the thing is, the science is just catching up with this. I think Paul knew that when he wrote the Corinthians church, because he says, "Don't you know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her? For it is written, the two will become one flesh." That sounds like the process that Dr. Joseph McIlhaney is describing here.
Jim: A more scientific description, but it … it—
Jim: --you're right, yeah. That's—
Jim: --what is sounds like.
Dannah: --doesn't get more casual than paying for sex, right?
Jim: Hm … no.
Dannah: And yet, the Apostle Paul says, even in that interaction, there has been a holy, a bonding, a soul tie and an enmeshment. And we now know that, that happens in the brain.
John: Well, Dannah Gresh is our guest on "Focus on the Family." I so appreciate your perspectives, Dannah and the book that we're covering today is What Are You Waiting For? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex. And there are a lot of things actually in the book that no one tells you about sex. We want to equip you as a parent in particular, but if you're a single, this is a great book, I'm assuming, Dannah.
Dannah: It's a … I've had lots of single adult women say that it's given them much courage.
John: Yeah, well, get a copy at www.focusonthefamiyl.com/radio. And what I hear you saying, Dannah, is that, that bonding, that … that adhesion between the two is designed by God for a couple to experience, not for this present hook-up culture to experience time and time and time again. And that's where the damage is occurring.
Dannah: That's exactly [it]. If you bond two things together, if you use the words of Dr. Joseph McIlhaney, you glue two things together and then you pull them apart, they're gonna be damaged. And for the female, that is more significant.
Um … we're still trying to figure out exactly why, but just an understanding that the brain is … she's storing more of those moments. She's storing more of those memories, more of those emotions in her brain. So, when she is separated from that sex partner, that damage is much more significant.
Jim: Well, again, it … to me, the spiritual context here, the enemy of our soul is trying to give us a counterfeit of what God has intended for good. And it's ripping us apart. People feel lonely. What you cited in that study, where the … the men, I think you were alluding to, uh … that had, had multiple partners over their lifetime, felt less connected, less satisfaction, less gratification than men that had only one lifelong love partner.
Jim: And uh … their satisfaction was the highest. That's critical. That's because they're following God's design. And uh … the difficulty, Dannah, that we have is, how do we compete—
Jim: --with the messaging? I mean, it's Madison Avenue. It's Super Bowl commercials. It's uh … others, burger companies that are selling us sex, not a hamburger.
Jim: I mean, what in the world? How as a mom and dad of preadolescent teens and teens in this culture, how do we do it successfully?
Dannah: Well, I think the No. 1 thing that parents need to know is, it has to start early. You have to start early.
Jim: What's a good age? I mean, I can't remember with the boys. I think it was probably 10, 11.
Jim: But what is kind of a good age today? The … I know there's no perfect time.
Dannah: Well, I … I think 9, 10, 11 is probably … and those are important landmarks in terms of children understanding the basic mechanics of sex. What I have found in the last two years of research is, that our moral value system is formed between the ages of 8 and 12. So, between those years, we are really deciding what we believe.
And you might think of it as bookshelves. So, you're creating these bookshelves and the bookshelves are labeled. Does a 12-year-old have a deep understanding of what they believe about righteousness and sexuality and …? No, probably not. But the bookshelves are there with the basic um … Sex 101 is in there.
And their parents have built that and put that in there or the world has built it and put that in there and started the foundation. And the … really, by the 13th or 14th birthday, the foundation for what they will believe about sexuality is established.
George Barna from the Barna Research organization has said that this is such a significant thing, that what we believe by our 13th birthday is usually what we die believing.
Dannah: And …
Jim: Think of that. That's both encouraging and discouraging--
Jim: --but powerful.
Dannah: So, it's so important that we're comfortable with having that conversation, as you said, starting with your sons when they're 10-years-old. So, you have three good years of those very formative value years to have lots of conversations. It's not just one conversation. It's multiple ongoing conversation. That doesn't mean the conversation ends when they're 13, but you have used those critical brain development and value forming years to talk about sexuality a lot.
Jim: Well, and Dannah, this strikes at your heart and probably provides that motivation for you. You know, so often we talk about our passion coming out of our pain. I mean, you lived in this space when you were a teenager. Um … you made mistakes.
Jim: And I'm sure when you're speaking, especially to young women, that resonates with them, because they … they see that authenticity in you. You're not speaking as a prudish person who uh … refrained from these things because you were simply told to do so.
Jim: You went the wrong way. Talk to us about that—
Dannah: I did.
Jim: --in terms of uh … what you experienced yourself personally.
Dannah: Well, I didn't know um … any of the physical consequences of my sexual sin as a 15-year-old. I didn't get pregnant. I didn't get a sexually transmitted disease. I did know the emotional impact. I was very depressed. I was very withdrawn. My parents saw that. They didn't know what was causing it and we know now that the suicide rate among sexually active teenage girls is at least 12 times higher--
Jim: Twelve times higher.
Dannah: --than that of their virgin peers. And depression is often one of the first symptoms that parents witness in girls before there's disclosure or their daughter is caught in sexual sin. So, I know that, that is true, because I experienced it firsthand. And I experienced shame. Oh, the enemy just … nobody is more promiscuity than Satan when he is tempting you to have sex. And no one is more pro-abstinence than Satan after you've done it.
Jim: Oh. That's an interesting statement, because of the guilt and shame that comes—
Dannah: The guilt—
Jim: --from it.
Dannah: --and the shame and so, for 10 years, I hid in this prison of pain. And it was really when I was 26 and had a baby girl and wanted her to write a different story with her life, that I had the courage to do the work of feeling, which I write about extensively in the book—the process, the things that are critical, what I've seen women experience healing through.
But what I want women listening right now to hear is this. I think this is important. God's stirring my heart. When … if you have sexual sin in your past, it is not what precludes you, it is not what disqualifies you from ministering the truth of God's holiness and sacredness and purity.
It is probably what qualifies you more than anything, because in 2 Corinthians Paul says that the God of all comfort, comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort others with the same comfort we ourselves have received.
And so, the way that I look at it now, which it took me a while to get here, is the way that I want every broken woman to look at it, when you wake up tomorrow, wake up with a heart that Satan may have wounded your heart, but he's not gonna take another one out. And wake up with a heart that the enemy of your soul says, "Oh, no; she's up again. She's at it again. She's gonna rescue some heart again."
You start to wake up with that mentality, with that heart, your healing bursts through and oh, my goodness, what a reward it is to go to some of the weddings that I get to go to—
Dannah: --of girls that I've mentored. None of them more meaningful or precious to me than the one I attended last summer, which was the wedding of my son to a young woman I'd mentored through her high school and college years.
And to watch those two marry in purity and holiness and to watch my son walk down the aisle, having honored women in the way that he dated, what a blessing. What a blow to the enemy.
Jim: And what an achievement. I mean, I think, again in this day and age, what an achievement. Dannah, one of the things that I think moms and certainly dads struggle again with the gender relationship—moms with daughters, dads with sons—is when you get that question, did you stay pure until you were married, mom, dad? How … how do you suggest to moms and dads to a … to answer that question in a way that's constructive?
Dannah: That question haunted me and it was listening to this very radio program that I felt the healing.
Jim: "'Focus on the Family."
Dannah: … driving down the highway with my 6-month-oldl baby girl in the backseat of my car—
Dannah: --as a 26-year, I heard um … two sentences on the show that day. One way, "What is the No. 1 question on a teenage girl's mind when she's talking to her mom about sex?" Without hesitation, a woman said, "The No. 1 question on her mom is, 'Mom, did you wait?'"
But many times even if they're thinking it, they're not gonna ask it. Now on the show that day, I began a journey to answer that question for my own heart—
Dannah: --and I found that the No. 1 risk reducer to teenage sexual activity is parent-child connectedness. There's nothing that your youth pastor's gonna say to protect your kids. There's not a book, even if it's written by Dannah Gresh, that's gonna protect (Laughing) your kids. Um … it is—
Jim: You gotta be involved.
Dannah: --it is you, mom. It is you, dad that's gonna reduce that risk. So, in the battle within the church, to answer, should I or should I not tell them, 'cause there are different opinions. I have a very strong one and I'll share that with you. Um … uh … we have to know that in answering that question, we open up their hearts to communicate with us about their struggles and their temptations. And in failing to answer that question, I believe … we shut down their hearts--
Dannah: --from asking the things that they're really afraid to ask. And so, I settled on telling my children. Now the thing is, you can't … your children are not the counselor that's gonna heal your heart. Be very careful not to share details. I call it, "Don't moon; don't create a visual picture, no mooning. No visual picture of what happened, how it happened, who it happened with, how many times it happened."
I sat with my son as a[n] 8th-grade boy over a dessert in a restaurant and I basically just said, "Robbie, I'm not the poster child for sexual purity. That's not why I love teaching teenage girls to live lives of purity. I know the pain of not walking in God's plan."
Jim: What was his reaction?
Dannah: You know, it was such a beautiful reaction, because he was such an 8th-grade boy. He just like grabbed another bite of his ice cream sundae and his cho … hot fudge. Um … but then he thought for a moment and he looked at me and he said, "Oh, that's why Jesus died for you, mom."
Jim: Wow, so he connected that quickly.
Dannah: He did.
Jim: I mean, the most important thing.
Dannah: Beautifully and—
Dannah: --though most of the conversations about my son's temptations were directed towards his dad, of course, um … it definitely … my transparency and my husband's transparency opened his heart.
Jim: Uh … Dannah, there is much more to cover. I have other questions I'd like to pull out of you and uh … um … let's go ahead and do that for next time. And I hope people will hear your heart. I mean, I think what we talked about today and what struck me the most was God's design physiologically in us, um … is the perfect way, the best way and it shows itself in research.
And parents, we need to be bold about that and expressive about it and let our teenagers know that God has a better way, not to throw these things out lightly and not to give yourself lightly to others. And uh … it takes a lot of courage. Maybe we can start there next time. How do we provide that courage for our teenagers to stand when they're being pressured to do things that they know won't help them and won't be God-honoring? Can we do that?
John: We'll have more with Dannah Gresh on the next "Focus on the Family." Her book explores the gift of physical intimacy and offers solid biblical principles about sexuality, romance and God. Once again the title, What Are You Waiting For? It's available at www.Focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459; 800- the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And in fact when you make a generous donation of any amount to this ministry to help us support parents and marriages and children who are affected by some of the issue we've talked about today we'll send Dannah's book to you as our thank you for your partnership. Make that donation at www.Focusonthefamily.com or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Our program was paid for by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller reminding you to vote today because your voice matters and to join us again next time as we hear from Dannah and once again help you and your family thrive.
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Dannah GreshView Bio
Dannah Gresh is a best-selling author of numerous books and a popular public speaker who is especially passionate about helping parents build strong relationships with their children and encouraging tweens and teens to pursue sexual purity. Dannah's recent books include It's Great to Be a Girl, Raising Body-Confident Daughters and A Girl's Guide to Understanding Boys. Dannah and her husband, Bob, reside in State College, Pa., and have three grown children. Learn more about Dannah and her work by visiting the website for her organization, Pure Freedom.