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 2 of 2)
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Dannah Gresh: 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.
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John Fuller: That's an insight from Dannah Gresh and she's our guest once again, on "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we had a great discussion with Dannah Gresh about um … sexuality in general and what the body chemistry is, God's design for intimacy, the way that we bond with oxytocin and dopamine and other things and women's uh … that area of the brain that creates that bonding and men uh … have about half the size of that capacity for that bonding. And yet, it shows such a beautiful picture of how God really intended it. Dannah also … Dannah also mentioned research that showed that um … men who are older at the end of their lives said what they felt about their sexual experiences.
Those that had few or maybe only one life partner in their wife, had the greatest satisfaction and the greatest connection with their wife. And those that had multiple partners had less satisfaction, less happiness in those experiences. I think that … that says it all and that is probably for me, a great point for me to talk to my boys about tonight when I get home and begin that discussion.
If you have young children, you're gonna want to move them to something else right now if you can. And uh … if you didn't hear the discussion last time, let me encourage you to download it for your smartphone or get a copy of the CD, 'cause there's nothing more important that you can do right now if you're a parent of particularly teenagers than to start and have these very down-to-earth discussions about their sexuality. If you want them to be healthy, you've gotta take charge. Don't leave it to somebody else to do it.
John: Hm … and Dannah has made a mission in life to help parents do that. She has events. She's written a number of books. She speaks. Uh … she really has dedicated a lot of her life to this part of … of our lives, which is so central to who we are, that … that element of our sexuality. And uh … Dannah Gresh has written a book that we'll really be zeroing in on today. It's called What Are You Waiting For? And we've got copies at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Dannah, welcome back to the program.
Dannah: Thank you.
Jim: Uh … let's get real honest. Um … here at Focus on the Family, we have an anonymous hotline that pastors can call. And uh … you know, at times we'll have 1,000 phone calls a month coming into that. And as we did that consistently, about 3 to 350 of those calls every month would be pastors who were um … using pornography or in an inappropriate relationship. That would break my heart, because I would think of the large number that, that represents— Three, 350 pastors every month calling and letting us know that they're struggling.
Now I'm grateful that they're calling. Don't get me wrong and I don't want them to hide, um … but the fact that our leadership is struggling in that way.
Jim: What is so powerful about sexuality in our human experience that it can grab us like that? And even those of us that know better allow those things to happen, that we allow ourselves to get addicted to watching pornography, even when we're in positions where we know better.
Jim: We know the Scripture. We know the damage it's going to do. And in fact, your husband, Bob, experienced that, as well.
Jim: Talk about that, the power of it, how you and Bob got through it—
Jim: --yet the damage it did at the time for your relationship.
Dannah: It's devastating and the thing that comes to my mind is the contrast of what we talked about on yesterday's program, the word yada being this deep knowing, this deep um … intimacy, this deep respect. The word that God uses in the Old Testament for the sexual act doesn't even use words to describe anything physical happening. It transcends that.
So, in What Are You Waiting For?, rather than turning to the "thou shalt not" verses about sexuality, I go … I go through the filter of that definition of sexuality. And for pornography as an example, why … what's wrong with pornography? Well, you can't know or be known by the pixel on a computer screen.
Dannah: It's a counterfeit. And in the Scriptures, the word shakab is used to describe acts … is used to describe acts of sexual sin in the Old Testament. And that word was a euphemism. It was often paired with the Hebrew word, sikba, which means "emission." So, basically what the word meant was to exchange body fluids. And the word shakab really is a word that describes just the physical act of sex, just the things that are happening with the body.
And 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.
Dannah: And pornography is probably the greatest way that Satan can remove us from a real human being. There's not even another person to know when a woman is reading 50 Shades of Grey or a man is surfing the net looking for pornography.
Dannah: So, it's a solo act, which … that's the greatest assault against God's design.
Jim: Now how … taking that to a personal level, how did you and Bob deal with that? And how did that even come about that you knew that Bob was struggling in that area?
Dannah: Well, I have a husband thankfully, who hates his sin--
Dannah: --and doesn't hide it, because both of us have learned um … that both overcoming sin and overcoming the brokenness of it involves community, requires community. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins one to another and then you will be healed."
And for me as a young woman who had sexual sin in my past, I was not healed for 15 years. I told God I was sorry every day. It was a sin that was way in my past. I wasn't healed until I told another human and then the healing began.
For my husband and his battle with pornography, he wins the battle as long as he is tethered to other Christian men who are winning the battle with him.
Jim: Huh, they're doing it together, being in community—
Jim: --being open and honest in community—
Dannah: Yeah and it's—
Jim: --not hiding.
Dannah: --quite honestly, it's devastating for a wife to know that her husband struggles with that, devastating. We'll …
Jim: Well, one of the … the greatest difficulties is the trust level in that relationship and I think many husbands hide. And again, I know it goes both ways. Women are addicted also—
Jim: --pornography. But with that husband, they know that they're jeopardizing their relationship with their wife, that it's at risk and because it cuts so close to the heart of so many women—
Jim: --that I'm not good enough, it again gets reflected upon them.
Jim: And then you have so much to deal with.
Jim: And so, I would think that most people hide because they know the consequence of being known, being open, being honest, which is the right way.
Jim: But it … it … it can create great difficulty. Talk about it.
Dannah: Well, you know, I think it's sort of like surgery. When you're unwell to the point where a surgeon has to open you up to bring out the sickness, there's a period of acute pain. And there's a period where it sure doesn't feel good to get better.
And for a husband and wife to walk through that period of his disclosure and um… telling friends this is what we're walking through, that feels like a whole lot like surgery. It doesn't feel good. It's very, very painful. But on the other side of that is the intimacy that the wife is really looking for, a husband really hoping for.
Jim: That honesty is there.
Dannah: Yeah, you know, I write about in this book, What Are You Waiting For? … yada as you look at it and study all the different nuances of how it is used, there is a "before love." We see this in Song of Solomon, where the lovers pine for one another. You certainly see it in the heart of a 5-year-old girl who's dreaming about her wedding day in kindergarten (Chuckling), you know, the before love is part of yada.
But what in our romantic notions, women don't want to recognize is that "after love" matters, too. And that's one of the nuances of yada. To know, to be known, to be deeply respected cannot happen unless we see the ugly parts of one another.
Jim: How did you and Bob get through that though. How did you react? What did you do practically to say, okay, I appreciate your honesty. Here's what we gotta do. Or what do you want to do now?
Dannah: Community. Um … you know, my husband is in … he meets with uh … two of our board members every Monday. If he's out of town or traveling, they change it to a different day. The day that my husband looked me in the eye and said, "I will always struggle with this," was both the most devastating day of my life and the most hopeful—
Dannah: --because I … I understood that he was never gonna take it lightly and that he was gonna use it. He calls it his "tether to God" and his "tether to his Christian brothers." And when you begin to look at the battle like that, um … I think it becomes something you begin winning—
Dannah: --because you're … you're truly fighting it.
John: Well, you're giving hope to couples to at least admit that there's a problem here.
John: Because there were consequences before he came to you with—
John: --that admission, right? I mean, you—
John: --you undoubtedly had relational challenges that were surfacing as a result of this.
Dannah: But I didn't … I didn't understand, you know. I think a lot of women are like, something's wrong. Something's off. I don't know what it is. Maybe he's crazy. Maybe I'm crazy. You know, you just … you don't know.
But I think it … again, going back to the model of a sickness, you can have symptoms until you realize, oh, this is what it's called. This is the diagnosis, you don't have the tools you need—
Dannah: --to fix it. And um … let me say this for women. Porn is ubiquitous. That's what I write about in the book. Porn is ubiquitous. It's—
Jim: Meaning it's—
Jim: --yeah, it's everywhere. It is.
Dannah: You can't get away from it. Our grandfathers did not struggle with pornography addition, because they didn't have to drive by Hooter's billboards and Victoria's Secret posters.
Dannah: But today because men are wired visually, because they're aroused visually and they're constantly driving by this, it's like an IV drop of lust everywhere in culture, um … that really a safe man is one who will … will admit, this is a hard world to live in.
Jim: Yeah, it's so true. Uh … and last time we left off with your description of you facing those past issues as a teenager and how you engaged your son and talked about that and then your daughter eventually—
Jim: --Bob, how did … how … does he come at this issue with your son? How did he talk about his addiction to pornography and as a Christian man, how to lay that at the Lord's feet, how to engage others? Uh … did he share openly with your son about his struggle?
Dannah: Yes, and oh, my husband is my hero when it comes to the way that he raised my son.
Jim: How … how'd he do it?
Dannah: He was very intentional about creating a conversation that was ongoing and the way that he did that was practical. Every Monday night he and Robbie, beginning in 7th grade, went out for wings at 8 o'clock at night, which you know, to the 7th grade boy who has to get up for school the next day, he's busting the bedtime rules and you know, just goin' to wings with his dad in a sports bar. This is the … I hit the lottery.
So, it creates this warmth and this fun place. I … I can't emphasize to parents enough that when you're talking to your kids about these issues, whether it's modesty or pornography or waiting until they're married, if we don't engage them in a relational way—
Dannah: --in a way that's fun, in a way that makes the conversation easy, um … we really run the risk of increasing their risk. One of the greatest indicators of men struggling with pornography, well, two indicators; one is growing up in a house with rigid rules and the other is growing up in a house without relationship.
Dannah: So, if all we do is speak to our sons about, don't look at pornography, all we do is speak to our daughters about, don't wear that short skirt and we're not engaging them in wing night and (Laughter) shopping till we drop, we really run the risk of becoming that house that is rigid with the rules and lax on relationship.
Jim: I … I've gotta say, some people are going to think this is counterintuitive. I mean, to … to take your son into an environment. But it is relationship and you can point things out even in that environment. So, I understand that, but I … I also understand a person that feels uneasy with that, a dad or a mom um … because it … it … it's counterintuitive.
John: And not all sports bars are very pure.
Jim: Correct, yeah.
Jim: But I get the concept.
Jim: I mean, it's something I'd be comfortable—
Jim: --doing in the appropriate environment with—
Dannah: Right, to say—
Jim: --Trent and—
Dannah: --this is—
Dannah: --Champs sports bar, Champs.
Jim: Yeah, so it's not—
Dannah: So, you know—
Dannah: --there's lots of uh … baseball paraphernalia on the—
Dannah: --you know, it's a safe one. (Laughing)
Jim: But I get what you're saying about, you gotta be on the edge of it um … without being in it, so you can talk to your kids in a way that's real and—
Jim: --they can feel it and they feel connected to you.
Dannah: And it … and it's an ongoing conversation.
Dannah: They met like that on Monday nights for years.
Dannah: My husband was very faithful. There were times when board meetings would be moved to the Monday night and he would excuse himself at a quarter to 8 and say, "I have a standing date with my son that I cannot miss."
Dannah: But what that created for Robbie was this space where, as Bob launched the conversation and said we're gonna talk about things about manhood, about how to treat a woman. We're gonna talk about pornography. We're gonna talk about what we should look at, what we shouldn't look at and then met with him for years, it said, "You have permission to talk to me about this anytime you need to."
Jim: Yeah and the connection was there and uh … it was trusted.
Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guest is Dannah Gresh. She's written a terrific book called What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex. And I acknowledge that this is a difficult topic, but as I've said throughout the program, we can't give this over to the enemy. The enemy of our souls, the enemy of the souls of our children. We've got to talk in a biblical context about how God designed sexuality, the best way that it works and be open about it and make sure our kids have a … a guideline on how to do this. So, I appreciate it, Dannah.
Let's continue the conversation and this one is more the pain of the aftermath of being sexually active or looking at pornography. You talked in the book when you were a teenager about a pillow partner that you created.
Jim: Um, what was happening with that and describe it for us.
Dannah: Well, I would often find myself uh … just taking the pillow in the double bed next to me where I was sleeping alone as a teenage girl and kinda put it sideways beside me and imagine I was in a safe place, the arms of the man who loved me, protected me, cared for me.
Jim: Your hero.
Dannah: My hero, he was perfect, too, that pillow partner. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, that pillow.
Dannah: He had no flaws. Um … and as … it … oddly enough, there was a time in my life where that was a very shameful memory. It's not really honestly comfortable to talk about. Thanks for bringin' it up. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, it caught—
Dannah: But …
Jim: --my attention, because it, in some ways it's so powerful. It's what your heart was yearning for.
Jim: I mean, it was a child-like way to … to engage that. But you … you were crying out for something.
Dannah: Crying out for rescue, crying out for safety, crying out for the hero. And um … as I began to share that, every now and then in small groups of teenage girls, I found out a lot of us do that.
Dannah: A lot of us engage in this really non-sexual, but still "fantasaical" warmness and closeness of that coming rescuer, that coming hero.
John: As a dad of three girls, I'm wondering, so do I lean into that, because I … it would be—
John: --pretty easy to dismiss that as, oh, that's just fairytale stuff you're thinkin' about. There's something deeper there?
Dannah: There … I think there is something deeper there and it goes back to the whole idea that um … marriage was created by God to be a picture of His deep love, His rescue, His um … heroic rescue of our hearts. And G.K. Chesterton once said that every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is really looking for God.
Jim: Wow, think of that statement.
Dannah: Think about it. When we fantasize, no matter how sexual or nonsexual it is, but we're fantasizing about that rescue, all the way to when we are knocking on the door of a literal brothel, we're not really looking for that other person. We're looking for God.
Dannah: And what I think is maybe a tragedy in the Christian purity movement, of which I am a leader, so I fall on my sword here, is that in the effort to give teenagers an understanding of how sacred sex and marriage is, that it is a picture of Christ and the church, many times we have led girls to believe that after I have that love, after I have that man, after I have that marriage, after I have that romance, I will better understand God's love for me.
When in fact, that's backwards. You cannot paint a picture of something you have not seen. And so, what I encourage parents to do when their daughters are vulnerable with them and yearn for that man, maybe share with them, "I … I have a pillow partner." Whatever it may be, um … that you begin to help them to understand that a guy is not going to satisfy that ache in your heart. Only Jesus can do that.
Jim: Wow, I mean, that is powerful. That's important to get ahold of and it … it does demonstrate what drives our behavior in this area of sexuality. It uh … I've often wondered why it has such a grip on us, why is it so powerful? But I like that idea of it's our attempt to find God—
Jim: --to find that yada, as you've talked about that deep … deep intimacy.
Jim: Um … and it unfortunately, the culture, it's a throwaway in where men hearing you even describe that, who are knocking on the … the door of a brothel as you described it, um … they're thinking, no, it's just about that physical gratification. It's like eating a … you know, a cheeseburger. Um … but it's not that.
Jim: That's why you're getting addicted.
Dannah: --that's right. It's not the real thing you … you need. Um … there's research about our physical cravings, our … our body cravings. You know, when we crave… and I'm gonna get this all wrong, but an example would be when we crave carbs. When we crave carbs—
Jim: Okay, I'm guilty of that.
Jim: Think, oh wow.
Dannah: All the time.
John: Right now, thanks for bringing that up.
Dannah: Every day.
Jim: Way to use that example.
Dannah: Bagel anyone? Um … that our bodies are trying to send us a message that we need and I don't know if it's chromium, potassium, something. And so, we reach out for the carb. It doesn't have that nutrient that we are craving and we're not satisfied, so 30 minutes later, we need another bagel, right?
Our cravings lie to us. In the craving is a legitimate need. In the crazing is a legitimate longing, but if we reach out for the counterfeit, we won't have what we really need and we're gonna reach out for that counterfeit again, because it never satisfies. It's never enough.
Why is pornography and masturbation and erotica never satisfying? Why is it never enough? Why is there an escalation in the type of erotica women will read and the type of pornography men will look at? Because it's never enough. It's not the real thing.
Jim: Uh … and I think, Dannah, that is so well-put and I think we need to talk about that, the differences. We touched on it, but when you talk about women with erotica, that's why 50 Shades of Grey, that's why those storytelling is usually what hooks a woman's—
Jim: --heart. It's more in depth. It's more emotional. It connects there, where men are looking at pictures. Just elaborate on that different brain chemistry that we have as gender, that men are typically grabbed by that visual.
Dannah: Yeah, men … men actually are typically grabbed by visual. One of the things that men who are really struggling, married men, who are really struggling with pornography can do is, they need to see their wives. They need to rewire their brains and see their wives' bodies, not these other bodies. And that's a very significant part of porn recovery is rewiring the brain.
For women, it really is that heart story. One of the biggest risks for teenage girls to become sexually active is being in a dating relationship six months or longer.
Dannah: Why does the risk go up after six months? 'Cause now her heart is engaged. Now her heart is involved. Now there's a story to this love story and there's a storyline and she's vulnerable.
Jim: Ah, the key to everything.
Dannah: The key to everything. Now the scary thing is, you bring up erotica. There's some new research out on young women between the ages of 18 and 24, who are reading books like 50 Shades of Grey that normalizes and glamorizes a more violent um … transgressive form of sexuality, that girls who are using that, reading that storyline, are more likely to be with a partner who has stalking tendencies and is abusive.
Dannah: So, it's not just in their imaging, but then they are trying to live that out in their real life. It does create risk in our daughters.
Jim: Well, and that's that brain training you're talking about.
Jim: Um … how does a … a 14-, 15-, 18-year-old girl um … find an antidote? Let's speak to them before we end today, the young lady. She's hearing this or maybe the mom is hearing this and she realizes she's gotta have a talk with her 18-year-old, who's maybe just gone off to college or is about to go off to college and they haven't had the discussion. It's been avoided, 'cause it's uncomfortable. I can relate to that.
What would you suggest for that mom or for that young lady to do um … to open the heart up, to make sure God is at the center and not the counterfeit?
Dannah: Uh-hm. I think that the most important thing we can do is share our stories and it's the scariest thing. And why is it the scariest thing, is because it's not just the marriage relationship in the church family that cries out for intimacy. But the entire church community that God called us "adopted," that God … God calls us "sisters" and "brothers," there is a transparency and a knowing that has to happen in authentic Christian community.
And so, when you're about to tell your daughter, "Listen, I want to tell you my story so that maybe you can write yours a little differently," there's never gonna be a time that you feel more fear as a parent. There's never gonna be a time where you think, "I'm making the right … the wrong." There's never gonna be a time where you think, "I'm making the wrong decision here."
What I really encourage you to do is reach out to some of your trusted Christian sisters who know your story. Make sure you've dumped all the junk out of your heart in their laps. Let them take out the trash first. And then let them be your prayer guard as you have a hot fudge sundae with your child before they go off—
Dannah: --to college or … and just enter into a safe and casual moment. Let me promise you this, is it probably will be a moment.
Jim: Something remembered forever.
Dannah: Uh … yes, something you remember forever, but it's such a brief moment. As I look back on the conversation that I had with my son for example, that I referenced earlier. I expected this to be a big long two-hour conversation, where really it was about 30 seconds of dialogue. But we both remember that as a moment that our hearts were knit together by an open honest confession and a hot fudge sundae.
Jim: Yeah, well, that is so good and that's the place to start. If you're in that place of pain though, maybe you're that young lady or maybe the parent who is struggling. We're here for you either way. We have faithful Focus counselors who can help you think this through, who can provide the resources like Dannah's book, and other resources and tools, to help guide you through this moment. Um … Dannah, this has been so good and I love your vulnerability. I wish more of the church possessed it, because if we were broken before people, I think God would be lifted up in even greater ways. And I want to say thank you for being with us.
Dannah: My pleasure.
John: Now if you'd like to get in touch with us and speak with a caring Christian counselor, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And, you can also find an online referral; we'll link over to that from www.Focusonthefamily.com/radio.
The book that Dannah has written goes much deeper into the heart of intimacy. You'll discover what the Bible has to say about sexuality and gain a better understanding of God's design. It's called What Are You Waiting For? And we have it here at Focus on the Family.
Make a generous donation today, of any amount, to support the work of Focus and we'll send that book to you as our thank you for partnering with us. Again, donate at www.Focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was paid for by Focus on the Family. And, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thank you for listening and inviting you back tomorrow. You'll hear how God helped a military couple overcome PTSD and other issues that threatened to tear apart their marriage.
Chad Robichaux: I got a knock on my door from Kathy and Kathy had the divorce papers, the final divorce papers, and I just needed to sign. We had been through the three-month cool off period, or whatever it was. But she asked me this question that just changed … it's the reason we're sitting here today. She asked me how I could be as successful as I was in the military, as an enemy fighter doing all the schools and deployments and the crazy deployments that we did. She's seen me do all these things her whole life. She's like, "How can you do all that and when it comes to your family, you'll quit.?"
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John: It's a message for every couple next time on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly.
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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.