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Over the years one of the most frequent questions parents ask me is when to begin sex education in the home. It isn’t a surprise that wise parents want fail-proof advice for such sensitive topics. Specializing in the treatment of sexual issues, I’ve seen the pain associated with misinformation and sexual sin, and I believe the topic of sexuality is second only to teaching our children about God. That is why it is important to start sex education early.
Parents often wonder “how long can I put it off” talking about sex. By the close of this article I hope you will be eager to get started. Human sexuality is the most natural thing in the world – and the most sacred experience that a husband and wife can share.
Here is a quick sketch of what I hope to convey to you:
- Sexuality is at the core of our human existence. Therefore, we have a responsibility to equip our children with a comprehensive view of sexuality early.
- For sexuality to be taught correctly, it must be taught within the context of a Biblically holistic approach and it must take into account the whole person – spirit, mind, and body.
- If our children are to have a healthy respect and appreciation for the gift of sexuality, parents must both educate and model the precepts and principles that lead to greater sexual health and integrity.
- As for timing and when to get started, there’s no time like the present.
Sex education from the beginning
The more I learn of God, the more I appreciate the book of Genesis. Here a solid foundation of God’s design for sexuality is presented as our children learn about the Garden of Eden and how God created both male and female and told them to reproduce themselves (Genesis 1:27-28.)
As parents, we begin sex education by pointing out how God thought of sex in the first place. He created a man and woman who could participate in his ongoing creation and make babies by loving each other in a special way. God also knew that a man and a woman would grow to desire a special companionship that includes enjoying the differences in each other’s bodies. And, although this final point may need to wait until children are able to grasp it, we can teach that God gave the unity found in marital relationship as a sign and symbol of the internal love of the Trinity and His love for us.
So, sexuality provides at least three basic lessons that our children can understand. Sexual union exists: (1) to make babies, (2) to nurture a mommy and daddy’s love, and (3) to point us back to the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Sex education as they mature
This initial lesson can be unpacked further as our children mature. We can teach, for example, that sex is appealing and that it’s perfectly normal – especially for teenagers and adults – to want to be sexual with someone of the opposite sex. We should emphasize that God is the One who made us to desire healthy expressions of what it is to be male or female, and that “there is a time for everything.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1.) This emphasis on timing begins with an affirmation of developmental maturity and sexual desire, and teaches a child that when the time is right, sex will be right.
We’ll want to teach a clear message about timing. The right time for sexual behaviors occurs when a man and woman are married. Our younger children only need to hear that God designed sex or sexual intercourse for husbands and wives. As our children mature they will need to learn that all sexual behaviors are more or less foreplay, leading to the act of intercourse, and that these behaviors are also designed for marriage.
Sex education and cultural messages
We can also point to various cultural messages about sexuality and develop teachable moments. For example, we can’t shelter our children from every lewd poster in the mall or every sensual song played in a restaurant. But we can take these moments to affirm the basic goodness of sexuality because of God’s loving design, and then make a comment about what’s wrong with how sexuality is misrepresented in the culture. These brief messages will be more impactful when offered in a positive and relational manner. Our messages need to be tied to God’s love for us, and how we express our love for Him through obedience.
Children need to learn early that God’s plan is healthy and Satan’s plan is harmful. In the early years we can talk rather simply of what is good and bad. We want to teach them what to think about sex from the Bible and not just from our personal opinion or experiences. As they mature we shift our approach and begin to teach them how to think
Sex education: A Biblically holistic approach
Much of sex education – even within faith-based communities – misses a foundational point. Sex between a husband and wife symbolizes the future marriage between Christ and the Church. And as Christians we are “engaged” to Christ (along with the rest of the Church) when we accept His atonement for our sin. We want our children to understand that the Bible begins in Genesis with the marriage of a man and a woman and ends in Revelation with the marriage of Christ and the Church (Revelations 19:7).
Between Genesis and Revelation, God’s Word has numerous lessons about sexuality. For example, we can teach our children the stories of Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:1-21), David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Rahab the prostitute (one of Jesus’ biological relatives through his mother Mary), and the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11) – who Jesus loved and redeemed. We can help our children understand the differences between David who looked lustfully at Bathsheba and sinned and Joseph who ran from Potiphar’s wife when tempted (Genesis 39).
God made male and female
In our teachings we want to be clear that in God’s eyes, males and females are equal in worth (Galatians 3:28), and that both have sinned (Romans 3:23). This fact also permits us to share the mercy of God who forgives sin even though painful consequences may remain. For example, David was forgiven and still called “a man after God’s own heart,” (Acts 13:22) but the baby he and Bathsheba produced in their adultery died (2 Samuel 12:15-17), and one of his sons eventually raped one of his daughters (2 Samuel 13).
We will need to remember that in the early years our children think in concrete terms rather than abstract terms. These lessons of men and women in the Bible teach cause and effect – sex can produce a child, and one person can tempt or seduce another. What we hope to accomplish is the spiritual formation that includes a healthy view of sexuality and heart-felt respect for males and females. We want our children to connect their sexuality with God’s design for life and peace.
Sex education: Precepts and principles
No two children are alike – even in the same family. We will want to be sensitive to how our children are developing physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We also want sex education to occur in both spontaneous and structured moments.
As our children continue to mature we’ll want to help them understand that God really is for us (Romans 8:31), and that His plans are designed to benefit us (Jeremiah 29:11-13.) We’ll also want them to understand the difference between a precept (a stated do or don’t) and a principle (the general application of a truth that requires reason and discernment).
Sex education precepts
Take, for example, the seventh commandment, “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14.) This command is an example of a precept. It clearly states what not to do. So we will want our children to learn this precept and others, and the right time to learn these important life lessons long before they’re tempted.
Sex education principles
We will also want our children to be able to connect the dots. For example, the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not view Internet pornography.” But various principles are given to us. We are to avoid lust with our eyes (Matthew 5:27-28 and 1 John 2:15-17), and that principle leads us to conclude that we should avoid Internet pornography or any other form of sexual behavior based in lust.
Far more important than the behaviors, however, is the physicality of being male and female (Genesis 5:2.) By principle we can teach our sons they are to be a type of Christ to their future wives. His kind of sacrificial love is pure and nurturing, never self-centered, abusive or degrading. Therefore, we need to teach our sons to honor the females in their lives including the girlfriends they relate to prior to marriage.
We can teach our daughters they are to be a type of the Church to their future husbands, preserving their purity and preparing well for the day they and their bridegroom become one. Our daughters need to understand, for example, that dressing provocatively fails to communicate purity and wholesome intentions. By continually teaching the love story that exists between Christ and us, the Church, we can help them to honor and steward sexuality – both theirs and others’.
Sexuality and spirituality
Teaching sexual health and integrity requires a Christ-centric approach. We want our children to learn early that sexuality is a function of our bodies, minds, and spirits. It is so much a part of us that it is impossible to separate sexuality from spirituality. These two facets of our makeup are intricately connected. The Apostle Paul began to speak of marriage between a man and a woman and how these symbolize the marriage between Christ and the Church (1 Corinthians 7:1-16.) He also concluded that it was a great mystery (Ephesians 5:31-33.)
Our children need to see the mystery of God-ordained sexuality and hold it in awe, just as we do. Our sons as a type of Christ can learn to regard their masculinity and physicality as a sacred trust, and our daughters as a type of the Church can learn to regard their femininity and physicality as an equal and sacred trust. As our children mature we can teach that sexuality between a husband and wife is a private discipleship where “the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) and are participating in the divine love of God in that moment more than at any other time.
Sex education: Timing
I have to chuckle and think that our concern for timing is more about our comfort than our children’s. I mean, let’s get real. Look at the world we are living in. Everyone else is talking about sex, so we’d better get started now.
Sexuality is a cradle-to-grave reality, and we have only a few short years to nurture our children’s moral development. By learning more about childhood development, we can better time our efforts with God’s design. For example, a child’s sense of modesty can develop as early as eighteen-months. Therefore, this God-given, developmental window is the ideal time to teach and model a balanced, sacred modesty in the home.
Sex education through tragedy
If we parents are in touch with our unique experiences, we can better equip our children. Our family has experienced two miscarriages.
The first one occurred when our son was eighteen months old, and obviously he was simply too young to comprehend pregnancy and miscarriage. Our second miscarriage occurred when our son was eight and our daughter was five. Weeks before this miscarriage we joyfully explained that our love for each other had produced another baby, and we thanked God for our newest family member.
When the miscarriage occurred we went back to our children and reaffirmed that God not only designed sexuality and intercourse which often produces babies, but that in His great wisdom and compassion He knew when some babies were not healthy enough to live here on earth and needed His special care in Heaven. By trusting God’s providence we were able to bond closer as a family through this shared grief.
Obviously, we don’t always get to choose our life lessons or their timing, but God equips us relationally with the Bible and His Spirit so that all lessons ultimately reaffirm His perfect nature and great love.
Sex education: Sanctity of sexuality
The first thing about sex education is to get started. Let’s teach the sanctity of sexuality. Our children need to learn that God ordained sexuality to be the means in which they – and everyone else – come into existence for all eternity.
We need to understand our children and the difficult culture in which they live. As parents – and, hopefully, as older brothers and sisters in Christ – we have the privilege to teach them what we are learning in relationship to God and His plan for the family.