I’ve encountered many men and women in Awaken Love classes that felt less than grateful for the messages they received as teens about sex from the church. Not only were the messages ineffective in helping them wait for marriage, they did nothing to help them embrace sex once married. So what can the church learn from the past that will help them create new messages for teens about sex?
Many women remember horrifying illustrations of flowers losing their petals, or an Oreo cookie passed around for people to spit on. The analogies conveyed that sexual choices outside of marriage ruined your life, but did little to communicate about God’s redemption, or the beauty of sex within marriage. Once kids crossed lines, life often spun out of control. Already ruined and filled with shame, girls figured they might as well just keep going.
“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and father daughter purity rings left strong impressions. While they helped some stay pure, others felt the standards only made things worth. Lines impossible to hold, or already crossed caused many to give up trying. Worse yet, teens resorted to living double lives. The goal of purity and rules outweighed honesty, authenticity and even their relationship with a loving God.
I have no doubt that leaders in church had good intentions as they encouraged men and women to wait until marriage for sex, but I also think we can and must do better. Rather than just talk about purity, we need to clearly communicate the powerful gift that sex is in marriage. Instead of just telling kids they will be damaged goods if they don’t wait, we can share some of the natural consequences of choices made before marriage. We also must do everything to help kids integrate God into their sexuality. Rather than a list of rules we involve God in our choices. A relationship with Christ is the main focus, not coming to the altar unblemished.
What is God’s Design for Sex?
Rather than use scare tactics messages to reinforce the message, “Don’t Do It”, let’s help our kids understand what they are waiting for and why.
Teens must understand that sex is a beautiful, powerful gift from God. It is something to look forward to in marriage. Song of Songs illustrates mutuality in marriage – even when culture did not. Cultures message that sex is a need and a right for men is completely wrong. Husband and wife should redefine sex in a way that will work for both husband and wife in order to make sex mutually enjoyable.
Our kids must understand that God created to unify husbands and wives. That takes great trust for a wife. Many messages tell us that men use women for sex. Boys that don’t push boundaries before marriage will help a wife trust that her husband cares more about her than sex.
Teenagers also need to understand the natural consequences of short circuiting the intimate connection that God intended during sex. When teens partake in the hook up culture they treat sex as nothing more than physical pleasure. Once married they will struggle to experience the intimate connection that God intended until , until they grieve the past choices they made and the things done to them.
Teens need to understand that sex does not come naturally like it is depicted in media or porn. Great sex that lasts a lifetime requires intentionality and vulnerability. Each time you both show up and say, “what can I discover today?”
Experiences outside of marriage create challenges. Comparing the adrenaline driven sex outside of marriage can mask the satisfaction of real intimacy.
Rather than just teach that porn is wrong, teens need to understand the impact it can have. Porn can cause performance pressure that makes us worry and short circuit the natural responses of our body like arousal, erection and orgasm. We can also waste our time recreating something we’ve seen, rather than discovering our spouse. Past porn can make sex feel dirty, so we don’t enjoy the freedom that God intends. Keeping ourselves pure, is God’s good plan to protect us and our future spouse.
God can heal past experiences but it will take honesty and work. We should help teens understand the importance of getting healthy before marriage. When they seek healing in community, they can enter marriage open about their past committed to work towards intimacy.
Not every answer about sexuality is simple or spelled out in the bible. Rather than give our teens a bunch of rules, let’s create new messages about sex that will equip them to make good choices and discern with God. They will use the skill not only use in singleness but in marriage, or any stage of life.
Masturbation is a great discussion to help teens understand how to involve God in their choices. After exploring what the bible says, or doesn’t say about masturbation, challenge them to come up with biblical principles that apply to their choices. Things like.. don’t lust, or you shall have no God before me, or not everything is beneficial… Even God’s character helps us discern. God created us for relationship with Him and with others. If masturbation is making us hide, or lie, then it is probably not beneficial for us.
Don’t make the choice for them. Help them involve God and keep involving God, because choices can change.
We must have the courage to admit we don’t have all the answers about sexuality for teenager, but God does. Challenge teens to pray, ask God, and have the courage to follow Him.
Teens also need to understand that God cares about all of them – even their sexuality. God can forgive and heal sexual sin just like he can other sins. More than our purity, he desires their heart. He wants them to fall in love with Him, and to fall down at His feet and receive His unfailing love when they feel broken. Create new messages for teens about sex by including messages about redemption. Many will stumble, and God can help them get back up and give them a fresh start.
Too many times, we give teens someone to blame for their choices about sexuality. “If girls just didn’t wear those clothes”. “If he hadn’t slept with his past girl friends then I would not have had to sleep with him”.” If she hadn’t flirted with me, I wouldn’t have lost control.” Teens need to learn to take responsibility for their choices, regardless of anyone else’s actions.
Boys can learn to battle lust. They can turn their head and find something else to do. They can even control their mind and decide not to bring those images up in their mind to enjoy later. Affirm the courage for teenagers to reach out for help when they struggle with porn, questions about sexual feelings, or choices about masturbation. Boys can also be taught to protect and respect women regardless of what they wear or how they act. Waiting for marriage should be a goal for boys as well as girls.
Girls should be taught not to turn a boy’s head to feel important or noticed. They need to dress in a way that they respect themselves and honor God. They must take responsibility for their own choices, but not for ones taken from them. Encourage them to reach out for help if they’ve been wounded sexually, or struggles with sexual addiction. Girls must learn not to put themselves in unsafe situations and must look out for their friends when they go out.
Have the courage to create new messages for teens about sex. Most have been exposed to far more than we realize. To gain their ear, we can no longer resort to simple answers of “Don’t do it” before marriage. Our kids need to understand what they are waiting for and how their current choices impact them. Messages about purity must be balanced with messages about God’s redemption. Rather than teaching our teens simple rules, we must equip them to discern God’s will for their life. We must value honesty and integrity more than purity. We all have sinned and fallen short, but God loves us and can give us a fresh start. Let’s help our teens start working towards sexual heath and wholeness today.