On Ottawa, Terrorism, and the Family

On the Ottawa Shootings and Our Response

Just four days ago I was emailing with author Shaunti Feldhahn and her assistant (Shaunti’s part of my new Christian marriage author Pinterest board). Shaunti was going to be in Ottawa on Friday (today), to present her findings from her book The Good News About Marriage. She had some free time in the afternoon, though, and I suggested we get together.

She’s staying at a downtown hotel, so I said, “as long as it’s not raining, let’s go for a walk! It’s beautiful downtown. I’ll take you by the Parliament buildings and the War Memorial, and then we can go to the Byward Market and get some Menchie’s frozen yogurt.”

I’m still meeting her this afternoon. I hope to lay flowers at the War Memorial to honour Cpl Nathan Cirillo.

Wednesday was a horrible day for my country.

When the news of the shootings hit, my youngest daughter and I were glued online to the news. I started texting the news to my older daughter, who was on lockdown at the University of Ottawa, where she had been at work in the Writing Centre. (The University is right around the corner from the Rideau Centre, the shopping mall that was in the news. They were on lockdown for 5 1/2 hours.) The twelve people stuck in the Writing Centre only had their phones, and it was easier for me to watch the news on my computer. So we texted back and forth. Her biggest problem was that she got hungry. Luckily someone had some cheese and oatmeal that they shared.

However, we have many good friends in the military, and it is they and the police who bore the brunt of the attack and are still bearing it. This was the second lone wolf attack on soldiers in uniform this week. And that is so heartbreaking and so infuriating. I was supposed to get together with several military friends in Ottawa this weekend; now I can’t, for various reasons which I won’t put here. Our military serve and sacrifice so much, and now they are being targeted here at home. I can’t quite get my head around that.

My favorite article about that morning is this one–about the bystanders who stopped to give CPR to Nathan Cirillo. So heartbreaking, but I’m glad they were with him when he died.

This week’s events, though, leave us with a question: what can we do to prevent similar attacks? The chatter on the news is on greater surveillance, and different gun laws, and powers for interrogation, and more.

That discussion is definitely needed, and I hope they figure something out.

Nevertheless, I believe our focus right now is inadequate.

We are looking for a military/police solution: a military solution overseas; a police solution here. I don’t think either will work, because at heart this is not a military problem. This is an ideological one. We are fighting against an enemy that shoots teenage girls who want to go to school; that kidnaps Christian girls to use them as prostitutes; that thinks nothing of gang raping and mutilating girls if it serves their purpose. We are fighting against an evil.

Ephesians 6:12-13 says:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We are fighting against spiritual forces, and we are fighting an ideological battle.

Until we start fighting in the realm of ideas, we won’t win.

Until we start saying, some ideas are not acceptable, and until we get rid of moral relativism, we will not win. Until we start defending freedom and defending human rights, we will not win.

But there is something even more fundamental going on, at least in the West with these lone wolf homegrown attacks. In fact, you can see it with all the terrorist attacks and mass murders that have occurred in recent memory–even those that are not Islamic in nature.

Every single one of those mass murderers came from a broken family.

Every single one of them–with the exception of the Littleton killers whose parents weren’t divorced, but were preoccupied and neglectful.

Timothy McVeigh. Paul Bernardo. Adam Lanza. Marc Lepine (another Canadian shooter). And now Michael Zehaf Bibeau.

What makes people susceptible to the ISIS ideology? What turns a kid into a mass murderer? Many, many factors, often including some mental illness. But there is always a common thread–it starts with the family.

People who grow up with two loving parents do not, in general, grow up to hate.

People who grow up where they are not given the love and safety they need may gravitate towards evil.

This is not a commentary on all kids who grow up in divorced families; after all, I did! But my mother overcame her own issues and heartbreak to focus on me. She made sure I went to church. She made sure I had a good peer group. She made sure I saw my extended family. She made me her priority, and she kept our family together.

Most single parents do this, but not all.

One of my friends who divorced and remarried often posts family photos on Facebook that do not include her oldest children (the ones from the first marriage). I know another woman who used to attend my church who recently remarried–and did not bother to invite several of her kids to the wedding. Her new life has become more important than her oldest children.

That angers me. A person can be a single parent and also be an excellent parent. And this is the hard part–I think for a single parent to be an excellent parent they have to actually do a BETTER job than most married parents would do. They have a huge road in front of them. But the single parents I know who have raised great kids have all stressed God in their family, and have made their kids a major priority in their lives, even if they’ve remarried. They have been wonderful.

Unfortunately, many parents just don’t take their job seriously, and then the kids grow up in chaos, trying to figure out their place in the world. When they can’t figure one out, a very small but dangerous minority decides to make a name for themselves doing something awful.

We simply need to stress healthy families and healthy parenting if we are going to win the culture war at home.

Maybe it’s too late for our culture, but it is never too late for the small spheres of influence in which you live.

Let’s support our friends’ marriages. If we see a problem starting–someone texting an old flame, people belittling each other, someone using porn–get involved. Do an intervention. Let’s take care of the marriages around us before they start to disintegrate..

Let’s support kids who feel lost in the shuffle. I know several around me, one in particular that we practically adopted for a three year period, who are lost. You can never make up for two parents who love a kid, but you can still make a tremendous difference, and show a kid that they are loved. The world is not an evil place.

Let’s raise our kids to make better decisions about who they marry–and who they have children with. Let’s protect them from dating too much when they’re really young. Let’s raise them to respect themselves so that they won’t be attracted to those who treat them badly. If you know a girl in your social circle with really low self-esteem who is getting involved with losers, befriend her.Show her the difference between a dangerous guy and one who will treat her well. Show her that she has gifts and talents and she’s worth something outside of a relationship.

Let’s put pressure on absent parents to get involved in their kids’ lives. This most recent shooter had a mom who loved him–and a dad who wasn’t there. So did Marc Lepine. So did Adam Lanza. If you know someone in your extended circle who rarely sees their kids, encourage them to pick up the phone. Don’t let it be socially acceptable to ignore your kids.

Maybe if we all got just a little more involved with our neighbours, and especially with struggling kids and teenagers, we could prevent some of these horrific things. Perhaps I’m being naive, but as one person I can’t affect military policy or Canada’s security rules. But I can care about my kids, my nieces and nephews, my kids’ friends, and those marriages in my church. I can do that. What about you?

**********

And now, a thank you to Kevin Vickers, a real man, who shot the shooter on Parliament Hill before he could hurt anyone else. We should all raise our kids to be like him–and to be like Barbara Winters, who valiantly tried to save the life of a soldier.

Kevin Vickers

RIP Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (who was killed earlier this week in another terrorist attack) . Your country appreciates your service.

What if Balance is Overrated?

Balance is Overrated

Here is an older post that I really love, so I wanted to resurrect it–in case you missed it the first time!

Balance. It’s the buzzword of this generation.

In our hectic lives, everyone is searching for that elusive thing called “balance”, where we feel like we’re living out our priorities, we’re able to get the rest we need, but we’re still being purposeful.

What if the whole idea of finding balance is more like a millstone around your neck than it is a real thing to aim after, though?

Let me explain.

Finding Balance, in and of itself, says that some things must lose.

It says that you have to put less of an emphasis on one thing so that you can put more of an emphasis on something else. To aim for balance is really to aim for a constant series of trade-offs. You decide that this will have to go, that you can’t do this, all so that you can do this.

It’s not exactly an easy psychological process.

What if there’s a better way?

A bunch of very disparate but interesting things have led me to this conclusion. First, I was reading Kathy Peel’s book The Family Manager while staying at a friend’s home recently. Her point is that many housewives are extremely capable when it comes to organizing work or organizing big functions at church, but we can’t seem to organize our homes. The solution? Take what you’re good at and apply those same principles at home. In other words, work to your strengths.

I’ve read something similar in another book recently, which even though I disagreed with much of it, that one part I thought was useful.

Forget finding balance; instead, figure out what you’re good at.

What makes you feel alive? What gets you excited? Now concentrate on maximizing your time for that.

At the same time, I’ve been delivering a number of messages at various speaking engagements about finding your purpose in life. And it occurs to me now that if we apply all three of these principles to our lives, we’d be a lot happier than if we just sought balance. So here’s what such a life would look like:

1. Figure out your purpose.

What is it that God is calling you to right now? Where does He want you investing your time, your money, your energy? Sometimes there may be just one area; some of us have several areas. I feel called to speak, to homeschool, and to lead the Bible quizzing program with our youth at church. One of those areas is simply my specific responsibility (my family). God always calls you first and foremost to your family. The others are more where I am using my gifts and serving in my particular church.

When you figure out where you are most called, then it’s easier to emphasize those areas. Forget everything else. Let it all fall by the wayside. We don’t need to be “balanced”, doing everything in moderation. We need to be sold out to the areas where God has called us!

Figure out where God has called you, and ditch the rest. Yes, the other stuff needs to get done. But God will call someone to do that other stuff. Your responsibility is just to live out the areas where you are called.

I believe that we are always called primarily to our families and to the people who are closest to us. Those are the people that God has trusted us with to show them Jesus. We are also called to our local body of believers, to serve in at least some capacity. I don’t think having children gives you an excuse not to serve. We all can be serving somewhere, because without us the church can’t function. So ask God to show you in what one area you can serve that will make a difference.

2. In those areas where you feel called, work to your strengths.

Maybe you don’t cook. Maybe you never will learn to love cooking or cook very well. That’s okay. Stop beating yourself up about it. Learn to make 7 meals well, and rotate them every week. You’re allowed. Maybe your real gift is in making a fun home where you play lots of games and create an atmosphere where people just plain have a roaring good time, even if the house is never in tip top shape.

That’s who you are. Stop trying to become someone you’re not. What are your strengths in your family? Play to them. Do the things that you do well, and then figure out how to minimize the other tasks which do need to get done so that you have more time for your strengths. Don’t strive for balance, because in your case, balance means spending more time on stuff that frustrates you and makes you miserable, and less on stuff that gives you life.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I went on a craft binge. I bought painting supplies. I bought fabric to sew. I bought all kinds of stuff. And then I started doing it and hated it. I sewed my maternity clothes and they never fit quite right. I tried to stencil something and kept going out of the lines.

And all the while my knitting sat beside me, untouched. I was trying to conquer all these other crafts that I admired, instead of doing the one that I am great at (if I do say so myself) and that relaxes me. So now I proudly announce that I don’t sew, I don’t cross-stitch, I don’t scrapbook, and I don’t crochet. What I do do is knit. Everywhere. Even in line at the grocery store (I always have a pair of socks on the go in my purse).

Sheila Wray Gregoire knitting--work to your strengths!

It may not be balanced, but it’s what I’m good at and it’s what I enjoy. You don’t need to do everything. Work to your strengths.

When you figure out what you’re good at, it’s easier to apply those things to your home. If you’re a spontaneous person, then create a spontaneous home. Work less to lists and more to creativity. That’s okay. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Figure out how to get done what does need to get done, but then create a tone for your home where you’re laid back, and people can drop in anytime and it doesn’t bother you.

If, instead, you’re very organized, then don’t try to be spontaneous! Create a schedule for your day and stick to it. You’ll feel better.

Often instead of working to our strengths we work to our weaknesses. We see the things we’re not good at and we spend all kinds of time trying to make ourselves better at these areas of weakness, rather than spending productive time in the areas where we do excel. If we each worked to our strengths, we’d get things done a lot more quickly and with a lot less grief.

God made you the way you are for a purpose. You do not have to be the typical Christian woman, because God may not have made you that way. He sure didn’t make me that way! I function best when I have a ton of things on the go. I work really hard, and then I crash really hard, and my family loves it. We’re busy, we do interesting things, we talk about interesting things, and no one day is ever exactly like the other.

That’s who I am. Do you know who you are? Or are you still reading all these books that tell you that you should fit into a specific mold? I think often we mistake our identity and calling with the things in life that need to get done. Just because laundry needs to get done does not mean that you are naturally a laundry person. Just because you’re looking after your children at home does not mean that you are naturally a kid person. But you can take what you are naturally good at and you can apply those things to how you manage your home, how you raise your kids, how you serve in church.

3. If you don’t fit the mold, break it!

Just don’t try to have balance, if what you mean by finding balance is that you do a little bit of everything. It seems to me that God calls us to live out our purpose, and to work productively six days a week, and then He calls us for one day a week to rest in Him, to have time to think, to meditate, to enjoy each other. That’s the balance that we need.

So make sure that you’re spending time connecting with God so that you can find your purpose. Spend time on your own everyday rejuvenating yourself so that you can live out that purpose. And then apply your strengths to living out your calling day by day. Don’t be everything to everybody. Be uniquely you. And that is perfectly okay.

Something a Screen Can’t Do: Hug Your Child

Today guest author Arlene Pellicane, author of the new book Growing Up Social, shares what this generation is beginning to lose–physical touch. Let’s wake up to our children, the gifts that they are, and be present with them. Hug your child today!

Hug your childSamantha is a fifth-grader whose family recently moved to a new community.  “It’s been hard this year, moving and having to make new friends,” said Samantha.  When she was asked if she ever felt as if her parents didn’t love her because they took her away from her old town, she said, “Oh no, I know they love me, because they always give me lots of extra hugs and kisses.

Like many children, Samantha’s love language is physical touch*; those touches make her feel secure and let her know that mom and dad love her.  The language of touch isn’t confined to a hug or a kiss but includes any kind of physical contact.  Even when you are busy, you can often gently touch your child on her back, arm, or shoulder.  Although this love language is very easy to express, studies indicate that many parents touch their children only when it is necessary:  when they are dressing or undressing them, putting them in the car, or carrying them to bed.  It seems that many parents are unaware of how much their children need to be touched and how easily they can use this means to keep their children’s emotional tanks filled with love.

A man named Bob has two children in elementary school and one in preschool.  When the two older kids were younger, Bob would often put them in his lap and read them a bedtime story.  Reading together builds a sense of oneness, a sense of love for kids.  But life got busier and nowadays, the older kids read on their own and his youngest daughter Lisa, four, is used to reading children’s books on an e-reader.  Bob rarely puts Lisa on his lap to read Goodnight Moon.  She sits by herself on the couch reading with her device.

An electronic reader may save space, trees, and be convenient, but using one with kids short circuits something important – physical touch between a parent and child.

Sure a parent can put a child on his lap and read an e-reader or play a video game together on a tablet.  But typically, when a child is engaged with a screen, he or she is not touching a parent.  He’s not being held in a lap.  He’s not sitting close enough to touch mom or dad’s leg.  When family members get used to engaging with screens, they lose the physical touch dynamic which should be a normal dynamic in a healthy family.

If your child’s primary love language is touch, you will know it.  They will be jumping on you, poking you, and constantly trying to sit beside you.  I believe my youngest daughter Lucy, age 4, has physical touch as her primary love language because she always wants to sit next me and one of her favorite words is “Huggie!”  She tells me every day to scratch her back, and the first thing she does in the morning is come in my room for her hug.

When you put your arm around your child, wrestle, or give him a high-five, you’re communicating your love and interest in being together.

Physical touch communicates love in a powerful way to all children, not just young children.  Throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, your child still has a strong need for physical touch.  A hug given as he leaves each morning may be the difference between emotional security and insecurity throughout the day.  A hug when he returns home may determine whether he has a good evening or makes a rambunctious effort to get your attention.  Older boys tend to be responsive to more vigorous contact such as wrestling, playful hitting, bear hugs, high fives, and the like.  Girls like this type of physical touch also, but they like the softer touches of hugs and holding hands.

Screens can’t do any of these things, no matter how advanced they are.

Children need loving physical affection from a parent in order to thrive.  So the next time you and your child are in a room together, put your device down and hug your child.  No app can do that; only you can.

*Read Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The Five Love Languages to find out more about the love languages.

Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven WorldAdapted from Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Arlene Pellicane and Gary Chapman. If you’ve ever felt like screens are taking over your family, or as if your children are losing the ability to have real-life relationships, you need to read Growing Up Social today! Reclaim your family. Don’t sacrifice it to a screen!

Arlene Pellicane 600x600jpgArlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.  She has been featured on the Today Show, Family Life Today, K-LOVE, and The Better Show.  She lives in San Diego with her husband James and three children.  Visit Arlene at www.ArlenePellicane.com for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.

 

 

Top 10 Things I Want to Teach My Teens About Sex

Top Ten

Yesterday we talked about how to talk to your younger kids about sex. Today’s guest post from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous  offers some great advice for parents of older kids–how to begin, KEEP the conversation going and how to teach your teens about sex.

“Hey kids, gather around and let’s talk about sex!” No, of course, I don’t approach my teens that way. Instead, we have an ongoing conversation about sexuality in my home, because I want my kids to be well-informed, well-armed, and also well-excited about sex when done the right way.

As we raise our teens, here are ten things I want them to learn about sex:

Top 10 Things to Teach Your Teens About Sex

1. God created sex, so it’s good.

Sometimes in our quest to get across the message that sex before marriage is bad, we communicate that sex itself is bad. But it’s not. Sex according to God’s design is a wonderful thing—a beautiful gift—and I want my kids to have that foundational belief.

2. You can always talk to me about this topic.

One of my kids asked me a question about something mentioned at school, but prefaced that friends had warned him not to ask a parent because he might get in trouble. Thankfully, I’ve made it clear my kids can ask me anything about this topic. It’s not taboo. God created sex, He talked about it (the good and the bad), and He put parents in charge of instructing kids. I tailor my answers to age and context and so on, but my door is open for tough topics. It’s part of the parent job.

(By the way, that question was about condoms. The friends had erroneous information, and because he asked, I got to provide better information, along with our biblical values.

3. Pregnancy and STDs aren’t the only consequences for premarital sex or promiscuity.

These concerns get drilled into teens’ heads so much. Many believe the worst, or only, consequences of having sex before marriage or having multiple partners is unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD.

Yes, kids, those things could happen, but the scars left on your heart, the disruption to your future marital happiness, the disobedience to God—these matter so much. They may be intangibles right now, but in time poor choices can wreak havoc on your life. So make the right choice.

4. Birth control is not 100% effective.

Speaking of which, many expect to dodge an undesired pregnancy with birth control. Sure, we have some great contraceptive methods that couples have used successfully. But I could also sit down and make you a list of couples I know who got pregnant while using contraception. If a birth control method is 99% effective, that means that 1 time out of 100, you’re on your own. So don’t rely on it, and only make love in the context that could properly support a child (aka marriage).

5. Sex is more than intercourse.

What constitutes sex? Is it merely intercourse? Is foreplay fair game? When I was a teen, the phrase “technical virgin” meant you’d done just about everything else, yet considered yourself a virgin because you hadn’t done “the deed.”

I look back and think how utterly stupid that perspective was! Sex is the whole kit-and-caboodle. If you’re getting the least bit naked to do something with someone, welcome to the world of sex. Even purveyors of porn and erotica know this, so we really have no excuse. I want my kids to understand sex isn’t everything but, and that sex encompasses far more than intercourse.

(By the way, this is good news for their future marriage. There could be times when intercourse is unavailable, but they won’t have to give up being intimate with their spouse!)

6. “How far is too far?” is the wrong question.

However, that’s the question youth workers hear again and again when the topic of sex is brought up with teens. Teens want to know where the line is—how far can they go without sinning or risking consequences. It’s basically, “What can I get away with?” Which is not the attitude God wants us to have toward Him or His gift of sexual intimacy.

Rather, we should ask, “How can I honor God when it comes to sexual intimacy?” Framing it that way, some of our nitpicking questions simply go away, and it becomes clearer what we should and shouldn’t do.

7. If you mess up, it’s not over.

Activities such as dabbling in online pornography, chatting promiscuously in a chat room, going much too far on a date, engaging in premarital sex—yes, they are bad, but they definitely don’t make the unforgiveable list.

Messing up doesn’t mean it’s all over… and you might as well give in, and God’s already mad at you so what’s the point, and you have to hide your ugly stuff or people will know how bad you really are, etc. No, no, no! If you fail at some point, God’s grace and healing can cover our sins and both He and your parents are here to help you get back on track.

8. The Bible has a lot to say about sexuality.

It’s easy for kids and teens, and plenty of us adults, to feel that a book written thousands of years ago has little bearing on our modern-day challenges. After all, where are the verses about sexting and 50 Shades of Grey and the hookup culture?

But the Bible is relevant. There are direct stories of sexual sin and sexual love, as well as many verses about guarding our hearts, measuring our actions, and honoring others. If God’s Word is true, it permeates every aspect of our life, including the bedroom. You can’t compartmentalize, believing that “loving your neighbor” has nothing to do with treating that girl or boy in your arms with respect. So if you want to know the real deal about how we should approach sexuality, read the Bible.

9. More sex happens in marriage than outside it.

One might think it’s the opposite based on media, entertainment, and conversations. But studies show that married couples are getting more, and more satisfying, sex. If kids think the sex well is going to dry up the second they say “I do,” they’ll buy into the sow my wild oats theory before marriage, or put off marriage for fear of their sex drive going unheeded.

But I love what one newlywed man told our youth group: “I’m having lots of sex now, and I never, ever think, ‘Man, I wish I’d had sex back in high school.'” It’s kind of like Christmas, kids: It takes a while to get here, but the gift you receive is worth the wait.

10. Your parents love each other—yes, even in the bedroom.

My kids are well aware that marriage includes sexual intimacy, because they see it hinted at with their parents. Of course, they don’t have details, because that aspect of our relationship is private. But they see us flirt and display appropriate affection in front of them, and they know the bedroom door gets closed and locked at times.

They might roll their eyes at our hugs or kisses, but they also smile. It’s reassuring to know their parents love each other and that marriage, even as long as we’ve been married, includes true passion.

What do you want your teens to know about sex? Which tip speaks most to you (for me it’s #6!)? Let me know in the comments!

Sex Savvy WifeJ. Parker is the author of Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Wives and writes the Hot, Holy & Humorous blog, where she uses a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster Christian sexuality in marriage.

 

Reader Question: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Sex?

Reader Question of the WeekThis week I’m going full throttle, doing the final edits for my upcoming book, 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. So I’ve asked some awesome friends to guest post for me. And I thought I’d start with this week’s Reader Question about talking to your kids about sex. A mom wrote in and asked:

I have an 3 kids under 8. We have had conversations about aspects of the relationship between men and women, how babies come out of the women’s body (not yet talked about how they get in there in the first place though) and other things like that. But we have not yet talked about the actual act of sex. I’ve heard reports that you need to have this conversation with your kids between the ages of 7-9, after that age they will have most likely gotten the information from friends or stumbling across it online.

So my question is, how do you start this conversation? I am very comfortable talking about sex with adults, but my 8 year old son is a whole other area! So I thought i’d see if you had any thoughts or advice on how you may have done this with your kids. Thanks so much!

Great question! And so I’ve asked Luke Gilkerson, from Intoxicated on Life, who has just come out with a book on this very subject to chime in. Here’s Luke:

Talking to Your Kids About Sex

“Why is my penis so big?”

This was the way my five-year-old greeted me one morning. Though he probably had experienced an erection hundreds of times before this, for some unknown reason, on that morning it confounded him. I explained to him, “That’s called an erection. Your penis is supposed to do that from time to time. There are special blood vessels in your penis that fill up with blood and make your penis hard and straight.” In the flurry of morning activities, that was all that was said, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being.

Children are sexual beings—not in the sense that they are mature enough for sex but in the sense that they have sexual anatomy and curiosities. Their gender defines something important about who they are. For that reason, teaching our kids about human gender and sexuality is an important piece of their education, even from a young age.

Anxieties About Sex

Ever since I released my parent-child Bible study about sexuality, The Talk, I’ve received questions from many parents—some of them filled with questions and anxiety—about how talk to young kids about sex. I understand this anxiety. For many of us, sex has either burned us in the past or we were raised in a world where sex was never discussed. We remember the angst of puberty, first crushes, first kisses, discovering masturbation, discovering pornography, and perhaps specific sexual sins we regret. Sex is not a topic some relish talking about.

In some sense, the fear of talking about sex with our kids is normal because we know sex is a powerful force, and whatever we say to our kids about it, we want to say right.

Too Much Too Soon?

Some parents fear saying too much too soon to their young children. Won’t these conversations spark sexual curiosity in them too early?

I think it is important to dissect the question a bit.

  • First, what is meant by “sexual curiosity”?
  • Second, what is meant by “too early”?

For some parents, curiosity about sex, especially in children, is seen as somehow dirty. For these parents, sexual curiosity is intimately linked to sexual sin. In reality, this is far from the truth. Sexual curiosity includes a wide variety of interests: curiosity about sexual anatomy (one’s own and that of the opposite sex), curiosity about how babies are made and grow, curiosity about romance, and curiosity about sexual intercourse are all as natural as the day is long. None of these curiosities is an indicator of an unhealthy or premature desire to have sex.

Furthermore, the fear that we might initiate conversations about sex “too early” is often based on the assumption that our kids are living in a sexual vacuum. This is far from the truth. Kids are coming home from the playground learning about oral sex at age 6. Kids are seeing sexual themes in video games, TV advertisements, and in the grocery store checkout aisle. Even if you take away the overtly sinful examples, kids hear about sexual themes in the midst of wholesome activities all the time: listening to a sermon, watching you and your spouse kiss, and even reading the Bible. The reason why you, as a parent, need to start conversations about sex now is because you have the opportunity to shape and mold what they are already picking up from the environment they’re in.

You will not rob a child of his or her innocence by giving them biblical and biological information about sex. Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care says it well:

Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking, or abusive context.

Talking to Young Kids About Sex (Ages 4-7)

1. Get used to it.

I have a friend who routinely speaks to groups of parents at churches addressing hot-button sexual issues like pornography. He’s a dynamic speaker and well-loved by all the audiences he addresses. He gets one complaint everywhere he goes, however: “It was a little uncomfortable when you said words like ‘testicles’ and ‘clitoris.’ Next time you do this talk you should really censor some of your words.” Good grief. If you can’t get together in a room with other adults—adults who have all chosen to gather in a room to hear a talk about pornography—and you can’t stand to hear basic anatomy terms, no wonder you can’t talk to your kids about sex.

For some, sex is embarrassing. They can’t picture saying words like “penis” and “vagina” in the same sentence—let alone talking about how they go together.

If this is you, you have three choices: push through the awkwardness, get comfortable with it, or be silent. If you don’t speak, the world will be more than happy to fill the void.

2. Teach it like you would any other subject: according to what they can grasp

You need to talk to your kids where their cognitive abilities will allow them to go. For the same reason you don’t teach your child their times tables at age 4, you also don’t have a long chat with them about the birds and the bees at age 4. Toddlers are in what is called the preoperational stage of child development. Though their language skills are maturing, they do not have logical reasoning skills. They think very concretely. Concepts like cause and effect are unknown to them.

During this stage of life, talks about sex should be brief and very concrete. My brief conversation with my son about his erection is an example of this. It was not a no-holds-barred everything-you-need-to-know conversation. It is about giving them little bits of information about sexual biology and sexual norms over time. Sometimes, time will permit you to have longer conversations, but remember to keep things focused on one subject at a time.

3. Teach it like you would any other subject: progressively over time

Don’t feel the need to have a single talk about everything sexual. Not only would this take far too long, these conversations and themes work best when they are repeated over and over, progressively over the course of a child’s life. In the early phases of life (0-3), give them correct labels for their body parts and confidence that their bodies are created by God. As they start to notice gender differences, explain some of the obvious outward differences between boys and girls. Affirm them in their gender identity. Help them practice modesty. Model how your child should joyfully react to things like pregnancies and weddings.

As your child gets older (4-8), you can unpack more information about human reproductive organs (male and female). Model the importance of privacy when it comes to nakedness. Warn them from time to time about pornography: tell them that if they see images, cartoons, photos, or videos that show naked people that is not healthy to see. Especially as they get closer to 1st and 2nd grade, children start to enter a new phase of development where they can reason more logically and can start to understand things from another’s perspective more easily, making more detailed conversations much easier.

These do not need to be sit-down, fire-side chats, but they can happen in the context of daily life as questions are asked or opportunities arise.

4. Let the Bible break the ice for you

For more formal discussions about sex, the best context is during conversations about the Bible.

First, get into the habit of opening the Scriptures together as a family, reading from the Bible, praying together, and talking biblical truths. This is Christian Parenting 101: establish a routine in your home that communicates the importance of the Bible to our understanding about God and human beings.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualitySecond, use specific passages from the Bible to break the ice on these sexual topics. I recommend texts like Genesis 1:24-31, 2:18-25, Exodus 20:14; Psalm 139:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. These texts cover major themes like the creation of male and female, the command to procreate, the mystery and beauty of life in the womb, the evil of adultery and sexual sin, and the importance of honoring God with our bodies.

If you need help with this, my family Bible study, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, gives you a script to walk through these texts with a child

5. Let real life break the ice for you

Sometimes the most natural conversations about sex happen in the context of real life—all the way from the very wholesome or mundane to the perverse.

  • Some kids are naturally inquisitive and will be forward about their questions, like, “How do babies get in your belly?”
  • If you are around farm animals or wildlife, or if you have pets, your kids might catch animals “in the act.”
  • If your pastor preaches something with a sexual theme, your child might become curious about what is being taught.
  • If you see a pregnant woman, you can always stoke their curiosity about how God makes a baby grow in the womb.
  • If your child sees something inadvertently on TV or in a movie that has a sexual theme, don’t be silent. Ask them, “What’s wrong about the way they are portraying this?”
  • If your child comes home from school or a play date and relates some bad information he heard about sex from one of his friends, take time to correct the error.

Encouragement to Parents

The book of Proverbs, written especially for the young, warns its readers many times about the seduction of lust and easy sex. But the readers are promised they can avoid the snare of sexual sin. How?

…keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you. (Proverbs 6:20-22)

Be encouraged. Your words have power. Your commands are life giving. Your teachings are critical. In years to come, the echoes of your voice will watch over your children even in the darkest corners of temptation.


Luke GilkersonThe Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualityLuke Gilkerson is the Educational Resource Manager at Covenant Eyes, where he teaches others about staying pure online. He blogs about adventures in parenting at IntoxicatedOnLife.com with his wife Trisha.

You can buy his book, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, on Amazon in paperback or get a digital version in his online store.

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin“If you get raped, does that mean you’re not a virgin anymore?”

That was one of the anonymous questions asked at a small group my 17-year-old daughter was a part of this summer. The adults leading the discussion hemmed and hawed, saying technically, they guessed, you weren’t a virgin.

My daughter, worried that one of the girls in this group had actually gone through this and was in agony, piped up. “It’s not the physical that’s important to God. It’s the heart. And God looks at the heart, and He can heal you and still give you a wonderful pure marriage.”

She’s heard me talk about this a lot around the table, and she’s quite passionate about it.

But this was one of a string of things that I’ve heard of lately that make me think that we need to change the way we talk about sex. This is the last of a 3-part series I’ve written on how I wish Christians could reframe the way we talk about modesty and purity. Today I want to talk about purity, the word “virgin”, and how we’re emphasizing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, for this conundrum I don’t have a clear answer; I just see the problem. I hope, after reading this, that you all can help brainstorm with me and find a new way to talk about purity instead of emphasizing virginity.

So let’s start with first principles:

God made sex to be a beautiful, wonderful thing.

It is also meant to be experienced within marriage. It’s also only in marriage that sex can reach its full potential, because sex is supposed to be intimate not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. You can’t feel “like one” if there is no commitment. So sex is supposed to be beautiful and passionate, and marriage was created to be the environment for that passion.

I hope that’s clear–God does want us to wait for marriage for sex. Absolutely no doubt about that. And He wants us to do so for very good reasons. That’s why we say that God wants us to stay virgins until we’re married. However, I’m not sure that saying “God wants you to be a virgin when you’re married” always gives the right message. Here’s why:

1. You Can Be “Impure” and Still Be a Virgin

When we stress virginity as the sign of acceptance by God and the church and obedience to God, then we inadvertently say that “anything up to that point goes”. Of course, no youth pastor or parent would say that’s their message, but it is one some young people hear. One friend of mine, now 45, told me that he was 22 years old before he realized that heavy petting was actually not okay.

We need to talk not only about sex but about everything sexual. If all we ever say about sex is “don’t have sex until you’re married”, then you haven’t explained why purity isn’t about making sure that you’re a technical virgin; purity is an attitude of the heart. And you haven’t talked about the fact that other things can be sexual as well, and should be saved until marriage. We simply need to open lines of communication.

2. You Can Be Pure and Not Be a Virgin

In the surveys that I did leading up to the launch of my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I asked people about their sexual experience before marriage. Then I left a box where people could write anything they wanted to say. I didn’t prompt them, but over 35% of women who weren’t virgins when they were married volunteered that they wished that they had waited. It really wore on them.

I so want to say to these women that God’s healing is available to them. You are not the sum of what you have done with your body; your identity is about what Jesus did with His body for you. And God takes our filthy rags and makes them new. He restores!

If you look back at the Gentile New Testament church, it was filled with people who were mostly NOT virgins when they were married. The Jewish culture protected chastity, but the Roman culture did not. When Paul was saying things like this, in Ephesians 2:1-5:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesha and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When he said that the people in Ephesus had “gratified the cravings of our flesh and followed its desires and thoughts” he meant it. Ephesus was a haven for temple prostitution. We think we live in a sexual culture, but so did they! These early Christians had quite the background, but they also were so grateful that Jesus had made them pure.

Because everyone in those days came to Christ as an adult, after they had messed up earlier, they could celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness perhaps easier than we do because most of  us were raised in the church and then messed up. And so we carry great shame. Maybe we need to identify more with these Ephesian Christians and stop beating ourselves up, but be grateful for what Christ has done for us!

3. Stressing virginity makes it sound like once you’ve failed, there’s no point in even trying anymore.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine in the military, who had been transferred to another base, crashed at my house for a few days with his wife and 21-year-old daughter as they were moving across Canada. During one of our conversations (don’t you love catching up with old friends?), my friend told me about one of her daughter’s friends who wasn’t a Christian. That girl had decided that she wanted to be a virgin when she was married all on her own, which is great.

But then one day she and her boyfriend got carried away and her virginity was gone.

She realized that she had lost her dream–to wait until her wedding–and so now there was no point. The horse has left the gate. You can’t close that door now.

I wonder how many people, both inside and outside the church, feel that same way. They want sex to be special and to be saved, but then if they mess up, they figure there’s no point in trying to reclaim any kind of boundaries, because you’ve already completely blown it.

When we stress virginity, then once it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Stressing virginity makes purity legalistic

And that’s essentially my problem. Talking about virginity makes the issue a physical one, not a heart one.

God cares about the heart, not the hymen.

Of course, for our own sakes and for the sake of righteousness He wants us to wait until we’re married. But what He wants even more than that is people coming to Him with a pure and eager heart for a real relationship with Him. He looks to the heart (purity) not to outward appearances (the hymen). And you can have purity when you come back to God.

Listen, I still want my girls to be virgins when they’re married. Absolutely. But I just wonder if by using that word we’re stressing the wrong thing.

I really and truly don’t have an answer for this one. I would prefer to stress purity over virginity, but I’m not sure that’s a good answer, because “purity” has a bad ring to it in the wider culture, too. It sounds judgmental (though I don’t mean it that way. Our purity, after all, is not from our behaviour. It’s from what Christ has done for us).

I know this has been a heavy week. I’ve talked about how the modesty message can mess up women’s body image, and how the purity culture (the one that says that you can’t do anything other than hold hands before you’re married) can mess up our view of sex. And now I’m talking about how perhaps the word virgin is being used wrongly. I don’t mean to criticize the church, and I also don’t mean to demean modesty, purity, or virginity–all of which are important.

I just want to make sure that we’re stressing heart things and we’re pointing to sex the way that God intended. I think the time has come to have this discussion–with your youth pastor, with teens you know, with engaged couples–and start to reframe things.

As part of that discussion, then, let me ask you: how would you handle the virginity/purity issue? How would you frame it? Let’s talk! Just leave a comment below.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?

Is The Purity Message Making Women Ashamed of Sex?

Does the purity culture movement make women ashamed of sex? How to reframe our message to encourage healthy sexuality!Yesterday I was talking about how our Christian modesty message can make women ashamed of their bodies, and pleaded for reframing our message: let’s point to God, not make rules.

Today I want to talk about how the purity culture message can leave women ashamed of sex.

To reiterate, I absolutely believe that sex is meant for marriage. I do believe that we should wait for marriage for sex–not only because God tells us to, but also because when we have sex before we’re married, we make sex into something only physical, and we miss out on the spiritual and emotional intimacy we’re supposed to have.

Yet I fear that by stressing to young women, “you must never ever think about sex or you’ll be lusting,” and “if you so much as touch a boy or kiss a boy before you’re married you’ll end up in bed together, so you shouldn’t have any physical contact”, then we inadvertently make women scared of sex. This isn’t universal; some women can grow up with that message and be just fine. But not all.

And so today, rather than arguing the point myself, I’d like to share with you two different emails I’ve had from readers, and then follow up with my own thoughts. This first email came from a woman after she read my post about how the purity culture can go overboard.

I’m 21 and I’ve been married two years. Two nights ago my husband and I FINALLY had REAL sex. Our wedding night was a disaster, and a trip to the doctor’s office revealed that I had vaginismus, a condition that makes sex impossible because my brain tells my PC muscles to clinch together. I’ve struggled with this for two years, as I’ve felt like a bad wife. I wanted to have sex by our second anniversary, and, by completing a program my doctor gave me, I can now buy and enjoy your 31 Days of Great Sex book!!

Anyway, the biggest struggle I’ve had through the last two years is trying to figure out WHY I have this issue. I’ve had a GREAT life with a wonderful upbringing, but apparently I was harboring sexual shame. I was not properly educated, and, growing up in the church, I remember  how guilty my youth pastor made me feel just for having a boyfriend. Though I never had sex, I struggled with setting boundaries sexual, and now I’ve paid the price for the Christian’s obsession with how “evil” sex is.

Here’s another story from a woman who wrote to me after I asked for stories about sexual shame. She was active in a very conservative homeschool community. She’s now engaged. She writes:

I grew up saving my first kiss, planning to only have a quick hug at engagement and then only hold hands until my wedding day. I never planned to be alone with a guy. I learned to shutdown if I ever felt any bit of sexual attraction or sexual feel good emotions/hormones. I didn’t know how my body would work when I felt attraction and my sex knowledge was very limited. I didn’t even know all of my own body parts.

Because of my lack of education on sex, sexuality and the way my body would response I was sure that if I was alone with a guy it would lead to kissing and that kissing would easily lead to all of my clothes laying on the floor within about 15 seconds. It would be like standing on the edge of a cliff. Once you stepped off, even if it was a small step, there would be no going back. You would lose control, be unable to make rational decisions and fall into deep sin.

The first time I had a “real hug” from a guy I liked (he squeezed me, then put his arm round my shoulder and massaged my hand) put my body into shock for about three days. I felt overstimulated and my brain didn’t know how to respond. I was amazed that I was still in control and could still make choices not to have sex but I also realized that because I had learned to shut off any sexual attraction that I could barley enjoy the good feeling let alone reciprocate.

I began to realize that if I went from training my brain to be essentially asexual, rejecting my sexuality until my wedding night, it wouldn’t just turn on and work like it was supposed to. If a hug sent me into a three day shock what would it be like on my honeymoon?!

My amazing fiance never pressured me to do anything I didn’t want to do. We have abstained from sex and will continue to until we’re married. He always asks before we try something “new” and always respects my choice. That being said we talked and felt that it was wise for us to get to know each other a little bit physically so I would deal with my fear of sex. We would still be considered “conservative” in our physical interaction but he began initiating little things like hugging me close, touching my hair, rubbing my back etc. Each of these things were introduced slowly and he always gave with the intent of bringing me happiness and not expecting anything in return.

For each new thing I initially could not reciprocate because I had to focus so much on letting it feel good and not shutting down pleasure. I had quite a learning curve, I felt and sometimes still feel shocked by simple new things. I felt like I should be naturally responding but that I was held back because I had repressed these feelings for so long (by the way I am 22). I was very surprised at the way my body did respond to feeling good… physical and hormonal changes that are natural when there is a combination of touch and attraction. I was also amazed at the fact that I was still in control and that neither of us HAD to have sex right then like I had always been led to believe.

I am so thankful to my wonderful fiance. He always gives without expecting a return. He was/is so patient with me, letting me talk through my issues and insecurities. Truly my sexual health is a priority to him over his own enjoyment.

I think each couple needs to talk about their own physical standards and these may change some as your relationship does but I would encourage a serious couple to get to know each other at least a little bit physically. Are there wise boundaries? Yes! But sexual attraction is NOT bad. Feeling good is NOT bad. Enjoying each other is NOT bad. Not all physical interaction is sexual and not all sexual interaction (like kissing) is sex. We are sexual beings… and that’s ok.

I appreciate her sharing her story, and I want to leave a few thoughts:

1. Physical contact does not necessarily lead to sex.

I have had so many emails from women saying, “I thought that if we kissed the clothes would immediately fall off and we’d be unable to control ourselves. So I was scared to kiss him. But actually, that didn’t happen at all. We could totally control ourselves.”

When we tell young people that any physical contact leads to sex, we tell them that their bodies can’t be controlled by their minds or their wills. Their bodies become the enemy. And that makes women especially disconnect from their bodies–seeing them as evil, and not wanting to let their bodies feel anything. That does not go away just because you put a ring on your finger.

2. Some physical contact can be a good thing.

Affection is natural. To deny any kind of physical contact makes your body seem somehow evil, and makes us concentrate so much on avoiding any stimulation that it’s hard to reverse that.

I am not saying that physical contact is necessary in a relationship. Not at all. If a couple decides they want to save their first kiss until marriage, that is totally their prerogative, and that can work very well for some people. The Duggars live by that philosophy and are very vocal about it.

The problem is that not everyone emerges from that kind of purity culture whole. Some may, but others end up deeply shamed. We need to be very careful that we are not legalistic about this, telling people that kissing or hugging or holding hands is somehow evil. It isn’t. The Bible says sex outside of marriage is wrong, but kissing is not sex, and kissing does not necessarily lead to sex. It didn’t for me, it didn’t for my friends who dated and married the same time we did, and it didn’t for our parents and grandparents (most of whom kissed before marriage, too). Even Laura Ingalls kissed before she was married!

3. When we teach women to avoid sex at all costs, then marriage can seem like rape.

I think this gets to the heart of vaginismus. If you’ve been taught to avoid sex always–that it is bad, and that it is wrong to feel turned on, then what happens when you’re married and suddenly you don’t have a choice? Now, obviously all women still have choice, and for a man to demand sex when she doesn’t want it is wrong, and to take it when she says no is rape, even if they are married.

But even if he doesn’t force her–even if he’s as gentle as a kitten and is kissing her and trying to warm her up–she can still feel these conflicting, scary emotions: “sex is bad, and yet now I have to do it. It’s expected of me.” That tension can cause her body to refuse. She’s not consciously refusing; but it is affecting her nonetheless. Even if it’s not vaginismus, she can find it virtually impossible to be excited, because she feels so out of control in an area of her life where she has always been told she has to have complete control.

How We Can Reframe Our Purity Message

If I could reframe our message, I would talk less about why sexual feelings need to be avoided, and more about why they’re natural, and how to channel them elsewhere. I would talk about intimacy, and how it’s best in marriage, rather than saying “no sex until marriage”. I would talk less about setting up specific, rules-based boundaries, and more about how sexual feelings will be inevitable and good when you love someone–and here’s how to pursue God together to make sure those feelings don’t take over. I’d try to say something like this:

God made sex to be an awesome way to bind you and your husband together. It’s amazing physically, but it’s also incredibly intimate emotionally and spiritually, too. And it’s that intimacy we were made for–we feel it intensely physically, but we were also created with hormones that actually “bond” to the other person when we make love. It’s supposed to make you feel super close to one person.

Billions of people have had sex, but not all of them have made love, because the two are not necessarily the same thing. And if you want to truly make love, you need to save it for marriage, because that’s what God intended, and that’s what He promises you. You’re going to feel a real physical drive for sex, and that’s perfectly fine, because it’s a reminder to you about the real intimacy you yearn for. Don’t worry if you have that drive; ultimately it’s a good thing. Just ask God to help you channel that drive elsewhere until you’re married because then you’ll be able to experience sex the way it was intended.

That drive is really intense, though, so be careful to create some boundaries so you can stay pure. But it’s okay to be attracted to someone. It’s natural. It’s part of being a woman/man. And one day you’ll find someone that you can share with completely. And believe me, it is worth the wait.

I hope I’d say it a little better, and maybe some of you have something you’d like to add. But I think telling young people: don’t have sex, don’t even think about sex, sex is bad, isn’t a good message, because how are they automatically supposed to flip that switch once they’re married?

There’s one other aspect of the purity message I’d like to look at tomorrow, and that’s the way we talk about virginity. But for today, I’d like to know: did the purity culture make you ashamed of sex? What are you planning on telling your kids so that they can have a positive view of sex, while maintaining their desire for purity? Let me know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

Is the Christian Modesty Message Causing Women To Be Ashamed of Their Bodies?

Does the Christian Modesty Message inadvertently get it wrong? A look at healthy modesty messages for girls that don't teach shame.Today I’m beginning a 3-part series on how we should reframe the messages that we give young people about sex and Christian modesty. As a Christian sex blogger I get so many emails from women who grew up in the church whose marriages were really hampered by shame that never should have been theirs, and I think we simply need to take a good look at what we’re actually saying, and then figure out how to say it differently.

Heads up: I’m about to challenge the Christian modesty message: the one that says that women need to dress very modestly, because unless they do, they will encourage lustful thoughts on the part of guys and lead them into sin.

I think that’s a dangerous way to frame it–dangerous to girls, and dangerous to guys, too.

But before I do that, I need to point something out. Let’s look at a pendulum, with “Girls can cause guys to lust and so must cover up” on one side, and “Girls can wear whatever they want and guys should deal with it” on the other. The problem is that when you argue against the first premise, people think you’re arguing FOR the second. So if you’re not arguing A, you must be arguing Z. But what if you’re actually arguing M?

I’ve written before that modesty DOES matter, and I do believe that. So please don’t accuse me of saying Z when I’m really saying M!

Okay, now with that intro, here goes! I’m going to deal first with how the Christian Modesty Message errs, and then look at how we can reframe it so that we’re still honouring God, respecting ourselves, and respecting each other.

How Christian Modesty Got Off Base

The Christian modesty movement gets its starting premise from this statement by Jesus:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:28)
 (NIV)

So lust is a really big deal! And if that’s true, then women should do what they can to reduce the chances of lust, right?

Well, let’s take a look at this for a moment. Why did Jesus say this? Basically, in those days if a Pharisee saw a woman coming down the street, they would avert their eyes and walk to the other side of the street. Women were seen as temptresses, as evil, as shameful.

And Jesus put the burden right back on the Pharisees: “It’s not her fault if you lust. Lust is YOUR problem.”

Jesus was trying to remove shame from women and replace it with righteous sorrow for sin. That’s a good thing.

And yet what have we done?

We’ve placed the burden back on the girl again when we start making rules for how women should dress.

I’ve sat through events aimed at preteen girls which told them how many inches below the clavicle their shirts can be. I’ve been at homeschooling track meetings where girls were given measurements about what they should wear to track meets, and I’ve seen some families requiring their daughters to run the 1 km race in a long “Little House on the Prairie” skirt. And I wonder: What does this do to the girls?

I asked that question on Facebook last week, and one woman wrote this:

I grew up covering my body and its curves to help men not sin. We had to wear skirts and dresses to the ankle (at least that’s what we preferred: that allowed to to play Little House on the Prairie and hide my unshaven legs.) sleeves couldn’t be shorter then four inches off the shoulder. The neck line had to fit two fingers from the pit of the throat. Anything that cut deeper into the chest was immodest and “oh my gosh! Fix your shirt!” Nothing could be tight so as draw attention to the chest or hips. We weren’t even allowed to wear smooth fitting skirts-they all had to have enough gathering at the top to just flow over the body and not stick to it. How ridiculous we must have looked to others when we played homeschool baseball or basketball on the driveway. At fourteen my mother accused me of looking at my father with a sexual eye and told me that all men only want “one thing:sex” and that it was on their minds all the time. The way I dressed would help them not to sin.

I know that is an extreme example, but I have seen it in real life. And I think even when Christian modesty isn’t enforced to that extreme, it still has some negative repercussions, like these:

Legalistic Standards for Modesty Teach Girls Their Bodies Are Dangerous

If your body can cause someone to sin, then your body is a source of shame. It’s something dangerous, lust-inducing, almost sinful, in and of itself. If the mere sight of your curves can cause someone else to err, then your curves must somehow be bad.

I know this is not the intention when people teach modesty. I’ve heard of the “secret keeper” approach which says that what you have is lovely, but it’s just yours, and it isn’t to be shared, and I think that approach can work. But often it’s laced with the message that if you don’t keep the secret, you lead others into sin.

What happens, then, if someone really does sin? Let’s say that you’re date raped, or someone says some derogatory things about your body. You now believe that it is your fault because you’ve grown up thinking that men cannot resist seeing curves, and so if they act inappropriately, it must be because they saw too many of your curves. It puts the burden for sin in the wrong place. And if women start feeling shameful of their curves, as if their body is the enemy, how in the world are they supposed to start liking their bodies and being comfortable sharing their bodies with their husbands once they get married? If you’ve been taught from the time you’re small to worry about your body, it’s really difficult to start seeing it as a good thing that can bring you and  your husband pleasure. The very fact that he wants pleasure from your body seems somehow twisted already.

When I was a teenager I worked in a Christian bookstore. A woman who had only recently become a Christian worked there part-time. She was 30, single, and drop-dead gorgeous. She could have been a Victoria Secret model. She dressed very fashionably, but also very modestly. No cleavage, lots of turtlenecks (it’s Canada, after all), and nothing too tight. Yet week after week the elders would sit her down and tell her that she needed to dress more modestly because men were lusting after her. Her clothes were not the problem–it was her beauty, and she could do nothing about that. They were calling her beauty sinful. She finally just went to another church.

Legalistic Christian Modesty Teaches Girls that Boys “Only Want One Thing”

The Christian modesty message also says that boys are basically helpless to withstand this onslaught of seeing girls’ curves. All guys, including all older men, will lust if they see you. I’m not sure how that message is supposed to make women like men.

When I was 19 years old I went on a summer missions trip to Tunisia. It was very scarring for me, because every time we were on crowded public transport (which was quite a lot), men would literally feel me up. I could never tell which man it was, because we were jammed into buses, but I’d have hands all over me. When I got back to North America it was about  two months before I could look a man in the eyes again. I had tried so hard the whole time I was there to not catch anyone’s attention, and it didn’t work. Men became the enemy.

We’re doing the same thing. But let’s face it: If a guy will fall into lust because he sees a girl with a V-neck T-shirt on (even if there’s no cleavage), what in the world is he going to do if he walks through the mall?

Legalistic Modesty Teaches Girls that THEY Don’t Lust

I’m going to let my daughter explain this one. I think she does it very well:

Legalistic Christian Modesty is Just That: Legalistic

We’re told in 1 Timothy 2:9:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

Dressing modestly is important. But notice that the text does not define what decency and propriety is. When we start to define it rigidly, then we are becoming legalistic. What is modest in one culture is not modest in another. There aren’t absolutes. When I was in Kenya, showing cleavage was less offensive than showing bare shoulders (though the children’s home where we were didn’t show either). Things vary by culture. The spirit is important: we all should be modest. How that is lived out, though, is ultimately up to the individual, and should not be imposed, or else you are adding to Scripture.

It’s interesting, but one of my friends pointed out that in the Old Testament, the dress that was criticized was unisex. It was very clear: men should look like men; women should look like women. Women have curves, and I think that’s okay.

 Let’s Change the Message!

1. Point to God, not rules.

Whatever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. So when we dress, we should be glorifying to God. Teach young people, both guys and girls, to ask themselves that question: am I portraying myself as a child of God? If everybody asked themselves that question, a lot of problems would go away anyway. And having girls dress modestly for the wrong reasons doesn’t glorify God. He cares about the heart, not the outward appearance.

2. Don’t give a double standard.

Dress codes are fine, especially at teenage events, I think. Most schools have dress codes (no spaghetti straps, no low-rise jeans, etc.). But if you have a dress code, it should be focused on both guys and girls, not just girls. So say something like, “Girls, no string bikinies, guys, no speedos. When out of the water, T-shirts should be worn by all at all times.”

 3. Allow for beauty

Another woman on Facebook wrote this:

I too was taught that it was my responsibility to dress so that guys didn’t lust after me. Even if I dressed modestly but looked pretty that was a problem because when a much older guy made unwanted physical and verbal advances toward me it was my fault. After all, how could I blame him? I was told that If I wasn’t “so pretty” or if I wasn’t “so fun to be around” then none of this would happen. It was hard because I was never really taught how to enjoy my body. Things were either unflattering / too big or were “too sexy.” The line between the two extremes was not explained… I developed my own style and have loosened up, but even after a year of marriage, I still struggle with knowing how to be sexy at home and what is too sexy for out in public.

So many households and churches talk so much against what clothes to wear that they never talk about how to be beautiful. Most girls yearn to be beautiful. Let’s start talking about how all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made; how the urge to be beautiful for women is universal and God-given; and then show girls how beauty doesn’t need to mean sexy. You can be totally lovely without twerking, so to speak. Beauty is not the enemy, and we need to acknowledge that girls want to be beautiful, and guide them about how to be truly beautiful.

Tomorrow we’ll ask whether the purity culture contributes inadvertently to sexual hang-ups, and whether there’s a different way to frame it, too.

Now I’d like to hear from you: how did the Christian modesty message affect your view of your body (or did it?) How are you teaching your children? Let me know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex, enjoying your body, and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?
Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

 

 

How Our Culture of Sex Got So Messed Up

How Our Culture Gets Sex Wrong--and what we in the church need to do to combat the message

Today is the beginning of a 4-part series I’m running on this blog about the culture of sex, and how we in the church talk about sex. I’ll be discussing how we inadvertently make women ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of sex, and then I’ll wind up talking about how we need to reframe our discussions around purity. God meant sex to be something beautiful and wonderful in marriage; too often, as we try to keep people from sin we end up making it seem like sex–and our bodies–are bad.

I asked Michael Rittenhouse to set the stage for our discussion by sharing a little bit of his journey. He’s the author of Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, which is a great book about how our culture gets sex wrong. Here’s Michael:

As a five-year-old, I didn’t get why Goldie Hawn danced on TV in a swimsuit and graffiti. But I knew it had something to do with “sex,” and even though they rarely said “sex” on TV, they did say “making whoopee,” so I figured that’s what we called dancing in a swimsuit and graffiti.

Miss Hawn’s outlandish show disguised the fact that there was a war on. Not Vietnam, not the Cold War, but a cultural war, rolling out on our TV screen every night.

On one side, we had hippies, streakers, sitcom characters, and various others who seemed to have it in for the established order. They waged a guerrilla war for what they called “free love,” by which they meant “sex” in a very specific sense.

Their side had at least one legitimate gripe: a stifling, predominant culture that pushed matters of sexuality not just behind closed doors, but so far away from normal discourse that many people felt uncomfortable even talking about it with a doctor.

In writing about this conflict in “Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You,” I needed a name for each side. For the hippie-streaker-sitcom axis, I borrowed “Liberators” from a James Thurber parable called “The Last Flower.” His liberators would “set fire to the discontent.”

Sex: What Your Parents Didn't Tell YouThe late 20th Century’s sexual Liberators set fire to every social more they saw as constraining their base impulses. Many of those fires continue to burn, in the forms of hookup culture, abortion on demand, 40 percent unwed maternity (U.S.), and a high divorce rate. The Liberators knew what they opposed, but didn’t seem to care much about what their rebellion unleashed.

But what to call the other side, the focus of all the Liberators’ anger? Whose sensibilities meant that children’s dolls could not have genitals under their clothing, or that “The Tonight Show” must not air with the phrase “W.C.” (water closet, an oblique British term for bathroom)?

I dubbed them Prudes. On TV they looked uptight, dressed for church 24/7, and old. In real life they were just ordinary people reared in a Victorian-influenced culture, where respectable folk tried to shun their base impulses. They extrapolated the privacy that humans instinctively feel about sex into a taboo on any talk of it. As a result, in their growing up, nobody had spoken to them much about sexuality, and they, in turn, said little to their offspring.

As a child, I noticed the way adults’ voices grew hushed over matters of sexuality; how everyone watching TV in the family room pretended not to notice the feminine-hygiene commercials; how my innocent questions about what I saw in public—XXX theater ads, Playboy magazine, even a Great Dane’s testicles—earned an abrupt change of subject, or a promise to discuss it later. (That promise was not kept.)

I would find my answers elsewhere. This usually meant going to the Liberators in some form or other because, unlike the Prudes, they were always reaching out to young people, whether through books, movies, magazines, or even the schools.

I knew I didn’t want to be a Prude, because they didn’t look like fun. But the Liberators seemed untrustworthy, like salesmen hawking goods certain to disappoint.

For all their differences, the Liberators and the Prudes shared one core belief: God was on their side. Both of them were badly mistaken.

Liberators rationalized that whatever we’re inclined to do is OK with our Creator, because, well, he created us. Adam and Eve, man, they had everything right before the fig leaves, and if we would just roll up these parking lots we could have paradise right here. Of the Trinity, they seemed to identify with Jesus most because he was young and always in trouble with the Man.

Prudes deduce from the Ten Commandments that God takes a pretty dim view of anything like a vice. Because sex appeal can overrun our defenses, we should just lump all those nasty carnal desires together and push them out somewhere else … like Nevada, along with the nuclear waste. Doesn’t God want to keep us safe from sin and self-destruction? We should follow his lead on that, starting with fig leaves and any notion that sex and gender underlie every human interaction.

What both sides missed is that God invented sex.

Doors are never closed to him. He’s present in every encounter, hoping we will welcome him just like we say grace before a meal. He’s put a little glimpse of immortality at the height of sexual intercourse, and the degree to which we experience it hinges on how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender.

Ideas like that didn’t originate with me. I would owe them to a courageous parish priest; to C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft; to a little-known but influential therapist and author, Alexander Lowen; and—although I’m not a Roman Catholic—to Pope John Paul II, whose “Theology of the Body” would reassert the connection between sexuality and spirituality via popular writers like Christopher West and Mary Healy. And, of course, I owe our host on this blog.

If such voices existed during the war, I didn’t hear them. Even now, they have to shout over the censorious Prudes and the cynical Liberators, neither of whom wants to admit leading a lost cause.

But I’m optimistic. The Web has opened new, lateral forms of communication—blogs, podcasts, self-publishing. Now all that’s left is for parents (like me) to shake off our inherited Prudery, get a handle on the sexuality God’s given us, and communicate that appropriately to our offspring.

God invented sexuality to bring us out of ourselves.

Without it, we’d be like the amoeba: self-serving, isolated, incapable of anything greater than the sum of our parts.

So I hope to spur more parents to get out of themselves and talk with their children about how they came to be. After all, we (pro-)created our kids through the gift of natural sexuality. And to distinguish this from a spectrum of contrived “-sexualities” claiming legitimacy, I use the term “orthosexuality”—sex as nature intended. Uniquely capable of creating whole new human beings, orthosexuality is worthy of celebration, reverence, and respect. The privacy naturally associated with it must never be confused with shame.

A culture that panders to our innate, selfish tendencies cannot and will not do this for us.

Plus, the one gift I can’t give my kids is mates who understand all this. That’s up to you.

Sex What Your Parents Didnt Tell YouMichael RittenhouseMichael Rittenhouse is passionate about bringing God’s message of sex back into the discussion. He travels around the nation in his RV, talking to MOPS groups and churches about how we can reclaim real sexuality.

Michael’s book, Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, is available now! It goes into the historical reasons why we got sex wrong, and then talks about how we can figure out a healthy view of sex ourselves, and how we can pass that on to our kids. It’s a great read! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle, and it’s available in .pdf in Sheila’s store!

Guard Their Hearts

Next Tuesday I’m starting a series on this blog that I’m so excited about–how we need to start reframing how we teach kids about sex, and how we need to watch the messages we’re inadvertently giving about sex. To get ready for that series, I thought I’d rerun this column from a few years ago on why we need to teach kids to guard their hearts. Too often sex ed is just about guarding their bodies, but it’s the heart that can really hurt.

Guard their heartsThis column was originally written for a secular audience.

When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease aren’t the first things that come to mind. Instead, it’s panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesn’t tend to be terror at the possibility of disease—it’s terror at the possibility of the act itself.

Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex.

If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; it’s intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.

The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us sexual baggage that will affect future relationships.

As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart.

There is no way to protect yourself when you’ve given your body and your soul to someone and they’ve rejected you. It’s little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.

Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because we’ve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them there’s something shameful about sex.

This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, “what did your parents say?”. She replied, “that I should do what I think is best.” He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but here’s what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didn’t want to.

When we give kids the “safe sex” message, we’re essentially saying, “we know you’re going to do it anyway, so use a condom”.

We give kids the impression that the pull for sex can’t be resisted, so everybody must be doing it.

Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! I’d have to be a freak to say no.

Yet it’s a myth that teenagers aren’t able to wait. Our grandparents’ generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.

Counselling teens to wait isn’t teaching them to be ashamed of sex; it’s teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves.

It’s elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We can’t control our children, but we can make it more likely that they’ll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.

Best of Reality Check

Enjoy this column?

Every Friday I send out my weekly blog roundup--with my Friday opinion piece--and lots that happened on Facebook and Pinterest, too. Don't have time to read the blog everyday? Get the Roundup!

And when you sign up, you'll also receive my FREE ebook The Best of Reality Check, with my 20 favourite columns from my 12 years of writing.

Sign up here!