If you have hangups or shame about sex, how do you make sure you don’t pass those on to your children?
It’s Wednesday, the day that we always talk marriage! And one of the big messages of this blog is that it is possible to embrace sex and marriage the way God intended, no matter your past. I want to give hope, because I believe that that is what God wants for us. He created us to experience real intimacy physically, emotionally, AND spiritually.
The fact that you’re reading this, I hope, means that you agree!
But sometimes even if we’re committed to that for ourselves, we can still worry that we’ll somehow recreate our own issues in the next generation.
I’ve been thinking about that this week during our launch for The Whole Story: Not-So-Scary Talks about Sex, Puberty & Growing Up, a video-based course my daughters and I made together to help moms talk to their daughters about sex. Check it out here!
It’s our passion to help make these easier, less stressful talks for moms and kids to have, and that leads us to this reader question.
First of all, let me take this opportunity to say THANK YOU for your ministry. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve felt validated through your words. Our sex life was such a struggle when we first got married thanks to the whole puritan view, sex is bad, sex is bad, sex is bad…NOPE, now sex is good. I was a WRECK about sex and my body did not respond in any way to sex. My parents never talked to me about becoming a woman, sex, or anything. We never said the word. I didn’t have any advice for my honey moon and it was a very painful time for me, physically. I lived in a very modest, prudish household, and I am still that way, if I’m not consciously challenging myself. I don’t want that for my children. I struggle with making sex a comfortable topic in our home. I have four children (we figured out sex at least four times, lol) and I don’t want them to have the same issues and hangups I have. I would love to hear more words of wisdom on this topic. Help me break that cycle. Your words speak to a deep place in my soul, and I often weep when I read your words. I feel validated. I feel uplifted. I feel encouraged. Keep speaking the truth to us; keep fighting to take sex back from the world and make it beautiful (and FUN!) again. Keep tackling the hard topics because your voice is SO NEEDED.
Let me first say thank you for all the kind words!
Now let’s deal with her real heart cry:
Help me break the cycle.
Gladly! I pray some of my words can help. So here goes:
You don’t have to be healed to pass on a healthy message to your kids. You can speak truth before you fully walk in it.
I based my book 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage around 2 Corinthians 10:5:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
In other words, every time we have a thought, we can examine it and choose to reject it. We don’t have to be carried away by the things that pop into our heads.
Sometimes those things are deep-seated feelings stemming from our childhoods (I can’t get undressed in front of my sisters because that’s somehow shameful; I can’t let the kids see me kissing their dad because it’s not good to show affection; I can’t enjoy sex or I’m not a good girl.)
When we take those feelings and deliberately replace them with truth (my body is fine just the way it is, and God made me, and there is nothing wrong with the female body; it’s good for the children to see that their father and I love each other; God takes pleasure in the fact that I can be passionate), then eventually those thoughts will become our new feelings.
Sometimes that takes a while. When we have deep hurts, like those stemming from abuse, we can choose to think new thoughts, but we often need a real healing by the Holy Spirit that comes only through deep prayer and release of shame. That can’t always be hurried.
But here’s the thing to remember: Even if the feelings are not 100% there, you can still tell them the truth. You can decide to break the cycle not because you feel differently about sex yourself, but because you know that this is not the way it should be, and you decide that you will tell your child something different.
A smoker can tell other people not to start smoking, even if they have a hard time stopping. And what they’re saying is still true.
But if you’re telling them that sex is great, even while you feel like it’s not, then is that lying?
Well, let’s take another look at what we mean by that:
Authenticity matters more than perfection when we’re talking about hard things.
Our kids need us to be authentic.
All righty, then. Doesn’t that mean that we have to authentically feel great about sex in order to teach them to feel great about sex?
No, it doesn’t. It means that we need to tell them the truth AND tell them our feelings behind it. It’s okay to tell them,
You know, honey, I had a really hard time asking my mom questions about this stuff because she was never open with me, and it made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I still feel that, and I fight against it everyday. But I want more for you. And this is really, really hard for me to talk about. I know I’m going to mess it up. But I want you to know that even if I don’t tell you this in just the right way, or even if it’s awkward, that’s my problem, not yours. And let me tell you that God wants you to understand that He made you beautifully, and He created you for so much, and your body is part of that. I’m so glad that you won’t have the same issues I did, and I hope as you grow I can even learn from you to take pride in how God made me, because that’s what I so want from you!
That’s being authentic. That’s not trying to be something you aren’t. That’s not pretending that you have it all together (kids can see right through that). That’s telling them your fears, but also telling them the truth.
But isn’t that telling them too much? Nope, because:
Sharing our story frees our kids to write their own.
This is going to be a little convoluted, so bear with me for a moment.
When kids know that there is something “off” about how you react to certain things, but they aren’t given a reason why, then their minds have to create a reason. Often the reason they create is worse than reality. So let’s say that you’re like this letter writer, and you find yourself clamming up whenever sex is mentioned. You turn red if anyone makes a risque joke. You feel constantly embarrassed if you have to change in front of someone, even someone in your own family.
Kids watching you are going to start assuming certain things.
- My mom thinks sex is bad.
- I’m her child, so I’m just like my mom.
- Therefore, there must be something wrong with sex.
They may also assume that they’re the problem.
- Whenever I ask my mom anything to do with sex, she clams up.
- Therefore, I must be doing something bad.
- It’s shameful of me to think these things. There’s something wrong with me for thinking these things.
Do you see how these thought patterns happen?
Now, what would happen if we could simply explain what was going on? Then we could change the progression.
- My mom reacts weirdly whenever sex is mentioned.
- My mom sat down with me and told me that her parents didn’t handle this well and made her feel ashamed, and she’s still working on that.
- My mom wants to change and live out the truth, but she finds it difficult
- My mom says that I’m my own person and I don’t need to follow in her footsteps.
- So I can decide for myself what I’m going to believe.
You see, when children understand your reaction, then they are free to decide for themselves what reaction they will have. When they don’t understand your reaction, then they will tend to adopt it as their own.
Telling them the truth frees them to feel their own emotions, rather than adopting yours.
How I Shared My Past with My Girls
When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I shared in it how I suffered from vaginismus (pain during sex) when I was first married. It was hard to be so open about something so personal, but I knew that I couldn’t have the effect I wanted in the book unless I was being authentic.
But I had never told my girls.
So when Rebecca was about to get married, and was reading the book, I took her aside and told her my story. And I said to her, “Just because I went through this doesn’t mean that you will.” She laughed and said, “Gosh, Mom, I know that!” I guess I had taught her enough for the years for her not to be scared of that.
I told Katie around the same time, because some of her friends were reading the book and I wanted her to hear it from me. I think the reason I kept it to myself for so long was that I didn’t want them to think that they would follow in my footsteps–and that was a really personal thing to put on them when they were younger.
But we don’t need to be scared of the truth. Yes, you may have issues. But your own decision to fight for healthy sexuality and to defeat those issues means that you have already broken the cycle. You have already broken the idea that sex is shameful. You have already decided to fight. So just be honest and authentic, and share your heart with your kids–and they honestly will be okay.
And if you’re still having trouble starting those conversations, and you want to do it in a safe way, then let us help! The Whole Story was written for people who are scared they’ll clam up and just won’t be able to get the words out. Or for moms whose daughters seem to clam up whenever they try to start the conversation, and don’t seem to want to talk at all. Because the daughters will be hearing from Rebecca and Katie, two young women closer to their age, the stress level comes down. It doesn’t seem so weird. And then it’s far easier to continue the conversation with you!
Check out The Whole Story here.
And now, let me know: Do you worry about passing on shame to your kids? What are you doing about it? Let’s talk in the comments!