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I’ve been realizing lately I need to have compassion on younger me who was taught toxic stuff–and didn’t know how to reject it.

And as I shared yesterday in my “Fixed it for you” posts, sometimes I’ve even taught that toxic stuff myself! But when you know better, you do better.

Since The Great Sex Rescue was published two months ago, so many women have sent me emails saying how much the teaching in the evangelical church has messed them up, and how they want to do better with their own daughters.

Right now, Joanna Sawatsky, my co-author for The Great Sex Rescue, is visiting for 3 weeks, and she and Rebecca are writing the first draft of our mother-daughter book that’s coming out next year. So we’re thinking a lot about what to teach teenagers instead.

Last week, I asked on Facebook, “what would you tell 16-year-old you about sex & relationships if you could go back in time?”

I had over 200 comments on that post, but I’m going to distill them down to these 18 important themes:

1. If you date someone, you don’t have to think you’re going to marry them.

A number of people chimed in on this one!

“You don’t have to basically commit to being married before you get to actually know someone that in fact, that is extremely dangerous and often how women end up in abusive marriages.”

“A coffee date isn’t a commitment.”

“It’s okay to love another person even if it doesn’t work out. I was so scared of “giving my heart away” to the wrong man. When I finally did decide I found “the one” and gave him everything I had I felt trapped and did not leave when I should have. I did all the “right” things but it set me up for failure as I had little experience with what a real relationship should look like and I ignored all the red flags because as soon as I kissed him I thought that was it, I HAD to marry him.”

“It’s ok to date and not have it work out. You don’t need to marry the first guy that comes along. You will not ‘miss out’ on getting married.”

“You don’t have to be loyal to the person you are going on dates with, they don’t own you, you can enjoy dating multiple people and getting to know more than one person and not waste all your time on that one expecting it to work to marriage.”

2. God expects BOTH of you to have self-control, not just you–and consent is a thing!

“God expects both men and women to have self-control, that it is not solely “up to the woman” to decide how far the physical relationship goes.”

“Setting boundaries together is a wonderful way to talk about things and see what kind of a guy you’re dating. Is he going to honor me and himself now? If he isn’t, will he honor me and himself later?”

“If someone doesn’t respect your space and your autonomy, they aren’t worth another thought.”

“If I had to be the gatekeeper due to his lack of self-control before we married, it would not magically turn that lack of self-control into something positive in marriage.”

“No is a full statement- it doesn’t need a long apologetic explanation- no means no.”

3. You are not “damaged goods” if you mess up.

“You’re not a consumable, you don’t lose value over time or because of things that were done to you, or for your mistakes.”

“Getting married just to stay out of hell is extremely wrong & bad. Most people are not as adult as they think in their late teens and 20s, and sins are forgivable if you do make a mistake.”

“Purity is not based on your virginity.”

“If I had sex with someone that doesn’t mean I have a permanent emotional attachment to them.”

“You are still worthy, valuable, not damaged goods, if you have sex before marriage- you are not a wilted rose or a second hand ‘white elephant gift that no one wants to claim’ simply because you had sex.”

“Kissing isn’t a cardinal sin.”

4. Wait for sex for marriage–not because it’s a huge sin but because that’s for the best.

A lot of people emphasized that the messaging around waiting for marriage for sex needed to revolve less around the fact that it’s a sin and more around WHY God wants us to wait. 

“Sex is for marriage, because it’s actually designed – and yes there is science for this – to bond you to your partner. We wait not because it’s bad, or because we want to stay “pure,” but because it’s POWERFUL and GOOD and we respect that power and goodness by employing it as it is designed – within marriage.”

“Sex is a wonderful thing for you and your future spouse to share only with each other. It’s special and sacred. It will get better over time because you’ll know each other better and deeper… And you’ll get better at the act itself!”

5. Relationships don’t define your worth.

“Someone finding you attractive or not does not define your worth. Marriage doesn’t make you worthy, Jesus makes you worthy.”

“It’s important to be whole as a person before looking for a mate because your happiness and purpose should never be tied to another person- even your mate. Don’t be afraid of it falling apart. Don’t settle for a bad relationship just to have a relationship.”

6. True love looks like Jesus.

“If someone is telling me that something is loving, natural, or true, but it doesn’t look like Jesus, that is not love.”

“Do not sell yourself short by ignoring all red flags. No!! Just being a Christian does not mean he will change his toxic ways no matter how much you think Christians will change when they know they’ve hurt you. He will not see you more after hours of praying. Run. Your health depends on it.”

7. The people who truly love you can likely see clearly as to whether a relationship is healthy or not.

“I also wish I would have known the difference between my parents’ permission and blessing in my first marriage. It may have saved me from marrying an unfaithful man, because they were not blinded by hormones and could have seen the flags.”

“Trust an older wiser person who loves you and sees the red flags and warns you and listen.”

8. You can decide who you invite into your life.

“It is okay to say no and not worry about disappointing people that do not care about you! Take care of yourself and more so, who you choose to invite into your life.”

“Waiting and thinking the first person who shows interest in you is who you should marry is stupid.”

“just because you have sex with someone doesn’t mean you’re “stuck” marrying them. Same for getting pregnant.”

9. Good men ARE out there–so don’t believe that all men are terrible so you can’t expect anything better.

“There are men out there who are loving and caring, and that you are lovable.”

“There are many good men who will see you as a whole person and not just as someone to have sex with.”

10. You deserve real information about sex.

A lot of people chimed in on this one, even saying they would tell their teenage self not to listen to the conservative church they’re in, but to seek out real medical information about how their body works, and how sex works, and what sex even is. Here are just a few:

“All about how sex works, how our bodies are made and what consent is. Not the basic this is a penis, this is a vagina but like how it works, why it works, what is important in a relationship. Not the full blown purity culture, sex is bad, avoid it at all costs, then get married and go wild.”

“More about my own body and how it works. Literally an adult and married and still learning facts about the female body.”

“I’d want to know about the physiology of arousal.”

11. Girls can have sex drives, too.

“Wanting sex doesn’t make you a weirdo. Being a sexual woman doesn’t mean you’re a freak. Your husband isn’t going to automatically want it all the time.”

“A healthy understanding that sexuality shouldn’t be an obsessive focus but also not ignored. It is just part of being human. And that it can be understood and talked about in logical medical/scientific/psychological ways that don’t require ridiculous gender stereotypes but can acknowledge sex/gender group differences.”

12. Waiting for marriage does not guarantee you will have a great sex life.

“A great sex life does not ‘Just Happen,” it’s an art, a science and a learned skill!”

“Though staying away from sex before marriage is a good thing, it will not guarantee you a great sex life and an amazing marriage free from struggle.”

13. Don’t trust adults just because they’re adults.

A LOT of people shared heartbreaking stories about this one–and issued lots of warnings!

“Honey you were right “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is terrible. Your youth pastor naively teaching from it isn’t evil just young herself.”

“Some adults do not have your best interest in mind.”

“People are fallible sinners…..even “church” people. So, don’t let their behavior get between you and God. They’re not a reflection of His love.”

“Don’t trust that Assistant Youth Pastor when he offers to give you a ride home.”

“An older man trying to date you as a teenager is a huge red flag, not a compliment.”

14. You don’t need to make yourself small.

“Don’t sacrifice or downplay your success or achievements in order to make him feel stronger or not hurt his feelings. If a guy is hurt or upset when you win or succeed at something, he’s not someone you should be with.”

“It’s okay to take the lead.”

“Your voice is just as important as the voice of a man’s.”

15. Asking questions and having doubts is not a bad thing.

“It’s okay to be curious and ask questions, and if people refuse to give you answers that makes them toxic, not you.”

“Stop destroying your self-confidence thinking that you are being humble. It’s condemnation, not conviction that is fueling that.”

“Don’t believe everything you are taught if it is not backed up by appropriate, contextual scripture. This is why it is important to learn the Bible and the history surrounding when it was written, then compiled as “The Bible.”

16. Your body is not dangerous.

“How you were created by God is beautiful. The end. Looking like a woman is not a sin.”

“I had a youth pastor tell 12-17 year old girls that our leggings and bikinis caused lust and encouraged cheating on their wives. That’s pedophilia and completely vile. I thought it was my fault old men sinned against their wives and weren’t faithful.”

“You having breasts doesn’t cause other people to sin/stumble. Being noticed doesn’t mean you’re dressed inappropriately.”

17. Christians aren’t automatically emotionally and relationally healthier than non-believers.

“It is not a requirement to be a Christian to be a good spouse, parent, leader, woman/man, have a good marriage, good sex etc etc These things are commonly HUMAN. PS you will meet many healthy people who are other faiths or agnostic/atheists that are healthier as people and relationships than Evangelicals you know just to prove this point.”

“I was told that non Christians are incapable of real love, because God is love and if someone isn’t saved they don’t understand love at all. Then I realized how many “Christians” didn’t apparently understand it very well either.”

18. Don’t worry so much about what you look like!

“Stop plucking your eyebrows so much. Oh and eat a cookie. You aren’t fat.”

Those were awesome! And honestly, I think if I had asked five years ago (and I likely did), most of the answers would have been, “don’t date too young!”, or “make sure you wait until marriage.” But people are really saying very different things now.

Or rather, we’re emphasizing different things.

Yes, sex is meant for marriage, but we need a LOT of nuance in this conversation. What is consent? Whose responsibility is it to make sure you don’t go too far? What about sexual assault? 

And we’re recognizing that we need to talk a lot more about what constitutes a healthy relationship, rather than just telling kids to wait for marriage. I think that’s a positive change.

And I think I’ll end off with these three comments that all said great things!

Facebook Teen 3 - 18 Things I'd Tell 16-Year-Old Me About Sex and Relationships
Facebook Teens 1 - 18 Things I'd Tell 16-Year-Old Me About Sex and Relationships
Facebook Teens 2 - 18 Things I'd Tell 16-Year-Old Me About Sex and Relationships

In The Whole Story, our puberty course for moms/daughters or dads/sons, we talk a lot about healthy relationships.

We talk about boundaries, and dating, and sex, and so much more. Especially in the older versions of the courses, we can help you have those conversations with your kids. We start the conversations–you can finish them. If you want to make sure that you’re having these healthy conversations with your kids, check it out.

Shocked girl image TWS - 18 Things I'd Tell 16-Year-Old Me About Sex and Relationships

You're telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!

Talking about sex with your kids doesn't always go smoothly. 

That's why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!

18 Things Say 16 Year Old Me - 18 Things I'd Tell 16-Year-Old Me About Sex and Relationships

Did we miss something? What would be your #19? Or is there something you’d take out? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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