“The talk” has become a phrase that parents and teenagers alike hear and know exactly what awkward subject is about to be discussed. But the phrase is inherently flawed.

First, the definite participle “the” implies a single conversation that covers all that needs to be known. If parents ease their conversation with a single conversation about the mechanics of sex, the culture will define life-shaping reality for their children.

Second, the noun “talk” usually winds up being a monologue or lecture with an uninviting, “Do you have any questions?” at the end. Unless parents break the barrier from monologue (singular) to conversations (plural) then much information may be transferred, but with minimal impact.

The result is a conversational island that is memorable for all the wrong reasons. The goal of this post is to connect these conversations to the main land of parenting by describing two parts of parenting in the early years of a child’s life that lay a healthy foundation for talking about sex.

Model a Romantic Marriage

Affection and affirmation should not be “new and interesting” to a child growing up in a Christian home. The standard for flirting, compliments, and pursuing should be the way a child’s father pursues his/her mother. The instinctual image of receiving such pursuit should be a child’s mother responding to his/her father.

This is not to imply that sex and romantic relationships won’t be an intriguing arena of exploration for children of a romantic marriage. But it does mean that ignorant peers and vulgar media will not be given the highly influential place of being “the first” to define or model these life-shaping activities.

Men, here is a challenge. Speak so highly of your wife so often that is echoes through your children. If children can learn to cuss by hearing these words spoken at powerful moments in their home, then young boys can learn through imitation to fill moments of silence in their home with words of appreciation for their mother. The honorable pursuit of a woman of character should be permanently imprinted on the soul of every child in a Christian home so that the cultural counterfeit seems cheap in comparison.

Women, here is a challenge. Respond to the affirming words and leadership of your husband by showing the protection you feel with closeness and affection. Even at a young age children can learn that romance is a celebration of covenant lovers rather than the recreation of bored strangers. The delighted reaction of a receptive woman to the tasteful courting of a respectful man should seem like “the love story “ that makes anything less seem vulgar.

These actions don’t have to be sensual to be effective about pre-teaching key lessons about sex. You just need to provide a home where they get to see and age-appropriately mimic romance as God intended. The better we do at this in their formative years the more “dirty” expressions of sex will instinctively feel dirty.

But with that said regular hugging, kissing, and cuddling by parents should be seen by children. Children should know more compliments than curse words and more virtues to affirm than sports teams to cheer. This is just an application of near cliché (but very accurate) answer to the question, “What is the best thing a parent can do for their children? Love their spouse well.”

Emphasize the Importance of Honor

A second pre-sex talk focus should be emphasizing the importance of honor when instructing and disciplining your children. This will be a vital point for helping them understand why lust is wrong. It can be hard for teens to understand what is wrong with lust when they’re doing better than most of their peers to abstain from sex. Our pre-teen discipline must prepare the hearts of our children to receive a message about the danger of lust – one of Satan’s favorite “gateway sins.”

Consider these two parental questions which pose common infractions in terms of honor. As you read each statement, do so in a voice of instruction rather than an agitated, put-you-in-your-place rhetorical question and answer.

Parent: “Does it honor your brother when you take the toy from him? No. It fails to treat him as a person with interests of his own, but as a body holding the toy you wanted to play with.”

Parent: “Does it honor your mother when you demand she get you more milk?” No, it doesn’t. It treats her as a person who may be doing something else, but as a body who can retrieve something you want.”

If this foundation is laid with love during the adolescent years, then a teenager can understand (not just intellectually but emotionally and relationally) why it is wrong to reduce someone to a body or a source of personal pleasure. It can begin to make sense to them how lust dehumanizes a person; raiding their body (visually or physically) without concern for their soul.

Suddenly, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) takes on new life. No longer does it merely mean to make my preferences the measure for how I treat others – a common teen (and immature adult) misinterpretation of this verse. Instead, it means to treat each person with the dignity inherent in being a person.

These lessons about honor will have even more impact if the first instruction to model a romantic marriage is followed. When we romance our spouse, then honor is not about what we don’t say or tones of voice we don’t use, it is something we (as a family) do as our default interaction style. The blessings of honor are known more tangibly than the mere consequences of dishonor.

Looking Ahead

These two pieces of advice will not make talking about sex any less awkward. Explaining anatomy, physiology, hormones, arousal, and the rest with the bundle of joy you brought home from the hospital will never be a completely comfortable conversation (for you or them). But if you spend the adolescent years laying a foundation and building credibility for these conversations, then you can enter them with more confidence.

Too often we restrict the application of, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6),” to our pet peeve commands and whether we attend church. But it is equally, if not more appropriate, to apply this passage to the rationale we give for our instruction (honor) and the lifestyle we live in front of our children (healthy marital romance).

Joining the Conversation

  • How does modeling a healthy marital romance build credibility for talking about God’s design for sex?
  • How does teaching honor prepare a child’s mind and heart to understand the distortion of lust?

Note: This post was originally published on the “Grace and Truth” blog of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.