By Beth Ann Baus, Crosswalk.com
Something I’ve learned over the years is that, despite good intentions, most of our Christian parents didn’t do the best job of talking to us about sex.
Most of our parents talked to us about being sexually pure from a standpoint of avoiding consequences, rather than the goal being to bring glory to our holy God.
Even if you’re someone who got the basic “birds and bees” talk from your parents, you also likely had gaps filled in by your friends, Hollywood, the media, advertising, etc.
And without our parents helping us filter that information, we were left to make assumptions, draw conclusions and form views about sexuality that were not only false but unhealthy and damaging. The shame that was associated with sex has the potential to have lifelong effects.
We all come to this discussion with differing backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. This is a weighty topic and I’m only scratching the surface. My hope is that this will provoke thought, spur on conversations, shed light in a dark area, and perhaps even bring some healing.
With that being said, let’s dive in...or should I say, let’s dip our toes in the water.
Shame Associated with Sex
Sadly, when I say most of our parents didn’t do the best job of talking to us about sex, I’m talking about more than just “the birds and the bees.” I also mean talking about sex in the context of God’s design, and teaching us about the beauty of this gift without attaching shame to it.
I’ve heard countless stories of parents who focused on the negative or used scare tactics to keep their kids from being sexually active.
One example might be warning their sons and daughters of an unplanned pregnancy ruining their future. Others could be making blanket statements about how an unplanned pregnancy looks; how nice people don’t do that, or throwing private stones at others in the community who have fallen into this sin.
Men (and increasingly, women) often have stories of getting caught looking at pornography at a young age. Their memories consist of being shamed by their parents, resulting in them feeling dirty and perverted; often driving them to keep this sin a secret later in life.
After all, who wants to confess sexual sin when their only experience with exposure led to shame rather than repentance? The damage done here can be devastating and long lasting. Not only does this child walk away feeling dirty and perverted, but this child can grow into an adult not knowing how to freely enjoy their spouse for fear of those shameful feelings resurfacing.
This can end up affecting the marriage bed for decades, leaving both spouses confused, hurt, and unsatisfied.
In the Name of Modesty, Women Have Been Taught to Be Ashamed of Their Bodies
Many women have stories of their mothers making them feel ashamed of their bodies, guilting them into covering their skin, hiding their curves and “dressing plain” for the sake of their Christian brothers.
These women are now unsure of how to freely give themselves to their husbands. They struggle with being naked, looked at, touched, and enjoyed.
Our sexuality is precious, and being taught that your body itself is something to be ashamed of is its own kind of trauma.
Women with this kind of past often struggle, not only with their identity as a woman, but also with their identity in Christ. They don’t know how to properly celebrate and appreciate their womanhood.
They often go through life assuming the worst in men (that they are only out to get their eyes or hands on the female body) and they enter into marriage worried that what they do have to offer won’t measure up to their husband's desires.
Women with this past have a distorted view of themselves, their bodies, their own sexual desires and the desires of their husbands.
There are those whose parents pounded Matthew 5:28 into their brains. And it’s certainly true that when we look lustfully at someone we are committing adultery with them in our hearts. But only pointing to this verse without pointing to how God created us, and without training on how to control one's lustful desires, many are left unsure of how to look at and enjoy their spouse's naked body.
Some have even gone so far as to intentionally marry someone they aren’t physically attracted to as to not commit the sin of lust. I don’t need to go on about how tragic this is.
Being Improperly Taught about Sex Can Lead to Sexual Trauma
All of these examples leave the mark of sexual trauma. You don’t have to be sexually abused to experience sexual trauma—the shame and isolation around sex is enough. And the reality is, sexual trauma doesn’t just affect a person’s view of sex.
It affects them mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Trauma fundamentally changes who we are and how we view God, the world, ourselves, and the opposite sex.
We are left with a sense of loss, anger, confusion, and grief.
I can’t touch on this topic and not mention those men and women who are victims of sexual abuse. I can’t think of a more forceful way to distort someone's view of sexual intimacy than to subject them to sexual abuse in their childhood.
Many children, out of fear and/or shame, never tell an adult about the sexual abuse that’s taken place. These children grow up carrying a tremendous burden and, because their innocence was taken from them, their view of sex is not only tainted, it’s distorted.
This podcast, entitled How Your Sex Life is Connected to Your Spiritual Life, talks about the Hebrew word, “shakab.” When this word is used in Old Testament Hebrew, it indicates a forced or violent sexual encounter.
When sex is taken out of the context that God intended for it, it becomes something else--something unholy. Something broken. But that isn’t the only way that sex can be.
The Motivation behind Purity
When I think about my parents, and even how I parented my own children, I realize how much we train children by teaching them the fear of consequences.
For instance, we tell our kids, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot, you’ll get burned!”, “Don’t get too close to the edge, you’ll fall off!”, “You don’t know how deep the water is, don’t dive in!” In general, parents are terrified of their children getting injured.
And as our children grow up, we’re terrified of them making the same mistakes we made and falling into the same sin struggles we’ve fallen into. So it almost seems instinctive for a parent to focus on the negatives of sex to scare their children into submission and to keep them from sin.
We must remember that, for better or worse, our parents are (at least for a season) the most influential people in our lives. And they, like everyone else, tend to be fueled, not only by fear, but also by shame.
Sadly, shame distorts parenting.
Parents feel the shame of their own sinful pasts and they fear the shame of their children's potential sin. Fear and shame can cause some parents to trivialize sin, while it drives others to put that fear and shame on their children and usually in inappropriate, damaging ways.
According to the Bible, the consequences of sexual sin are serious, and long-lasting. Generations of people can be affected by one person’s sexual sin. We can’t blame our parents for wanting to keep us from that.
The problem is, we were only given part of the whole. Yes, we needed our parents to warn us of the consequences of sexual sin, and we needed our parents to teach us about modesty, temptation and lust.
But we also needed them to tell us of the wondrous gift the Lord gave us in sexual intimacy, and to point our heart’s desire to be pure for our holy God.
Let’s be clear, our sex-driven culture has an agenda, and that isn’t likely to change. But when it comes to our parents, we probably need to cut them some slack and know they were likely never given the tools to talk to us appropriately about sex.
Maybe it wasn’t your parents, but whoever it was that spoke into your life and gave you an unhealthy of view of sex, I’m willing to assume they had your best interest in mind and that they did the best they knew how to do.
However, this doesn’t negate the fact that many men and women are still dealing with the consequences of their poor training in this area.
And for many, the damage is ruining their sex lives, even in the context of a biblical marriage.
So, now that the damage is done, how do we move forward with the right view of sex? How do we speak truth to ourselves, our own children, our friends, those we disciple, etc?
But Sex, in its Proper Context, Is Holy Beautiful
First of all, it’s important to remember that sex within the covenant bonds of marriage was intended to give us a little glimpse of Eden this side of heaven.
How were Adam & Eve in the Garden? Naked, and unashamed (Gen 2:25).
They were trusting. They were fulfilled. They walked together with God.
In Ephesians 5:32 we see that the union of two people within the bonds of marriage is intended to be a metaphor for Christ and his bride the church! God created erotic desire in the beginning to be the power to love in the image of God.
God created sex. He created your body to desire sex.
Our desire to see the naked body and to feel someone else’s skin against our own came from God. Within the bonds of marriage, God intends for you to give him glory by enjoying sex with your spouse regularly!
I’m willing to bet not many of you had parents who told you that! But if you had, think what a difference it might have made in how you viewed sex, your body, and your desires.
In Hebrew, the word “yada” means to know deeply. This is the very word used in the Bible to describe a married man and woman engaging in sexual intimacy. It’s also the very word used in Psalm 139 to describe how God wants to know us!
This helps us understand that sexual intimacy in marriage is not only a beautiful gift--something to be enjoyed--but it’s also considered holy.
Looking at sex as holy isn’t something that comes naturally to us in our fallen state. Yet, God elevates sexual intimacy in marriage to that level.
The good news is, where our earthly parents may have failed us, our Heavenly Father does not!
How to View Sex the Way God Does
Old habits die hard, and misinformation that was ingrained in your mind is hard to let go of. But sexual healing can come. Right thinking can happen. Perspectives can change. The past can be left in the past.
If you attach shame to sex and have trouble viewing it as something holy, I encourage you to seek Biblical Counseling. Be open with someone who can point you to the truths in Scripture that I simply can’t do in this brief article.
Most of all, be encouraged! With God’s design for sexuality in mind, there is hope for all of us.
There is hope for those who were given poor training, for those who have a history of sexual sin, and for those who are victims of sexual abuse.
Yada is available. Yada is available to those who don’t feel they deserve it, for those who don't know how to enjoy it, for those who are afraid to experience it.
And because yada is also used to describe how God knows us and how we can know Him, this is even good news for those who are single, or those living a life of celibacy.
Yada is available to us all by the grace of God.
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to an episode here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
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Beth Ann Baus is a wife and homeschooling mom of two boys. She is a freelance writer and author of novels, Sister Sunday and My So Much More. In her writing, Beth often pulls from her own experiences of abuse, anxiety, depression and OCD. Beth has a heart for women’s ministry and is in the process of becoming a certified Biblical Counselor. She loves serving alongside her husband and pointing couples to the Word for strengthening their marriages and home life. You can find more from her at www.bethannbaus.com.