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Helping teens navigate a sexualized culture

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“I know where babies come from!” Those were the words my 8-year-old son blurted out in the midst of a conversational lull during a family dinner back in 1994. Before asking him what he had learned on the topic, I awkwardly swallowed my mouthful of food and asked him about where he had received his information. With genuine enthusiasm he answered, “Donnie told me ... on the playground!”

I’ll spare you the details of Donnie’s not-even-close-to-accurate sex-ed lesson, but Donnie’s miseducation had dropped in our laps a golden parenting opportunity for beginning a series of conversations with our young children about God’s good and glorious design for His gift of sex and sexuality.

That conversation took place 30 years ago. Today, it isn’t just “Donnie” on the playground. Kids are receiving a dangerous miseducation on sex and sexuality that runs at high volume on a 24/7 loop through smartphones, social media, streaming television, and more. Truth be told, this ever-present narrative washes over our kids, misshaping them from preschool right into adulthood.

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When I think about our culture’s obsession with sex, I can’t help but ponder the wise words of Proverbs 14:12:

“There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.”

As parents, we are called by God to use our words and our example to teach our children and teens God’s good design for sex and sexuality, offering correctives to help them find their way through the cultural narrative’s lies. Here are three essential elements to lead them into hearing, believing, and following God’s will and way about sex that is right for all of His image-bearers.

1. We must teach God’s creational design

If our sexualized culture is getting sex wrong, where do we go to get it right? We go to the Bible. God’s order and design for sexuality is clearly stated in the creation narrative (Gen. 1–2), reflected in the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 19:4–6), and maintained consistently throughout the Bible. God’s plan way back “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) reflects the way things are supposed to be. Because of humankind’s rebellion against God and fall into sin (Gen. 3), everything and everyone is broken. Because of sin, our default setting is to rebel against God’s good order and design for our sexuality. The cultural narrative is one of the great weapons of deception the enemy uses to steer our kids away from understanding God’s creational place and purpose for sex.

Our responsibility is to teach that God’s place for His good gift of sex is in marriage. God’s design and plan for marriage is that it is to be a committed, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual, physical union between one man and one woman.

God also has a purpose for giving this good and beautiful gift of sex to be shared and experienced only within the context of marriage. The purpose of sex as God has given it to us is to consummate and seal the marriage relationship between a man and a woman, to foster continued mutual intimacy, to enable mutual pleasure, to respond to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (procreation), and to reflect Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church (Eph. 5:22–33).

2. We must teach God’s design continually

Most of us who grew up in Christian homes had parents who struggled to know what, how, and when to teach us about sex. There was a kind of awkwardness that made “the sex talk” something to be anticipated and approached with fear and trepidation. Whether the talk lasted for only a few minutes or for a few hours, parents and kids both would breathe a sigh of relief at the end and think, “I’m glad that’s finally over with.” But don’t think about your responsibility to teach God’s design for sex as a one-and-done endeavor. Parenting in a sexualized culture requires us to speak early and often.

The early is necessitated by the fact that our kids are being catechized by a culture that speaks about sex in seemingly every medium. With kids seeing and hearing sexual messages beginning in their preschool years, we must remember this basic reality: whoever speaks first to a child about sex has set the bar for truth. In other words, everything else they hear in life will be judged against what they first heard. This means that for those of us raising older teens, while it might seem too late since they’ve already heard so much, we need to realize their desperate need for a proper biblical sex education.

The often is also necessitated by the fact that our kids are being catechized by a culture that speaks about sex incessantly. We must understand that “the talk” is never going to be enough. Rather, we need to engage in “the talking.” Helping kids navigate the sexualized culture is an ongoing activity rather than a once-and-done endeavor to simply check off our parenting list. And like anything else in life, the more we talk, the easier it becomes to keep on talking, and the more freedom our children will feel to come to us with their questions.

3. We must take advantage of 'cultural prompts'

If we were to summarize the culture’s narrative on sex, it might go like this: “When it comes to sex, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, however you want, with whomever you want.” As you spend time with your children and teens, you will be hearing and seeing countless messages that communicate the culture’s erroneous understanding of the place(anywhere) and purpose(personal pleasure) for sex. Television shows, movies, music, social media sites, billboards, advertisements, and news reports all communicate the culture’s narrative explicitly and implicitly. If you’re looking and listening, you can’t miss these messages. Point those messages out, using their presence as an opportunity for a teachable moment where you can teach discernment by thinking with your kids about what they’re seeing and hearing. Ask them a series of questions: What is being said here about sex? How does that message agree or disagree with God’s Word on sex? Is this a message I should believe, or a message that gets it wrong?

Parents, we not only want our kids to know where babies come from, but we want them to know the Divine Designer of sex and sexuality. Don’t leave their sex education to chance, thinking that one day they’ll get it all figured out. “Donnie” and our sexualized culture will step in by default. Continually remind them about the truth of the loving God who has made them and the truth about His good gift of sexuality.

This article was first published in Tabletalk, the Bible study magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Find out more at or subscribe today at

Dr. Walt Mueller is founder and president of The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, author of several books, including A Student’s Guide to Navigating Culture, and host of the podcasts Youth Culture Matters and Youth Culture Today.

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