Blog | Topic: Sin

13-Year-Olds, Smartphones, And Pornography. . .

Last night I finished reading Rachael Denhollander’s sobering book, What Is A Girl Worth?, which tells the story of her courageous leadership in exposing the systemic sexual abuse of young female athletes by Dr. Larry Nassar. I can’t recommend this book enough. For those of us who might be ignorant of the breadth, depth, and fallout from the epidemic of sexual abuse, this book is an eye-opener.

What many don’t know about Larry Nassar is that in addition to molesting hundreds of victims through his medical practice, he was also deeply addicted to pornography. Not only was he convicted on multiple accounts of sexual abuse, Nassar was also convicted of having over 37,000 images and videos of child pornography on his computer.

As we’ve worked to understand and respond here at CPYU to the growing glut of pornography that is accessible, affordable, and largely anonymous, we have learned that as with all types of human brokenness we need to respond with a three-fold strategy.

First, we need to be prophetic. . . bringing the light of God’s Word to bear on the realities that exist. What do the Scriptures say about the issue of broken sexuality and pornography? And, how do we talk about pornography with our kids? Second, we need to be preventive. What can we do as responsible adults. . . parents, teachers, youth workers, pastors, etc. . . . to build the borders and boundaries that will keep our kids and ourselves from undoing God’s good design for our sexuality through sin? And finally, we need to be redemptive. What steps should we take when we discover that a kid we know has wandered into the dangerous world of pornography? (Many have found Tim Chester’s book, Closing The Window: Steps To Living Porn Free, to be very helpful!). And by the way, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

I was reminded again this weekend of one of the most powerful preventive steps we can take to provide for our kids’ well-being while protecting them from harm. In an article in the November 2019 edition of First Things, “How To Regulate Pornography,” Terry Schilling writes these words: “A thirteen-year-old with a smartphone in 2019 has greater access to pornography than the most depraved deviant could have dreamed possible two decades ago. . . Not only has pornography become more accessible, it has become more diverse and perverse, as cultural vanguards and even mainstream institutions have promoted sexual fetishism as a new sort of societal norm, if not overtly, then with a wink and a nod.”

While Schilling is right about the difference between then and now, she does shoot a bit on her age estimation. The fact is that in today’s world, the tipping point where more than half of our kids have their own smartphone is now age 11. And what about those kids that have their own smartphones at the age of seven or eight?

We have to ask. . . If we really care about our kids and their well-being, why would we walk them by the hand right up to the doorway into online sexual brokenness by giving them access to the internet through their own smartphones?

If you would like to learn more about kids and pornography, you can download our FREE “Parent’s Primer On Internet Pornography” here. 

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A Woman’s Take On The Super Bowl Halftime Show And Human Dignity . . .

The conversation continues. . . and so it should. . . because these things do indeed matter. (Here’s what I wrote on Monday). And lest you think that all those who care are only singling out the few minutes and participants we saw on Sunday night, that’s not true. What we saw was a brief  and wide-open peek into a widely-held and fast-spreading cultural narrative that’s so deeply embedded in our world and ourselves that it is largely invisible. We know that’s the case for the simple reason that when it is brought to light, the push-back is that it doesn’t even exist. . . or if it does in fact exist, it just doesn’t matter.

I’ve been tracking with the back-and-forth on social media. This morning, I ran across some insightful and heart-felt words from my friend Mindy Summers. Mindy is a young wife and mother who six years ago began a ministry to people who are making a living in the sex-industry. The ministry is called “SoLoved.” Mindy and her team don’t desire any attention, and I asked her permission to share the focus of the ministry and her words. She says, “We are a team of women and men (prayer & security) who reach out to women here locally within the sex industry. Our entire goal is to build relationship & sisterhood with the ladies in the clubs. We want them to know they are loved, valued, seen & that we so enjoy who they are. Every month we bring gifts, homemade treats, handwritten love notes and homemade meals to each club. It has been a true honor & joy. Our vision statement is this: ‘Ministering to women in the sex industry, helping them see they are valued and dearly loved by Jesus, and believing for lasting freedom for their lives.’” Mindy and her team are living the Gospel.

Here’s what Mindy posted the day after the Super Bowl. Her words are filled with hope, truth, and compassion. . .

After I put my babies to bed tonight I ventured online to see this halftime show everyone was talking about…

As I watched two incredibly talented and beautiful women…my eyes welled up with tears.

This is the thing- I am not sheltered. I spend hours in strip clubs every month. Hours. I’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Our SoLoved team desires to build relationships with the precious women within the walls of these establishments. They are treasures. Most of them are there because of childhood trauma & abuse, lack of opportunity and/or manipulation or coercion. They didn’t dream of this. It isn’t empowering…it’s where they are and they are doing the best with what they’ve been dealt.

…and the men. The men who go…most of them are sorting out their own brokenness within these walls. Porn addiction, broken relationships, loneliness, power trips & addiction are many of their stories.

The supply for the USE of women is due to the demand. The demand is 100% fueled by a hyper sexualized culture.

This all seems expected within the walls of a strip club, right? Sad…but expected.

If that isn’t heartbreaking enough…this. Tonight on a Superbowl halftime show…two super talented women chose to share their God given talents with the football fans by pole dancing and thrusting with little clothes on. In front of the whole world. The moves, the poles, the song lyrics…the sex industry was glorified as empowering tonight.

Let me tell you. That is a LIE. These two ladies choose to shake their tails for the world to gawk at…but there is nothing empowering about women being the recipients of the onlooker’s sexual attention. They have body guards to walk them off the stage. Most women just get a can of mace.

We say we are tired of rape, sexual assault and young girls being told their body is what gives them value…BUT THEN we go and we INVOLVE YOUNG GIRLS in the very scene…at a football game…and the crowd goes wild & we clap and praise it.

So dear young girl-
I bet you are super confused. We tell you that YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. We tell you that what’s inside is what needs to shine. We tell you that you have a MIND AND A SOUL. We tell you to take self defense classes, carry mace, watch out for date rape and don’t let a guy pressure you. BUT THEN…we entertain you with pole dancing, thrusting, hyper sexualized lyrics & seductive facial expressions…and we clap for it.

We tell you that women can do anything. Women are equals. Then we bring out two influential women to entertain us…with what? Sex.

Don’t buy into the lie. Women do have minds. They also have self respect. The things that are done in bedrooms and inside strip clubs should never be performed on a stage for strangers and children to watch. And you know what…I’m sorry that this is how things are. You deserve a better world. A world where women are empowered and can use their God given talents in ways that don’t scream sex. Because again…that’s not why women are here.

So dear girl…be proud to be female & don’t for one second believe the lies. Keep offering your gifts to the world in meaningful ways. Be kind. Be a friend. Dance. Paint. Sing. Play. Lead. Learn. Grow. Serve. Think. Do hard things. Change the world.

Again- I’m sorry that you live in a day when you can’t watch a football game without hyper-sexualization. How sad for us…all of us.

I know there will be some who shrug me off as judgmental and want to rave about how talented these superstars are…and let me just say…yes I know they are talented. No doubt. As for the judgmental part- my heart is not out of judgement…but concern for young girls and the messages we are sending about women. God help us.

Thanks Mindy.

(If you’d like to contact Mindy directly, you can do so at solovedcontact@gmail.com)

Here’s a link to one of our favorite books for teenaged girls. . . all about where to find identity in today’s sexually-charged/image- conscious world. . . Face Time: Your Identity In A Selfie World.

To learn more about the pressures on our girls, listen to episode 82 of our Youth Culture Matters podcast here.

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Shakira, JLo, and The NFL… Thoughts On Halftime

I’m really not sure how to put into words the cascade of thoughts, confusion, concern, and sadness that began last night shortly after Shakira took the Super Bowl Halftime stage. . .  and which have continued up to this moment.

My years in youth ministry and culture-watching have, I hope, been marked by growing skills in both the exegesis and interpretation of Word and world. At least that’s what I have endeavored to move towards. And, I hope that the fruit of that journey has been an ability to develop some kind of discernment that might reflect a growing commitment on my part to things that are good, true, right and honorable. It’s a journey that I’m still on and one that I believe all followers of Christ are called to pursue. I say this purely as a precursor to sharing some thoughts sparked by my ongoing study of Word and world, specifically how that all played out in an unsettling manner between halves last evening.

In case you are tempted to miss the significance of last night’s halftime show, remember that culture is both a map and a mirror. It serves both directive and reflective purposes. As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live in the world. It’s an especially effective map when its pop culture forms are consumed by children and teens. . . who are in developmentally formative years which make them especially vulnerable to blindly following the maps with dedication and without question. What we watched last night was not at all benign. It served as a signpost pointing in a certain direction. As a mirror, last night reflected back to us our collective cultural heart. . . at least what the entertainment moguls desire and expect our collective heart to be. If we’re not all there yet, we at least know that our cultural leash is pulling us in that direction. As William Romanowski has written, “Culture refers to the way that we define and live in God’s world. It is a collection of ideals and beliefs, values and assumptions, that makes up a kind of master plan for living an interpreting life.” Last night that “master plan” played out on the halftime stage.

Rather than using this space to jump into a complete overview of the lives, careers, and worldview messages communicated through the entertainment brands known as Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, here are some thoughts prompted by last night’s cultural moment. . .

First, let’s never diminish or deny the reality of talent and where it ultimately comes from. We saw great talent on display last night. There were the players who have been given athletic talent. The performers. . . Yolanda Adams, Demi Lovato, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez. . . those ladies can all sing! There were dancers who have been given the ability to move. . . something that I’m totally void of myself! The list of talented people who went into making last night’s Super Bowl game and broadcast a reality is long. . . coaches, producers, owners, administrators, graphic artists, videographers, marketers, etc. . . . all of them incredibly gifted and talented. And lest we forget, when all of them develop and pursue their talent, they are imaging the God who made them by exercising their creativity. The result might not be God-glorifying, but the talent in and of itself always is. Which leads to the next thought. . .

Second, let’s never forget that talent always moves in a direction of glory and praise. Our creativity. . . whether in work, play, academics, or the arts. . . always points in a direction of glory and praise. When talent moves in a direction that promotes the beauty of human flourishing, it gives honor and glory to God. It serves as a signpost where human eyes are not invited to stop and stare, but where human eyes and the hearts they lead to look beyond the creation to the Creator. But when it invites us to settle on the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . then talent leads to the spread of cultural beliefs and behaviors that undermine our human flourishing and are ultimately idolatrous.

Third, we must endeavor to teach our kids how to discern media’s messages and maps. Here at CPYU, we’ve been relentless in our three-decade pursuit to help youth workers, parents, and kids alike learn how to process media critically and Christianly. Our popular tool to facilitate this is our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Media Evaluation Guide.

And this is where I jump off into my great concerns and sadness over what was mirrored to us last evening. . . and the map that was laid out before the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. My thoughts during the halftime show unfolded in a short series of three social media posts.

When the children came on stage I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t having children in this halftime show some kind of abuse?!?

A few minutes later I registered by dissatisfaction with Pepsi for their sponsorship of the halftime show: “I’m giving up Pepsi products.” And yes, I will be doing that.

And finally, I wrote these words: “I am currently reading Rachael Denhollander’s book, What Is A Girl Worth? I’m going to send copies to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.”

If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander’s story, she was one of the main victims and whistle-blowers over physician Larry Nassar’s systemic molestation and abuse of young girls. As I’ve read, I have been reminded of how women are objectified, trafficked, and abused. I couldn’t help but notice the great irony last evening, as we viewed multiple commercials and messages touting the value of women. All humans are divine image-bearers. . . and we are served well when cultural outlets remind us of the value of the marginalized. But there were the reminders of the dark under-belly of the Super Bowl. . . an event that is now recognized as one of the main hubs for sex-trafficking. . . so much so that the this year the state of Florida teamed up with the NFL for a “Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign.”And on the half-time stage, there were the lyrical and visual reminders of the fact that we embrace an expressive individualism largely void of sexual borders and boundaries. The hypocrisy and mixed messages were unavoidable.

What is a girl worth? Far more than we saw last night.

Rachael Denhollander shared this quote from C.S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he some idea of a straight line.” It’s a clear reminder of our need to focus on the straight line of God’s revealed will and way, and to view all of life. . . our own and our corporate human endeavor. . . through the lens of God’s Kingdom priorities.

Some have pushed back saying that to criticize Shakira and Lopez is not an option if you understand Latino culture. The reality is that all culture reflects and communicates deeply held values. And where those values stray from the straight line, we need to pray and humbly push for change. . . not for change that results in conformity to one’s own cultural preferences, but for change that leads to fully experiencing the freedom and joy of true human flourishing. The Gospel confronts all cultures and cultural expressions. . . yours, mine, and ours. Last night’s message to me, to you, to my grandchildren, to all of us. . . it was deeply troubling. We’ve been made for so much more.

This morning, I took the time to read and ponder the lyrics from last night’s set-list. I would encourage you to do the same. You will see the map.

One little line from Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” jumped out at me. . . “Put God first.” That’s a powerful directive.

Perhaps it was timely that this morning as I continued my journey through the One Year Book of Hymns, I read about Frances Ridley Havergal and a hymn she wrote on February 4, 1874. She wrote “Take My Life and Let It Be” as an expression of “the blessedness of true consecration.” As I read the text of this old familiar hymn (see below), I was struck by what it really means to “put God first.” It’s a complete reorientation of everything. I made a list of what Havergal included in her hymn: life, time, hands, feet, body, voice, mouth, money, mind, will, desires, heart, love. . . everything. . . “Take myself – and I will be/Ever, only, all for Thee/Ever, only, all for Thee.”

As we pursue that end, let’s make sure that it is the One true God, His will, and His way that we have in our sights.

  1. Take my life and let it be
    Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
    *Take my moments and my days,
    Let them flow in endless praise.
  2. Take my hands and let them move
    At the impulse of Thy love.
    Take my feet and let them be
    Swift and beautiful for Thee.
  3. Take my voice and let me sing,
    Always, only for my King.
    Take my lips and let them be
    Filled with messages from Thee.
  4. Take my silver and my gold,
    Not a mite would I withhold.
    Take my intellect and use
    Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
  5. Take my will and make it Thine,
    It shall be no longer mine.
    Take my heart, it is Thine own,
    It shall be Thy royal throne.
  6. Take my love, my Lord, I pour
    At Thy feet its treasure store.
    Take myself and I will be
    Ever, only, all for Thee.
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Preventing Sexual Abuse: 10 Questions to Ask Your Childcare Provider

The following questions are tools for evaluating the safety of your childcare options and preventing, to best of your ability, your child encountering sexualized behaviors or sexual abuse in a daycare setting. 40% of sexual assaults against children happen by other children (1). In addition to evaluating the daycare workers, an evaluation of the children your child will be surrounded by is a beneficial step in ensuring safety. Some of these questions will be more or less relevant depending on the child care setting. A simple rule of thumb is the greater the supervision and the lesser the amount of children (of the same age and size), the safer the environment.

1. Call the licensing body of the childcare provider/facility and ask about sexual misconduct allegations.

These cases are public record. It’s not enough to just ask the worker themselves (though we hope they wouldn’t lie). The licensing body is legally obligated to tell you if there have been allegations or convictions of the childcare entity you are considering. If you are considering a childcare provider who is not licensed, make sure to receive consent to conduct a background check.

2. What is the acceptable age range for children in your care?

Sexual abuse happens when one child imposes more detailed sexual information/behavior on a child from a position of power. Age, size, physical dominance, and developmental advancement all are forms of power that can open your child to potential risk.

3. Have your children ever exhibited harmful behaviors towards others?

This is a great question to ascertain your prospect childcare provider’s level of awareness. If they’re not sure what you mean by harmful behaviors or can’t think of much— that might be a red flag. Behaviors for you to keep in mind and potentially specifically ask about would be physical aggression (biting, scratching, kicking etc.), stealing, unwanted touching, sneaking in pornographic materials, discussing sexual content, urinating on others, inappropriate nudity, threats, coercion, intimidation, secrecy, or foul language/name calling.

4. Would you sign a release of information for me to interview your children’s teachers at school to evaluate if they have ever had aggressive or sexualized behaviors?

This is relevant for a childcare provider who stays home with his or her children and is offering to watch your children as well (an optimal childcare situation). This may seem invasive to some— a preface to the question detailing your intentions in asking for it might be helpful. You’re not trying to determine if they are a good parent or trying to learn personal information about their child. You’re simply assessing if the child has shown aggressive, or sexualized behaviors towards other children in school. A refusal to give a release would not necessarily be a deal breaker for me but it would go a long way in building rapport if they did. In the case of the childcare provider having a teenager who would be active in the care of my child, I would be more insistent on this point.

5. Describe what supervision means to you?

Are children always within line-of-sight? Can they play in the backyard/pool when you’re inside? Are children permitted to play in the bedroom with the door closed?

6. What are your beliefs regarding nudity?

What’s an acceptable amount between children? With adults and children? Every family has norms around nudity: is it okay for a two year old to run around completely nude? What about a four year old? Is it acceptable for boys to have their shirts off? What is the expected swimwear at their house? Do children ever bathe together? Do children use the bathroom or change together? Do they change diapers in front of others or privately? If your child soiled themselves what is their parodical for clean up? It’s good to ensure you are aligned on these points.

7. What avenues are there for children to access the internet? What are the blocks and parameters?

Children’s access to inappropriate media or pornography can be a highly influential factor in sexualized behavior. Children act out and dramatize what they are exposed to through pretend play— it’s important to know what the children are exposed to.

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Ask about phone time, youtube, the apps on the tv, computers, iPads— get a handle on all the potential devices available in the home. Do children ever use devices unsupervised?

8. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with a child? What did you do?

Some examples might be a four year old child that wants to give open mouth kisses to every adult they see, a child looking through other people’s drawers, touching fragile objects, or wanting to snuggle in bed, or a child using profane language around other kids. Have their been times the child-care provider set a boundary with a child and how did they handle that? You’re looking for awareness around domains such as personal space, topics of conversation, conflict resolution, and authority.

9. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with an adult in regards to your children? What did you do?

This is valuable information. Does the daycare provider have awareness around children and other adults? Relevant topics would be personal space, inappropriate conversation, and discipline. Was there a time another adult tried to inappropriately discipline one of your children/children in your care? Was there a time an adult was using inappropriate language or talking about sexual topics in front of your child/ children in your care? What did you do? Can the childcare provider assert themselves and handle the conflict implicit in asserting boundaries with another adult?

10. What would you do if you witnessed sexual behaviors between children?

Daycare workers should have an understanding of what constitutes normal and problematic sexualized behavior (see “Was that sexual abuse? Or was that normal?”). Assessing the level of insight he or she has in regards to handling crisis situations is useful in knowing if you can trust this person to protect your child.

Bonus:

Ask for a list of 3 references of families who have left their children in the daycare provider’s care. When speaking to those references ask if there were ever any instances of aggressive or sexualized behavior. Did you feel they were adequately supervised or were there times the kids were off on their own? Was there access to pornography or inappropriate media? What was the discipline like? Ask questions regarding the content in the above questions to the point where you/they feel comfortable.

With these questions you will be able gather relevant information needed to promote your child’s safety.

1. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.


Matthias Barker is completing his masters in clinical mental health counseling at Northwest University and is currently practicing at Lutheran Community Services fulfilling his internship. Matthias is working towards specialization in treating children who have undergone severe abuse as well as men recovering from childhood abuse. Before pursuing a counseling career Matthias held pastoral positions at various churches serving as a youth pastor and college internship coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys making ceramic, collecting house plants, and cooking BBQ. Matthias and his wife Paige live in Spokane, WA.

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Was That Sexual Abuse? Or Was That Normal?

It is difficult to determine the line between normal sexual exploration and harmful abuse. I see clients at an agency that specializes in treating children who have survived sexual abuse or have perpetrated against others. 40% of sexual assaults against children happen by other children (1). How does an individual rightly categorize the two when they encounter a nebulous situation?

Here’s a common question we receive at intake:

“They (two children) were playing in the bedroom/pool/backyard— I walked in and I saw them doing _______. Is that normal?”

I have also had conversations with youth pastors and para-church workers who, after witnessing an awkward/disturbing event, were not sure whether to call CPS, the child’s parents, a therapist, or if they should try and handle the situation themselves. There is a tremendous need for an educated understanding of what constitutes normal sexual behavior between children: studies have shown that 40-85% of children will engage in some form of sexual behavior before the age of 13 (2) (3). Children need caring adults who know how to respond.

So let’s start with an important question: what is normal? Is there such a thing as normal sexual exploration and play? Then let’s look at a criteria by which we can evaluate if sexual behavior is harmful or constitutes abuse.

Imagine you’re a kid and your parents tell you to cover up your toes at all times. “It’s inappropriate to show other people your toes…your toes belong to you and no one else… never touch anyone’s toes until you’re married.”

You would think that is pretty strange, right? You might even be curious as to why everyone is so worried about covering up their toes. Come to think of it… you have never really even seen anyone else’s toes.

What would you do?

Perhaps it’s in your personality to be cautious of this kind of thing. The idea of trying to sneak a peek at other’s toes seems pretty out there. Or maybe you’re more curious and you and your friends agree to trade peeks and see what the fuss is all about. Their toes look sorta like yours. Interesting.

Then you hear that the opposite gender’s toes look entirely different than yours— this is world changing news! You must see for yourself.

What kinds of behaviors would be typical of a kid who is curious about forbidden toes? What kinds of behaviors would be odd or indicate that the motive goes beyond innocent curiosity?

Prepubescent children do not experience eroticism in the same way adults do. Children, however, do have all the sexual hardware built in from birth and experience a broad range of pleasure sensations from the nerves on their genitalia. It is not uncommon for children to experience sexual arousal and even orgasm (while this has been observed in children even as early as the womb, sensations such as orgasm take place more typically when approaching puberty (7)). This pleasure, however, is not integrated into the same categories as adults have— children do not have a drive to seek sexual gratification (2). In the child’s mind, genitals are similar to toes. It’s a body part that sometimes feels good, sometimes tickles and sometimes hurts. Through this lens, it seems reasonable and even normal that children might peek, poke, and dramatize what they’ve heard about grown-up behavior. This exploratory play will normally be engaged in mutually and voluntarily, with kids of similar age, size, and developmental status, and be limited in type and frequency (2).

Part of how children learn is through acting out behavior in pretend play. So in addition to curiosity (peeking, and poking), behaviors might include dramatizations of topics such as how babies are made, going to the doctor, or playing house (to name a few). The play will reflect the level of detail they understand about a particular domain (2). Playing house might include a mommy and daddy lying in a bed under the covers— that might even include being partially or fully nude (depending on what they have heard about how babies are made). Kids often go to the doctor and are occasionally asked to undress for inspection of genitalia— this might be acted out in play. Normal sexual play will be driven by curiosity (as apposed to pleasure seeking) and reflect the low detail understanding that would be expected of a child who has not engaged in adult sexual activity (2).

Now when does that play become harmful or abuse? Abuse happens when one child imposes a significantly more detailed sexual experience upon another child from a position of power.

Power can occur on multiple levels— let’s break it down into three categories:

Knowledge power: Children who have been previously exposed to pornography or adult sexual behavior have an adult-level education regarding sexual behaviors. It’s not uncommon for a child who has been sexually traumatized by another to then at- tempt to regain their lost power by acting out sexually with other children in order to feel in control over their past experiences (2).

Physical power: Is one child older than the other? Does one of the children have a developmental delay or disability? Is one child larger in size (even if younger) and therefore have more physical dominance? Was there threat of harm made such as wrestling, pinning down, blocking an exit, or did one child have a weapon (2)?

Social power: Does one child have an authoritative status over the other child such as being the baby-sitter or being an older sibling? Children look up to people they admire, even if that person is not in authority over them. Is one child more socially outcast or isolated than the other? If so, the threat of, “I won’t play with you unless you ____,” is a lot more weighty (2). Were there manipulative social exchanges such as coercion, a bribe, or persuasion to keep a secret (2)?

With these dynamics in mind, let’s look at a few test cases and determine if the situation would constitute normal or abnormal sexual behavior and explore what next steps could be. After, we’ll look at a model to help us respond to circumstances like these that protects both the children’s safety and mental health.

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Situation #1(8)

Two seven year olds appear to be playing doctor and have disrobed down to their underwear. They yell at Mom when she enters their bedroom and tell her they are doing “private things”.

Take a moment and assess what we know thus far: is this normal or advanced sexual behavior? Is there knowledge power at play? “Private things,” could mean a lot of different things. When we as adults think of “private things,” we can fill our imagination with all sorts of sexual possibilities. But think of what the child experiences when they go to the doctor: the door is shut, they’re asked to disrobe, and the doctor might even explain his actions as, “protecting privacy.” This is not necessarily problematic behavior, but let’s continue to assess.

Is there physical power? Let’s say the children were the same age, size, and neither had developmental delays/disabilities. What we don’t know yet is if there was threat or coercion.

Is there social power? There is no status difference or coercion that we’re aware of.

What are possible next steps?

While the behavior does not necessarily look harmful, there is more information we need to gather to insure each child’s safety. We also do not want to needlessly alarm the children and cast shame by falsely accusing them. Without judgment or a tone of voice that would sound like anger, perhaps we start with a clarification that there are no “private things” that we keep from mommy. What happens next could be a list of questions or simply an announcement that mom is going to begin folding laundry in the room with them and they should continue playing their game. If they continue to play, mom can then offer coaching and feedback on what kinds of activities are appropriate and inappropriate. Playing doctor and listening for a heartbeat is fine but clothing should stay on. If the children begin to look ashamed, nervous, and want to leave the room, then more questions could take place to ensure that both children were safe and nothing dangerous was taking place.

When adults happen upon children engaging in nude or sexual play, the response from the adult has massive implications for how the child thinks about the event. I speak to adults all the time that were traumatized as children not by the sexual exploratory play, per-say, but by a teacher’s or parent’s stigmatizing accusation or fearful/hostile reaction (“pervert, what’s wrong with you! Stop being nasty!”). For children, reactions such as this produce shame, guilt, and the feeling that something is wrong with them. Rather than feeling the freedom to ask questions and seek understanding about these behaviors, they’re often avoided and transformed into feelings of self-hate.

Situation 2:

A nine year old boy plays with seven year old developmentally delayed boy. Father walks in the room to find both boys under the covers nude. When asked what was happening, both boys say, “nothing,” but the seven year old is in tears. The seven year old goes home and tells his mother that the nine year old asked him to put his mouth on the nine year old’s penis. The seven year old agreed to do this.

Is there knowledge power at play? Certainly. Oral stimulation is not a behavior that will naturally arise out of the child’s imagination. It is always a learned behavior and constitutes harmful sexual play for two children. Even if neither child ultimately told an adult what they were doing under the blanket, the seven year old crying upon being caught is a good indicator that the play was problematic.

Was there physical power? The nine year old in both age, size and developmental status has power over the seven year old.

Was there social power? We saw secrecy in hiding under the blanket and immediately lying upon being caught. We don’t know whether there was coercion or a bribe. Neither child was a baby-sitter or older sibling but the nine year old might have been given the responsibility watch out for the seven year old given his age and developmental status. The seven year old may have more limited play mates and be more socially vulnerable. There certainly seems to be social power at play.

What would be some good next steps?

Again, it’s not uncommon to be surprised and respond negatively to seeing a child doing something resembling adult sexual behavior. You may feel an impulse to shout, shut down, panic, cry, or leave quickly (2)— let’s look at some responses that we should avoid. From our observations, it is clear this constitutes harmful sexual behavior. However, disciplining or lecturing either child would not be a good step after learning this information. The nine year old seems to be in possession of information he doesn’t know what to do with (the advanced sexual education of oral-stimulation). It is likely that he learned this behavior either from media or an experience he had with another person. He might even be the victim of abuse that hasn’t been brought to light and is confused about this behavior. While his actions were harmful, it might not have been intended to be devious or malicious behavior.

Simply separating the children and ignoring the behavior would be destructive as well: it is likely the children were disturbed by the event that just took place and are feeling shame, fear, or guilt. Without healthy integration of this information and the under- standing of when it is harmful to exhibit this behavior, there is a chance of repeat perpetration.

So what should we do? In the moment, a very calm, nonjudgemental and matter-of-fact tone is best to start asking simple questions and gathering information of what just took place. After hearing what they are willing to disclose, respond with appreciation and positive affirmation for telling the truth.

In the case where they say, “nothing,” stating what you objectively saw would be helpful. “I saw that you both were under the blanket naked. Tell me more about what you were doing.”

If there were any signs of blood, vomiting or if you witnessed penetration, a trip to the emergency room would be your next step. Assuming the situation was as described, after the children’s disclosure, a simple statement about your house rules for this be- havior would be appropriate (without going into a lecture). Perhaps ending with a short statement like, “our house rules are there so that everyone is safe.” It would be best, then, to take your child’s friend home and explain to their parents what you saw. No need to interpret what happened, just a simple calm explanation of what you saw/ heard is adequate.

The first conversation with your child might be intimidating. Starting with love and gentle comfort would be an excellent first reaction. No need to discipline— a simple, “I’m sorry that was scary/confusing for you, I love you and am not mad at you,” is a great start. Follow this by stating what you saw objectively and see if they have any questions. Simple instruction around what that behavior is and when it is appropriate/inappropriate is optimal. If they don’t respond, tell them that you’re open to talking about this experience when they’re ready. No need to interrogate them. You might be thinking, “Okay, no discipline— but how do I make sure this doesn’t happen again? How do I make sure he knows this was wrong?”

Calling a therapist who specializes in “maladaptive sexual behavior” or “problematic sexual behavior” should be the next step. The therapist can adequately evaluate the situation, determine if the authorities need to be contacted and give advice in parenting through these kinds of experiences. The job of a parent is to be supportive and offer stability and love as the child integrates that experience into how they think about themselves, sexuality, and others for years to come (2).

Each potential situation presents unique intricacies that are beyond the scope of this blog to comprehensibly cover. For further information on this topic, see the recommended reading below. Regardless of the circumstance, using the following steps can be a useful tool in keeping children safe and responding to sexualized behaviors:

Assess:

  • Was there knowledge power?
  • Was there physical power?
  • Was there social power?

Respond:

  • In a calm, matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone, ask what’s happening or state what you objectively see.
  • Make steps to keep children safe (separate and/or seek first-aid if needed).
  • Comfort, gather information, and create opportunity for questions.
  • Contact therapist/authorities

For more reading:Understanding Children’s Sexual Behaviors: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson

Sources:

1. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.

2. Gil, E., & Johnson, T. C. (1993). Sexualized children: Assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest. Rockville, MD: Launch Press.

3. Albert B., Brown, S., & Flanagan, C. E. (2003). 14 and younger: The sexual behavior of young teenagers (summary). Washington D.C.: national Campaign to Present Teen Pregnancy.

4. Pereda, N., Guilera, G., Forns, M., & Gómez-Benito, J. (2009). The prevalence of child sexual abuse in community and student samples: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 29(4), 328-338.

5. Fehrenbach, P.A., Smith, W., Monastersky, C., & Deisher, RW. (1986). Adolescent sex offenders: Offender and offense characteristics. American Journal of Orthopsy- chiatry, 56(2), 225-233.

6. Hunter, J.A., Figueredo, A.J., Malamuth, N.M., & Becker, J. (2003). Juvenile sex of- fenders: Toward the development of a typology. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Re- search & Treatment, 15(1), 27-48. doi: 10.1177/107906320301500103.

7. Johnson, T. C. , & Mitra, R. (2007). A retrospective study of children’s (twelve and younger) sexual behaviors. Unpublished manuscript.

8. The following scenarios are adapted with minor changes from Gil & Johnson, 1993.


Matthias Barker is completing his masters in clinical mental health counseling at Northwest University and is currently practicing at Lutheran Community Services fulfilling his internship. Matthias is working towards specialization in treating children who have undergone severe abuse as well as men recovering from childhood abuse. Before pursuing a counseling career Matthias held pastoral positions at various churches serving as a youth pastor and college internship coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys making ceramic, collecting house plants, and cooking BBQ. Matthias and his wife Paige live in Spokane, WA.

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What’s The Big Deal With Pornography!?!

This blog was adapted from the first episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

There is a story that is being worked out around us and within us. In Genesis 1 and 2 we find God made all things and made them good. The very beginning of scripture reveals this truth. “God saw all that He had made and it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31.

But the story also includes humankind’s rebellion, which resulted in all things being broken and distorted. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. . .” – Genesis 3:6-7

We are broken people living out a broken and distorted sexuality. 

This truth must not escape us. It is especially important for us to remember as we dive deep into the issues surrounding pornography. There is a constant battle for what God declared as good and what satan does to distort and bring destruction. 

Pamela Paul writes in her book pornified: “The pornification of American culture is not only reshaping entertainment, advertising, fashion, and popular culture, but it is fundamentally changing the lives of more Americans, in more ways, than ever before. We are living in a pornified culture and we have no idea what this means for ourselves, our relationships, our society.” Porn surrounds us 24/7. Some of it is undercover and hidden while some of it lurks out in the open. It is easy to say as a culture and even individually we have become desensitized to some of the images and content that we now consider common and accept it by saying “it’s just the way it is.” 

This is the reality of the world we now inhabit.

The average age of first exposure to pornography is now 11 years old. For many years it was 12 years old but with the advent of the smart phone we are finding that there is a correlation between first time smart phone ownership and pornography exposure. Parents please don’t let this pass by you. Smartphones are the place where first time exposure happens the most and setting up healthy boundaries before they ever get the phone is important! 

But we need to also pay attention to who pornographers target most. Historically, we’ve thought children 12-17 were the targets of most of their advertising. But that is not true. Yes, they are the largest group viewing pornography but not whom they target most. That group belongs to boys ages 5-9! Please note: This is not because they are sexually aroused by the material but because they are curious about the human body.  

Going just a step further, in 2015, 32% of teens admitted to intentionally accessing nude or pornographic content online. Of these, 43% do so on a weekly basis.

Finally, by age 18 over 90% of boys and over 60% of girls have been exposed to online pornography.

Which requires us to say this – the porn epidemic is not only a “guy issue.” Girls ages 18-25 are the fastest growing group of those looking at pornography.

At this point in the conversation, it’s crucial that we take the time to actually define pornography. We can think we are talking about the same thing and realize how one person defines porn might not be the same as the next person. Therefore, being on the same page is important. 

Let’s start with a couple of definitions for adults. We really like the way Tim Chester in his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living a Porn Free Life defines porn – “Anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification, or escape – whether it was intended for that purpose or not.”

Focus on the word ANYTHING. Sometimes we try to fit pornographic images or writing into a box but this definition says ANYTHING, which means it might be different from one person to the next but it is clear about its intent.

One other definition to discuss comes from Harvest USA – They say pornography is “anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts or corrupts the human heart into desiring sexual pleasure in sinful ways.”

Obviously these definitions might not make sense to your kids, especially if they are younger. When trying to share what pornography is with younger kids, consider these key points: First, let your children know that pornography includes pictures of people without clothes on. Second, it may make you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or sick to your stomach (might also say words like “gross” or “weird”). On the flip side it may also feel exciting – which can be very confusing to have both feelings at the same time – but it is possible!

Now that we’ve defined pornography, let’s talk about how it negatively effects us. Researchers are finding that pornography influences more than just behavior. Pornography also reshapes the brain, breaks down relationships and has an impact on the community.

Pornography Harms The Brain

Studies have found that exposure to pornography between 9 and 13 is linked to high-risk behaviors. This is mostly due to how the brain processes the information it receives and an inability to separate fantasy and reality as it relates to sexuality. 

Watching porn lays down new neural-pathways in your brain. The more you use, the stronger the neural-connections and the more difficult it is to stop. This means your brain can actually begin to rewire itself causing an individual who habitually looks at pornography to get lost in the fantasy.

It Destroys Relationships

In real life, real love requires a real person. Research found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves less in love with their partner than men who did not see any porn. On top of that, another study found that after being exposed to pornographic images, people were more critical of their partner’s appearance. 

Several studies also show that partners of porn users often report feeling loss, betrayal, mistrust, devastation, and anger when they learn that the other half of their committed relationship has been using porn. Many even show physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Porn is a product. It makes you miss out on the best parts of actual relationships. 

It Impacts Community 

So often we can think of pornography only really impacting the user. But that causes us to forget the impact on family, friends, spouses, significant others, and on and on. It also does not take into account those who create and participate in making pornography. Their own experiences are often flooded with drugs, diseases, rape, and abuse. Many victims of sex trafficking are used to film pornography. 

Porn’s reach has gone beyond the magazine and dingy store fronts. It is all around us and it is having a dramatic impact.

One last thing:

If porn is seen by kids it is important to let them know this should never be kept secret. For more on secrets and surprises please be sure to check out the third episode of DriveTime, Series 1.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

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2 Lies The Church Tells Us About Porn

This blog was adapted from the fourth episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

The culture is full of many lies when it comes to pornography and sadly, so too is the church. And not because of anything they do on purpose. It’s with good intent but a lack of knowledge or willingness that the church can sometimes communicate something it doesn’t plan or hope to share.

How we speak about, engage, and tackle this issue communicates what we believe about not just pornography but all of sex and sexuality. That is why it’s important for us to discuss the issues surrounding pornography with honesty both in our homes and in our church. 

Please be aware – even though we are speaking about the church we recognize it’s dangerous to say this is true for every church because it’s not. These are simply lies that have taken place in some churches and have in some way made it into our larger lexicon of beliefs surrounding this subject. The majority of churches are doing great work around the issue of pornography. 

We must be vigilant when it comes to any lie that either the culture or the church shares. Our goal must be to point back to the creation story and God’s ultimate plan as the sex-maker.

Lie 1: Everyone Who Looks at Porn is Addicted

Not everyone who watches pornography will become immediately enslaved. Sometimes we hear from parents who worry their child will become an addict after being exposed a few times. Too often, as fear and shame enters the parent-child relationship, it can make the problem worse by creating distance and isolation. While we are looking at how to navigate the pitfalls of pornography, we have to also recognize that those who fall into porn are not “bad” people, and not all people who are exposed become addicted.

The desire to watch porn arises, in part, from simply being a sexual human being. It’s true that science and research are showing the harms of viewing pornography, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically ruin their lives and turn every person who watches into a hopeless porn junkie. 

Here is a legitimate question. Do we as Christian leaders interchange the words habit and addiction without meaning so? Understanding the difference between habit and addiction is extremely important. Especially as it relates to how one engages pornography. One noticeable difference between habit and addiction is the amount of effort and time required to change the behavior. Altering habits require minimal effort, time, and attention. On the other hand, addiction often demands an integrative, long-term plan to treat negative physical, social, and spiritual symptoms like withdrawal, as well as the emotional disconnect between body and behavior.

As a human being, you are naturally drawn to habitual patterns because repetition creates familiarity and comfort. Positive habits can even become tools of survival. Sometimes, however, habitual behaviors take a dark turn and develop into addictions. Recovery requires that you honestly assess your behavior and how it is affecting your health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.

Someone who habitually watches porn is dramatically different than someone who is addicted to porn.

When trying to assess your son or daughter’s pornography use, it can help to hear some of the warning signs of porn addiction. These include:

  • Being consumed with thoughts of porn even when they are not actively viewing it.
  • Viewing porn on a smartphone, iPad, and/or iPod during school, work, or in social situations where you might be seen.
  • Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed about their porn viewing.
  • Continuing to watch porn despite any harm it has had, is having, or may have on their relationships, school, work, or home life.
  • Early onset of sexual activity. 
  • Getting upset when asked to stop using porn.
  • Losing track of time when viewing porn.
  • Trying and failing to quit.

If you thought you observed more than three or four of these warning signs in your son or daughter it would be good to seek professional help. Most times, however, what we observe in church could be described as a habit, which requires the breaking of a custom or norm. 

Lie 2: I Am The Only One That Struggles With Pornography

Silence, unfortunately, is something the church can do quite well. As the number of those who struggle with pornography increase, along with an ever-growing number of individuals who experience other forms of sexual brokenness, it is unfortunate the church as a whole doesn’t engage the issues surrounding sex and sexuality more often.

There are a variety of reasons for this silence. We think it’s our own pasts and sexual baggage that keeps us silent, and dealing with sexual brokenness in our life and the lives of others is messy so we avoid it. I also think we don’t have a complete understanding of God’s grand design as the sex-maker, or maybe we simply just want to pretend everything is okay. Staying silent may seem easier than addressing these issues. 

Think about what this silence breeds. It can make people believe that their struggle is unique and that no one else has this same issue. This can make them retreat and cause shame to grow. 

And remember shame communicates, “I AM A MISTAKE” where as guilt communicates “I MADE A MISTAKE”. Those are dramatically different statement. So its important to recognize silence can make people believe they are not valuable. 

Adolescence is a period of life spent at the crossroads. It’s a time marked by overwhelming change, numerous questions, and a search for answers. But the crossroads where they stand are anything but quiet and desolate. Not sure which direction to take, our children and teens are presented with an abundance of confusing options. The noise can be deafening. Perhaps the signposts they choose to follow are the ones that are most attractive, loud and convincing in response to their unspoken teenage cry of ”Show me the way!” This is why we need to be absolutely clear when we talk to our kids about sex and sexuality. This includes our conversations surrounding pornography. Silence should never be an option.

There is a reason our kids are drawn to the naked human body – they were created to desire this. But there is a plan and a place where God has prepared for us to experience this desire – in the covenantal marriage relationship and we should be speaking this at every intersection along the way!


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

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3 Lies The Culture Tells Us About Porn

This blog was adapted from the third episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

The culture is full of stories of how porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Pornography used to exist in the dirt and dark shadows of society and culture. While it existed, there were commonly held standards and societal safeguards that kept it at the fringes and out of the mainstream. But that has all changed in a relatively short period of time. 

It’s no longer a matter of if you will see pornography…it’s only a matter of when. Those long held standards and safeguards have declined to nothing. Accessibility, affordability, and anonymity have all played a factor in making porn readily and easily available.

50 years ago, you had to interact with someone to personally purchase or secure pornography by buying it at quick mart or seven eleven. 35 years ago you could rent a VHS tape from a rental store. Both required you to stand before someone and make a purchase. 

Today technology allows someone to access pornography from their fingertips without ever having someone know, and the supply is unlimited. Type “XXX” into google you will get well over a billion results. 

Never before has pornography been so accessible and it also doesn’t cost you anything. Most of it is available for free online. 80%-90% of what is accessed is free material. All of which can be done sitting alone in your home while hiding your identity.

Because of this unlimited accessibility, our perceptions of pornography have changed. As society changes its standards and established safeguards, so too does our perception of pornography. 

Lie 1: Porn Doesn’t Hurt Anyone.

The truth is that the pornography industry regularly exploits the women and children they use in the making of their content.

In their analysis of over 80 million child pornography images since 2002, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that 1 out of every 6 runaways reported in 2016 were likely sex-trafficking victims. This means these children were likely involved in either the adult entertainment industry (pornography) or sex trafficking.

These statistics also reveal many “porn stars” are involved against their own will. A common practice is to “groom” women through online ads luring them to serve in an escort service. A trafficker or “madam” (female leader of trafficking victims) then continues to push the victim toward a one-time role and then ongoing role in prostitution, pornography filming or a combination of these practices.

And the problem does not stop outside the doors of the church.

Most pastors (57 percent) and youth pastors (64 percent) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past, the Barna Group reported in a 2016 study. “Overall, 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn.” More than 1 in 10 youth pastors (12%) and 1 in 20 pastors (5%) said they are addicted.

Lie 2: Porn Helps Increase Sex Drive and Sex Life.

First, pornography distorts your view of sex and sexuality. We must remember that sex is a GOOD thing created by God to experience and share with each other within the boundaries of lifelong, exclusive, covenantal marriage. Sex is a means to foster marital intimacy for mutual pleasure and for procreation.

Pornography takes all that and turns it into something entirely separate from this plan. Sex is seen as purely physical – void of intimacy, closeness, oneness, relationship, and commitment. It’s all about the mechanics of what you get, rather than what you give. It also teaches that sex is primal, hormone-driven, and conquest-driven. 

Second, it SUPER-SIZES sexual expectations. Women are taught to behave like porn stars, men are taught to be aggressive in their pursuit, and sexual perversions are normalized. What was once disturbing is now tame, normal, and acceptable. We become conditioned to act outside of our God-ordained destiny as it relates to sex.

Lie 3: Porn Doesn’t Have a Lasting Impact.

First, Pornography causes an earlier onset of sexual activity in our children. In one study it showed an association between pornography use and increased acceptance of behaviors such as; premarital sex, casual sex, multiple sexual partners, cohabitation, premarital pregnancy, and substance abuse.

Second, it can lower an individual’s libido. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California found a rare positive correlation between porn watching and libido. Couple this with an increase in erectile dysfunction in recent years in otherwise healthy young men, and it is largely thought that excessive porn use was the most likely the factor at play.

Finally, let us not forget how it hijacks the brain. There is legitimate scientific research and evidence coming out all the time that shows how pornography is harmful to the brain. We’re seeing more evidence about porn’s capability to change how the brain functions. Neuroscientific studies show that repeatedly viewing porn causes the brain to literally rewire itself. It triggers the brain to pump out chemicals and form new nerve pathways, leading to profound and lasting changes in how one sees sex, enters relationships, and engages with both.

These lies remind us of the importance of healthy discussions we have surrounding pornography in the home. It’s a good thing to talk about pornography because it’s one of the greatest threats to the spiritual and relational health of ourselves and our children. It’s an unfortunate thing because it’s so pervasive and enticing in today’s world. The statistics tell us this, our own experience tells us this,  common sense tells us this, and the sheer number of stories we see, hear, and find ourselves in tell us this. 

But here is the fortunate part, you and I have the opportunity to talk about God’s good gift of sex as the sex-maker with our children.


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

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Teen Vogue: Inviting Teens To Legitimize Sex Work

Teen Vogue magazine is not longer available in print, but it continues to pump out content in its’ free online format. In other words, it’s accessible. The target audience is girls between the ages of twelve to seventeen. Of course, there are those outside of the target (both younger and older) who access the content online.

Owned by Conde Nast, the magazine’s mission and purpose is stated this way. . . “Teen Vogue is the young person’s guide to saving the world. We aim to educate, enlighten and empower our audience to create a more inclusive environment (both on-and offline) by amplifying the voices of the unheard, telling stories that normally go untold, and providing resources for teens looking to make a tangible impact in their communities.”

Recently, Teen Vogue’s efforts to “educate, enlighten and empower” impressionable kids included an op-ed piece by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng of South Africa’s Nalane for Reproductive Justice entitled, “Why Sex Work Is Real Work.” This is not a joke.

In the piece. . . which for the life of me I can’t even imagine why it was included in a magazine for kids. . . Mofokeng argues that sex work (prostitution, sex trafficking, etc.) should be decriminalized globally. She ridiculously argues first that since as a medical doctor she is involved in advising patients on sexual health for payment, she is a sex worker herself. She even asks, “And in some ways, aren’t we all?”  She continues, “Sex workers must be affirmed through upholding and the protection of their human rights to autonomy, dignity, fair labor practices, access to evidence-based care. It is for this and many other reasons that I believe sex work and sex worker rights are women’s rights, health rights, labor rights, and the litmus test for intersectional feminism.”

Mofokeng lets her young readers know that sex work is something that can be legitimately bought and sold. . . “So, what exactly is sex work? Not all sex workers engage in penetrative sex, though, undeniably, that is a big part of sex work. Sex-worker services between consenting adults may include companionship, intimacy, nonsexual role playing, dancing, escorting, and stripping. These roles are often pre-determined, and all parties should be comfortable with them. Many workers take on multiple roles with their clients, and some may get more physical while other interactions that may have started off as sexual could evolve into emotional and psychological bonding. The clients who seek sex workers vary, and they’re not just men. The idea of purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people who need human connection, friendship, and emotional support. Some people may have fantasies and kink preferences that they are able to fulfill with the services of a sex worker.”

While the inclusion of the piece in a teen magazine and the reasoning of the piece may seem to you to be morally reprehensible and horribly flawed, think again. Sure, for those of us who hold to a world view that values God-given human dignity, believes in freedom through the embrace of our full humanity as rooted in the image of God, and believes that the pursuit of sexual shalom is God’s life-giving will and way. . . well, the op-ed piece is a mark of our continued slide into the insanity of moral schizophrenia. But for those who are growing up in our brave new world built on a foundation of expressive individualism, this is nothing more than an accepted and logical conclusion. Ultimately, we’ve lost our collective mind.

So what should we do with this?

If you are a youth worker, I’d be making parents aware of the piece in Teen Vogue, along with its’ larger moral context. I’d also be letting parents know that even if their kids never access Teen Vogueor read this particular piece, they are engaging with peers who are steeped without thought or critique in this kind of believing and behaving. It will be communicated, lived, and rubbing off in the course of daily life. This is simply the way it is. So, parents must be processing this with their kids in age-appropriate ways.

Which leads to my next bit of advice. . . we must grasp the fact that this is certainly not the way its’ supposed to be. God’s good gift of sexuality is being distorted and denigrated in a variety of ways. What was once unthinkable is now normalized. But that doesn’t mean that normal is or should be acceptable.  We must communicate the truth about sex, sexuality, sexual immorality, and sexual trafficking (both that which is willing, and that which is forced).

I have been wondering when the bottom would fall out on the foundational commonly-held belief that sexual trafficking is despicable and must be undone. Sadly, Teen Vogue is making me wonder if we taken the first horrible step in the direction of the abyss. This is not what it means “to save the world.”

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Lies The Church Tells Us About Sex

This blog post was adapted from Episode 5 of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

Just like our culture, the church also tells us many lies about sex. It’s important we say upfront that not every church is guilty of these and many no longer speak in the terms that we share below. However, we must be aware of each of them because they can have an impact on the way we engage, and ultimately, the way we share the message of sexual integrity with our children. It’s also important to remember that these lies, if not corrected, can actually strip away the authority we are trying to garner as parents.

We must be vigilant when it comes to any lie that either our culture or the church shares. Pointing back to the creation story and God’s ultimate plan as the sex-maker must always be our goal.

Lie #1: Having sex before marriage will make you feel horrible.

As someone that had sex from age 16 till 21, I (Jason) must say that it was full of pleasure. Did I, at times feel guilt? For sure. As a Christian, I believe the work of the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my actions. But it wasn’t until I was fully surrendered to Jesus that any of this began to change. This happened when I recommitted my life to the Lord, and I officially made the decision to start over.  Although I’d heard one thing in the church, and knew something different by experience, I chose to continue growing in my faith.However, I’ve had several friends that made the opposite decision after having sex. For the longest time, they were told that if they had sex before marriage that they would regret it and definitely wouldn’t enjoy it. But you know what? They enjoyed it!And it wasn’t too long after when they began asking questions about their faith. They would say things like, “if I was told this was bad and that I wouldn’t enjoy it but I did…well, what else is the church lying to me about?” Yes, I know this can sound silly, but it does happen.

“When people aren’t hearing the truth about sex, they will seek answers somewhere else.” – Tweet this

Adolescence is a period of life spent at the crossroads. It’s a time marked by overwhelming change, numerous questions, and searching for answers. But these crossroads are anything but quiet and desolate. Not sure which direction to take, our children and teens are presented with an abundance of confusing options and the noise can be deafening. Perhaps the signposts they choose to follow are the ones that are most attractive, loud, and convincing in response to their unspoken teenage cry of ”Show me the way!” This is why we need to be absolutely clear when we talk about sexual integrity.

Lie #2: Marriage will somehow solve all your problems.

Porn addiction…don’t worry marriage will solve it. Lusting over other individuals…don’t worry marriage will take it away. Singleness…well marriage will make life feel more complete. We can sometimes promise something about marriage that it was never intended to do. Remember, in scripture marriage is never a promise, it’s a possibility.

Further, I think we have a growing number of marriages built on feeling. Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to believe that the guide for all of our decisions, convictions, and priorities is our heart. “Follow your heart” we’re told, “and everything else will fall into place.” If it “feels right” or “feels good,” then “just do it.” The opposite is also true. 

Our feelings will tell us what commitments to avoid or break. The fallout is severe as we grow up trusting feelings as the pathway to self-fulfillment. We all may know someone who has justified a decision to divorce by saying, “I just don’t feel like I love them anymore.” 

Next, there’s our growing love affair with ourselves. Sociologist, Dr. Jean Twenge, studied the rapid rise of narcissism in our culture for the last few decades. She concludes that today’s children and teens are the most narcissistic generation. In his sermon series on marriage, Timothy Keller says that self-centeredness is the main problem and enemy of any marriage. Since marriage is about submission to another person, it’s no wonder that fewer and fewer young people are eagerly entering into or staying in a marriage. 

Marriage doesn’t solve our problems. If anything it can shove them in our face. We need to be honest about marriage being a place where we are refined and grow in our walk with the Lord, and with our children.

Lie #3: Singleness is a plague. 

Since so many of our children will potentially spend a great deal of time single, it is incredibly important that we talk honestly about this. We haven’t done this all that well in the past, as singleness is often either missed altogether or merely spoken of as a brief moment that passes before you marry. Since married people are the ones calling the shots in most churches, they also remain central to the life of the church.  Meanwhile, single people are relegated to the margins. In fact, for every book written on singleness for Christians, another 298 are written for our married population. 

We need to prepare our churches and our children for the time they will be single. One great way of doing this is by understanding (and communicating) the simple truth that we are all built for relationship. We are not meant to do life alone…  relationship is literally built into our DNA. We need to communicate that living out God’s design for sex and relationship doesn’t happen in a bubble, and our homes and churches should be places where the lonely come to find community. Being single can be lonely… but the remedy, if there is such a thing this side of God’s plan, is to learn over and over again to do this: to recognize God’s presence embodied in the community of faith! May our homes be this space as well as our churches.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around ‘Lies The Church Tells About Sex’ on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

This post originally appeared on Project Six19’s blog. Used by permission.


Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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Is Sexual Integrity Even Possible?

This blog post was adapted from Episode 3 of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

Conversations surrounding sex need to be good, true, and most importantly, point back to Christ. Sometimes though, it can be easy to think that sexual integrity just isn’t possible. Thankfully, new data suggests something is happening in this generation that is unique from any other generation… teens are choosing to wait for sex!

Only 44 percent of girls and 47 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 had sexual intercourse at least once from 2011 to 2013. That’s down from 51 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys in 1988. Less than half of U.S. teenagers ages 15 to 19 are having sex, a rate dramatically lower than it was a quarter-century ago. This is good news. Youth are having less sex today than they were several years ago. 

Even further, Practicing Christians (72%) are almost twice as likely as adults of no faith (38%) to say that choosing not to have sex outside marriage is a healthy choice. Women (56%) are more likely than men (43%) to hold this view. Compared to those who have never been married (41%), people who are married (53%) and, somewhat surprisingly, cohabitating adults (49%) are more likely to strongly agree with the statement!

So what does all of this mean? Sexual integrity is possible in today’s world. However, if we are going to see our kids follow God’s standards for sex, we must communicate to them the fact that sexual integrity is about more than just waiting.

Sexual integrity is about more than holding onto your virginity.

For too long, we’ve made waiting mainly about holding onto our virginity. However, the model this follows is flawed. It places virginity at the foundation. Thus, if we take away a person’s foundation (virginity) the house crumbles. When we are making our choice to wait without the inclusion of Christ, we do it on our own strength. Yes, you can white knuckle it and make it to your wedding day as a virgin, but is this the only thing God wants for you? There are plenty of people that wait to have sex but never glorify God with this gift. 

When Christ is placed first, we center our life around Him. This is what makes sexual integrity possible! It’s not about a list of rules and regulations, it’s about what makes someone whole… and only Jesus Christ can make this a reality. What we do should come from our desire to walk in obedience, because He first loved us and teaches us what love is. 

Sexual integrity allows sex to be about more than just the physical. 

Yes, teens who choose to have sex risk doing great harm to their physical bodies. There are millions of teenagers in America who, thinking they were invulnerable and somehow immune, wind up with one or more sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Millions of others have gotten pregnant, and others have had abortions. Kids need to know that “safe sex” is a lie. Using a condom isn’t the answer to all of their fears. 

But if we are to truly understand what it means to live with sexual integrity, we need to go beyond the physical. In fact, this only encompasses one part of what sex is as showed to us in scripture. When you read the text in Genesis it speaks of sex being relational, creating oneness and unity, and making it something that includes the mind, soul, and spirit. 

Sexual integrity requires Jesus.

No matter the story told surrounding sex in our culture, the church should always be using this discussion to point back to Jesus Christ. If we are to have a generation that chooses to follow God’s design for sex in marriage, then it needs to be about something much greater. It needs to be about a relationship that we share with the creator of this gift. It needs to be about a love that compels another to wait, not simply because they believe this is right but because they are compelled by the love of Christ to treat their body as a temple that glorifies the Creator.

Finally, since this conversation requires Jesus, it also provides space for us to be forgiven for past mistakes, and allow shame to be replaced with grace. This conversation gives opportunity, no matter our past choices, to be forgiven and move forward in a direction that honors the plans God has for this wonderful thing called sex.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around whether or not sexual integrity is actually possible on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

This post originally appeared on Project Six19’s blog, here. Used by permission.


Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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You MUST Talk To Your Kids About Sex

My dad gave me The Talk in a Chinese restaurant when I was about 8 years old. 

I was playing in a little league game and after our victory my dad took me to a Chinese restaurant and gave me The Talk. I have discovered that most of my students’ parents never gave them The Talk at all, and that breaks my heart. 

Worse, many parents give such little preparation to their children that some experience sexual abuse and no one finds out until they’re in their 20’s and it finally explodes, all because their parents never opened up these channels of dialogue or created a space for their children to talk about these things. The girl in the article says she told no one because she didn’t even know what had happened, and no one asked her why she was acting differently.

If your role as a parent is to lead your kids into wisdom, to scaffold their transition into the real world, shouldn’t one of your most important duties be to explain the beauty of intimacy and the danger of unhealthy attachment? Danger doesn’t necessarily mean something is bad: Fire is both beautiful and dangerous. 

Sex is beautiful and dangerous. 

Like a stallion whinnying to run free, handing your child the reins involves built-up trust, and the willingness to say, “Wow! What a beauty! Be careful now. Control him and he will serve you well.”

I wonder if these parents think they’re doing their kids a favor by sheltering them from the dirty, dirty S-Word, and that their lives will be better if they never discover it.

The problem is, all kids will find out about sex. Parents are the ones who can decide how and when. If I ever have kids, I intend to get the first word in before the world has a chance to. When parents decide not to teach their kids about sex, the world is more than happy to. 

I remember being in middle school at a friend’s house, watching MTV in his bedroom (which I was not allowed to do at home; nor could I, since we grew up cable-less). I vividly remember a commercial in which a famous rapper spoke directly to the camera: “Remember dudes, no matter how banging her body is, you gotta strap up. Don’t risk it.”

I recall seeing that commercial through the filter of the wisdom my parents had already implanted in me. My dad gave me that first talk over Egg Drop Soup, but many more followed it. There were check-ins and updates and open communication about sexuality. Because of my parents, I could see a commercial like that and interpret the message as worldly more than biblical (or true), even if I wouldn’t have used those words. 

I can’t imagine how many others in my generation saw the same commercial but without the preparation. Perhaps that commercial was the closest thing they ever had to The Talk, so to them, the only sexual ethic was to not get or give an STD and you’re good.

Strap up and you’ve done the right thing. Simple.

I was recently talking to someone about this and he said his parents never gave him the talk either. He’s my age. 

“Why is it,” I asked, “that some parents don’t give that talk to their kids? If I ever have children, we’re going to be talking about it constantly!”

“Simple,” he said. “Shame. Their parents probably didn’t give them the talk, so the idea of bringing it up to their kids seems terrifying. Or they have some sort of trauma or sexual wound, so talking about it with their kids would be incredibly painful. So they just don’t.”

But you know what happens when those children grow up and pass through puberty with the internet as their primary sexual education? They go out and create their own sexual wounds, passing them down to their own children. The cycle continues from generation to generation as long as parents live by fear more than wisdom and love for their children.

If it seems like I’m being especially hard on such parents, it’s because I am. After being a youth pastor for three years, and now a teacher for one, I have seen that the majority of parents are failing. Whether they are drug addicts, abusive, apathetic, or simply not trying very hard, I have developed a thin patience for parents who don’t care for their own children. Sure, they all say they do, but where is the evidence? 

It’s easy to tell when a student has loving parents. Not only are they far more well-behaved, but they seem to operate from a sort of comfortable confidence which can only come from a place of having received love. But when they don’t receive rich, quality love at home, and their sex education is Xzibit telling them to strap up (or worse: pornography), where do you think they’ll turn to find that love?

For this reason, I adamantly place “The Talk” with your children under the umbrella of loving them. You can’t say you love them and then shrug and say ‘they’ll figure it out for themselves.’ 

In the film Lady Bird, when the eponymous protagonist asks her mother about sex, her mom reluctantly shivers and falls silent. She wiggles her way out of the conversation as quickly as possible and as you can guess, the high schooler ends up losing her virginity to a jerk. “You’ll have plenty of un-special sex in your life,” he tells her immediately after revealing that she wasn’t, actually, his first. 

Is this really what we want for our kids? To be throwing their bodies around to a plethora of suitors who may not even see them as special? Perhaps a scarier question to ask is, do most parents even care enough about the bodies and souls of their children to prepare them for these situations? 

Teach your kids or the world will teach them.

Love your kids or the world will love them—and this love is hollow, foolish and destructive.

e

The original version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on April 27, 2019. Used by permission.


johnny-61-e1484779008898-2

I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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Porn: The Quiet Anesthesia

I cannot count the number of worship services I’ve stood through unmoved. Others around me would be weeping, dancing, or shouting their passionate cries to the Lord while I stood in the midst of it wishing I felt something.

Anything.

The Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but most of the time, if I’m honest, there has been little to no enjoyment of Him. In fact, in the midst of my addiction to pornography, there was often no enjoyment of anything at all.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, and how exactly I want to say this. Because what I have found to be one of the absolute worst effects of porn is that it numbs me to reality. To the good and the bad. It files down the sharpened points of agony when suffering comes into my life, but it also curtails the heights of joy when there is reason to rejoice.

I feel like men and women turn to porn because something is lacking in their lives. They want to escape the bad and painful bits, but end up escaping the good too.

Sometimes it would be so that I could not enjoy sunsets
or hikes in the mountains
or board games with friends
or sitting by the sea
or any of the small things that simply enrich our lives
because my mind was elsewhere.

It was as if the volume was turned down on reality.

It’s similar to the way C.S. Lewis described grief:

“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.”

I didn’t cry for seven years.

Not because I resisted it by any means. The tears just never came. My wells were empty. My emotions had evaporated.

I even wonder, in the throes of my addiction, if a family member or dear friend were to die, if I would have cried. Or if I’d be the one at the funeral, sitting stoically silent, my face dry as the western plains.

Addiction is that powerful.

Even a ‘non-chemical’ addiction such as pornography has the ability to rewire our brains to the extent that we don’t feel. (And of course, any learned person knows that there are plenty of neuro-chemicals involved in a pornography addiction.)

In David’s great psalm of repentance after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, Psalm 51, he continually calls for God to return and awaken emotion within him. He prays, “Let me hear joy and gladness…Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Part of repentance is returning to a delight in the Lord; it is also mourning the places we have grieved Him.

When I look at the person of Jesus, I see the polar opposite of numbness. I see someone who was entirely alive to His emotions, the full spectrum. I see a man who wept at the passing of his dear friend. In the Christian world, I often hear the verse thrown around as a bit of trivia: Do you know the shortest verse in the Bible? 

Jesus wept.

Do we ever take time to think about the implications of these two words?

God wept.

God…..cries.

If we are to be like Jesus, then we are to be alive to our emotions.

Seeking to escape the hard times and numb the pain is not what God wants in us. The enemy may lure us in with the promise of a pain-free life, but what ends up happening is reality becomes dimmed.

To be like God is to embrace the reality around us with the emotions He has wired into us, not to escape it. I picture Jesus on the mountain, crying out to the Father for guidance. I see Him in the temple courts, fiery with rage at injustice. And there He is in the garden, nervous and terrified of the suffering He is about to go through.

And as He hangs on the cross, shattered and dying, He is offered a drink to ease the pain. This cocktail was designed to reduce the agony of those suffering torture, so they could slip into death with some amount of comfort.

But He turned it down.

Jesus refused to partake in anything that would reduce His experience, the good and the bad, in life and in death.

Saint Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

Jesus was fully alive. From the moment he emerged from Mary’s womb til’ the blood dripped from His toes onto the dirt beneath the cross, I see a man who embraced every ounce of His life, and continues to from His place on high.

To embrace pornography is to escape life.

So let us cling to Jesus. Let us cling to the One who gives to each of us life, and life to the fullest.

e

A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on February 29, 2016. Used by permission.


johnny-61-e1484779008898-2

I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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We Were Sexual Before We Were Sinful

This blog post was adapted from Episode 2 of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

You and I have been written into a wonderful story. God’s story is one that includes Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. However, our conversations surrounding sex usually only focus on the second and third parts of the story, Fall and Redemption. 

If we only engage these two parts, we see ourselves and others first and foremost as sinners, and the central focus is on our state of sinfulness and our acts of sin. Our job then becomes primarily about cleaning and fixing individuals, and our goal becomes modifying behavior rather than changing the heart, which ultimately leads to repentance. If we do not experience a change of heart, then the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes nothing more than rules and regulations. 

Another unfortunate side-effect of telling this partial version of God’s story is the fact that it can cause us to only see sex as sinful, and not a gift to be celebrated within God’s grand design for sex, as the sex-maker.    

However, if we instead engage in the whole story, starting in Creation, we see people (and ourselves) as first and foremost created in the image of God. This means all people have innate, Godlike beauty and dignity because they all, in their own unique way, reenact something of their Creator.

Putting the image of God before anything else places greater emphasis on truths about who we are and who were are created to be. At this point, we are able to see in this beautiful sphere of life that sex is to be protected within the place it was intended, marriage. 

One more food for thought. We’ll call it the dessert. The reason we start with Creation is that this is the point where sex first enters the picture. We were sexual before we were sinful! So what we do with it matters.

For too long, the model given to us has been built more on rules and regulations than walking with integrity. When our goal becomes primarily waiting and holding onto our virginity, we can easily choose to not include Jesus – which means we do it on our own strength. 

The model in scripture places Jesus at the center, and our lives revolve around Him. This is what makes living with sexual integrity – waiting – possible! Jesus is the one person that can make us whole, and taking hold of true life happens when we walk in obedience to Him.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around us being sexual before we were sinful on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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Killing Prince Charming And Cinderella

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Disney, and every little girl who has grown up loving Princess stories, I think it’s time we adults take a drastic step:

We need to kill off Prince Charming and Cinderella.

I’ll admit my own little girl will be growing up watching every Disney classic I can get my hands on. She’ll probably play with dolls, hold imaginary tea parties with her dad, and wear princess dresses until I have to peel them off of her.

The problem isn’t with the princess stories or the dreams and fantasies they inspire when we’re young. Those stories are meant to teach us lessons of valor, chivalry, the struggle to find a love worth fighting for, and how to discern between the real princess and the witch masked by a spell.

The problem is that while we’ve stopped playing dress-up with dolls and plastic swords, we’re still living in a land of make-believe and fantasy.

As we grow up, we replace the Disney movies with Hollywood romance movies that continue to reinforce the message that love must be perfect in order to be real. If you’re not instantly swept off your feet, madly in love every day, and skipping through life with a gorgeous specimen of a human being beside you, then you simply haven’t found ‘it.’

We expect to marry Prince Charming or Cinderella in all their Disney perfection, looking for a spouse that can be our soul mate, our perfect match, the answer to all of our problem.

When we encounter struggle in the relationship, have to face conflict or are asked to be vulnerable, we instead cut and run. It’s uncomfortable showing our imperfections and we certainly don’t want to be reminded that other people are imperfect.

Rather than kill off our expectation of Prince Charming or Cinderella in the hopes of finding a real relationship, we hold on tight to our fairy tale, bemoaning that all the “good ones” have already been taken.

The irony is that we’re also incredibly skeptical. 

We’ve watched so many marriages fall apart that we struggle to fully believe ours could be different, that we don’t have to live the same storyline as our parents. We wonder how we’ll ever find love in this broken world.

Could it be that our impossible expectations are a means of protecting ourselves, a defense mechanism designed to keep us from having to face our fear of a failed relationship?

We decide it’s better to never have loved at all than to have loved and lost. We want so desperately to find that life-long partner, to experience marriage at its best, but can’t shake the fear of enduring marriage at its worst, of waking up next to someone one day a little less excited than when we first met them.

Relationships, especially marriage, go through cycles. Some days are better than others, some more exciting, more joyful, more full of romance. Others are filled with the monotony of life, with battling together and against one another, of overcoming disappointment and letting go of expectations.

The good is made better and the bad less bitter when we’re able to share it with someone. Even if that someone is as imperfect and confused as we are.

It’s time to dump Prince Charming and Cinderella in order to find the authentic, gloriously difficult, life-changing love we seek.

It’s time to let go of what we think we want for what we need. 

The stunning reality is that in doing so, we usually find ourselves living a story better than anything Hollywood could have written.

A version of this post originally appeared on Joanna’s Blog on June 5th, 2013. Used by permission.


A native of Spokane, Joanna (Repsold) Hyatt has spoken to thousands of teens on healthy relationships and sexuality and has authored The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents. She is currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Live Action, a national non-profit that educates on abortion and the humanity of the pre-born.

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Why Christians Need to Think about Polyamory

I often get asked, “what’s the next discussion that Christians need to have about sexuality and gender?” My immediate answer is: “polyamory,” though the morality of sex with robotsis a close second.

Polyamory is often confused with polygamy, but they are actually quite different. For one, polygamy is a type of marriagewhile polyamory is not necessarily marital. Also, Polygamy almost always entails a man taking more than one wife, while polyamory is much more egalitarian. “Polyamory is open to any mixture of numbers and genders so it is just as common for a man to be in a relationship with several women as it is for a woman to be in lovewith several men,” writes Mike Hatcher.

Polyamory is also different from swinging or open relationships, though these do overlap. Open relationships are polyamorous, but not every polyamorous relationship is an open relationship. Sex and relationship therapist Renee Divine says: “An open relationship is one where one or both partners have a desire for sexualrelationships outside of each other, and polyamory is about having intimate, lovingrelationships with multiple people.” And that’s the key. Polyamory is not just about sex. It includes love, romance, and emotional commitment between more than 2 people.

For some Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. It’s wrong. It’s ridiculous. No need to defend why it’s wrong or think through pro-poly arguments. Just quote Genesis 2 and move on. But hopefully we’ve learned the hard way from our rather “late-to-the-discussion” approach with LGBTQ questions that it’s better to get ahead of the game and constructa view rather than just fall back into frantic reactive mode when the issue is in full bloom.

For other Christians, polyamory is only considered when being used in a “slippery slope” argument against same-sex relations—if we allow gay relationships, why not poly relationships? While I agree that the ethical logic used to defend same-sex relations cannot exclude poly relationships, merely using polyamory as a slippery slope argument is inadequate. We actually need to think through plural love, as it’s sometimes called, and do so in a gracious, thoughtful, and biblical manner.

Polyamory is much more common than some people think. According to one estimate“as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships involving consensual nonmonogamy” which is about the same as those who identify as LGBTQ. Another recent study, published in a peer reviewed journal, found that 1 in 5 Americans have been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship at least some point in their life. Another survey showed that nearly 70% of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24-35 believe that consensual polyamory is okay—even if it’s not theircup of tea. What about church going folks of the same age? Roughly 24% said they were fine (Regnerus, Cheap Sex, 186).

Why would anyone engage in polyamory? Doesn’t it foster jealousy? Can these relationships really last? Aren’t children who grow up in poly families bound to face relational harm? These are all valid questions, ones which have been addressedby advocates of polyamory. At least one argument says that people pursue polyamorous relationships because it’s their sexual orientation. They really have no other valid option, they say. They’re not monogamously oriented. They’re poly.

I’ll never forget watching Dan Savage, a well-known sex columnist, swat the hornet’s nest when he made the audacious claim that “poly is not an orientation.” Savage is no bastion for conservative ideals, and he himself admitsto having 9 different extra-marital affairs with his husband’s consent. This is why it was fascinating to see him get chastised for making such an outlandish statement—that polyamory is not a sexual orientation.

Is there any merit to the claim that polyamory is a sexual orientation? It all depends on our understanding of sexual orientation. How do you define it? Measure it? Prove it? Disprove it? What exactly issexual orientation? (Stay tuned for a later blog on this.) It’s not as if we take a blood sample to determine whether somebody is gay, straight, or poly. Sexual orientation is much, much messier than most people realize.

Celebrities, of course, have suggested that polyamory is an orientation when they talk about monogamy being “unnatural,” or that some people are just wired for more love than one partner can provide. Pop culture isn’t the only advocate, though. Scholars are also starting to argue that polyamory should be considered a sexual orientation. As early as 2011, Ann Tweedy, Assistant Professor at Hamline University School of Law, wrote a lengthy 50-page articlein a peer reviewed journal where she argued that polyamory should be considered a sexual orientation. Tweedy writes: “polyamory shares some of the important attributes of sexual orientation as traditionally understood, so it makes conceptual sense for polyamory to be viewed as part of sexual orientation” (“Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation,” 1514).

The logic is familiar: Those who pursue polyamorous relationships can’t help it. It’s who they are. It’s how God has created them. And it would be wrong to pursue a relationship, like a monogamous one, that goes against their orientation.No, I’m not retorting to the age-old slippery slope argument (e.g. this is where gay relationships will lead). I’m simply summarizing a growing opinion expressed in both pop culture and academia.

Polyamory might be, as a Newsweek article suggested 10 years ago, “The Next Sexual Revolution.”And several of my pastor friends tell me that it’s becoming more common to have people who identify as poly asking about the church’s view on the matter and if they will be accepted and affirmed. These are not abstract questions, and yet the discussion is still young enough so that Christian pastors and leaders have some time to construct a robust, compassionate, thoughtful response to the question—“what’s your church’s stance on people who are poly?” Put more positively, we have time to construct a truly Christian vision for monogamy, if indeed that is the only truly Christian vision.

My purpose of this blog is to put this topic on your radar, not to answer all the questions that you might have. With that in view, here are a few more questions that Christian leaders should wrestle with:

What are the relevant biblical passages and themes that mandate monogamy for those who are called to marriage?

How would you respond to someone who says that Genesis 2, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5 and others are just a few “clobber passages” that are used to beat down poly people?

How do you know that “one man, one woman” statements in the Bible apply to contemporary poly relationships? Perhaps they only prohibit abusive, misogynistic polygamous relationships.

If God’s love for us is plural, and our love for (a Triune) God is plural, then why can’t human love for each other be plural?

Is polyamory a sexual orientation? Why, or why not?

And what is sexual orientation, and should it play a role in determining (or at least shaping) our sexual ethic?

Is it helpful to talk about poly people or should we talk about poly relationships? (And can you pinpoint the important difference?)

Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn plural marriages that are polygamous (or does it?), could we say that monogamy is the ideal while still allowing for polyamorous relationships as less than ideal but still accepted in the church? Why, or why not?

If sexual expression is only permitted if it is faithful, consensual, and marital (which is what most Christians would say), then why can’t it be plural? That is, what is the moral logic that drives your view that monogamy is the only way? Is it just “God says so? Or is there some rationale why plural love is immoral?


A version of this post originally appeared on the Center For Faith, Sexuality, and Gender blog on June 7, 2018. Used by permission.

Preston

Dr. Preston Sprinkle has authored several books, including the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell(with Francis Chan; 2011), Fight; A Christian Case for Nonviolence(David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited(IVP, 2013),  Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us(David C. Cook, 2014), and the recently released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue(Zondervan, 2015), and the newest Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender (2017). Dr. Sprinkle also hosts a daily radio program titled: “Theology in the Raw?” and frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, youth camps, family camps, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. Preston has been married to Chrissy for 15 years and together they have 4 children.

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Porn is Not Just a Man’s Problem

You may or may not hear this often, but women struggle with porn.

Over the past few years, there has been a new wave of what some have called “mommy porn” across the world of entertainment with films as controversial as 50 Shades of Grey and as mainstream as Magic Mike XXL.

No matter what you call it, the truth is that this kind of entertainment is definitely not just geared toward “moms,” but rather, women in general. It’s a type of entertainment that’s typically loaded with sexual innuendo, scantily clad men and, in some cases, explicit sex scenes.

But the truth is, this type of over-sexualized entertainment is not just found in recent blockbusters, it’s been slowly seeping into popular books, television shows and even commercials for quite some time now.

What bothers me the most about this new movement is how little attention it seems to be receiving. In fact, we often sit back and take it in without even batting an eye. While I’m happy to say that the objectification of women is finally beginning to gain some attention and push back in our society, it seems that we’ve neglected the other side to the story. Women struggle with porn, too.

Even the Church at large has had a role in the double-standard by pushing sermons, messages and ministries encouraging men to deal with their lust, porn and sexual immorality.

But what about women?

Women Struggle With Porn

We often view porn and lust as a man’s issue, so we don’t typically challenge women as much about the things they think about and the ways they entertain themselves.

Whether man or woman, as human beings, we are all wired with natural emotions and a sexual appetite that can become unhealthy if we continue to feed it with junk. It’s important that we remember that lust is not just a male problem, and start realizing how our culture has played a role in this important conversation.

Women Struggle With Lust

While I can’t deny that men and women perceive and process the world differently, when we focus the entirety of the conversation about porn and lust on men, we not only ignore, but also isolate the many women who are also struggling. By making light of female lust issues we actually enable and encourage the problem instead of offering a place for help.

According an article by the American Psychological Association, various studies report that porn use ranges all the way up to 99 percent among men and up to 86 percent among women. The difference is much less than we tend to talk about.

I had a personal realization of this truth when I received a barrage of emails from women stuck in porn addiction after an article I posted on my blogabout the subject.

Maybe it’s time to recognize that we’re all prone to get lost in sin, yet we’re all given the opportunity to walk in freedom.

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“Protect Your Eyes” vs. “Explore Your Sensuality”

Often, we challenge men to protect their eyes all the while encouraging women to explore their sexuality and sensuality. We tend to “scold” and even look down on men who struggle with porn use and addiction, while women are praised for being “in tune” with their sexuality.

And stranger still, some of the same women who are offended at the thought of their spouses watching porn are just as quick to run out with their girlfriends to watch the latest sex-themed film or book club for that racy novel. It’s time to challenge one another to a higher standard, starting with looking inward and working to remove even a “hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity” from our own hearts and lives.

Objectifying Men

True, women tend to be objectified far more than men in our society. But that doesn’t justify objectifying men. Objectifying men is just as degrading and detrimental to our society as men objectifying women. As a society, we are quick to get up in arms when women are used as sexual objects in films and in marketing, and rightly so. It’s devastating to fearfully and wonderfully made, complex and capable human beings reduced to the shell of their bodies.

But shouldn’t it be just as devastating when we see it happening to both genders? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that we tend to feel differently from one gender to another. It would do us all well to take a second look at our definition of “equality” and then apply that to the entertainment we allow ourselves to consume, learning to respect both genders in the process.

God’s Call to Holiness Has to Do With Each and Every One of Us

When we categorize sin into “gender specific” categories, we miss the mark. As children of God, we’re called to reflect Christ in the best way that we can—whether we happen to be male or female. Together, we portray to the world a clearer picture of who He is.

Whether we’re talking about lust, sexual struggles, or any other sin, let’s remember that the call to holiness applies to all. We shouldn’t shame one another about issues like porn—after all, the cure for any sort of sin is not shaming, it’s Christ—but we should talk about these issues with both genders. Because women struggle with porn, too. But too many of them are struggling alone.

Let’s challenge, encourage, and support one another in the Body of Christ as we take inventory of the things we’re allowing to enter our minds and influence our hearts.

How do you control your sex drive while you’re single? Check out the latest episode of the Love + Relationships Podcastwhere I answer this exact question!

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on September 20th, 2018. Used by permission.


Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Porn: The Hidden Self

“And you’re wondering why you felt like you weren’t good enough?” my friend Dave said. “You were literally conditioned to think that way!”

I had just finished telling Dave about an exercise I had been doing for a class on addiction in which I created a timeline of my life. In doing so, I realized that there was a lot of rejection in my younger years. Prior to college, nearly every girl I had been interested in either dumped me after a few weeks, or flat out rejected me from the start.

I hardly dated anyone after that.

It has taken me a while to freely admit it, but one of the deepest roots of my addiction to pornography has been this feeling that I’m not good enough for a real woman.

You see, in middle and high school, I was not the oxen of a man you see today. I was not the “Shirtless Wonder.”

I was a nerd.

A geek.

Whatever label you want to stick on the kid that moved a couple times, went to three high schools and two middle schools, and had a collection of 500 comic books. The kid who had every detail about Middle Earth memorized and longed to become Batman (truth be told, that’s part of the reason I started working out…I guess comic books were good for something.)

After a number of failed relationships (or whatever you call two 9thgraders going to a movie), I came to think that the problem was me. That I was the undesirable one.

So I worked to change it.

I chopped my Beatles-era haircut and hit the weights. I bought nicer clothes and dropped the Star Wars t-shirts. I did everything I could think of to change people’s perception of me into a man who was worthy of dating. The problem with these things is that they do nothing to heal the wounded heart of a man.

Dr. Dan Allender saysthat men today are broken hearted. “Not broken hearted as in sad or full of grief,” he writes. “Instead, we are broken into fragmented selves that are unable to do much other than posture and pretend we are someone whom we know we are not.”

At an early age, my heart was broken into a dozen different pieces. Some of these pieces ventured to the identity of a nerd while others worked at getting into better physical shape. Some tried to earn value in artistry, while other fragments delighted in being the class clown.

All of these “identities” were only parts of a shield, though. Like a turtle shell I could tuck into whenever someone looked my way, while the Real Ethan, the weird, eccentric, tender-hearted self stayed safe inside.

John Eldredge echoed this sentiment when he wrote,

This is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man…We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what we were meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes. We hide in our office, at the gym, behind the newspaper and mostly behind our personality.

The sad thing is, most of us go on living like this and wondering why we feel so severed from our realself. Why there is no peace inside us. Why we feel splintered into so many pieces. Social media doesn’t help because we can look any way we want online.

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I maintained the charade for many many years until recently when I decided to do the tough work of examining myself and taking a good, hard, honest look in the mirror. It was like pulling a hermit crab from his protective shell: It was ugly and it snapped and fought like hell against being exposed, because the work of healing is not easy.

Several years ago, I was on the bus in Chicago with a Moody student who was an acquaintance of mine. He began sharing what the Lord was teaching him in that season, and the only part I remember was one line: “The Lord is teaching me that it’s okay to be weak, to be broken.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much respect for another human being in my life.

It’s as if he was standing before me as the bus tilted and rocked, holding his palms open to me saying Look, this is me. I’m not that cool. I’m hurt and broken. But God’s cool with that, and I’m learning to be cool with it too.

So I’m attempting to become like that too. It’s incredibly hard for a man to admit that he is weak and broken, but I think that is the first step in healing.

Because women don’t fall in love with how many pounds you can put up on the bench, or that sweet new shirt from H&M. They can’t even love the jokes you make or the intelligence stored in the folds of your brain.

People love other people, not the things they try to wrap around themselves as a disguise.

Learning this is hard, because ever since we got the boot from the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying to cover ourselves up, trying to look better than we actually are.

Underneath all the fancy fig leaves and one-liners, we are all pretty ugly and weak, but that doesn’t mean we’re unworthy of love. God doesn’t stop chasing you because you woke up with bedhead, or you can’t curl a 5 pounder.

It’s hard to examine myself and see that there are a lot of things I don’t like about myself. But it’s even harder to accept that despite them, God still loves me. And hopefully, there’s a woman out there who will too. But living with a splintered heart and trying to be a dozen men at once is exhausting and will keep us returning to the fire hydrant of porn to try to nourish our broken heart.

My friend Michael Cusick points out that the word “integrity” comes from the word “integer,” meaning whole. A person of integrity is a whole person, not a shapeshifter who modifies themselves to fit the scene.

So may we be a people who give up disguising ourselves and trying to be more impressive than we are.

May we seek wholeness, root ourselves in quietness and peace and know ourselves as we are known by God, recognizing that God loves the weak and the broken; He lifts up those who are low. (Psalm 145)

“But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on September 21st, 2016. Used by permission.


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I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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Pornography and Kids

One of the most difficult and humbling things I get to do is talk to kids about the cultural scourge of pornography. That’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow morning with a group of 300 kids at a camp in Massachusetts. For several days now I’ve been asking the Lord to give me knowledge, words, wisdom, and courage. It doesn’t matter that I’ve done this numerous times before. It’s always something that verges on overwhelming. It’s difficult and humbling for the simple fact that the accuser comes at me hard, whispering things like “Why would they listen to you. . . an older guy?”. . . and “What qualifies you to talk about this?”

My goal is not to impress, but rather to faithfully and obediently communicate the truth of joyfully living as sexual beings in the context of God’s story for our sexuality, as opposed to choosing to destroy our sexual flourishing by living out our sexuality according to the cultural narrative. Sadly, the cultural narrative is so pervasive and compelling that our task as parents, youth workers, and yes. . . children’s ministry workers. . . is to map out God’s liberating story for our sexuality to even the youngest of the young.

Evidence of the power of the cultural narrative can be seen in how our kids conduct and portray themselves on social media. In her book American Girls: Social Media and Secret Lives of Teenagers, Nancy Jo Sales shares what she’s learned about today’s teenagers by embedding herself (with knowledge and permission) into the lives of 13 to 19- year-old girls. One of her most alarming observations about kids is what serves to educate them about sex and sexuality. Sadly, boys and girls are defining themselves and their understanding of sexuality by what they see depicted in pornography. Our boys learn that their value lies in physicality, while for our girls value lies in sexuality. Our boys need to develop and act out a hypermasculinity, while for our girls it is a hypersexuality. Boys learn that they are to dominate, while girls learn to willingly submit. And finally, our boys learn that it is expected that they issue sexual demands, while our girls see themselves as providing a kind of sexual supply to those demands. Sadly, nothing could be farther from God’s glorious truth for the gift of sex and sexuality.

Parents, youth workers, and children’s ministry folks. . . our calling is clear. We must be diligent about teaching our kids God’s borders and boundaries for his gift of sex and sexuality.

How can we do this? Begin by assuming that all of your students, thanks to the internet and smartphones, either have or will see pornography. Assume as well that because of where they are at developmentally, many or even most will be drawn to what they see over and over again. Youth workers, push back by beginning with parents. Hold a parents’ meeting to give an overview of the changing nature of pornography and how it functions in the lives of kids. Then, take the initiative to work with parents to redefine sexuality according to God’s Word. Then all of us together must walk kids through the creation account so that they will see sexuality as a good gift from God with a purpose and a place. Continue, by helping kids see that pornography defiles not only sexuality, but individuals and families.

And finally, if you would, pray for me and all others who will be broaching this topic with kids over the coming days.

To learn more about pornography and its effects on kids, download this free resource from CPYU. And, be sure to tap into all the resources that are available for free at CPYU’s Sexual Integrity Initiative.

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A Theology Of Masturbation: Tackling One Of The Tough Questions

Yes, we want our kids to ask questions about God’s good gift of sex, gender, and sexuality. We might not be well-prepared to answer their questions, but as many parents have said to me, “It’s easier for my kids to bring up the questions rather than me!” But there’s one question that always seems to generate a period of hemming and hawing that can go on and on and on. That’s the question of masturbation.

Let’s be honest here. . . my informal surveys of an entire older generation of boys reveals they either a) indulged in auto-eroticism without borders or boundaries (“Ninety-five percent of all teenage boys say they masturbate. . . and the other five percent are liars!” . . . remember that?), b) never discussed the issue with their parents beyond hearing a one-sided “Don’t do it!”, or c) lived their lives in fear and trembling believing that they were going to go blind by the age of 19.

In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, the questions are rarely even being asked. And when a young person (or an old person) seeking to develop a healthy God-honoring approach to His good gift of sex and sexuality starts to ask questions about masturbation, most adults either go blank or have no idea how to answer. I’m fully aware that in the world of theology, and specifically youth ministry, there are a variety of perspectives on how to best answer the question.

Like all questions about sex, sexuality, and gender, this is a question that can only be answered in the context of the story in which we choose to live. If we choose to live in the cultural narrative, it’s not even a question. But for those who have been called into the biblical narrative, we need to listen diligently to that story as we faithfully ponder what God’s answer is. . . even if we don’t feel like His answer is the easiest one to accept and enlist.

Yesterday, I spotted a post on “Solo Sex and the Christian” from my friend David White at Harvest USA. I’ve spent years trying to think through the best way to hear the Scriptures speak and how to communicate those answers to the kids (and adults) I encounter who ask. David’s article is, without a doubt, the most thoughtful practical theology of masturbation I’ve ever seen. It is worth a few minutes of your time. . . and perhaps you will find it as helpful as I do.

We are all sexual strugglers at some level. . . all of us. Here’s what David writes about the struggle with masturbation. . .

One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.

God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.

As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say. . . (to keep reading, click here).

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