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.
The original version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on April 27, 2019. Used by permission.
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.
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.
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?
Do we ever take time to think about the implications of these two words?
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.
A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on February 29, 2016. Used by permission.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on September 21st, 2016. Used by permission.
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.
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.
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).
God loves sex. The first two commands recorded in the Bible are “have dominion over creation,” and then “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28). In other words, rule the world and have lots of sex. Not a bad day at the office.
Whoever said God was some cosmic killjoy? God created sex and declared it to be “good.”
Within Christian circles, it’s assumed God only wants us to have sex if we’re married. Sex outside of marriage is one of the clearest, unquestionable prohibitions in Christianity. But where does the Bible teach this? Can you name a verse?
Many will race to the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). But adultery means having sex with someone else’s spouse; it doesn’t refer to an unmarried couple sleeping together. Likewise, when Jesus condemns lust in Matthew 5, He does so in the context of adultery. In other words, we should not sexually desire another person’s spouse as our own.
God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant.
Others might turn to Leviticus 18. This “sex chapter” lists all sorts of sexual prohibitions including incest, bestiality, adultery and other sexual sins. It’s fascinating, though, that nowhere in Leviticus 18 is sex before marriage condemned.
Some might argue that when the Bible condemns “fornication” or “sexual immorality” this includes sex before marriage. And maybe it does. But this needs to be shown and not just assumed. Again, the Old Testament’s most detailed list of sexually immoral acts (Leviticus 18) does not include sex before marriage.
So Does the Bible Really Say It’s Wrong?
Before you book a hotel room and call up your girlfriend with the good news, please keep reading! Yes, the Bible does say that all forms of sex outside of marriage are wrong. Here’s how.
The early chapters of Genesis give a basic blueprint for marriage, and even though it never says “Thou shall not have sex before marriage,” it certainly suggests that sex outside of marriage flows against God’s design. God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1) is joyfully heeded by Adam and Eve after they are joined in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25; 4:1, 25). The same goes for their descendants. Noah, Shem, Abram and others all have sex and therefore have children within the confines of a marriage covenant.
When they turn to other women, such as Abraham’s sexual relations with Hagar (Genesis 16), the act was not considered an affair. Hagar was more like a modern day surrogate mother who bears a child in the place of an infertile wife. Nevertheless, these acts don’t appear to be sanctioned by God, even though they were widely accepted in Israel’s culture.
Throughout the Old Testament, it’s assumed that God designed sex for marriage. Deuteronomy condemns a soon to be wife who has had sex before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19), and the love poetry contained in the Song of Songs delights in the joys of sex but reserves it for a husband and wife. Extra-marital sex is never looked upon with divine approval in the Old Testament, no matter how bright the love-flame burns.
The Role of Tradition
The Jewish tradition that flows from the Old Testament and cradles the New Testament was even more explicit in condemning pre-marital sex. For instance, it was believed that Joseph (Jacob’s favorite son) was adamant that he and his future wife, Asenath, remain pure until their wedding day. There’s nothing in the Old Testament that validates such concern; Joseph’s marriage to Asenath is only mentioned in passing (Genesis 41:45, 50-52). But the later retelling of Joseph and Asenath reflects a widespread Jewish view: Sex before marriage is sin.
And this is the ethical world that Jesus and His followers were raised in. Jews and Christians had many disagreements about what constitutes right and wrong (food laws, circumcision, strict Sabbath keeping, etc.). But when it came to sexual immorality, they found much in common. Sex before marriage was clearly condemned in Judaism, and the same goes for Christianity.
For instance, Paul—a Jew—argued that the only proper outlet for sexual desire is within marriage: “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Again, if unmarried people can’t control their sexual desires, Paul doesn’t tell them to head to the brothel, or to their boyfriend, or their betrothed loved one. Rather, “they should marry” since “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). In other words, we should not satisfy our sexual passion with someone other than a spouse.
Not Just Adultery
Paul says in another passage: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
Paul’s words here can’t be limited to adultery. They clearly include all forms of sex outside of marriage. We know this because the Gentiles of the Roman world Paul refers to actually abhorred adultery and considered it a crime. However, sexual activity outside of marriage was perfectly fine—as long as it wasn’t with another man’s wife. So when Paul tells Christians to not engage in “the passion of lust like the Gentiles,” this can’t be limited to adultery. What separates Christians from other Romans was that Christians, like their Jewish brothers, believed that sex outside of marriage was sin.
Many other passages in the New Testament confirm what we see in the letters of Paul. Revelation 14:4 assumes that unmarried Christian men who desire to be faithful are not having sex. Matthew 1:18-19 celebrates the chastity of Joseph and Mary. And Hebrews 13:4 considers sex outside of marriage to be immoral: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” This verse can’t just be limited to adultery, since both “sexually immoral” and “adulterous” are listed.
God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant. To violate God’s design in an effort to lay hold of creation’s pleasure is not just foolish, but actually rejects the delights God wants us to enjoy. Sex outside of marriage mocks the Creator’s will and elevates human desire over God’s wisdom.
Christians can mess up and receive God’s free pardon. God’s scandalous grace covers all of our wrongdoings, and He dishes out such grace liberally. But it’s one thing to struggle and fail, and quite another to call sin good and wrongdoing righteousness. Christians—genuine Christians—must strive to live in line with the Creator’s intentions and celebrate the good gifts He gives to His people.
A version of this post originally appeared on Preston’s Blog on September 15, 2016. Used by permission.
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.
I think I’ve figured out why people hate the idea of sexual restraint.
There’s of course the obvious reason: it’s real difficult to practice sexual restraint. It doesn’t sound fun, easy, or like anything that’s going to make you a member of the cool kid’s club.
But I think there’s a deeper reason our culture hates the idea of sexual restraint: We reject anything that appears to curb our personal freedom and by extension our self-fulfillment.
In 2017, we now live in a time where the height of self-actualization is dependent on our ability to live into our personal freedoms. This could be the freedom to pack up and be a nomad, freedom to practice any religion, freedom from a 9 to 5 job, the freedom to have sex with whomever we want and even the freedom to choose our own gender.
It’s the same foundational reason people reject Christianity; Christianity, with its instructions not to live into any and every whim and impulse, appears to be a religion clinging to a God who is both angrily conservative and a killjoy, one who wants to slowly eliminate the parts of ourselves that offend him; namely, the personal freedoms people believe they have a right to.
Sex is a point of special contention in the quest for fulfillment through absolute freedom.
One doesn’t need to look far to be inundated with the cultural belief that having sex whenever, however and with whomever is an act one is entitled to, a fundamental right that represents personal fulfillment through sexual identity and practice. Sex, and how we practice it and with whom, has become a facet of who we assert ourselves to be in our western culture. To ask someone to not have sex is not only perceived as unfair but as a violation of one’s very identity.
It does seem unfair sometimes, I know. But people perceive sexual restraint as unjust only when they do not understand how sexual restraint was divinely designed to impact our life.
I come from a generation that grew up in the nineties and were formed through messages about “purity” and kissing dating goodbye. The message of waiting my peers and I grew up with was one of straight-laced behavior modification and deeply conservative messages about modesty, sex, intimacy and dating, rather than an understanding of God’s big picture for sex.
As a result, we rebelled. Chastity was a prison – sex on our terms represented liberation.
What my generation now fails to see is that the restraint God commands of us, both in regards to sex and other areas of our life, is actually designed to give us freedom. If God is asking us to deny ourselves sex outside of a marriage relationship, it is because he has a grander design for our freedom: emotional freedom, spiritual freedom and freedom from the things that ultimately work against us and others.
God gives us boundaries in order to give us freedom.
For example, the ten commandments aren’t a list of rules simply for the sake of being rules – they represent certain boundaries to place on our lives because these boundaries keep us whole, healthy and free from sometimes disastrous consequences.
Think about it: ultimate freedom can actually have hugely detrimental effects on us, especially when it comes to sex.
If my conviction regarding sex is that freedom is my right, it won’t be long before I see just how detrimental absolute freedom can be. Freedom to sleep with whoever I want, whenever I want, can lead to emotional baggage, lowered self-esteem, emotional confusion, hurt feelings, etc. (and hey, maybe it won’t lead to these things – but it certainly opens the door to them).
It can also lead to physical baggage like STD’s or STI’s, which in turn lead to even more emotional hardship. There’s a lot there. Complete sexual freedom puts us at a higher risk of not only hurting ourselves, but hurting others as well. Sexual freedom impacts our self-identity and both our current and future relationships.
But the freedom God seeks to give us in sex are relationships and self-identities that are not defined by sex and everything that can come with it. By choosing to practice sexual restraint, we invite into our lives a whole host of freedoms:
The freedom to cultivate a relationship that is truly based on knowing one another and not clouded by sexual intimacy.
The freedom from shame.
The freedom to not worry about STD’s, STI’s or pregnancy.
The freedom in marriage from comparison (if both partners have practiced waiting).
The spiritual freedom that is cultivated in our minds and hearts when our actions are aligned with God’s desire for us.
God’s boundaries for us do not limit our self-identity – rather, they allow us to find our true identity (and freedom) in Christ.
Freedom is the divine purpose behind sexual self-restraint.
Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.
Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.
How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?
At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.
Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.
What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.
I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .
First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.
Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake. The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.
Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.
And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”
One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.
In just a few more than 50 years, our media culture has gone from treating matters of sexuality as a hush-hush topic (your grandparents remember a time when you couldn’t even say the word “pregnant” on TV!) to putting all kinds of sexual practices and issues center-stage. That certainly has been the case in the past few months as a variety of high profile stories regarding (among others things) sexual assault, molestation, abuse and gender reassignment have filled everything from the news to reality TV.
I’ve been working hard to think more about the issues than the personalities involved. I’ve been trying to frame these stories in the bigger picture of our sexuality, God’s sex story, and the sexual stories our culture is communicating to us all. A recent walk through 2 Samuel took me to chapter 11 and the gut-wrenching story of David and Bathsheeba. After reading, I jotted some thoughts I found helpful to me, and which I hope are helpful to others (parents and youth workers) as we engage in discussions with kids about all matters sexual.
First, we cannot deny or forget that sexual desire and curiosity is a good thing that we should expect to exist in all humanity. God is the Sexual Gift Giver, and we are the recipients of this good and wonderful gift. Sadly, the church has failed miserably to communicate this reality. Failing to see how our sexuality was made by God right at the start, woven in and through us, and given to us as a gift for our flourishing…well…we not only fail to communicate good theology, but our silence and uneasiness with things sexual communicates a horribly flawed theology of our sexuality, which leaves young and old alike scrambling to figure out how to understand and live out these powerful drives and desires. Our silence communicates that sex and sexuality is shameful. Could this be why Christian fundamentalism is a hotbed for sexual sin? While the church sometimes erroneously tells God’s story void of sexuality, the culture is guilty of telling a sexual story void of its rightful place in God’s story. We all struggle to get it right, but get it right we must.
Second, all people are horribly broken. Our sexuality is broken, too. Yes, we need a robust and realistic theology of sin. When we understand human depravity, we will not be surprised by revelations of sexual sin. Perhaps more important, a robust and realistic theology of sin should leave us looking inward with great fear and trembling. “Know yourself” is a mantra I tell myself all the time. What I should know more than anything else are my points of weakness. As I tell youth workers all the time, “You are just one bad decision away from being a headline.” As sinners ourselves, we must be sure to help our kids see their default sexual setting is to rebel against God’s good plan for sex and do the wrong thing.
Third, we are responsible for developing self-discipline, including in our sexuality. Peter issued this warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I don’t know about you, but I easily can downplay and forget the unseen battle that rages all around and inside all of us. Mistake. Have you ever read the first three chapters of Genesis? Why is redemption necessary? Why is our world so broken? Know yourself. Know your default settings. Know your unique issues and temptations. Know your triggers. Don’t go where you can’t go. Seek accountability and help. If someone you know comes to you and says you have a problem and need help—listen.
Finally, in a do-anything and hypersexualized world, we will do anything and everything as we allow our lives to revolve around the idol of sexuality. Honestly, I’m surprised we’re not hearing more stories such as this. I believe that in time and in the very near future, we will be hearing more and more stories as a generation of kids nurtured by a boundary-less and border-less ambient sexuality comes of age. Sadly, many of the stories will involve victims and perpetrators who haven’t yet come of age. That’s called age-compression. As I always say, “Culture is the soup that our kids swim and marinate in 24/7.” If that’s the case, we shouldn’t be surprised at how they are flavored. Is it possible that we might be moving from a world where that which is secret sin becomes an open celebration? Then there’s the schizophrenic mixed messages our culture sends to our developmentally vulnerable and easily influenced kids, things such as, “Go ahead and look at this!” but, “Don’t you ever do this!” This is where so much of the difficulty arises. Right is still right, and wrong is still wrong. People ultimately are responsible for themselves and should be held accountable for their decisions and actions. I’m not sure we can stand and point accusing fingers without any blame at all when we’ve been part of the horribly flawed nurturing process through commission or omission.
Our culture is talking about sexuality. We need to do the same. In doing so, we must redeem this horribly misunderstood and misused good gift of God!
All this said, I want to issue an invitation to my youth worker friends who want to think and strategize in deep and meaningful ways on the topic of biblical sexuality. This January 15-18, Duffy Robbins and I will be gathering a select group of 25 people on the beautiful campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for a Symposium on Youth Ministry where we will be hunkering down to strategize together on the topic of “Traditional Biblical Sexuality in a Changing Youth Culture.” Here’s the descriptor we wrote for our upcoming days together: As debates about human sexuality dominate classrooms, coffee shops, and social media, youth ministers committed to a traditional Biblical ethic may struggle to find their voice. Some may wonder if there is a safe space in which to form a theologically informed and nuanced approach to these charged and complex issues. Join Dr. Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent Youth Understanding and Dr. Duffy Robbins of Eastern University for an intensive multi-day symposium to deepen your own Biblical and theological foundations, to broaden your apologetic for affirming the goodness of expressing sexual intimacy within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, and to strengthen your pastoral skills in helping youth live out these truths. This Symposium presumes participants’ affirmation of a historic, orthodox Christian sexual ethic and will be building from this premise, not debating it. Participation is limited to 25 to allow for deep exploration of these issues and will require some preparatory work and active involvement in the Symposium.
If you are interested in learning more and to register, click here.
Something hit me last Wednesday night when I was speaking to a group of parents, grandparents, and youth workers in the Philly area. I was presenting some of our No Parent Left Behindmaterial and we were in the midst of talking about teenage physical development. We focus on the changes in the body, and the emerging God-given gift of sexuality. I was contrasting the cultural message on sex and sexuality with the biblical message on sex and sexuality.
I put up a photo I’ve been showing since 2005. That’s the year that MTV launched their “It’s Your Sex Life” online sex ed campaign. I downloaded the pdf educational booklet. . . It’s Your (Sex) Life: Your Guide to Safe & Responsible Sex. . . and read it. While the book didn’t promote anything that would have been labeled as “criminal behavior,” it would endorse beliefs and behaviors that land way outside the freedom-giving borders and boundaries set by the One who created sex and sexuality. . . then declared it “good!” When I show the cover of the booklet, I mention the booklet’s main thesis statement. . . “Fundamentally, it’s your body and it’s up to you what you do with it.”
Back then, I remember speculating out loud to folks about the fruit this notion would bear. It wasn’t rocket science. It was just common sense. Preach that “it’s up to you” message in a world of hypersexualized imagery, a world that has lost its moral compass, and a world that sees expressive individualism as virtuous, and you have cultivated soil that is fertile ground for all kinds of sexual aggression. Let’s be honest, if you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s the pressure was already there. The children of the 80’s and 90’s swam in even more of this stuff. And for the kids growing up in the 21st century. . . well, use some common sense.
So. . . here’s what hit me last Wednesday night when I look at that slide I’ve been using for 12 years: What you’re seeing as the adult behaviors (alleged and admitted) of guys like Spacey, Moore, Louis C.K., and Weinstein. . . well, there might be a day when the number of aggressors will be greater, the depth of the aggression more perverse, and the pushback far less or even non-existent. Is it possible that this kind of stuff might even be seen as neutral or even virtuous? Quite possible. Quite possible. Will it be in ten years? Five years? Less?
Youth worker and parents. . . are you tracking with what’s happening in the news and how that reflects what’s happening and been happening in the culture? If not, you’re missing it. What you’re also missing is the call to address this stuff from the time kids leave the womb for the simple reason that from the time they leave the womb the culture iscatechizing them on the purpose and place for sex.
The non-stop news cycle on this has given us a golden opportunity for discussion. Take it. . . and run with it. The only way to shift the spirit of the times is to come at it with the truth on sex and sexuality. I need to hear it. You need to hear it. And, our kids need to hear it.
Late last week I scrolled through a list of two-dozen-plus actresses who were opening up and telling their stories of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein. Careful reading of their stories wasn’t necessary to lead one to conclude that if the allegations are true, this guy has engaged in some deplorable behavior. . . habitually. To be honest, it’s frightening. It’s likely that in the case of Weinstein victims, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
As of today, it seems that as soon as the lid popped off the full barrel of Weinstein stories, the floodgates opened up for other victims to step forward to tell their stories and begin, we hope, to start the long and difficult process of dealing with the trauma of sexual brokenness and victimization at the hands of sexual predators. You can’t be present on social media today without coming across the #metoo hashtag way, way, way too many times. While the numbers and the stories are discouraging, opening the door to tell the story is the first step towards healing. This stuff wreaks havoc on individuals, families, and entire institutions.
What are we to make of all of this? Here are some non-exhaustive initial thoughts to consider. . .
First, we’ve got a major problem. We live in a hypersexualized world. I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that we are reaping what we’ve sown. Sure, sexual brokenness has been present in humanity since Genesis 3:6. Like everything else we have, we are, and we do, our sexuality fell apart at the fall. And, rather than seeking sexual flourishing and Shalom in ways that bring glory to God, we’ve conjured up a culture where anything and everything sexual is encouraged and even permitted. So rather than creating a culture that discourages sexual harassment and assault, we’ve got ourselves a world of our own making where kids who were taught to grow up doing anything and everything, are now adults who are doing anything and everything. Why can’t we connect the dots and start by ceasing to feed these attitudes and behaviors with better perspective and teaching on the front end of the life cycle?
Second, we must realize that hypocrisy is universal to humanity. Many of my Christian friends are pointing out. . . correctly, I might add. . . that the very media machine that propagates the belief in complete sexual freedom without borders and boundaries, is now decrying a kind of sexuality that victimizes as a result of no borders and boundaries. That’s caused me to consider the criticism this group has consistently thrown at Christians. . . that is, that Christians talk a good game that really doesn’t connect with the walk. Maybe we should realize that hypocrisy is a universal malady, with nobody consistently walking their talk.
Third, those of us who live and work on the landscape of youth ministry need to recognize that the problem exists in our world as well. On just one day last week, my Google news feed offered up three stories related to the keyword “youth” where members of our own tribe had been either arrested or convicted for doing the kind of stuff accusers have pinned in Weinstein. Wake up people. It’s everywhere. If you find yourself leaning towards this sort of thing, step out now! And, if you know someone in youth ministry or anyone else in the church who is involved in this, inhale immediately and then blow the whistle as loud as you can.
Fourth, we’re now facing the difficult work of walking people through their trauma. So many have lived for so long in the prison of their silence, with each passing day being one more day of being locked-up yet hoping for escape. Now that the lid’s been blown off for so many, the church needs to get its hands dirty. . . pastors, counselors, youth workers, friends. Our collective responsibility is to listen, love, care, and get them to the help they need. This is not a crisis or movement that can fall on deaf ears. One of the leaders we lean on to help us respond in the right way is Dr. Diane Langberg. She’s done extensive work on sexual abuse and trauma. Her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, and this podcast interview with her on suffering, trauma, and abuse are good starting points that we must all tap into.
Finally, we need to pray for clarity and discernment. This may sound a bit harsh, but as the wave of #metoo posts grows, we can be sure that there will be those who want to get caught up in the frenzy, get some attention, and make some social media noise. . . even though this isn’t their story. In other words, mixed in with the many, many legitimate admissions and cries for help will be those that are stated falsely, based on a desire to simply get some attention. That said, don’t take a #metoo too lightly, but always be on the look out for those that are false accusations designed to give the accuser a platform, a sympathetic audience, and a place to fit in.
Regardless of which addiction has taken you as its prisoner, you’ve experienced the numbing agent it provides. My pastor in Chicago once said that if there is one thing which unites all of humanity, it’s addiction.
In the words of Saint Peter (and Bob Dylan), we are all slaves to something. We are all the proverbial dog returning to his vomit. Eventually you become used to the flavor because at least your stomach is being filled with something.
I wrote in the past about porn as the quiet anesthesia. I still think it’s one of my truest blogs to date. We tend to look at all the blatant effects of a pornography addiction, like the marriages it ruins and the relationships it alienates; we look at how it fuels global sex traffickingor creates highly unrealistic expectations for how a human should look. But we overlook one of the most basic and common effects of pornography:
I was once on a spontaneous date in California with a beautiful woman which ended up going well. Very well.
She and I took off from In-N-Out through the serpentine mountainous road near the small town and found a field from which to stargaze in the crisp spring night. It was nearing midnight and the clouds only let us see half the stars in the sky.
In other words, it was a really, really beautiful date.
We were lying on the ’emergency blanket’ I keep in my trunk for such situations, when she rolled onto her elbows, looked at me and told me she wanted to kiss me.
And she did.
And I remember the thought running through my mind as it happened: I feel like I should be feeling more than this. I feel like I should be more present. More blown away by this moment.
Earlier today I was talking with a college friend on the phone. He recounted times he had held his girlfriend as she wept, but he was removed. Detached. Emotionless. He said he felt nothing watching the woman he loved weep about what weighed on her heart. He was physically holding her, but he was somewhere else.
As he described the moment, he laid the blame for this removal from reality directly at the feet of pornography.
As men (and women I’m sure), we are robbed from much of the ability to feel feelings when we struggle with an addiction. It removes us from ourselves. One writer describes this as ‘the man who walks beside himself.’
We are experiencing our lives from somewhere outside, rather than from within, from our center.
The more I learn about feelings, the more I realize how many of us are uncomfortable with our feelings. As I’ve said before, I went nearly a decade without crying once. The more I grow, the more emotional of a man I become. And I think this is akin to becoming more in line with how God intended us to be: He did not create us to be binary robots with no emotions or impassioned reactions to our lives. The God of the Bible is one who is adamantly alive to His emotions, the entire spectrum.
We are quick to run to the lighter emotions of laughter and happiness, but anything that dives beneath the surface of weight or reality we are quick to wash away.
If your girlfriend leaves you and the pain is too much to bear, are you going to patiently sit in that feeling, or try to quell it with your vice of choice? For an addict, the choice is obvious, even if we don’t want it to be.
The problem with using substances (pornography, alcohol or otherwise) to escape the painful feelings is that, yes, they make the lows less low, but they also make the highs less high.
They rob us of the ability to deeply take in the power of beauty.
They may take the tears away, but how often are those tears necessary to experience life well? What kind of son wants to sit in his mother’s funeral with dry eyes? What kind of Christian wants to hear a powerful representation of the gospel and be unmoved?
Being fully human means being fully awake to our emotions, not distanced from them. God never intended to give us shortcuts when we grieve a loss or feel rejected. Nor did He want us to pacify the beautiful feelings of falling in love or watching your son take his first steps.
But pornography robs us of these beautiful moments by removing us from the present moment. It takes us to a place where pain and rejection don’t exist, but neither does beauty or intimacy.
Yesterday my church was performing baptisms and I was asked to share a few words beforehand. I stood up and, strange as it may sound, talked about a personal hero of mine, Nabeel Qureshi. I had just found out the day before that Qureshi had finally died after battling cancer at the young age of 34. He left behind a wife and daughter, but he is now reunited with another daughter they had lost to a miscarriage, and most importantly, with his savior Jesus Christ.
I had followed Nabeel’s videos the past year as his face and hair grew thinner and he became emaciated from his treatment. His last video update was an announcement that he was being moved to palliative care in order to make him more comfortable until he slipped away. Even now a lump rises in my throat.
As I spoke before my church and recounted the story of the brother we lost, a similar lump rose. My eyes filled with tears and I had to stop talking.
“Yesterday, our family lost a member…”
Silence filled the room.
“…but……but today we celebrate new members coming into it.”
I then entered the water with one of my middle schoolers and we baptized him. The beauty of the action is unspeakable. Even now. Something sacred happens as we observe certain family members moving on while new ones are ushered in.
And you know what? That moment choking up in front of my church was not bad. It did not make me feel like less of a man, nor was it painful, in the negative sense. It was a beautiful moment which I was able to experience in the presence of my community and my God, and if there is one thing the enemy wants to take from us, it’s that.
It is these moments of intense beauty which get stolen from us the more we numb ourselves with pornography. The enemy doesn’t want us to feel. I think he would be much happier if he could rob us of our ability to feel and worship God with a healthy and full emotional life.
But may we be like Christ, whose rich and vibrant emotional life should teach all of us to feel things to the fullest without taking shortcuts and numbing the pain. May we suffer well and rejoice well. May we grieve deeply and laugh loudly. May we loose the chains which keep our emotions subdued and drugged in the dungeons of our souls.
A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on September 18th, 2017.
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.
Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, died last month.
Based on your age, you may or may not be aware of just how significant a cultural figure the man known as “Hef” actually was. . . or perhaps I should more accurately say is. Shortly after his death last evening, his son Cooper stated that his father lived an “exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer.” That statement is 100% correct, depending on how you would translate and understand the word “exceptional.” Cooper Hefner also tweeted that his father was a powerful advocate for “free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom.” Consequently, whether you know who Hefner is or not, if you’re a living, breathing, human being who is swimming in the soup of today’s culture and youth culture, Hefner’s ideological DNA exists within the sexual beliefs and behaviors driving our culture and ourselves.
Pornography, or more accurately “sexual immorality”, moved into the modern U.S. mainstream when Hefner published his first edition of Playboy back in 1953. Yes, sexual immorality has been around since Genesis 3:6 in terms of beliefs, desires, and behaviors. Pornography certainly not anything new. But by pulling the curtain back on societal taboos, Hefner was a leading figure in the move to rewrite moral codes. In effect, Hefner may have been the guy standing on top of the mountain, kicking the first rock which has eventually morphed into the growing landslide of the sexual revolution which continues today.
Like all things crafted by God and declared as “Good!”, our sexuality is broken. And rather than pursuing redemptive sexuality, Hefner encouraged us to indulge our sexual brokenness as “sexual freedom” without borders or boundaries.
In some ways, Hugh Hefner wrecked my life. I was born just three years after the launch of Playboy. And just 11 or 12 years into my young life, I joined several friends in taking a first-look at Hefner’s printed monthly. I will never forget it. It was the first time I had seen published pornography. In fact, like most men, the memory is seared into the fabric of my brain. And, like all human beings, my sexual brokenness has existed inside of me in ways that changed on that day just before the dawn of my teenage years.
If I’m honest with myself, it wasn’t Hugh Hefner who made me do it. It was me. And since then, I thank God that a history of sexual indiscretions in thought, word, and deed can be redeemed . . . even though the battle still rages. And, I thank God that His good gift of sexuality can be thought about, exercised, and understood in all its intended glory (by the power of the Holy Spirit) through pursuing sexual integrity to the glory of God and by the grace of God.
While reading this morning about Hefner’s death, I was reminded that several years ago, Hefner purchased the burial vault next to Marilyn Monroe’s. Why? So he could spend eternity with his magazine’s first cover girl. Another one of his crazy ideas, I know. And while we might be tempted to applaud the death of Hugh Hefner as the end to an era, there are some other ways of looking at this.
First, Hefner’s death has not brought an era to an end. The rocks of the sexual revolution landslide are still tumbling. . . picking up speed, volume, and mass.
Second, just as Hefner’s message of “sexual freedom” without borders and boundaries continues to flourish, our role is to preach the Gospel to ourselves and to our kids so that we might continually hear the message of what leads to true sexual flourishing over and above the loud, compelling, and convincing voice of culture. . . that sadly, we are apt to not even question anymore ourselves.
And third, among those of us who see and understand eternity from the perspective of the One who created, called, and redeemed us, there should be no applause over Hugh Hefner’s death. Rather, we should be grieving over his beliefs, his behaviors, and the gods of his heart. We don’t know his heart condition as his earthly story ended, but we do know that his actions and beliefs regarding end-of-life and the after-life were horribly misinformed.
I know it sounds weird, but I’ve spent time pondering Hugh Hefner this morning. . . his impact on my life, my kids, and my culture. It hasn’t been much of a direct influence since that day when I first looked at his magazine, but the influence has been strong. And, I can’t ever self-righteously forget that there, but for the grace of God, go I.
Life is way too short to not be living God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of sex and sexuality. I’m guessing Hugh Hefner knows that now.
A version of this article appeared on CPYU’s Blog on September 28th, 2017.
Dr. Walt Mueller is the founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. His organization is always looking for new ways to be salt and light in the culture-at-large. Walt’s the author of eight books and is a sought-after authority on youth culture and family issues.
“I want to talk about pornography.” That’s what the 15-year-old boy said to me after hearing me talk at his Christian school on “God and Sex.” Sadly, he wasn’t a curious young dabbler looking for someone to help him understand whether pornography was right or wrong. Instead, he was already spending time every day looking at online pornography while masturbating regularly. He was already a pornography addict. He’s not alone. A growing number of our students are either hooked on pornography or on the path to living future lives dominated and destroyed by pornography’s sick and twisted distortion of God’s good gift of sexuality. Should we be surprised?
The United States Department of Justice recognized the prevalence and life-shaping potential of pornography when they issued this statement: “Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” Oh. . . by the way. . . that statement was released back in 1996. . . more than 10 years before the advent of the smartphone! Since then, the “pandemic” of porn has spread like wildfire.
It is estimated that anywhere between 12 and 37 percent of all Internet web pages contain pornography. And with the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography being 11-years-old (again. . . an outdated statistic that’s over 10 years old), our youth, children’s and parent ministries must recognize, understand, and address the issue with urgency, knowledge, and depth.
The rapid rise in pornography’s popularity has been facilitated by a perfect storm of factors. At its root is the fact that we have been created for sex and wired for intimacy. God made us as sexual beings with deep sexual desires. . . and said it was “good.” But with the advent of sin into God’s “good” world, nothing remains the way it was supposed to be, including our sexuality. Sex “becomes distorted” – as Dennis Hollinger writes in his book The Meaning of Sex – “in its longings, directions, misdirected end, and idolatrous impetus.” No surprise, our fallen sexuality yearns for, creates and consumes pornography. Pornography, in turn, is a “gasoline” that fuels our fallen sexual fire.
Experts also cite the “three A’s” as contributing to the problem. First, pornography is accessible. Fifty years ago, pornography started its trek into the mainstream with Playboy magazine. As of 1973 there were fewer than 1000 adult theaters across the country. Eventually, home video technology created a gateway for pornographic film to enter the privacy of one’s home. Now, technology provides 24/7 access to pornography regardless of who you are or where you are. Google the term “xxx” and over a billion and a half results appear. A seemingly limitless ever-expanding supply has created a world where even if your kids don’t go looking for pornography, it will find them.
Second, pornography is anonymous. All you have to do is sit alone at home or focus your gaze on your hand-held device. There’s no need to go into a quick-mart to interact publicly with a clerk. The stumbling-blocks of embarrassment and age-restriction are relics of the past. In today’s world, nobody sees you, and you can even hide your identity on online. Even those who have a clear sense of right and wrong can sit alone and indulge. Sadly, the anonymous nature of pornography won’t even matter in future years as pornography becomes more culturally acceptable and normalized. There will be no need to hide.
Third, pornography is affordable. Internet pornography doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Surveys show that 80 to 90 percent of those who access pornography online only access the free online material. It couldn’t make it any easier. . . especially for a kid.
I was a curious and inquisitive 12-year-old boy when I was first exposed to pornography. Like most other men my age, that watershed moment from my childhood was so powerful that the memory is still ingrained in my brain. I remember where I was, who I was with, what was said, and what I saw. I’m not at all proud about it. I shudder to think who I would grow up to be if I was a 12-year-old boy living in today’s porn-infested world. I fear for our kids, both boys and girls. What kind of men, women, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers will they become after spending their formative childhood and teenage years in a world where encountering pornography is no longer a possible if, but an inevitable when?
Parents and youth workers have a window of opportunity and an even greater responsibility to address the pornography issue with kids. Here are three initial elements that must be present as you address pornography in your family or youth ministry.
First, define pornography.
Not only do kids need to know what pornography is if they’re going to face it in their lives, but they need to know how ugly and broken it is so that they can develop a healthy hate for pornography. Used a variety of times in the New Testament, porneia (por-knee-a) refers to fornication, whoredom, sexual unchastity, sexual immorality, harlotry, and prostitution. “Pornography” comes from the Greek word pornagraphos, which is written descriptions or visual depictions of prostitutes. Drawing a connection between these definitions and the current worldwide scourge of sexual trafficking and victimization might serve to open their eyes to just what pornography really is. In his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester defines pornography as “anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification, or escape – whether it was intended for that purpose or not.” Another helpful definition comes from Harvest USA : “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.” Be sure to emphasize the “anything,” as our boys are typically drawn to visual representations and our girls are typically attracted to literary pornography (think Fifty Shades of Grey). . . although these differences are leveling out as more and more girls access visual pornography.
Second, educate on pornography’s consequences.
The old saying “actions have consequences” couldn’t be more true of pornography. Disobedience to God’s sexual will and way through pornography leads to consequences that are immediate, long-term, and far-reaching. Contrary to what is rapidly becoming widely-held opinion, pornography is not harmless, benign fun. The consequences are spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational. Like all sin, pornography destroys your relationship with God. Research points to a host of other negative outcomes. It distorts your view of sex and sexuality. It shapes sexual expectations as users expect others to “make love like a porn star.” It leads to sexual dissatisfaction and intimacy issues. Pornography teaches us to view other people not as individuals made in the image of God, but as nothing more or less than sexual objects. The more you use, the more desensitized you become, leading into the downward spiral of more frequent and extreme use. Pornography fuels lust and leads people to believe that marriage is sexually confining. Pornography users tend to engage in sexual activity at earlier ages, and they grow up to see having children and a family as unattractive prospects. New research on the brain shows conclusively that pornography is highly addictive. Finally, a growing body of research is connecting pornography use to sexual addiction, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking. On the flip side, there are absolutely no benefits to the use and abuse of pornography!
Third, take steps to respond.
While there are no fool-proof and immediate strategies to protect the kids you know and love from seeing and suffering from pornography, there are steps you can take to prepare them to deal with the inevitable temptation that most – if not all – of them have alreadyfaced and indulged. As Martin Luther once advised, we might not be able to stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from building nests in our hair.
Here’s a list of some of the steps to regularly include in your youth ministry:
Teach on positive biblical sexuality. Start with the positive. Sex is a good gift from God to be expressed/experienced within the context of a monogamous covenantal marriage between one man and one woman. God does not look down on sex!
Remind them that their sexuality is broken. . . just like everything else in the world. Their default setting is sin and it’s for that reason that they must be “soberminded and watchful” as “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” who seeks to devour them and their sexuality (I Peter 5:8&9).
Let them know that Jesus knows what it’s like. Yes, he shares in their temptation and he is praying for them! (Hebrews 4:15).
Engage in biblically-based sex education at a young age. The reality is that by the time they arrive in your middle-school youth group much of pornography’s initial damage will have been done. Raise the awareness of parents and children’s ministry people at your church so that they can proactively educate children in age-appropriate ways.
Teach them to respond to their engagement with pornography in healthy and redemptive ways. Encourage them to talk to their parents, to seek help, to share their struggle with others who can hold them accountable, and to run to God rather than to pornography.
Process media portrayals of fallen sexuality as you encounter them together. Think with them about the skewed portrayals of sexuality that they see and hear each and every day in film, music, TV, and advertising. Challenge those portrayals that are sinful and wrong, while celebrating and affirming portrayals that reflect God’s will and way for sexuality.
Have people tell their stories. Invite those who are battling pornography addictions to share their stories along with how they are making it through with God’s help. Have them answer these questions: “What made you give in?”, “How has pornography affected you?”, “How has pornography affected your relationships?”, and “How have you learned to effectively deal with pornography now?”
Provide redemptive and recovery resources. There will come a day when you will have to act. . . and quickly. Have a referral list of competent Christian counselors and other referrals at your fingertips. Know where the recovery and support groups meet. Provide a list of mentors who have not only been through it themselves, but can guide students to redemption and hope in Christ.
The reality is that we might not want to talk about pornography, but we must. And whether they know it or not, our students want to talk about pornography too. They might not think so now, but they will wish they had done so if they get caught in pornography’s addictive grip. We have a small window in which to get talking. Culture is shifting quickly in ways that are moving pornography from something once seen as a vice, to something seen as a matter of personal choice. . . or even a virtue.
What steps are you taking to guide your students through the spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational minefield of pornography?
This morning I got up early to head south to Daytona Beach. I’m spending the next couple of days with a group of youth workers talking about significant trends in youth culture. This afternoon, I will be speaking about pornography’s growing and pervasive influence in our culture. For some reason, my mind wandered back to a day almost five years ago when I was flying and noticed what the young women in the row in front of me was reading. While sitting here during a delay, I went back to read that post. I’m sharing it here once more. . .
Today I had a long flight. I decided to dig into the stack of books that’s growing on a spot on my office floor. My summer reading/study emphasis is pornography. . . its place in our culture and what it’s doing to our lives. The pile of books has grown in the last few weeks and I’m not at all looking forward to what I’m going to be reading and what I’m going to learn. Still, it needs to be done.
As I settled into my seat I pulled out my copy of William Struthers’ Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. I’ve been fascinated by the little bit I’ve read from this Christian Biopsychologist who teaches at Wheaton College so I’ve been yearning to learn more about the not-so-surprising connection between pornography and the things it does to men’s brains. After all, we’re integrated beings created by a Maker who has made us with amazing complexity.
At the same time that I was opening my book, a young woman who appeared to me to be in her early twenties settled down in the row in front of me. She quickly stowed her carry-on bag under her seat and then eagerly opened her book. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey. You might remember that I blogged on this blockbuster book a few posts ago.
And so I proceeded to read these words about what pornography does to the male brain:
As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women right as created in God’s image.
Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is oversexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by a high containment walls making escape nearly impossible. this neurological superhighway has many on-ramps. The mental life is fixated on sex, but it is intended for intimacy. It is wide – able to accommodate multiple partners, images and sexual possibilities, but it is intended to be narrow – a place for God’s exclusive love to be imaged. . .
And as I read these words from William Struthers, I kept wondering to myself about what was happening in the brain of the young lady seated in front of me. . . . . and the brains of so many other young men and women.
We are all highly susceptible. . . and we need to recognize this reality. Proverbs warns us about just staying on guard. . . all the time. . . against the efforts. Proverbs chapter 7 offers a sobering warning against it. Today’s cultural landscape is fertile ground for seduction.
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. – Proverbs 7:21-27
Then, Scotty Smith shares this prayer that is timely for all of us. . . everyday. . .
“Dear Lord Jesus, what a sobering Scripture. But we shouldn’t be shocked, for you created us for rich intimacy and satisfying communion with yourself; the likes of which, even our best relationships, are just a hint, a whisper, and symbol. But alas, like all good things, our longings for intimacy get hijacked by sin and sabotaged by selfishness.
When it comes to relational and sexual sin, Samson and King David don’t stand (and fall) alone. Every one of us is capable of being seduced and seducing others. We need the gospel to keep us sane, centered, and satisfied.
For there are many lonely husbands, wives, and singles who are primed for a fling, targets for an affair, on the cusp of a “hook up”—aching, yearning, reaching for a few minutes of pleasure to medicate months, years, even a lifetime of disconnect and emptiness. It may never become physically sexual, but sometimes just the emotional connection can bring an exhilaration bordering on intoxication; and it is an intoxication that can lead to addiction; and an addiction that leads to death.
But Jesus, how well we know that it’s not just lonely and unhappily married people who veer onto the “grave highway” leading to the “chambers of death.” Even when we’re connecting well, even when our marriages are at a good place, or even when we’re quite content and fulfilled in our singleness, our seduce-ability is ever present. It may be dormant, perhaps, but never dead.
I know the way of grace is neither paranoia nor presumption; it’s rather wisdom, care, and freedom. You are constantly wooing us in the gospel, saying, “Come away, my beloved.” Your desire is for us and your banner over us is love. Indeed, whom do we have in heaven but you, Lord Jesus, and being with you, who or what could we possibly desire more on this earth? You alone have the words of eternal life, and your love alone is better than life. So very Amen we pray, in your tender and tenacious name.”