Teaching God’s Design for Sex
About the Guest
Barrett and Jenifer Johnson,tell why it’s important for parents to share God’s perspective on sex with their children. The sex talk parents dread needs to become a series of talks about a variety of issues.
Teaching God’s Design for Sex
Bob: How do you talk to your children about intimacy, and human reproduction, and sex? Barrett Johnson says the way we address this subject with our sons and daughters, as we’re raising them, is pretty important.
Barrett: We saw young women who had been told by mama all their lives—good Christian girls by good Christian mamas—“Hey, daughter,”—all through their developing years—“sex is bad; sex is bad. Whatever you do, don’t have sex. Avoid boys. Don’t talk to boys or look at boys; you’ll catch a disease / you’ll get pregnant. Don’t have sex, whatever you do.”
And they got married. They walked out of a reception, heading towards a honeymoon; and those mamas said, “Oh, by the way, sex is fine now.” So these girls we have seen / these young couples are unable to have a positive view of sex in marriage; because they’ve been so programmed over the years to say that sex is a negative thing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
It’s important that we have, not just a conversation, but lots of conversations with our kids about sex; and we need to have the right kinds of conversations too. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We have some kindred spirits in the studio today to talk about what may be the most intimidating assignment parents face in the whole spectrum; don’t you think? When you stop and think about the thing, what could be more intimidating that causes parents just to freak out when it comes to raising their kids? It has to be—
Dennis: Having “the talk”—
Bob: The talk.
Dennis: —with your kids. That is intimidating.
Barrett and Jenifer Johnson join us from near Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Jenifer: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.
Barrett: It is our privilege. Thanks for having us.
Dennis: They have written a book called The Talks; and it is called A Parent’s Guide to Critical Conversations about Sex, Dating, and Other Unmentionables.
Bob: And we should note—it’s called The Talk—s.
Barrett: That’s for a reason. There’s design with that.
Bob: Yes; because most parents think about it as the talk.
Dennis: And they think it’s one and done. That’s a big mistake.
Dennis: Well, Barrett and Jenifer have been married since 1990. They are native Texans who have been transplanted near Atlanta. They have five kids and three grandchildren.
So tell us why you’re passionate about this subject. Why must parents pay attention to the talks?
Barrett: We’ve always needed to do that, I think—that the talk is critical—we know. But after raising our own kids / after working in youth ministry for years, we were aware of these issues and the culture changing. But what really turned us on to realize how important it is to have these conversations is ministry we did in a local church for the last decade. We work with a bunch of young newlyweds / young couples who are in their first days of marriage / building their marriages.
It’s really the first generation of young 20s that we witnessed, up close, who were a by-product of the culture that was impacted by technology.
Dennis: So what did you see?
Barrett: We saw young men who were addicted to porn. We saw young women who had been told by a mama all their lives—good Christian girls by good Christian mamas—“Hey, daughter,”—all through their developing years—“sex is bad; sex is bad. Whatever you do, don’t have sex. Avoid boys. Don’t talk to boys or look at boys; you’ll catch a disease / you’ll get pregnant. Don’t have sex, whatever you do.”
And they got married and they walked out of a reception heading towards a honeymoon, and those same mamas said, “Oh by the way, sex is fine now.” And so these girls we’ve seen / these young couples are unable to have a positive view of sex in marriage; because they’ve been so programmed over the years to say that sex is a negative thing.
Bob: Jenifer, you really saw this when you went to a conference with a group of young wives and it was like the lights came on for you and them; right?
Jenifer: Oh, definitely. That was not when we were serving in Atlanta; that was when we were at a church in the DFW area in Texas.
Yes; I walked out into the parking lot with all these girls I had taken to the Intimate Issues conference in Dallas. I thought, “This is the first time I have ever had the biblical perspective of sex taught to me.”
Dennis: How old were you?
Jenifer: Mm, man—
Barrett: Like 33/35.
Jenifer: Yes; been married to a minister for 15 years or so. I just felt mad almost; but it also turned a peg inside my head of thinking, “I want to teach my kids that I have right now”—who were all little back then—“how awesome sex is, and what it is, and what they’re guarding; and talk about how precious it is instead of saying: ‘Don’t do it; don’t do it. It’s scary, and you might get pregnant,’ and “Blah-blah-blah.” I wanted to teach them what they were guarding instead of giving them a harsh rule not to have it. I wanted to present it in a whole different light.
Bob: Barrett, when Jenifer got home from that conference and said, “My world has been rocked,” did you say, “Right on,” or did you say, “That sounds scary to me”?
Barrett: No; I think it was one more area that we realized God has perspective of something that He created. Why wouldn’t we, as the body of Christ / as believers, try to acknowledge God’s design and teach God’s perspective of these things?—those things that God made the most glorious and beautiful and show off how much He loves humanity and how amazing He is. Those are the very things that the enemy of our God allocates resources to—to screw up our lives / just to thwart and undermine our lives. Nothing fits that bill better than human sexuality. This thing that God designed has been taken over by the world.
To Jenifer’s point—the world is talking about it, but the church is not. Moms and dads / parents, we have to help our kids in a world that’s bombarding them with messages—wrong messages / lies—to start putting a positive spin—a godly spin / a biblical spin—on what God designed sex to be for their good.
Bob: Had you been having any conversations with your kids up to this point?
Jenifer: They were little bitty, and that’s when we were serving in DFW. That’s when I even joke with some of my friends, back in DFW—I was teaching those young moms to have one talk about the birds and bees and: “If you’re afraid to do it by yourself, go and buy Passport2Purity® from FamilyLife. [Laughter] Dennis Rainey will do it for you.” All those young moms were trying to get prepared for that; because again, it is the most fearful thing in all of parenthood. So we were trying to ready ourselves for it.
So fast-forward to ministering to newlyweds at this huge church in Atlanta. We really realized: “Man! These kids just graduated from college, married their Prince Charming; and, in my opinion, should be swinging from the chandeliers, having great sex; but they’re not.” I went home to Barrett one night after hearing yet another story of it not looking the way that God wants it to look, and I cried. I was broken-hearted—I said: “We have to do something about this! This is serious; because of this precious generation that’s grown up with cell phones, and technology, and all this.”
Barrett: If I can add—what we see now, more and more, working with parents—is their teenagers / their older teenagers—young adults—they come to us, on staff at church, saying, “Hey, my kids are struggling with this, that, and the other,” “…pornography,” or “My daughter’s sleeping with her boyfriend,” or all these different things: “What do we do?”
Well, the lesson we wanted to give them / the solution I want to give them is not one I can give these parents. The solution is: “Here’s what you do. You get yourself a DeLorean and some plutonium; and you build a flux capacitor, like Marty McFly—
Bob: Back to the Future.
Barrett: —“in Back to the Future. You go back in time to when your kids are six, and eight, and ten, and twelve years old and start preparing them for and indoctrinating with truth so they can make wise decisions.”
Unfortunately, most folks in our culture wait until they get in the thick of things—they get there too late—and they find themselves going, “I need to play catch-up and reel something back in that is very, very difficult to reel back in.”
Bob: I’m sitting here, thinking about my own experience in this in raising our kids. You and I are old enough that we were around in the ’60s. There was a tectonic shift in this culture in the ’60s when it came to the whole issue of sexuality, and we’re still feeling the aftershocks of that shift in our day today.
Christian parents, who grew through that environment, kind of came away, going: “The dam has eroded. I have to reconstruct the dam,” instead of thinking, “What’s the right way?” We just push the pendulum, I think, way back to the other side and say to our kids: “Don’t…”; “Don’t…”; “Don’t…”; “Don’t...”
Jenifer: And because of that historical time, that’s why that happened that way. So they just said, “Don’t do it.” I don’t blame them; I totally understand that; because we didn’t have the internet / we didn’t have resources like FamilyLife back then.
So we want to get young families, and we want to help them get a game plan before your child comes home from elementary school and says, “Sammy’s in love with me, and I’m going to be his girlfriend!” and you’re standing there, with your mouth open, thinking, “What in the world do I say next?” I mean, as little as that—we want to give them a game plan: “How do you talk that through? Where are we going to go with that?”—starting there—all the way to marrying them off to a healthy sex life.
We want to give parents a game plan before you are stuck in a situation of any kind at any age, where you’re going: “Oh my word! What am I going to do?” And really teaching them not to react, because one thing we do to this is—we freak out. That shuts our kids down, and they then don’t feel safe talking to us about these subjects.
Dennis: One of the things you could help us with here—and this doesn’t need to be exhaustive—but you talk about the talks, with the s really being featured on the cover of your book. You’re saying there are a number of conversations, not just about sex, but about other related issues of gender that kids are having to deal with right now.
Can you think through—all the way from young children / as in toddlers, all the way through adolescence, into adulthood: “What are some of the topics that you really need to make sure you, as a parent, are checking off and engaging in conversations—not once, not twice, but numerous times—and then at checkpoints along the way as they grow up?”
Barrett: That’s a great question. I think what you just nailed on—in the way you phrased that question is: it is checkpoints / it is along the way. The conversation evolves about what it means to be a boy / what it means to be a girl. You can make that very clear to a two- or three-year-old; but that looks different at seven, and at twelve, and at sixteen as our culture changes.
Issues about guarding your body—that starts when your kids are three: “Don’t let anybody touch you in ways they don’t need to touch you,” “We have a bathing suit cover,”—all those different things. That conversation looks different, about guarding yourself, to a six-year-old than a sixteen-year-old and as our kids develop.
Dennis: Bob and I have done broadcasts on these subjects. We’ve found our audience to be very responsive, just to be able to have these conversations about protecting your body. That’s an interesting concept.
Barrett: And in this culture, it’s one you must have—but again, to tell a three-year-old, “Don’t let anybody touch you inappropriately,” / to tell your 16-year-old daughter: “If you’re at a party and someone gives you a drink, one way you protect yourself is—you don’t know what’s in that drink. You be very careful about whatever could happen; because you’re vulnerable, in this culture we live in, to someone who’s a predator or whatever.”
Technology, of course, has changed everything. So the average teenager has a smartphone now. That smartphone is not just a telephone—we know that to be true. We tell folks: “In many ways, that is a porn delivery system.” It’s where pornography comes into play. That’s a conversation about explicit material you have when your kids are young; and it evolves as your kids get older, and there’s interest and curiosity there.
We could spend an exhaustive amount of time talking about that impact, because it has changed literally everything—the dynamic of how our young people perceive their own sexuality as they take that into marriage. That’s a huge issue, in and of itself; but it looks one way at eight, and ten, and twelve, and sixteen.
Bob: So, as you were raising your kids and starting to have these conversations and starting to engage in this, were your kids, “Tell me more, Mommy and Daddy,” or were they like: “Okay; that’s enough. I don’t want to… Thanks, Mom/Dad, go back to your room now.”
Jenifer: Well, I’d love to write a cute book about the responses children have to their parents telling them the first birds and bees story, because I think that would be a best-seller. We have so many cute stories of people sharing that with us. It’s like: “I could have gone my whole life never knowing that. Thank you very much,” to “I will never look at a pregnant person the same way ever.”
But what I love about it is—everyone’s really worried about that initial talk. There is no way you can mess it up; because your children—my older children and married children can tell you—do not remember a thing we say in that clumsy birds and bees talk. But what we’re doing is—we’re opening the door and saying: “Hey kids, this is a topic that is important. This is a topic that can be defined by Jesus Christ and the Bible, because it was His idea. Here’s how He thinks about it.” We’re opening the door up to saying: “We’re going to talk about this forever, and ever, and ever. It is okay,” and “Don’t be embarrassed.” You don’t have to get it perfect; but you just open the door and say, “Hey, kids, we’re going to talk about this; and it’s going to be alright.”
Our kids were chill.
And then the thing that was kind of hard for me and made me sad is—then my kids’ friends would go to them and say: “Hey, my mom and dad don’t talk about this. Would you ask these questions to your mom and dad and come back to me?”
Barrett: Because other parents would drop the ball along the way.
Dennis: And they really do want to know.
Jenifer: They do.
Barrett: Well, here’s the deal—kids do have questions. If a kid has a question, they’ll find an answer. You don’t want your kids “Googling” questions they have about sex, obviously; but secondly, we’ve told our kids, all along the way: “Don’t ask your friends about human sexuality. Don’t ask your friends about girls—your friends are all morons,”—is what I’ve told my kids—“They don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Son/daughter, you can ask me anything, as your parent.”
Dennis: “Oh, but Daddy—but Daddy, my friends go to church. They’re in the youth group.”
Bob: “They still don’t know anything.”
Barrett: “They’re still morons.”
Bob: You know—you’re absolutely right—I’ve been in groups and I’ve said: “Okay; how many of you learned about sex from your parents? First time you ever heard about it—mom and dad.” Very few hands go up. “How many of you learned about it in biology class at school?” Very few hands go up. “How many of you learned about it from church?” No hands go up. “How many of you learned about it from a peer at a slumber party?”
All the hands in the room go up.
And then I say, “How many of you think that 12-year-old, who was explaining sex to you, really knew what he or she was talking about?” They don’t know! When you stop and think about it, it’s like, “Well, duh!”
Barrett: Well Bob, here’s where it gets complicated. Now, in this culture, our kids are learning about sex through pornography. Jack Clark, at the Fuller Youth Institute, says 60 percent of our teenage boys are addicted to porn. That’s not teenage boys in the bad part of town, that’s teenage boys in your church are addicted to porn. Every young man has an interest and curiosity.
When I was a young man / when we were kids, we just couldn’t find it. It didn’t exist, by and large. But now, it’s so accessible. So our young people now are learning about sex through watching porn.
I heard it said—it’s brilliant—watching porn to learn about sex is kind of like playing Mario Cart on your Nintendo to learn how to drive a car. It’s just not even helpful—it’s so far removed from reality—and yet, these young men are bringing that understanding of how sex should work into their marriages.
As Jenifer said a minute ago, young couples, who we think should be swinging from the chandeliers, are already struggling in the early days of their marriage.
Dennis: When I taught my sixth-grade Sunday school class, I had a session where I said, “If you’re going to ask someone about sex, who would you ask?” It’s back to what Bob illustrated, but I’m sharing this story with our listeners to know: “This is standard.” You can think your kid is going to be different than the rest of them. I’m telling you—it was 100 percent of the time—they wanted to go to their peers. I said: “So, help me here. You want to go ask directions on how to get to Dallas from someone who hasn’t been there the right way?”
Dennis: These 11- and 12-year-olds, with all their innocence—which, by the way, was not nearly as innocent as I thought it was—by the time I taught the class for 11 years, I determined that the average 11- and 12-year-old knows a whole lot more than the parents think he or she knows.
Jenifer: Oh yes.
Barrett: Well, it used to be, years ago, parents were trying to protect their kids.
I think, in this day and age, it is 12- and 13-year-olds, who are thinking to themselves, “I have to protect my parents from what I’ve seen and what I know.”
Dennis: So here’s what I want the parent to know—it may be you have protected your child. Maybe you’ve been successful; but you cannot protect your child from the peer issue, even if you’re a homeschooler!
Dennis: It is so pervasive in this culture. So that means the parent has to have a very proactive, and not a reactive, approach to this subject.
Jenifer: And early. And that’s the big thing—is moms coming to me and saying, “But I don’t want to have to tell them really, really early!” I’m like, “Would you rather tell early, and feel a little clumsy and weird about that; or would you like them to even skip asking their friends about sex and go straight to the internet?” I mean, there’s no way to keep your kids away from even little bitty looking at stuff on YouTube and the internet, even with safety features set up. I mean, it’s going to happen. So you have to be okay with telling them, early, stuff that we really wouldn’t choose to.
It’s hard / it is hard, but we’d rather do it that way than the wrong way. It’s not working the wrong way.
Dennis: One of the biggest fears parents have—I want you both to speak to this, if you would—is: “My kid’s going to ask me, ‘So, when you were a teenager, did you mess around with the opposite sex?’” That means the parent is frozen, because of his or her own past at that point. Coach a parent, who’s looking at their past, and going, “I don’t want to get off into this with my kids.”
Barrett: We teach moms and dads to stop making excuses about avoiding it. One of the big excuses we make is: “I feel like a hypocrite. I made some lousy choices, and I don’t feel like I’m credible to speak to my kids,” and “If my kids say, ‘Well Mom and Dad, what did you do when you were a teenager?’”—we respond and say: “Parent, it is your story to tell. You can tell your kids what you want to tell them.” Certain kids may respond well to your story / certain kids may not need to hear the story. You may have different things you tell different kids along the way.
But what I tell my kids—I say, “Kids, yes; I made some really bad choices when I was a young person.”
My fear is—and my kids responded with: “Well, you made some bad choices; and you and Mom turned out fine. So, what’s the big deal?”
I always respond to my kids with this statement: “Yes, I made some mistakes; and yes, God’s in the process of redeeming my brokenness; but I turned out very far from okay. I’m still carrying around, at some level, the baggage and the leftovers from the poor choices I made before I met your mom. I will regret that to the day I die. So do not think that I am okay. Praise God I’m being restored; but again, the impact of what you do, pre-marriage, will always go into your marriage.”
So, parents can tell their kids whatever they want to tell them—yes or no / it’s up to them—but it will have an impact.
Bob: And just because a child asks, doesn’t mean you give them every detail.
Barrett: Of course not.
Bob: For you to say when they say: “Well, did you fool around?”—you say: “You know what? I made poor choices.” That may be all you need to say. If the child says, “Like what?” you can say: “You know what? When you’re older, we can talk about that; but right now…” I do think parents have a little more control in this situation than they often think they have.
Barrett: But it’s also a great time to teach the gospel. It’s a great time to say: “Yes; here’s where I blew it. Here’s where I got way outside of God’s design for me, and my relationships, and my sexuality. Here is where the cross was sufficient to bring grace into my life, but I will still have the consequences of those poor choices from back in the day. So, kids, we want to help you not make some of the mistakes that we made along the way; but we do trust, as we do make mistakes, that God’s grace is sufficient.” It’s a chance to remind our kids of the gospel.
Dennis: You’re raising an important issue here that I think every parent needs to just take a deep breath right now and make sure, as you raise your kids, that you communicate to them that they’re going to be loved regardless of what they do—by God and by you, as a parent—and you always want to be a safe place to come and share a failure that you’ve experienced. They’re not going to have a bony finger pointed at them and saying: “Shame on you!—you wretched little sinner!”
No; there’s going to be grace, mercy, forgiveness, and comfort in the midst of that. But if you’re not raising your children to experience that, they’re going to fail. They will fail in various ways, but you want your relationship with them—in a way, and this is going to sound radical—but it needs to be a miniature church / a place where broken people go to get redeemed and become whole people. That’s what a family is all about.
Bob: I sat down just recently with your kids, working on the project that we’re working on—on The Art of Parenting—and got a chance to interview them about growing up in your home and about the things you guys did right and the things you guys did wrong.
Dennis: These are adult kids, by the way.
Bob: These are your adult kids.
Dennis: Thirty-one to forty-three.
Bob: And one of them shared a story about a mistake she had made when she was in her teen years and how Barbara ministered grace to her in the midst of that.
In fact, we have that clip—kind of a sneak preview of what’s coming up in FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series that we’re still working on. It’s going to be awhile before it is ready; but if folks would like to watch that clip, they can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com and hear Rebecca share that story.
We also have copies of Barrett and Jenifer Johnson’s book The Talks, which is a guide for parents on the kinds of critical conversations we need to be having with our kids about sex, and dating, and other—you say “other unmentionables” on the cover of the book. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book The Talks and to watch the video with Rebecca. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
I should mention—we’ve talked about other things like the Passport2Purity resource that FamilyLife has put together / some books that you’ve written, Dennis—Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date and Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys.
We have a lot of resources to try to help moms and dads in this very difficult area. So again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or if you have any questions / want to know about the resources available—call 1-800-FL-TODAY / 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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And I hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to continue talking about the talks we need to be having with our children about dating, and sex, and other issues that are right in front of them. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, with special help today from Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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