Mistaken “Biblical” Reasons NOT to Tell Your Kids about Sex

A hilarious commercial from several years ago, available here, is a realistic depiction of the mistaken two-stage strategy of all-too-many parents when it comes to sex education in the home:

  • First, offer an evasive concoction of half-truths about where babies come from (or even, as in this commercial, an outrageous fairytale).
  • Second, when your child does not buy it and begins to ask too many questions, change the subject (in this case, by blasting out “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”).

This website and our revised God’s Design for Sex book series offer another approach: a lifelong and developmentally appropriate approach to sex education in the Christian home.

But apparently not everyone is a fan. Though she never names us as authors or our series explicitly, Audrey Werner, a fellow Christian who trained as a nurse and is certified as a HIV and STD counselor, certainly seems to be taking aim at contradicting many of our core principles for how we approach sex education in the family.

The approach Werner takes in her book 10 Tips on How NOT to Talk to Your Kids About Sex[1] is profoundly different from ours.[2] But worse than different, it is profoundly ill-conceived and unwise in key areas. Here, we only hit the highlights of our response; below, the reader will find a link to a longer discussion that I will simply summarize here.

The author, our sister in Christ, is biblically and morally correct in resisting and rejecting the often misguided moral agenda of much of contemporary sex education (embodied in such organizations as SIECUS). We affirm whole-heartedly her encouragement in four of her tips, specifically that parents teach self-control, that they model purity, that they look at their children through the eyes of Christ, and that they rely upon prayer.

We affirm, with significant reservations, four other of her ten tips: 1) She’s right to urge parents to affirm and model modesty, but her definition of modesty is unreasonable and extreme. 2) She’s right to focus on our children’s identity in Christ, but in her hands this often is explicitly or implicitly shame-inducing. 3) Her encouragement to clarify questions often seems to be a form of ducking, dodging, and delaying. And 4) her understanding of innocence often lapses into destructive naïveté.

But it is her two remaining tips that actually pervade and shape the entire book into a recipe for disaster. She literally urges parents “Don’t use the word ‘sex’” (or any anatomically correct language), instead urging parents to “Use God’s words, found in scriptures, when having a conversation about the facts of life” (direct quotes of her Tips 4 and 6).

And she means it. She argues that “nowhere in scripture does God use the term ‘sex.’ In the Bible we can read the terms: ‘know,’ ‘become one flesh,’ and ‘beget,’ which all relate to the procreative act between a husband and wife.” She stops “using the correct anatomical terms for the genitals, [switching instead] to using the term ‘private parts’. . .”

Why stop using words like sex, sexual intercourse, penis, vagina, and so forth in favor of “procreative act, beget, and private parts”? Because they’re supposedly part of the liberal agenda and not biblical.

What’s biblical and how does she know? Her methodology is peculiar. She goes to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible,[3] a classic detailing of all the Hebrew and Greek words translated into English in the King James Bible. She selectively picks words with which she is comfortable and uncomfortable, and argues that the words “chaste” and “pure” are good because they are often used in the KJB. In contrast, she notes that “Sex, sexuality and sexual intercourse are never mentioned once in God’s Word.” On this basis, Werner concludes, “We can learn from this resource [the concordance] that ‘sex’ is not God’s word of choice on the subject of the intimate physical human relations, but rather ‘pure’ and ‘chaste’ are His standards.”

This is both a confused methodology and a confused conclusion. First, should we really restrict our words to King James English in discussions with our children? Forget sex; how can you teach your child to cook, wash, and put away dishes in a modern kitchen if you only use vocabulary from the Bible to describe the process?

Second, more importantly, the Bible is much more explicit than Werner understands. In the English Standard Version (ESV), a translation known for its accuracy and precision,[4] a number of passages are notable for their graphic language, and the study notes for the ESV reveal the scholarly consensus that the original languages are often graphic and direct. Examples?

Leviticus alone provides a more valid overview of how the Bible uses language regarding sexuality: Lev. 15 is devoted to discharges of semen and of menstrual blood, as well as discharges likely related to sexually transmitted diseases; all of these are from the “body,” a Hebrew term which the ESV Study Bible notes regarding verse 2 is “used euphemistically here [15:2] for the ‘genitals.’ In fact, the same word is used in v. [15:]19 of the female vagina.”[5] Lev. 12 uses the terms conceive and menstruation (v. 2) and the phrase his foreskin shall be circumcised (v. 3). Lev. 18 repeatedly uses the phrase uncover the nakedness of, which the notes call “a euphemism for sexual intercourse”[6] (similar notes clarify the meaning of the words know and lie with are used in many other places).

Other books broaden the picture. The most graphic description of intercourse is in Genesis 38:9: “whenever [Onan] went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” But the most direct and explicit language of the Bible is in Ezekiel 23 where sisters Oholah’s and Oholibah’s (explicit metaphors for Samaria and Jerusalem; see v. 4]) “breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled.” Each sister “played the whore,” “lusted after her lovers,” “defiled herself with all the idols,” and “flaunted her nakedness.”

But most shocking is Ezekiel 23:20, where we read that Oholibah “lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.” Scholars agree that the euphemism members is a plural reference to the male sex organ (i.e., the penis), and the more descriptive term issue is a plural reference to semen (i.e., male ejaculate). The result is that a good translation of this phrase in Ezekiel 23:20 is “lusted after her lovers there, whose penises [she imagined] were like those of donkeys and whose ejaculate was like that of horses.”

We could offer additional examples, but the point is the Bible uses much more explicit language than Werner acknowledges, and its euphemisms are so transparent that its language might as well be explicit.

So how does Werner want parents to talk to their children? In chapter 4, she states her solution: Go back to the days when the “whole discussion revolved around ‘the flowers, the birds, and the bees.’” REALLY?

Our approach urges parents to use terms that your child will understand and that are developmentally appropriate, but always to do so framing the discussion in the context of God’s truth and moral standards. You can be direct and clear, while at the same time teaching your child modesty and a godly understanding of his or her sexuality. Further, you should talk to your child early. After all, first messages are the most potent; they allow the parent to shape the child’s beliefs around God’s truth rather than the world’s distortions, and establish parents as truthful, trusted, competent experts.

To read a more elaborate respomse to Werner, see our thoughts on “Don’t Start Early, Don’t Be Explicit”

[1] Audrey Werner, 10 Tips on How NOT to Talk to Your Kids About Sex (McKinney, TX: RHEMA, 2017). Quotations are from the Kindle edition and so are referenced by chapter and not by page.

[2] As presented in our guide book for parents How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2019), and indeed in the entire five-book God’s Design for Sex series.

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1890).

[4] To read the translators on their intent in translating, see “Preface to the English Standard Version,” accessed October 24, 2018, https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/preface-to-the-english-standard-version/.

[5] ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 236.

[6] ESV Study Bible, 241. It is well worth noting that the terms “have sex” and “sexual intercourse” are themselves euphemisms, just like “the birds and bees.” Neither directly describes the sexual act itself. Dictionaries note the origins of the word “intercourse” in Middle English to human communications, in Old French to commercial interchange, and in Latin to interventions between people.