Sexual Character: Needs

Every human being shares certain needs. Beyond our obvious physical needs, we believe there are two basic psychological needs: relatedness and significance (or love and work). These needs are never utterly fulfilled. Like the need for food, we have to address them again and again in life. But like the physical need for calcium to make bones grow strong at critical periods in life, the period of childhood dramatically shapes how your child will experience his or her needs throughout the rest of life. When these needs are met adequately in childhood, your child will face adolescence and adulthood with a foundation of vital strength for facing the challenges of life.

We see these needs described in the Creation account. God told Adam and Eve to rule (Genesis 1:26), which was their work in the created order. In Genesis 2, God placed the first man, Adam, in the Garden “to work it and take care of it” (2:15). God made us for significant work, for a purpose that transcends our own individual pleasure and sustenance.

After commanding Adam to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18). When Eve was brought before Adam, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” The passage continues, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:23-25). God commanded the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, something we cannot do without relating. As fruit of our relating, new life is created! 

Relatedness

Our need for relatedness means that we need to love and be loved, to affirm and be affirmed. Being loved forms a foundation for life and gives us a stability we cannot have without that bond. “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). Many problems, especially sexual problems, begin when this fundamental need goes unmet in childhood, leaving a child feeling unloved or rejected. Books about sexual addictions talk about people who go into adolescence and adulthood with an unresolved hunger for any personal connection that will begin to satisfy this raging need that parents were meant to fill.

There is no one way, no quick and easy formula, to meet this need for loving relatedness. Families differ in how they express genuine love and acceptance. Children will differ in their individual needs; one child’s needs might be met by one hug a day, while another might be in constant need of reassurance and affection. The needs of children change over time. Truly responsive parents will respect and adjust to the changing needs of their child. You meet the need for loving relatedness by having your relationship with your children be a foundation for their lives. Strive to fill them with an indisputable sense of being loved, of being accepted by the most important people in their lives. We need to do so from their earliest days when they do not understand words at all, but can understand that the parent looking into their eyes exudes a sense of joy and warmth and love, that a loving embrace expresses the deepest acceptance imaginable that the parent feels for the child.

Significance

The need for significance is equally profound. God means for you to have a vocation, a calling to meaningful work in your life, from which you derive a sense of significance. God has meaningful work for you to do. Your vocation may or may not overlap with your employment. The meaningfulness of your work is not defined by its grandeur or its earthly success, and it makes no difference if the work is “sacred” or “secular.” We need to recapture the biblical sense of the apostle Paul’s instructions to slaves, who in their day did work that was utterly despised by free men: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24). Any work done for the Lord is significant work. We can change dirty diapers for the Lord, empty garbage cans for the Lord, program computers for the Lord, install appliances for the Lord, and pastor churches for the Lord.

Meeting your children’s need for significance is both future-oriented and present-oriented. In the present, you can give them a sense of significance by assigning them a meaningful place in the overall functioning of the family, and by esteeming the significant work they do. It matters to you whether they do their homework and clean their rooms. See their play and friendships as some of their most important work, for out of these will emerge patterns for their entire lives. See them as having a calling here and now to be about the Father’s business (Luke 2:49). You also give our children a sense of significance for the future through your expectations for their lives. Affirm their growing gifts and abilities as shown in school, in sports, in friendships. Express confidence in the future God has in store for them, and in their ability to contribute meaningfully to God’s work in His Kingdom.

Two strong predictors of sexual experimentation emerge from research time and again: closeness to a parent and academic confidence. Children who feel close to a parent, and children who do well in school, tend to delay or avoid sexual experimentation and pregnancy. Children who are close to a parent have that relationship as a foundation in meeting their needs for loving relatedness. Children who do well in school probably have a sense of significance and hope for their work of the future. (And your child does not have to be an academic whiz to feel significant; we can teach our children how to be significant in God’s eyes regardless of GPA.)

Understanding and acting to meet the needs of your children for relatedness and significance is the foundation for shaping their character. You can never meet all of their needs, and you should not try to do so. But you can provide a foundation in meeting their needs for relatedness and significance. This foundation can be the basis on which they face the world in strength, able to make decisions that God will bless. Imagine the difference between a sixteen-year-old girl out on a date who is confident of her significance and filled with her parents’ love for her, versus a disillusioned and hopeless girl who is thirsty for anyone to accept and love her. Which girl is going to make the right decision when pressured to have sex?