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It stands to reason that sex education begins at birth. What children and teens learn about the difference between sexual love and pornography begins with their parents’ lifestyle. Although young children often show great embarrassment when they see their parents kiss or snuggle, they are learning invaluable lessons about love, affection, touch, and closeness that provide the underpinnings of their own sexual development.

By the time children reach puberty, however, parents must be more intentional in what they teach them about the relationship between love and sex. Yet many Christian couples do not know the difference between erotica (sexual passion experienced in relationship) and pornography (sexual stimulation apart from a relational bond).

The former focuses on mutual passionate expression and discovery of each other, whereas the latter focuses on sexual stimulation and sexual release. The one speaks of love and desire for closeness to someone; the other essentially uses another person to satisfy a personal need. The one is sanctioned by God and protected through marriage; the other is not.

Parents must be absolutely clear about the devastating impact pornography can have on a child’s developing sexual identity and therefore resolve to be vigilant about protecting their children from exposure. That means not tolerating pornography in the home; that means installing protective filters on the family computer (which is placed in an open and accessible space). That also means being aware of the latest disturbing trend called “sexting,” whereby kids as young as age 12 send sexually explicit texts or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves via their cell phones to their friends.

It’s important that parents talk to their young teens about the implications of such trends. Parents must insist that any cell phones owned by their children—as with any other media—are subject to rules for their use and to periodic monitoring.

Teens have a natural and normal curiosity about sex, which comes to expression when they begin to get romantically involved with each other. But it also comes to expression when they “find” sexually explicit literature or photos and hide them somewhere in their bedrooms.

Parents will sometimes, much to their horror, discover such literature or photographs. How should they react? It’s tempting to express dismay or disgust in immediate and strong terms. However, I encourage parents to experience such a discovery as a teachable moment. Ask your children about their interest in sex, what they know, and what attracted them to bringing the material into the house. Look at it with them or read passages of the offending literature out loud with them in a dispassionate way. Having to look at this “forbidden fruit” with their parents can rob the images of their enticing power very quickly for a son or daughter.

Use the opportunity to talk about the difference between erotica (sex and love) and pornography (sex apart from love). Encourage them to read the “Song of Songs” and to begin to understand the sexually explicit passion described between the “Lover” and the “Beloved.” Talk about the meaning of a sexual relationship and why God chose to place such passion within the confines of marriage.

Sex is a God-given gift. Parents can help their teens develop a healthy view of sex by having an affectionate and respectful relationship with each other, by being vigilant, and by helping their teens navigate popular culture through open and frequent discussions in an atmosphere of mutual trust. 

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