Parental influence, spiritual preparation key to teens’ sexual integrity

When we think of hypersexualized media we usually think of X-rated magazines and online pornography. But what about the photos in the lingerie catalog or swimsuit issue on your coffee table? The racy romance novels on your bookshelf? The suggestive lyrics of your favorite songs?

A pastor once posed a thought-provoking question to our congregation: Would you allow two people to come into your home, sit on your couch and make out in front of your kids? Is it much different to watch television shows where much more happens in the span of an hour or to listen to music that glorifies casual sex?

In their book, “The Fight of Your Life: Manning Up to the Challenge of Sexual Integrity,” counselors Tim Clinton and Mark Laaser emphasize “our sons and daughters are facing a myriad of temptations not available to previous generations.”

Lasting impact

The exposure to sexual temptation starts early and its impact is lasting. In a study of adults with sexual compulsivity issues, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers noted that patients who exhibited such tendencies also suffered from greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and inability to manage stress than their peers. More than half of those in the UCLA study felt their sexual behavior began to be problematic before the age of 18. Another 30 percent reported that their problems began during their college-aged years, from 18 to 25.

UCLA professor Rory Reid said, “This appears to be a disorder that emerges in adolescence and young adulthood, which has ramifications for early intervention and prevention strategies.”

Marriage therapist and author Jill Manning noted in congressional testimony that youth are considered the audience most vulnerable to sexually explicit material because they can be easily coerced into viewing it and have limited ability to process obscene material once they encounter it. Youth also can develop unrealistic expectations about their future sexual relationship through repeated exposure to fantasy-based sexual imagery, Manning said.

The long-term consequences of early exposure to sexual content on an individual’s spiritual health and future relationships has been examined in study after study, which leads to an important question: In a sex-saturated culture, how do we teach teens to maintain their sexual integrity?

Clinton and Laaser have some simple yet wise advice: “Prepare when you are strong for a time when you will be weak.”

In other words parents who want to help their children face the difficult choices ahead should start talking about these issues now.

A good first step is open communication, according to author and counselor Brenda Yoder.

“Talk to your kids,” she writes in a blog post at “Talk with them about your expectations and why you believe what you do. ‘Just because’ is the wrong answer.”

Waiting until your children are teens may be too late, which is why she urges parents to start the conversation early using age-appropriate discussions.

Yoder says parents also must evaluate the unspoken expectations and unwritten rules in the entertainment they allow youth to watch. While adults may be able to overlook inappropriate phrases or images, kids cannot, she argues.

“What you allow in your home sets the standard for your teens,” she writes. “Eliminate things that are sexually inappropriate, degrading and dehumanizing.”

According to a 2012 survey of teens and parents by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 87 percent of teens said it would be much easier for them to postpone sex and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. More than half of sexually experienced young people who responded to the survey wish they had waited longer before having sex. Another study by the organization in 2014 found that two-thirds of 18–24 year olds agreed, “If teenagers knew that less than half of all teens are sexually active, it would help them wait longer to have sex.”

Another effective strategy parents can employ is helping teens think through potential sexually charged situations beforehand.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), teens who regularly attend religious services are already less likely to have sex than their peers, but they too need to think through potential situations and have a ready answer when temptations arise.

One strategy is to mentally walk through situations where adult supervision may be lacking, including dates. Just as athletes and performers use visualization to prepare for upcoming challenges, teens can use a similar strategy to prepare for new situations, according to AAP.

“Ask your teenager to picture herself in a given situation and imagine how she might react, as if watching herself in a movie frame by frame. For example: ‘If I was invited to a boy’s house and discovered after I got there that his parents were out of town, what would I do?’ Let’s encourage [teens] to think ahead, anticipate potential trouble and be alert to warning signs,” an AAP source suggests.

Initiate conversations

Conversations about sex between parents and children can be uncomfortable and require tough questions. However, if parents don’t initiate the discussion, peers will.

Parents who want to guide their children in a lifestyle of sexual integrity must be intentional, and one of the best ways to initiate the conversation is to let the Bible break the ice for you, said Ron DeHaas, president and co-founder of Covenant Eyes, a leading provider of Internet accountability and filtering software.

“The Bible provides children and adults alike with a foundation for how to grasp the subject of sexuality. There is no better source of information about sex and no better place to lay the groundwork of our understanding,” DeHaas said.

If children are already accustomed to reading the Bible with their parents, turning to biblical passages about sex will seem natural to them. In addition, such conversations reinforce “the idea that sex is not in a special category that is outside the scope of God’s interest. Sex is not a taboo subject that God is embarrassed about; rather, sex is something that is part of the good world God created,” DeHaas said.

Sexuality and the battle to maintain sexual integrity is ultimately a spiritual issue, according to Clinton and Laaser.

“Our sexuality, though influenced by our families and culture, should be defined and managed by our faith and belief in what God has spoken.”

Adult Resources

  1. Recovery ministries/websites 
  1. Books
  • “The Last Addiction” by Sharon Hersh
  • “Porn Nation: Conquering America’s #1 Addiction” by Michael Leahy
  • “Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction” by Mark Laaser
  • “Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken” by Cindy Beall

Resources for parents, teens

  1. Websites
  1. Books for parents
  • “Effective Parenting in a Defective World” by Chip Ingram
  • “How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex” by Lenore Buth
  1. Books for teens
  • “Bloom: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up” by Susie Shellenberger
  • “Boom: A Guy’s Guide to Growing Up” by Michael Ross

Overcoming temptation

How does one overcome the temptation and maintain sexual integrity in a sex-obsessed culture? Here are some important steps to take:

  • Turn to the Lord Jesus for strength.
  • If sexual sin, including pornography, is part of your past allow others to help you avoid the temptation. Develop accountability partners — persons with whom you can be fully transparent.
  • Consider the consequences of continuing to engage in sexual sin.
  • Learn to identify your triggers. Once you do, strive to eliminate these triggers from your life.
  • Study the Scripture and what the Bible says about the topic of sexual purity.
  • Strive to stay in a constant state of prayer.
  • If currently addicted, seek professional help from a licensed therapist to help discover the root of the addiction.