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April 30, 2020

Overcoming Sexual Shame as a Parent

After watching our new Conversation Kit on sexuality, one parent said, “What I was taught growing up was meant to keep me out of trouble as a teenager, but has made marriage harder. This is a fantastic resource.” Another said, “This was so good for me to hear. Every part resonated with me, but [the part on purity culture] should be shown to every single woman who was raised in the ’90s in a conservative Christian church/school/etc… it’s very healing.”

So many of the mothers and fathers we serve carry unhealed pain and sexual shame. We sent out a survey asking parents: Would it be hard for you to share your own sexual history, and the lessons you learned from it, with your kids? Why or why not? Here are some of the answers we received:

“I am afraid they will be disappointed in me.”

“I feel like they might not listen to me because of what I have done. I feel ashamed sometimes.”

“I worry that they will lose respect for me or think, ‘My mom did it and she’s fine now so it’s ok if I do it.’”

“I didn’t make good decisions and it’s embarrassing to me to tell my kids when I’m hoping they won’t have the same experiences.”

“I haven’t wanted my kids to use it against me and say, ‘Well, you did it!’”

“Things were not done properly as I was not brought up in a Christian household. I believe kids (especially teens) sometimes use that information to justify their own choices.”

“I don’t want my mistakes to give them a free pass to choosing less (i.e. set the bar lower for them than if they thought I had made better choices).”

These parents wanted something better for their kids, but there was a fear that being honest about what their lives had actually been like would incentivize rebellion more than help construct proactive pathways out of temptation. There was a desire to maintain an image of purity so that the next generation might feel obligated to pursue what they thought we had achieved.

Jesus has compassion for the sexually broken

In John 8, the Pharisees catch a woman in the middle of committing adultery. Starting in verse 3, the passage says,

“They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” John 8:3-5

It’s hard to imagine the degree of shame and fear this woman must have felt. Being intimate with someone is already an incredibly vulnerable experience, even without a gang of religious experts breaking through the door in the middle of it to take you away for punishment. She learns that these religious men are ready to kill her because of what she’s been doing—and not with a quick execution, either; stoning is a slow, painful, and brutal process. Although for most of us, this degree of fear and shame is (hopefully) much rarer, many of our own experiences with sexuality have been bound up in similar emotions.

But how does Jesus respond? Returning to the passage, starting in John 8:7 it says,

“When they kept on questioning him, [Jesus] straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’…At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.”

Is there anyone who is without sin? No. We all do things that hurt others, hurt ourselves, and go against God’s intentions. Yet how does the Son of God respond to us? It says,

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”—John 8:10-11

A call to redemption

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Hurt people hurt people.” But it’s also just as true that “Healed people heal people.” In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul refers to God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” We believe that an important part of your son or daughter’s sexual maturity and discipleship will come from your own experience of healing, forgiveness, and/or self-forgiveness. Unresolved issues always color our view of reality, which colors how we talk about reality, which colors how our kids see it.

Healing is possible, and many parents have found that their own experience of healing has allowed them to minister new life to their kids in powerful ways. Here are some of the other responses we received to our survey:

“I want them to walk in freedom and confidence more than I want to avoid awkward conversations.”

“It has been very sweet to come alongside our kids as they make their own choices and to share where we’ve been/poor choices we’ve made and how God has worked in our stories.”

“I’ve only been able to move forward with my problems through sharing them with others, so it makes sense to continue that openness with my kids.”

“I felt it was important for my kids to know so that they would know that I understand how they feel and also where they’re coming from. Also, by admitting my past mistakes hopefully they would learn from them and not make the same ones.”

“Our sexuality is so closely tied to our hope in Jesus, and I want my kids to see that I believe that. He’s using both my successes and failures for His glory.”

Maybe to some of you, this sort of resolution sounds impossible. But as Jesus said when His disciples asked who could be saved, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

If any of this resonates with you, we want to encourage you to spend some time with the Lord exploring those parts of your story, whether that means journaling, prayer, conversation with your spouse, and/or seeking counseling. One of our goals is that you might get to the point where you can share your story without fear—and we don’t mean all the gory details, but simply being able to be honest about the experiences that helped you decide you wanted something different for your kids, whatever that looks like—with discretion, and in age-appropriate ways.

Finally, we invite you to pray this prayer: “Father, thank you that you are the God of all comfort. Thank you that no sin against you is beyond your forgiveness, and no sin against me is beyond your healing. I ask that you would lead me to whatever I need in order to be restored to total wholeness in my own sexuality. I ask, not only for myself, but for the sake of my children—that they might see the power of your redemption in my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

(Note: This is an excerpt from our newly updated Sex Talk 2.0 series, equipping parents and caring adults to talk about every aspect of sexuality with the next generation.)

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