“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” – Psalm 119:9
We have a friend whose mom caught him looking at porn when he was younger. As discipline, she grounded him from internet use for a week, told him to look up the word “purity” in the Bible’s concordance, and to read through every verse that was listed. True and good as these verses are, the tone of the whole interaction felt very shameful and condemning. Given also that this was one of only a small handful of interactions around porn and sexuality, it ultimately served to reinforce our friend’s sense of personal shame—and thus, his desire to find additional numbing relief through more porn use.
The real issue was that this approach did nothing to address the deeper issues that were compelling his porn use in the first place. It wasn’t until many years later when he enrolled in a 12-step recovery program that he began to uncover the deeper reasons why he kept turning to pornography. Without even realizing it, he had fallen into a cycle of using porn as a way to cover over and medicate a profound self-worth issue. Once the group helped him uncover this, he was able to start addressing the root issue at that level; as a result, he has now enjoyed several years of sobriety from porn use.
Any desire your kids have to act out sexually will almost always be motivated by something deeper than sex. There may be something they’re trying to avoid dealing with. There may be a desire to establish social bonds with friends who also use porn. Whatever the case may be, the task is to try to figure out what those deeper reasons are.
Gary Vaynerchuk once pointed out that some of the greatest athletic coaches of all time never played the sport; they just knew how to put themselves in the players’ position. The analog for parenting is that what makes you a great parent isn’t necessarily your experience parenting, but your ability to see things from your kids’ perspective—and to respond on that level.
If your kids were to ask you, “How far is too far sexually?” what would you say to them? Maybe you’d want to draw a boundary at kissing, or making out, or feeling someone up, or somewhere else. You’ll have to make this call according to your own convictions, but one thing we do want to encourage is to help your teens see “How far is too far?” as ultimately the wrong question. The right questions are, “How did God, the inventor of sexuality, intend his invention to be used? How can I align myself with that?” and then, “How can I help others do the same?”
For some kids, a justification for porn use might be that it’s “a safer outlet for lust than actually having sex.” While this may be true as far as avoiding pregnancy goes, this line of logic ignores how porn is just as much of an inlet for lust as an outlet, and how it converts our God-given desire into something degrading, objectifying, and addicting.
It’s the same with sexting, or oral sex. These may seem like safer ways to be sexual, especially if sex is only discussed in terms of consequences like pregnancy. But of course, there are other potential consequences, like someone’s pictures being circulated throughout the school, and the complications of reinforcing a premature relational bond through oxytocin, even in oral sex. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.”
As often as possible, remind them that the only reason sexuality exists in the first place is because God gave it to us. This means he knows best what it’s for, and has authority over how it isn’t and isn’t supposed to work. The reminder that sex exists because God created it always reframes the conversation into the most productive possible terms.
Here’s another 6-minute clip from our conversation with David Galvan about what to do if you suspect your child is sexting, or looking at porn, or having sex. Take note of any tactics or phrasing you’d like to implement with your son or daughter:
“Father, none of us are perfect, which is why you sent your son Jesus into the world. Thank you for your grace, and for your kindness, which leads us to repentance. I pray, not just for this area of sexual sin, but for any areas of sin that may come up in my kids’ life, that you would allow me to balance grace, kindness, and firmness in our discussions. In Jesus’ name, amen.”