I don’t recall any conversations about sex during my formative years. Maybe they happened, and I blocked them – the mental equivalent of jamming fingers into my ears and humming. The only guidance I recall was from the church. To paraphrase: “Sex is reserved for marriage; otherwise, it is sinful, shameful, dangerous, and dirty.” At least that is how my young heart translated the message, and it wasn’t exactly helpful counsel for a teenage girl.
As a teen I wrestled with my sexuality. On one hand, I was very clear regarding the biblical mandate for purity until marriage. I heard it in youth group, read it in my devotions, and knew it in my heart. On the other hand, I had a desperate longing to be seen, chosen, and loved, and sex seemed to offer this promise. The clash of these two realities created confusion, conviction, stress, and shame.
Here’s what I came to understand about sex: It wasn’t about me but about him – whoever that might be. It had nothing to do with my heart, just my body. And in the end, sex led only to disappointment, disgrace, and self-loathing. When at last the day came that a good man loved me, I was stunned to find that sex wasn’t a factor in his decision. Yet, even after our wedding, it took years to dismantle the stigma I felt toward sex and the damage that had been done in my teenage years.
Now I teach in a middle school, and teenagers fill my days. Crossing from the boys’ locker bay to the girls’ is like entering a new world: the first smells of sweat socks and Axe body spray; the second like the inside of a Bath and Body Works. In the hallways sixth- and seventh-grade girls huddle in clusters, heads bent together, whispering secrets. Boys travel in packs, pushing, punching, and joking around. Then, in eighth grade boys and girls begin to comingle, and they pair off increasingly. Coupling is beginning, and desire is being kindled.
How can these teens be prepared for their sexual awakening? How could I have been prepared? What counsel would be helpful in encouraging godly boundaries without ushering in disgust, disgrace, or dread? After all, God created sex, so that alone tells us that it is good; however, it is often treated as the devil’s design.
How can we honor sex and address it in a way that cultivates holy anticipation rather than stigmatizes and shames?
Perhaps I would offer these words – counsel that I wish my own teenage self had received – if I could sit down with them, unplug fingers from ears, and urge them to listen:
The sexual stirrings you feel are not sinful. They are natural and God-given. When he created you, he included your sexuality. You were made to desire intimacy with another person, including physical intimacy.
Be patient. A time will come for you to experience sex in a safe, satisfying, and glorifying context. That’s right – all of creation was designed to bring glory to God, and that includes your sexuality.
Be honest. You should be able to talk freely and honestly about sex with your partner. This means sharing what you want (or don’t want) and telling him “no.” This isn’t easy. Talking about sex requires vulnerability, and being this vulnerable requires the knowledge that you are completely loved and safe.
Be careful. When you give your sexual self to someone, you are offering him more than your body. You are trusting him with your heart. That’s a risky move unless you have both pledged your lifelong fidelity. That’s why, outside of marriage, sex often leads to hurt, abandonment, and shame.
Be on the alert. Satan lurks in the shadows of a bad decision. Scripture tells us that he is the accuser, and he will speak lies to you in these dark moments. Sentences like “I asked for it,” “I’m dirty,” and “I should be ashamed” root deeply in our hearts and take years to excavate.
Be at peace. The work of Christ covers all sin – yes, including sexual sin. As a believer, you receive grace and mercy, not shame and condemnation, and your identity in Christ is firmly established. You are his child, and nothing can separate you from his love – nothing!
Be expectant. When free of shame, doubt, and fear, sex can be good…really good. In fact, it might sound like a cliché, but it’s worth the wait. It’s worth waiting for love, trust, and commitment because, in that context, sex can be uninhibited, mutually satisfying, and even fun.
Be assured. You are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone has questions and craves intimacy. In time, you’ll discover the answers and find intimacy that satisfies, which brings us back to where we began…be patient.
Above all, know that you are seen, chosen, and loved as you are for who you are. God’s word assures you: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:4-6 NLT). You can rest in that truth, dear one, as you wait.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.
Susan, thank you for these words “Yet, even after our wedding, it took years to dismantle the stigma I felt toward sex and the damage that had been done in my teenage years.”
They remind me that I am not alone in my story of sexual struggle.
I so appreciate your wise, kind words, and the fact that you engage with middle schoolers on a daily basis. The middle school, young teen inside of me is grateful for your engagement and invitation to unstop my ears and hear truth. The mother of middle schoolers in me is grateful for this talk resource. Blessings!
Thank you Julie. You are definitely not alone in this struggle; hopefully they also serve as a reminder that healing and restoration are possible. What a beautiful hope! Bless you as you mother your teens with wisdom, courage, grace, and mercy!
Well written, Susan! I remember those middle school years filled with questions. I love your words of advise for others to think through. Thank you!
Thanks Mary Jane! I remember those years all too well, and what I’ve forgotten my middle school students and teenage sons bring back to mind. 🙂
Oh my….I would never wish to return to the middle school years! So full of doubts about myself and my sexuality and my worth. You wrote so eloquently about the struggle between feeling wanted and expressing that in a sexual way. Sex touches our souls and perhaps that is why it gets so tangled and messy at times. It deals with so many aspects of who we are. The last items you listed should be included in every sex-education course being taught in our middle schools. I’d have liked to have heard these reassuring words as a young teen and I”m sure teens today would as well. Thank you for writing this!
“Tangled and messy” sums it up well, Barbara. If we could spare teenagers the “tangled and messy” by cultivating patience, wisdom, anticipation, and hope by how we prepare them for sexual expression, it would be stunning.
Holy Anticipation….wow. Once again, I love you and I am proud of you.
Thank you my dear friend 🙂