By Dannah Gresh, founder of True Girl
Sometime around your daughter’s ninth or tenth year, she’s forming questions about sex. Are you ready to answer them? I want to tell you three important things that will help as you begin to approach that conversation. The easiest part of the conversation happens before she’s a teen, but then the conversation continues. These three things will help that conversation during the teen years, and they apply to your sons, too.
Number One: YOU are the most important part of the conversation.
You might think that what she reads in a textbook is important. You might think what she learns in sex ed class is important. You might even think what she hears at youth group is important. But none of that trumps YOU. You are irreplaceable. Social science tells us that daughters who are having healthy conversations with their moms about sex are less at risk of sexual pain, sexual brokenness, and perhaps even sexual abuse because they are being given the tools from their mom before they are faced with the pressures, temptations, and harmful situations.
Number Two: Purity Pledges don’t work, but specific boundaries do help
Do you remember the height of the Purity Movement when all the teens in youth group would sign a purity pledge? Maybe you even signed one yourself! It seemed like a good idea at the time, but guess what? It doesn’t work. Long-term studies revealed that those who signed them did delay their sexual debut for about 18 months compared to their peers, but few achieved the goal of waiting until their wedding night for their first sexual encounter. I think one of the reasons it was unsuccessful was because a very important part of the conversation was left out. When they were handed purity pledges, no one had a conversation with them about “how far is too far.”
The reason this is an important part of the conversation is because our sexual response is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This system is not controlled by our brains, but by the environment. For example, when someone walks in the house with a delicious-smelling pizza, you will start salivating. You do not think, “Hmm, that’s a pizza. I smelled it. I think I’ll salivate.” It’s an automatic response.
That’s how sex works, too. If your daughter’s goal is to not have sex until she is married, it is likely she will not be prepared when the environment becomes romantic and sexy. However, if she has discussed all the stages that lead up to the arousal of her autonomic nervous system, she’ll be more likely to be in control of her choices and her body. Your daughter and her boyfriend may set “the line” at making out, but once you get to that point, it’s much harder not to take the next step.
So, where is the line? It has to be at a place before the autonomic nervous system starts to get out of control. You must help her answer the question: “How far is too far?”
Number Three: Refusal skills prepare her to say “no”
Your daughter needs to be taught how to say “no”. In general, we are bad at saying no. We have a lot of pressure from society to be nice, polite, and agreeable. Saying “no” typically isn’t seen as one of those characteristics. But when it comes to protecting her heart and body, it’s a great strength. The skill is not just for potentially abusive situations but can be useful in a healthy dating relationship. You may remember wanting to say “no” but feeling caught like a “deer in headlights” because you never learned that it’s OK to say it! Research tells us that when girls are taught how to say no when they’re being approached with a sexual advance, they’re more likely to follow through with saying it when the time comes.
When I wrote And the Bride Wore White, I knew I had to have a chapter dedicated to this topic. I discovered that a good way to do this is to come up with a list of personal comeback lines. For example, if a guy moves in for a kiss and she’s not comfortable, she could say “Isn’t it cool that God is watching us every minute?” These lists tend to be a little silly, but they are useful to help her have something to say when she wants to say “no.”
One of the most interesting things I saw was an article in USA Today where they were asking teenage girls “do you talk to your mom about sex?” Then they asked the moms and daughters, “are you talking enough?” Eighty percent of the moms said, “Yes, we’re doing a great job.” Only 18% of the girls agreed. Most girls said, “I wish my mom would bring this subject up more often.” They want to talk to you about it.
I want to give you the opportunity to talk about it. So, this fall I’m teaming up with my friend Erin Davis for a 6-week mother/daughter Bible study based on my book And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity. It will give you the tools to have an ongoing conversation with your teen about topics like sex, purity, relationships, and more in an open and non-awkward way! You can find out more at dannahgresh.com/onlinebiblestudy.
Dannah Gresh is the founder of True Girl (formerly Secret Keeper Girl), a ministry that brings moms and daughters closer to each other and closer to Jesus. True Girl provides connection experiences through books, online Bible studies, and live events. You can learn more about her at dannahgresh.com.