Starting with Your Childhood
John: In my book, Honest Talk, I challenge parents to share with each other things about their past that they may have never shared with anyone. I ask couples to share something their parents did not tell them about sex that negatively influenced them. I also ask them to share with each other how they imagined God viewed sex when they were teenagers. Shortly after the book was first published a young couple told me that they had never talked about what shaped their sexuality when they were young with each other. They shared how much it helped their marriage to be able to talk about their childhood past. They learned things about each other they never knew and could better understand each other.
Anne: Sexuality is a central and integral part of being human. Sexuality is shaped over a lifetime beginning with the emotional bonds parents form (or don't form) as infants. Because of the ways past sexual encounters impact you, they can shape your views of yourself, your view of others, your world, and God.
Because sexuality is so significant to your life and because sexual experiences impact you so deeply, sexuality can also be an area of significant growth for you. An important part of that growth involves acknowledging the experiences and encounters that helped shape you.
Your stories matter. In many cases, they hold the key to healing from sexual wounding or finding freedom from recurring sexual struggles. As you think about your childhood experiences you can then respond with compassion to the child within you. This will then help you respond with grace and compassion to your own children and identify with the challenges they may face.
Preparing to Help Your Child: Remember what Childhood is Like
John: We are inviting you to take some time alone with God to think about some of the ways your sexuality has been shaped, starting in childhood. What messages did you hear about sex when you were young? Was sex portrayed as dirty or beautiful? Did you encounter pornography and what was your reaction if that happened? Did people refer to you in sexualized ways or objectify you? Did you come across a sexualized story or hear a sexual joke? Did you have other encounters or experiences with sex?
It is important to remember that most of these situations were beyond your control. Even those that you may have had control over, you certainly did not understand how to navigate them as a child. Make a list, mentally or in writing, of all the things that affected how you viewed sex and what your feelings were about sex as a child and teenager.
Anne: I hope and pray that you’ll consider doing this exercise, though it may not be easy. As you do, be kind to your younger self. Don't criticize or condemn. Remember that you were a child with limited information as sexual things began to enter your world. Perhaps you weren't protected or loved well. You likely experienced feelings of pleasure related to sexual encounters, which is completely normal. It may be helpful to let this inner child speak freely now. Often children are silenced in their most vulnerable moments by fear, threats, guilt, or shame.
I'd like to share some things to consider and pray about before you begin this exercise:
Knowing your sexual history can be helpful but it may also be difficult to process or express. Deep feelings are often attached to these memories and you'll likely need to address some of the beliefs that surfaced from your experiences. Often it is not the trauma itself that causes the most damage but the lies or beliefs we adopt as a result of it. Such beliefs may be related to identity or worth. Ephesians 1:1-2:10 contains beautiful truths related to our true identity in Christ.
John: I suggest showing this post to your spouse if you are married. If you don’t feel safe sharing this information with your spouse, perhaps a close friend of the same gender. Then ask if they would be willing to share their answers with you and you share yours with them. If you can think of no one, consider seeing a counselor to help with this.
The purpose of this sharing is actually not about you, although I expect this process would benefit you. The purpose is so that you can be more helpful to your children as they navigate their own emerging sexual feelings, confusion, and questions. If you have not worked through your own childhood experiences with sexuality it will be difficult for you to have helpful conversations with your children to help them in theirs.
Questions to Discuss
Anne: All of your past experiences can and will be used by God who promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). Trust God in this. He was there then, He is with you now, and He will guide you into whatever is next for you.
We are hoping that you and your spouse will be able to do this exercise together, but if not, whoever you decide to do this with, here are some things to discuss together:
Do you recall healthy affection being modeled by your parents toward each other or not? How so?
Do you recall healthy affection expressed by your parents toward you and your siblings or not? How so?
What is your earliest memory of something sexual that you saw or experienced?
What, if anything, happened related to this (e.g. were others involved, were you shamed or harmed, were you able to talk about it then or later, etc.)?
What are other significant memories of something sexual?
What messages did you hear or internalize about sexuality during your childhood (from parents, siblings, friends, media, culture, or experiences)?
What messages did you hear or internalize about your body when you were young or as you began to develop sexually?
What messages did you hear or internalize about relationships? Consider any silence or negative messaging about sexuality and how that impacted you as a child.
How was nudity or privacy handled in your home?
Was the topic of masturbation ever addressed in your home, and if so, how did that affect you?
What do you remember about the first time you saw porn or other sexualized media (including stories)? Describe its impact on you as a child or teen.
Be Kind to Yourself so You can be Kind to Your Children
As you look with fresh eyes at the various influences that worked to shape your sexuality, remember to be compassionate and kind to your younger self. Ask God to lead you to the next step in your own recovery and/or redemption journey.
Remember, as difficult as this work may be, you're in a tender place with God. Becoming more comfortable with your stories and finding any needed healing will reap huge dividends as you work to become an ally to your child in today's culture.
Here are some resources for you as a parent that may be helpful in your own journey:
Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, by Jay Stringer
No Stones: Women Redeemed From Sexual Addiction, by Marnie Ferree
Rethinking Sexuality: God's Design and Why It Matters, by Dr. Juli Slattery
Grace Based Recovery, by Jonathan Daugherty