Six conversations to have with your teen about sexuality

Written by Jennifer Kvamme
Published on February 06, 2024

Is there a more difficult hot-button topic for Christian teens today than issues of sexuality? Secular culture has their own version of “good news”: telling students that they can be whoever they want, love whoever they want, do whatever they want, and that anyone who wants to tell them otherwise is backwards and unloving. If we as Christian parents want to communicate a compelling counter-narrative, we have to say more than “the Bible says sex is only for a husband and wife.” I’d like to suggest that there are at least six essential conversations we need to have with our teens if we’re going to prepare them to confidently counter the cultural lies around them with truth—and to do so with persuasive gentleness.

  1. Story

When the Bible talks about sexuality, it’s not primarily through rules and warnings (although there are those); it’s primarily through a story. And I think it’s essential to help our teens see the beautiful story that God is writing both in Scripture and in our lives! If we want them to make sense of the Bible’s teaching, they have to understand why and how we were made (Genesis 1–2), what went wrong and why everything is now broken (Genesis 3), how Jesus came to redeem it all (Colossians 1:19–20), and the glorious future that awaits God’s people in the new creation (Revelation 21–22). They need to see how all of creation is meant to help us know God, and how marriage itself is designed to be a picture—a foreshadowing—of an even more intimate and joyous union between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32). 

Conversation starter: How would you explain the Bible’s big story to a friend? What if they asked you what the Bible says about sexuality?
Read: Genesis 1:26-28, Ephesians 5:25-32 

  1. Body 

Students are regularly told to “listen to their hearts” and “be true to themselves”—meaning what they feel inside and believe to be true. In doing so, the realities of their bodies are often minimized. If I feel like a boy but my body looks like a girl, I should change my body to reflect my “true self,” right? By contrast, when God created the first man, he did not create a spirit but a body—and then breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). We are not spirits stuck in bodies; we are embodied people, and our bodies are good. Yes, in our present world, they are broken and a source of pain, but they are also made by God. Our bodies are us, made incredibly in the image of God, and therefore what we do with them matters (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). 

Conversation starter: When you think about what makes you “you,” do you think of things about your body or your heart? Do you ever feel like they’re at odds with each other?
Read: 1 Corinthians 6:13-20, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

  1. Identity

The teen years have always been a time of trying to figure out identity: who am I and where do I fit into this world? Lately, though, this pressure to define yourself has taken on new levels, as teens are encouraged to define their gender identity and sexual identity from one of an innumerable number of options available to them. While this is touted as freedom, I’ve noticed that it comes with a lot of pressure. Students feel the need to make something of themselves, to be something brave and unique. But Jesus does not ask us to build or figure out our identity. We are given it by our Creator. What we think, feel, and desire does not define us. Jesus does (see Colossians 3:9–11). And that’s a gift! 

Conversation starter: How do you think Jesus would answer if you asked him, “Who am I?” Read: Colossians 3:9-11, 1 Peter 2:9-10

  1. Desire

Desire is given to us by God; it’s a good thing. (The Song of Songs clearly celebrates romantic and sexual desire in marriage!) But ever since Eve desired the sweetness of the fruit and took it in spite of God’s warning, we all experience desires for things that are not of God. These temptations then become two things: a battleground over who or what we will worship (1 Peter 2:11) and a window into our heart’s deepest longings (Proverbs 4:23). In that moment of sinful desire, we can either allow our hearts to be dragged down a path toward death (James 1:13–15) or turn to Christ and allow him to transform our desires (Philippians 2:13). Our culture likes to talk about sexual desire in terms of “orientation,” but orientation ultimately is about the direction we’re facing. And Jesus wants our hearts to be oriented toward him. When we are, he empowers us to say no to the conflicting desires for things that would pull us away from him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Because ultimately, Jesus is the only one who can fully satisfy our deepest desires. 

Conversation starter: What are some common temptations teens face? What’s the good desire underneath them (like security, belonging, joy), and how does Jesus want to satisfy those deeper desires?
Read: James 1:13-15, Psalm 37:4

  1. Grace 

It’s human, I think, to want to do things ourselves. Remember the “no, me do it!” toddler days? Hopefully we—and our teens—have matured past that, but I’m not sure we ever outgrow the desire to feel accomplished, to earn things by our own merit. I’ve noticed that when teens interact with the Bible, their instinct is to make it about what they should and shouldn’t do. The problem with staying in that realm, though, is that it leads us either to despair, if we see how we don’t measure up, or pride, if we (wrongly) feel that we do. In reality, when we see that the standard Jesus sets for us is, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), it should be clear that holiness is not a list of boxes we can check. Not one of us is perfect in our thoughts, desires, and actions. If purity was something we could achieve by our own choices, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die (Galatians 2:21)! So while we want to call our teens to godly actions that honor people and protect their bodies, don’t miss the opportunity to share good news of the gospel: that no matter how much we fail, Jesus meets us with grace whenever we ask him. This offer is available to us when we need it, and it’s available to the worst of sinners in their high school, too. We can thank God for the grace to make wise choices and resist sin. But let’s not forget that none of us deserves God’s grace, but all of us are offered it. Let’s help our teens find ways to extend that grace to the (equally) undeserving all around them. 

Conversation starter: Do you ever feel like there’s a particular sin Jesus wouldn’t forgive?
Read: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 8:1-4

  1. Treasure 

I distinctly remember talking with a teen girl who, in tears, came up to me after I taught about sexuality and told me about her same-sex desires. She said, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” My heart went out to her. I know sometimes Jesus’ call to holiness can come with a high price tag. After all, it’s a call to deny yourself and take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23). For all of us, following Jesus demands everything. But what I wanted this young woman to understand—what we want all of our teens to deeply believe—is that whatever we give up to follow Jesus, we gain something far better. Jesus told this poignant parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44 NIV). This man gave up everything he had in this life, every penny he owned, but he did it in his joy because he knew he was gaining a better treasure. Let’s help our teens understand that, yes, the Christian life requires sacrifice. But it is infinitely worth it for the treasure we gain in Jesus. 

Conversation starter: What have you had to sacrifice to follow Jesus? What have you gained?
Read: Matthew 13:44, Philippians 3:7-11

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Jennifer Kvamme

Jennifer M. Kvamme is passionate about helping teenagers see the beauty of the gospel and apply it to all of life. She has been in youth ministry at Centennial Church in Forest Lake, MN, for 20 years and is the author of More to the Story: Deep Answers to Real Questions on Attraction, Identity, and Relationships. She and her husband, Greg, have three children.

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