Talking to your children about sex, marriage and same-sex marriage

Roundtable contributors: Jani Ortlund, Stephanie Goeke, Krissie Inserra, Trillia Newbell and Jena Starke.

What age do you think is appropriate for addressing issues related to marriage, sex and same-sex marriage with your children?

JO: You can begin talking about marriage and proper expressions of intimacy with your child from infancy on—by showing them pictures of your wedding day and other important weddings of family and friends; telling them how marriage began in Gen. 1-2 and how good it is; displaying how much Dad and Mom love, admire and support in each other in their various roles; and making clear that God says marriage is between one man and one woman for as long as they both live.

KI: I think the issue is more about maturity and exposure. My oldest son is eight years old and in second grade at our neighborhood public school.  He has classmates with lesbian parents, and he has seen men out in public holding hands. This has raised a number of questions from him, so we have already had discussions about marriage and sexuality. These issues might come up earlier with my four-year-old because of exposure. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. This is not a one-time “talk.” It is an ongoing, honest conversation.

TN:  I have young children (five and eight), so we have not jumped into the deep end of the pool on these topics. Thus far, we make sure to name body parts by their proper name so it’s not strange or awkward (as if God did not design our bodies). The kids understand that boys and girls are created by God with unique differences.

SG: This really depends on your child and your child’s environment. While you want to guard against introducing sexuality and related issues to your children before they are emotionally and developmentally ready, it is an even greater risk in our culture and tech-driven world that your children will learn about sexuality from someone else. The goal should be that your kids’ first exposure to sexual information is from you, and that when questions and issues surface later down the road, they will be comfortable coming to you for counsel.  

JS: As parents, we know our kids best, and we should use wisdom as we consider when to have these discussions. Ask yourself: What is their social environment (friends, teachers, neighbors, advertising) teaching them? Have they begun asking questions? Am I reluctant to talk with my child just because it feels uncomfortable?

How would you go about explaining same-sex marriage to your children? How would you distinguish what God’s design is?

JO: You can help children understand same-sex marriage by studying God’s design for marriage. Give them lots of stories about marriage from the Bible—from Creation to Revelation. I would tell them that same-sex marriage is not marriage as God defines it. Make sure your child knows that this is not your idea that you are teaching but God’s idea from the beginning of the world until now.

You can say something like, “Many people don’t know and believe the Bible, but in our family we want to study the Bible so we can know what God is saying to us about how life works best and how to honor him. In the Bible, God says that same-sex marriage is wrong, just like having sex outside of marriage, lying, stealing and worshipping other gods is wrong.  Even if we don’t understand everything God is telling us in the Bible, we know that he is kind, wise and wants what is best for his children. So we will trust and obey his ways.”

KI: We have simply explained that there are some men who choose to be with and marry other men and some women who do the same with women. This is not the way that God has created us to be. We assure our son that God has stated very clearly in the Bible that he made marriage to be between a man and a woman, so this relationship is against God’s design.

SG: Explaining same-sex marriage and homosexuality to your children is easier if, and should be done after, you have taken the time to explain traditional marriage and biblical sexuality to your children. This will aid greatly in helping explain why homosexual expression and same-sex marriage are outside of God’s design, no matter what our culture or our laws may say. And, again, this is much easier if it is addressed by the parent, on the parents’ initiative, rather than something learned via media, teachers or peers.  

JS: I would say something like, “In Genesis, God created men and women to complement one another. In his perfect plan, he made us different and proclaims it a good thing because it follows his design for all of creation. But because mankind is sinful and runs away from God, we want to make our own rules and not follow God’s design for us. The Bible tells us that ‘people loved the darkness rather than the light.’ In other words, we don’t want to be obedient to God’s commands, and sometimes this shows up in who people want to marry.”

How would you help your children know the truth and yet not ostracize their neighbor or classmate with whom they disagree?

JO: Do not let them hear you ostracize others for their beliefs. Let there be sympathy, grace and longing for those who don’t know the truth of the Bible yet. We don’t want to raise finger-pointing Pharisees or become people who point out or talk about other’s sins—we have enough of our own sin to deal with. Let’s love our friends with whom we disagree and emphasize that Jesus died for the sins of the world, ours included.  

If a someone asks, you can tell your child to share what he/she believes, and why: “Because the Bible is God’s Word to us, and in our family, we believe the Bible and want to obey it.”  Remind your children that what God looks at is the heart; people who are living in a same-sex relationship need a new heart, just as people who are having sex before marriage need one.  Also, teach your children to pray for them.

KI: Children see things in black and white. They understand that some things are right and others are wrong and may have a hard time with those who want to blur the lines or completely disagree with them. It is important to show them how Jesus related to those who were in sin. He felt compassion for them (Matt. 9:36) and loved them in word and deed.

In our home, we are honest about these issues (in an age-appropriate way), but we stress that someone who is living this lifestyle needs to know and understand the love of Jesus. Trying to show them the reasons their choices are wrong is not going to convey that love. We must remember that our kids are taking their cues from us. If we are unloving toward those with sexual sin, we can expect our children to act the same way no matter how much we remind them to love others.

SG: Teaching through Jesus’ interaction with sinners is a great way to show how Jesus was always full of mercy yet never wavered on the truth. Additionally, a great way to instill compassion toward those with whom we disagree is to listen to and understand more of their stories and how they ended up where they are, while helping our kids to understand how to allow Scripture to shine light on those experiences.

JS: Sometimes our kids hear other kids using bad language, and they naturally want to label them “bad kids.” We remind them that our sins—lying, bad attitudes, laziness, hatefulness—are just as “bad,” and we need forgiveness just as much as they do. Jesus spent time with people who did a lot of bad things and loved them. When we separate ourselves from other people, we are saying we don’t need as much forgiveness as they do. So, when our kids see two women walking down the street holding hands, we should help them remember that Jesus came to set people free from their sin, including us.

How would you train your child to talk about these things with friends who have same-sex parents?

KI: Our son does have at least a couple of classmates who have same-sex parents, and this is a tough one. If the child wants to know what the Bible says about homosexuality, I would teach my child to point him or her to Scripture and explain it. But generally, that’s not the question that kids are asking.

Children should never be ostracized or punished for the lifestyle choices their parents have made. They want to know that they are loved and accepted even though their family is different. They want to know that God has a plan for their life. They need to know that God must punish sin because he is a holy God, but his mercy and forgiveness extend from the east to the west. They simply need a friend.

TN: I’d want my kids to be honest. I don’t want them to feel they need to hide their Christianity. With that said, I would want them to be wise and discerning. I want them to learn to share an opinion, concern or conviction when asked rather than voluntarily. For example, if a classmate is sharing, I might teach my children to start responding by asking their classmate questions instead of throwing out accusations. It’s the child’s parents who are same-sex partners. The child shouldn’t be shunned because of the choice of the parents. Ultimately, I want my kids to be gospel-minded. I pray they would remember the truth of the gospel as they learn to relate to others and would have boldness to lovingly share when and where possible.

SG: Kids should first learn how to share their faith and to share the essence of the gospel in the middle of their relationships before they are taught, or even encouraged, to address sin or differences of beliefs. Addressing sin without first introducing Jesus never goes well!

For many kids, the “experience” of their friends can cause them to question what they have been taught about biblical sexuality and traditional marriage, so it is important that parents walk with their kids through the Word and allow it to illuminate the situation.  Make sure your kids know that it is okay to be friends with these kids and that the same-sex parents may well be very nice, caring and capable parents.  If the issue arises specifically in conversation, teach your children how to state their beliefs carefully and with sensitivity, and teach them how to affirm their friendship and sincerely love their friends.

JS: Our kids aren’t always going to say the right things, and we need to be patient with them. Most importantly, it’s crucial for them to understand that behavior is the fruit of what’s in our hearts. It should surprise them less and less that people disobey God’s commands if they don’t have Jesus in their heart. Our neighbors need to know Jesus before they’ll want to obey his commands. As kids grow in their knowledge of the gospel and how God changes hearts, they’ll better relate to their friends, family and neighbors.  

This article was featured in our inaugural issue of Light Magazine. Visit the ERLC store to download Light for free and discover more resources.

Krissie Inserra

Krissie is a pastor's wife, mom, and active member in her local church and community. Read More by this Author

Stephanie Goeke

Read More by this Author

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More