By / Oct 2

A friend sent me a link to an advice column this week featuring parents who are seeking to raise their child “gender-neutral” but are frustrated that their daughter keeps opting for a wardrobe typically associated with her biological sex. Our culture makes a lot of sex and gender today. In recent years, new words have entered our vocabularies to describe the way our gender or sexual identities align (or not) with our genetic makeup. A little more than a decade ago, words like cis, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming would have been nearly meaningless to the majority of the population. And even if you’re not familiar with these words, you can be sure that your children are or that they will be soon.

Our kids are going to grow in a world that is shot through with confusion about sex and gender and what it means to be male or female. So how can Christian parents help their children navigate this difficult terrain? Doing so will certainly be a challenge. But there is good news. Helping our kids navigate confusion about human sexuality won’t require us to learn much that is new. Instead, we mostly have to embrace something old. 

Made in his image

On our Bibles’ first pages, God tells us a lot about the way that he made us. When he creates Adam and Eve and places them in the garden, he tells us that both the man and the woman bear his image. I love the way that Genesis 1:27 puts it, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27). The most important thing about men and women is something they hold in common—both are made in the image and likeness of God. So as a starting point, our kids need to know that God made them with a purpose. He made them to represent him in the world and to reflect his likeness in creation.

Made male and female

But in that same verse in Genesis, we learn something else about the way that God made us. Though men and women both bear God’s image, men and women are distinct. Together, they represent the two complementary halves of humanity. And this brings up a second helpful point for kids on this topic. Not only did God make them for a purpose, but he intentionally made them either male or female. It is not uncommon for kids to question, at various times and to varying degrees, why they happen to be their particular sex. Growing comfortable in one’s own body is challenging for everyone. One of the best things you can do for your child is to teach them about God’s design for men and women and reassure them that everyone feels awkward about this at times. Especially today, kids need to know it’s not freakish or weird to feel uncomfortable or to have questions.

Only male or female

One of the reasons this topic can be so difficult for parents is because we sometimes lack the vocabulary to discuss these things together. But truthfully, the basics are pretty simple. When we use the words male or female, we are talking about a person’s biological sex. A person’s anatomy and genetic (chromosomal) makeup determine whether a person is a biological male or female. So when we say that sex is binary, we mean that God makes us either male or female. And what our kids need to know is that this is not an accident. The Scriptures speak often of the special care that God takes in creating and caring for each one of us (Psa. 139:13-18; Matt. 6:25-34). A man I deeply respect once told me that as he prays with his children, he regularly takes time to pray for his sons, “I thank God that he made you a male” and for his daughters, “I thank God that he made you female.” Parents can do their children immeasurable good simply by affirming the goodness of God’s design to them.

Masculine or feminine

Because sex is binary, that means that your child will live their whole lives either as a man or woman. But this doesn’t mean that your child has to conform to various stereotypes about masculinity or femininity. Your son is a male regardless of whether he would prefer to read and practice the piano or camp in the woods and chop down trees. Your daughter is a female whether she prefers pink dresses and tea parties or woodworking and watching football. The reason we are so often confused about this though is because we’ve unwittingly embraced ideas about how our biological sex is supposed to find expression. But the answer isn’t to raise “gender neutral” children; it’s to understand the Bible’s full range of masculinity and femininity.

Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design

No one doubts King David was a manly man. He killed both a lion and a bear to protect his father’s flock before killing Goliath the giant to protect the flock of God (1 Sam. 17). But David was more than a warrior. He was also a harpist and a poet (1 Sam. 16). If your definition of manhood excludes King David, it also excludes Jesus, who not only fashioned a whip of cords to cleanse the temple and bore the fury of God’s wrath against sin, but wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and routinely exhibited compassion for the lost and hurting. Darrin Patrick used to say that a biblical man must be tough and tender, and I think that is a helpful way to put it. 

The Bible’s depiction of femininity is no less compelling. God made men and women distinct, and a special part of his design for women is their beauty and ability to nurture and care for others. But the Bible nowhere reduces women to objects. Throughout the Scriptures we see acts of faithfulness and even heroism featuring women God used to preserve his people and advance the gospel. The Hebrew midwives defied the authority of Pharaoh. Rahab assisted the spies to help Joshua take the Promised Land. Esther’s courage saved God’s people from destruction. The Bible also recounts the faithfulness of Ruth, the fearlessness of Jael, or the significance of Mary the mother of Jesus. The woman described in Proverbs 31 has noble character, speaks with wisdom, and is clothed in strength and dignity. That is exactly the kind of portrait we should hold up for our daughters.

The beginning

There is much more to say, but my hope is that this provides a foundation from which to engage these conversations with your sons and daughters. Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design. Aside from pointing them toward Jesus, the best thing you can do for your children to help them understand how God made them is to model biblical manhood and womanhood in front of them. Fathers should be tough, ready to protect their families. But they should also be tender, kneeling down beside the bed to pray. Mothers should bless their children with incredible nurture. But they should also model the incredible range of gifts God bestowed upon women. 

By / Jun 25

Forty-eight years ago on June 23, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 was passed, stating that:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Almost five decades later, women and girls continue to benefit from this law that was intended to provide equal opportunities for men and women seeking to participate in activities and educational institutions receiving funding from the U.S. government. 

As a former college athlete, I admit I did not give much thought to Title IX. It seemed obvious that women and men should have the same opportunities and funding. We had access to locker rooms, training staff, transportation, and scholarships. Many of my teammates were able to attend college because of the athletic scholarships they received. But a glance back at women’s opportunities just a few decades prior to my experience reveals a different picture. 

Teresa (Lucas) Kamm competed in women’s gymnastics at West Virginia University in 1973, the first year Title IX went into full effect. The law enabled WVU to hire a qualified coaching staff, upgrade the gymnastics apparatus, provide an athletic trainer to travel with the team for meets, allow use of the men’s football athletic training room, provide academic tutors if needed, and provide a bus and driver for the team to travel to away meets. In previous years, the school had a “gymnastics club,” but gymnasts had to choreograph their own routines, bake cookies to raise money for uniforms, and drive their own cars to schools to compete against other women’s gymnastics “clubs.”

Kamm credits Title IX with giving young women many educational and experiential opportunities:

I benefited tremendously from Title IX. I believe the training and experience I received enabled me to compete on a national level post college. As a result, I performed my gymnastics routines in six countries in the Far East. This never would have happened if Title IX had not been implemented.

Many young girls now have the hope of competing at a collegiate level with all the benefits Title IX provides. The ability to earn a scholarship and compete at this level can be life changing. Women are more likely to attend college and graduate when offered an athletic scholarship.  

In her senior year in 1975, Kamm was offered the first athletic scholarship given to a female athlete in West Virginia University’s history. As the oldest of six children, this was a tremendous encouragement to her family, and to the many female athletes who have followed in her footsteps at WVU. 

As we watch our daughters and sons train and compete, we should rejoice at the beauty of God’s design for creation and seek to teach our children that they are intended, loved, and created to point to the One whose image they bear. 

From learning to be a team player, to overcoming adversity, to gaining confidence and a positive body image, to higher academic achievement, the benefits to girls who participate in sports goes beyond scholarship opportunities. As a parent of a middle school runner, it’s a joy to watch her push herself and to be a witness as she cheers on teammates and learns sportsmanship. I’m grateful she has the same opportunities as her male counterparts in school, and I’m thankful she is able to compete as a girl. 

Challenges after the Bostock ruling

However, there may be challenges ahead for many women seeking the opportunities afforded them under Title IX. Last week’s landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia extended protections against employment discrimination to LGBTQ people under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and saw the court redefine its interpretation of “sex” to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity. In practice, this could mean more transgender athletes arguing for the right to compete against students of a different biological sex, as was recently challenged by three female high school track athletes in Connecticut. 

The far-reaching consequences of this recent ruling could threaten the progress made by female athletes over the past 48 years. As Christians, we uphold the design of our Creator, who chose to endow men and women with equal value, yet distinct physical attributes. This physical make-up has implications for the way we perform in athletic competition, and those differences should be acknowledged and valued. 

As we look back and celebrate the countless opportunities afforded women since Title IX came into effect, we should pray that the same opportunities will be given to future generations. And as we watch our daughters and sons train and compete, we should rejoice at the beauty of God’s design for creation and seek to teach our children that they are intended, loved, and created to point to the One whose image they bear. 

By / Apr 16

“For by uttering boastful, empty words, they seduce, with fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.” – 2 Peter 2:18-19

Over the past thirty years, increasing access to pornography has made millions of people — including an ever-growing number of men — “slaves of corruption.” This willing enslavement to pornography has affected almost every area of our society, from the home to the office to our churches. But the place most affected and most detrimentally transformed is the male brain.

“Because the human brain is the biological anchor of our psychological experience, it is helpful to understand how it operates.” says William M. Struthers, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College. “Knowing how it is wired together and where it is sensitive can help us understand why pornography affects people the way it does.”[1]

Ultimately, freedom from this yoke of slavery can only be found in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Jesus is the only one who can truly save us from the effects of our sin and corruption. However, the destructive impact of pornography cannot be alleviated solely through increased evangelistic efforts.

As Christians we should seek the well-being of our society (Jeremiah 29:7). One important way we can more effectively heed that calling is to be aware of the damaging physical and psychological effects of pornography. We should also be able to articulate these harms to those who do not share the Christian worldview in order to better advocate for restrictions to pornography. We need to effectively communicate that pornography is not only a spiritual problem but also a serious individual and public health concern.

Here are several ways that pornography affects the male brain:

Pornography hijacks the normal biological response in men

Sexually explicit material triggers mirror neurons in the male brain. These neurons, which are involved with the process for how to mimic a behavior, contain a motor system that correlates to the planning out of a behavior. In the case of pornography, this mirror neuron system triggers the arousal, which leads to sexual tension and a need for an outlet. “The unfortunate reality is that when he acts out (often by masturbating), this leads to hormonal and neurological consequences, which are designed to bind him to the object he is focusing on,” says Struthers. “In God's plan, this would be his wife, but for many men it is an image on a screen. Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.”

The Coolidge Effect: Why Internet pornography is so addictive

Why do men seek out a variety of new explicit sexual images rather than being satisfied with the same ones? The reason is attributed to the Coolidge effect, a phenomenon seen in mammalian species whereby males (and to a lesser extent females) exhibit renewed sexual interest if introduced to new receptive sexual partners, even after refusing sex from prior but still available sexual partners. This neurological mechanism is one of the primary reasons for the abundance and addictiveness of Internet pornography.

Pornography leads to “arousal addiction”

In men, there are five primary chemicals involved in sexual arousal and response. The one that likely plays the most significant role in pornography addiction is dopamine. Dopamine plays a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning. Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain, and a variety of addictive drugs, including stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine, act directly on the dopamine system. Dopamine surges when a person is exposed to novel stimuli, particularly if it is sexual, or when a stimuli is more arousing than anticipated. Because erotic imagery triggers more dopamine than sex with a familiar partner, exposure to pornography leads to “arousal addiction” and teaches the brain to prefer the image and become less satisfied with real-life sexual partners.

Pornography leads to sexual desensitization

Overstimulation of the reward circuitry—such as occurs with repeated dopamine spikes related to viewing pornography—creates desensitization. As Gary Wilson explains, “When dopamine receptors drop after too much stimulation, the brain doesn't respond as much, and we feel less reward from pleasure. That drives us to search even harder for feelings of satisfaction—for example, by seeking out more extreme sexual stimuli, longer porn sessions, or more frequent porn viewing—thus further numbing the brain.”[2]

Internet pornography is uniquely harmful

What makes Internet porn unique? Wilson identifies a number of reasons, including:

(1) Internet porn offers extreme novelty;

(2) Unlike food and drugs, there are almost no physical limitations to Internet porn consumption;

(3) With Internet porn one can escalate both with more novel “partners” and by viewing new and unusual genres;

(4) Unlike drugs and food, Internet porn doesn't eventually activate the brain's natural aversion system; and

(5) The age users start watching porn. A teen's brain is at its peak of dopamine production and neuroplasticity, making it highly vulnerable to addiction and rewiring.

Pornography use can cause psychological and physiological impairment

Men's exposure to sexually explicit material is correlated with social anxiety, depression, low motivation, erectile dysfunction, concentration problems, and negative self-perceptions in terms of physical appearance and sexual functioning.

Pornography deforms sexual character

“The psychological, behavioral, and emotional habits that form our sexual character will be based on the decisions we make,” says Struthers. “Whenever the sequence of arousal and response is activated, it forms a neurological memory that will influence future processing and response to sexual cues. As this pathway becomes activated and traveled, it becomes a preferred route—a mental journey—that is regularly trod. The consequences of this are far-reaching.”

 

[1] William M. Struthers, Ph.D, “The Effects of Porn on the Male Brain,” Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 05 (2011).

[2] Gary Wilson, “Desensitization: A Numbed Pleasure Response,” http://yourbrainonporn.com/desensitization-numbed-pleasure-response