Shaping Your Daughter’s Sexual Identity
About the Guest
On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with Christian counselor Sharon Hersh, author of the book "Mom, sex is NO big deal!", about shaping your daughter's sexual identity.
Sharon HershSharon Hersh is a licensed professional counselor, an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs, a sought-after speaker, and the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Last Addiction: Why Self Help Is Not Enough, the popular Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Love With Abandon, and the award-winning Mothering Without Guilt. Sharon lives in Lone Tree, Colorado and is finding freedom and adventure in the empty nest years. Sharon’s latest bo...more
On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with Christian counselor Sharon Hersh, author of the book “Mom, sex is NO big deal!”, about shaping your daughter’s sexual identity.
Shaping Your Daughter’s Sexual Identity
Bob: If you're the parent of a 16- or a 17-year-old, your child is living in this culture today I can just about guarantee you they're thinking about sex. They almost have to. Here is author Sharon Hersh.
Sharon: The culture sends one message, and that is it is a big deal to talk and think about sex all the time. You watch any teen movie, you look at music videos, and it is talked about continuously, and we laugh along with the laugh track. But engaging in it is no big deal.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 15th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. The culture is talking to our children about sex, their peers are talking about it. We better get in on the conversation, too.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. For a number of years, Dennis, you and I have been encouraging moms to get away with their daughters right before the onset of adolescence, have a weekend away together using our Passport to Purity material and begin to open the door on subjects like peer pressure and dating and relationships and sexuality. And we've always seen that as kind of a starting point for an ongoing conversation that should take place between a mom and a daughter.
I'm a little concerned that there may be some moms who go away for that weekend and have the weekend and then say, "Whew, glad that's over with, and we don't have to talk about that subject again." You know what I mean?
Dennis: That's right, like the deed is done, and they don't ever have to talk about the subject of sex with their daughter and yet, really, if you look at sex education, it needs to begin as children grow up as they're toddlers and as you relate to them and their bodies and your own body and, in a healthy sense, call the different body parts what they are as they grow up, and that does seem awkward to moms, but, you know, as a mom does relate to her daughter, she needs to understand she has a very important role to not only help shape the sexual identity of her daughter as she becomes an adult but also help anchor her morality around this subject in the Scriptures.
Bob: Well, and we've got to recognize that we live today in a highly sexualized culture. All around us are messages being shouted at us and our children about sexuality; that if we're not proactive, the culture will win the day, and our kids are going to wind up shipwrecked on the rocks of a pagan view of sexuality.
Dennis: You know, Barbara and I were having dinner some time ago in Denver, and it was a delightful summer evening, and we were outside, and we were just watching the young people walk by – and the very thing you're talking about, Bob. I mean, there are direct messages that are coming down through television programming, the Internet, songs, magazines, novels, movies, all those things are taking place.
But there is the model of the culture, and I'm going to tell you something. I was astounded as I watched a generation of girls walk by, and, frankly, today's mom needs to really know what she's about and have her goals and objectives clear. And we have a mom with us today who is going to help do a great job of doing that. A very good friend of ours, Sharon Hersh, joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Sharon, welcome back.
Sharon: It's great to be with you both.
Dennis: You have been on our broadcast numerous times, and, of course, many of our listeners know of you through your gift of writing, you're a licensed clinical counselor, you speak at women's retreats around the country, but you have just finished your latest book, "Mom, Sex is No Big Deal!" And it's all about this subject of equipping a generation of moms to engage their daughters around this subject.
Now, you begin by telling a story going to a meeting with your daughter, Kristin?
Sharon: Yes. Kristin was a senior in high school, and we were going to speak to a group of middle school girls and their moms, and on the way there, I was prompting her as to what some of the questions would be that might be asked. And we got to the subject of sex, and Kristin sighed, and she said, "Remind me, Mom, remind me why I want to wait to have sex."
You know, I didn't freak out, because I knew that it was a code, it was a code for hundreds of conversations that she and I had had through the years about sex. As you said earlier, Bob, a lot of parents think we have the big talk, and we're done.
And I tell parents that your daughter will have 100,000 conversations this year about sex with the culture and with her peers. How many will she have with you?
And so Kristin and I had talked about this subject many, many times, and we can talk about some of those stories today but, really, when we got to the event, I looked at her, and I said another code phrase that has come up in many of our conversations – not just about this subject but about the subjects that really do tempt and challenge adolescents today, and I said, "Kristin, you want to wait because you want more."
And that's really what this book is about. It's about empowering mothers and daughters that there is more to sex than skin on skin, which is what the Apostle Paul writes about in his Epistles. And what I've discovered as I have talked about this subject with teenagers – even with the secular media is that we all know deep down that we have abdicated something that is not true to the culture; to the superficial, shiny culture that says sex is just about body parts.
And there is a culture out there that is hungry for someone to give the message that I believe is in this book, "Mom, Sex is NO Big Deal."
Dennis: I was at a meeting the other day with a number of people and happened to be engaged in some conversation where a 15-year-old girl walked up, and in the process we kind of struck up a conversation and kind of turned to something I was working on at the time, and it was interesting – this was not about the mother-daughter connection, but this was about the father-daughter connection.
But what I want to put the spotlight on was this 15-year-old's attitude about sex. I said, "How would you feel about your dad interviewing your dates?" And she said, "Oh, I don't know about that. I'm not sure about that," she said. "Well, it depends. It depends on what areas he'd talk to my dates about. And what areas would be off limits." And I said, "Well, what if nothing was off limits?" And she said, "Well, I wouldn't want him talking about boundaries, physical boundaries. Now, emotional boundaries," she said, "now emotional boundaries, that's okay. If we could have a conversation about emotional boundaries, I could see how a 15-year-old needs her dad to protect her there. But I’m not ready for my dad to protect the sexual boundary."
Now, here is the snapshot – this 15-year-old is not atypical. That's how adolescents think.
Dennis: They don't think of getting their marching orders or falling under the protection of their dad or their mom. They're thinking about getting their perspective and their protection and their advice and their coaching from guess who? Peers.
Sharon: Or the media and the culture, which sends a really strong message. I think – as I began to think about my own relationship with my own children, and I am all for dads reading this book, too, by the way. For those who are not of the feint of heart and want to enter into the adolescent girls' world, I think it would provide some wonderful conversation starters, because I think dads have just as essential a role in offering boundaries and guidelines and protection – certainly protection to their daughters.
But what I discovered is that the culture sends one message, and that is it is a big deal to talk and think about sex all the time. You watch any teen movie, you turn on MTV, you look at music videos, and it is talked about continuously. But engaging in it is no big deal.
In fact, unfortunately, even well-meaning families sometimes will watch favorite shows like "Friends," where the lovably character, Joey, has sex with every girl he meets whether he knows her name or not. And we don't see any consequences. We don't see a sexually transmitted disease or a girl who shows up pregnant, and we laugh along with the laugh track.
So the culture sends the message it's no big deal, whereas well-meaning families, especially Christian families, sometimes send the message because of this awkwardness that you're talking about, Dennis, that it's really not a big deal to think about and talk about. In fact, please, let's not talk about it. Let's have the big talk and be done. But engaging in it is a big deal, and that a very mixed message to adolescents.
Bob: Sharon, when I was in high school, I remember kind of observing what was going on and thinking to myself, guys will engage emotionally with a girl if it leads to sex. Girls will engage physically with a guy if it leads to some emotional fulfillment.
Now I'm looking at the culture, and I'm hearing about girls who seem to be engaging in sexual behavior without any desire for emotional connection. The whole hooking-up culture that you hear about – it seems like girls are treating sex like recreational activity just as guys used to 10 or 15 years ago.
Sharon: That's really true and, in fact, 33 percent of boys who were surveyed who had had sexual intercourse said that they felt pressured to do so by girls. And so we do have kind of a dual aggressive pursuit going on, and I think it is because both boys and girls really are not learning the meaning of sex.
I think of a girl who came to see me in my counseling office for a session, and when she walked in, she said, "Sharon, can we go to the high school straight from here?" Which was an unusual request, that the high school, the high school was near my home, and so we got in the car, and she began to tell me the story of a weekend where she had been drinking, which is often a part of sexually acting out for teenagers, and she had had sex with a boy, and as we walked into the high school, I was really stunned, and I've seen and heard a lot in the years I've been with adolescents.
But we walked to the girls' locker room and there on the front of the door, a janitor was already beginning to paint over the door, and there was a list of girls' names with a letter grade beside their names where a group of boys had come together and written down girls who had been sexually active and had graded them on their performance.
And she looked at me with tears streaming down her face, because her grade was a D. And she said, "Sharon, I don't even know what I did wrong."
And that's where I began to be able to talk with her about what sex was intended for, because sex was not intended to expose us, it was intended by God to be a covering in the context of a sacramental, covenantal relationship. And most teenagers have not grown a brain that has caught up with their bodies that can even grasp that kind of a relationship.
But her story really poignantly reveals that teenagers don't know what sex means, and because they don't, both girls and boys have bought into this idea that it's just about body parts. But, you know, when we begin to teach them that their body parts, their private parts, are connected to their hearts, and when they join to another's private parts who are connected to his heart, their hearts are fused. That's what God intended in sex.
And then when that relationship is discarded or it falls apart, the average teen relationship lasts three months. Part of your heart is torn off. That happens often enough, the wounds begin to result in some choices about myself, about the opposite sex, about sex, about relationships, and ultimately about God. And that's where the tragedy in this subject lies.
Dennis: Yeah, and we, as parents, need to be very careful about giving too much trust to our 15-year-olds, and trusting their friends, even their Christian friends, their youth group friends, to tell your daughter the truth about sex. Because I'm going to tell you something, as a parent who raised six teenagers, and we went through this with four daughters, you can't trust the peer pressure even in the Christian youth group to uphold your standards.
Bob: That was a part of what your daughter, Kristin, faced when she was 15 years old, right?
Sharon: It was, and I think by the time she reached her senior year, she was the only one in her groups of friends who still had not had sex. And her friends were good friends, and she certainly, I think, felt the pressure, and it's why we had hundreds of conversations.
And I just want to encourage moms and dads who are listening who maybe feel inadequate to talk about this subject or feel a little bit panicked, because teenagers are experts at inducing panic in parents. That as you talk about this subject, you are sending a message – "I want to be in this with you." And I have seldom, seldom worked with a family where mom and dad begin to engage about this subject, even if they don't do it well, where eventually a girl will begin to say, even a girl who was having sex or considering it, "You know, maybe I'm not ready."
Bob: You said that Kristin as a senior in high school had not had sex. You meant she hadn't had intercourse. She did have an experience at 15 that was a sexual experience, right?
Sharon: She did, and that's a good story to talk about. When moms often ask, "How much should I talk about my own sexual past?" Kristin had gone to a movie with a boy, and he made an inappropriate move to touch her during the movie, and she jumped up, and she said, "I feel sick. I'm going to call my mom and go home," and so she called me, and I came and picked her up, and I'll tell you, I wanted to go in and find that boy and slug him, and I wanted her to announce to the whole school what had happened, and she just wanted me to let it alone.
Bob: Chill out, Mom.
Dennis: Yeah, yeah.
Sharon: But it made me think about my own middle school days and make-out parties, and my response was very different than Kristin's. I kind of went numb. I lost my voice and did things that I necessarily was not comfortable with or did not want to do. So the next morning I drug out my old middle school yearbooks and Kristin and I sat down, and we looked at them, and we laughed at how ugly everyone really was in the '70s.
And then I affirmed her for using her voice and told her some of my own story and how not believing that I had a voice, that I could ask for what I wanted, that I could say no to what I didn't want. It really affected me into my 30s and had implications into my adult life.
And so encourage moms – and the book, "Mom, Sex is NO Big Deal" really does help moms to confront their own sexual history because if we hate or hide or dismiss our stories, then we are prone to offer heartless rules and reasons to our daughters.
Bob: There is pain and there are scars that moms don't want to go anywhere near in opening back up their own sexual past. That's scary.
Dennis: And it's also shame-filled.
Sharon: It can be, and then we get to what the major theme of what this book is. Because, you know, guys, when I was asked to write this book, I didn't want to write it. I looked at the statistics that by the time girls are 19, over 76 percent will have already engaged in sexual intercourse.
That last year in the United States, 2.8 million cases of one form of sexually transmitted disease were reported among young women under the age of 22 – 2.8 million cases last year. And I thought, "This is an area where the enemy has already won. I don't want to write this book."
And then I started listening to stories. I started listening to stories like Morgan's story, and her story I tell in the first chapters of the book. She was 15 when she came to see me, but the story she needed to tell began when she was 13, and her family was breaking apart, and Morgan met a "hot boy," as she described him, at the mall, who was 16, who asked for her number. And I have to tell you, as she was beginning to tell the story, I wanted to scream, "Stop, don't you see what's going to happen here?"
And the story line was predictable. But what happened in Morgan's heart eventually, in her mother's heart and my heart, was not predictable. As I began to listen to her story further, there was a day when she and I were watching a film clip from a popular movie called "The Notebook." And I know it's a movie that has some scenes that is objectionable to some parents, and yet I use movies and teen media to gain entry into teen's hearts, and we were watching the beginning scenes where the boy meets girl, he pursues her, and he compliments her, and he notices her, and he's interested in her, and I looked over at Morgan, and tears were streaming down her face, and she looked at me, and she said, "Sharon, will someone ever love me like that?"
And I knew that behind Morgan's story, behind every teen song about love, behind every teen statistic about sex, is that question – will someone ever love me like that? And that is where hope for moms and daughters who have been sexually foolish or sexually sinful comes in that there is one who has come and who has loved us with unconditional love; who has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you," who has said, "I want to be one with you, bone of your bones, flesh of your flesh bound to you in a covenant of sacramental love."
And sex becomes the subject where we most powerfully can talk about this covenant relationship with Jesus.
Dennis: Where there is a God who also loves us enough to forgive us …
Dennis: … of our past and declare us clean, forgiven, and what was once crimson in color, stained, can now be white as snow. And, you know, the Gospel does give moms and dads the ability to not only experience that forgiveness but to step into their children's lives not once, not twice, but hundreds of times as you raise them and engage in the needed discussions around this subject.
And, Sharon, I appreciate what you've done in your book, because your own honesty, I think, will emblazon moms to be courageous, to enter into that discussion, and, Bob, we both know that today is a time when this culture robs moms and, for that matter, dads, of courage to step into their kids' lives. And the teenagers push you out, and they'll continue to push you out.
Let me tell you something, your teenager is not going to put out a welcome mat outside their bedroom. There is not going to be a welcome mat there. But you know what you have to do? I don't say you break the door down, but I do think you knock politely, and you enter in, and you go through the clammy, sweaty palms, and you choke it down, and be the parent. Step up. This is a time when we have to engage these kids, because the stakes are so high.
Bob: Well, and I would imagine there are probably some moms who look at the title of your book and think, "I don't want to read it, I don't want to have to deal with this. I want to just pray and hope that everything turns out okay." And in this culture that's a dangerous decision to make – a dangerous assumption to make.
Moms need to be engaging, and dads as well, with their teenagers on this subject, and I think your book is going to help a lot of moms have the courage to do that.
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Again, the title of the book is "Mom, Sex is No Big Deal," by Sharon Hersh. You can contact us by going on our website at FamilyLife.com and click the red button in the middle of the screen that says, "Go." That will take you right to the area on our site where you can get more information about Sharon's book. You can order online, if you'd like.
We have other resources that are available there to try to help you with this subject. In fact, there is a magazine – I think they call them magabooks or bookazine or something. This is done for teenagers. Rebecca St. James has helped put it together. It's called SHE Teen, and it's designed like a magazine so a teenager can read it, or a mom and a teen can read through it together and interact over a lot of these subjects that you deal with in the book, "Mom, Sex is NO Big Deal."
Any of our listeners who are interested in getting both of these resources together, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD that has our conversation with Sharon Hersh. You can get all the details, again, on our website at FamilyLife.com or call us for more information at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know about the resources that are available and how you can get them sent to you.
Let me quickly, if I can, Dennis, say a word of thanks to the folks who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported, so it's donations from folks like you that make this daily radio program possible not only in this city but in cities all across the country.
During the month of February, we've been sending out a thank you gift to those of you who can help with a donation to FamilyLife Today this month. For your donation of any amount, we want to send you a CD that features two messages from C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. C.J. talks to men, Carolyn talks to wives, both of the dealing with the subject of romance in marriage.
They've written a wonderful book together called "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God," and in these messages they talk about how husbands and wives can more effectively minister to one another in this area of romance. And the CD is our thank you gift to you this month when you help us with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You can make that donation online, if you'd like. As you fill out the donation form, if you're interested in a copy of the CD I talked about, just type the word "love" in the keycode box, and we'll know to send it to you. Or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation over the phone just mention that you'd like the CD on love or romance that you heard us talking about on FamilyLife Today. We'll know what you're talking about, and we'll send it out to you again as a thank you for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your financial partnership with us.
Well, tomorrow we're going to revisit this subject of teenagers and sexuality and what we can do as parents to be more proactive and more engaging on the subject with our teens. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Kenny Farris, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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