What Will I Teach My Daughter About Sex?

Post Author: Ali Van Kuiken

I was raised in a Christian environment that advocated “purity culture.” My older siblings were part of a traveling group of Christian teen actors called H.E.A.R.Ts. – Helping Educate Abstinent and Responsible Teens. I was familiar with purity rings, slogans like RLW – Real Love Waits, and Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. When I went away to college and seminary, my theology expanded in many ways. I was able to accept evolutionary biology into my understanding of the story of Creation. I developed a more nuanced understanding of the authority of Scripture. I began to rethink my beliefs about the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality and found a way to make sense of Scripture’s cultural teachings as separate from its theological teachings. 

One of the many theological understandings I am still working out has to do with sexual purity. I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. What will I teach her about sex as she grows older? I left the Baptist denomination of my childhood for The Episcopal Church. I left a conservative community in west Michigan for liberal East Coast New Jersey. This new culture tends to be much less sexually strict than the one I came from. Sex is not necessarily reserved only for marriage. A committed relationship is good enough. We don’t expect our teens to remain sexually inactive and we certainly don’t preach abstinence as the only way. 

Yet I find that although I don’t think sex should be viewed as taboo, and I can definitely see how I was sexually repressed in many ways, I want to teach my daughter to wait to have sex until marriage. How do I do that while also teaching her that her body is a beautiful thing and not the source of temptation? How do I convey to her that sex is God-given and should also be reserved for the confines of marriage? And how do I talk about these questions among colleagues who, as far as I can tell, will disagree with these sentiments?

Kate Ott writes extensively on the topic of sexuality. In “Sex, Theology, and Teenage Choices” she advocates teaching teens how to create their own Christian sexual ethic, rather than trying to impose vague rules, such as “don’t have sex until marriage” which doesn’t even define what all is included in the word “sex.” Ott lays out how she helps youth accomplish this task by describing step by the step her process: starting with 1 Corinthians 13, eliciting definitions of “love,” choosing for themselves five values on which to build their own sexual ethic, and finally connecting these to Bible stories and the words and actions of Jesus. Ott even has the teens talk about what it would look like to live out these values in their relationships, romantic and otherwise. Common values such trust, respect, and mutuality are commonly named. 

As I read about Ott’s process, I noticed my own reaction. Even though guiding others to do their own spiritual work is the exact approach I take with my patients in my work as a psychiatric chaplain, I felt some resistance to attempting this method with my daughter. Why? I wondered before realizing it involves the age-old parental dilemma: letting go of my attempt to control her and letting her become her own person, making her own decisions. Yes, I have my own Christian sexual ethic that I want to pass on to my daughter. But I cannot do so simply by telling her what it is and expecting her to accept it as her own. For one thing she might have to make sense of things differently, as she is a different person from me. And for another, when we hold beliefs that have been given to us, that we have not yet truly made our own, they are not likely to be strong in the face of testing. 

As I think about what scares me about my daughter being more sexually active than I was, it isn’t that I’m afraid she will incur the wrath of God and be in a particularly dire sinful state. I’m afraid she’ll get hurt. I’m afraid she’ll act out of passion and ignorance and later come to regret it. I don’t want my daughter to think of her body negatively. I want her to find joy and connection and love. But since receiving the message of purity culture as a child and youth did not completely protect me from regret and pain, I’m pretty sure passing along a more sophisticated version of that will not protect my daughter either. Instead I will strive to teach her the values associated with love and how to apply that to her whole life, romance and sex included.


 1. Kate Ott, “Sex, Theology, and Teenage Choices,” Reflections, https://reflections.yale.edu/article/sex-gender-power-reckoning/sex-theology-and-teenage-choices-kate-ott-00-mar, accessed March 8, 2022.

 Ali Van Kuiken is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New Jersey and a Board Certified Clinical Chaplain. She works as a Chaplain at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in Trenton, NJ. When not working she enjoys playing board games, reading, and spending time with her husband, daughter and cat.

Image by: Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels
Used with permission
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