FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Answering the Culture’s Questions about Sex

with Sean McDowell | October 6, 2006
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Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Sean McDowell, author of the book Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World, about the Christian's practical yet biblical response to the culture's questions about sex.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Sean McDowell, author of the book Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World, about the Christian's practical yet biblical response to the culture's questions about sex.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Sean McDowell talks about the Christian’s practical yet biblical response to the culture’s questions about sex.

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Answering the Culture’s Questions about Sex

With Sean McDowell
October 06, 2006
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Bob: Helping our children do what's right can be a challenge for us, as parents, especially if we didn't always do what was right.  Here's Sean McDowell.

Sean: I meet a lot of parents who will say, "Gosh, you know, I've made mistakes, though.  How can I tell my kid how he should act?"  And I say, "Look, because you've made mistakes makes you the perfect person.  Now, don't try to cover them up, don't preach at your kid, but just talk openly and honestly and fairly, not corner him in the car and force him to talk about something but, fairly, I think kids will respond."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 6th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today how can we talk honestly with our kids about right and wrong if we messed up? 

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, it's hard for me to really imagine our guest today as a younger man, although I met him as a younger man, back when he was 19 years old.  Do you remember when we sat down – this was, what, 19 …

Dennis: … '95 …

Bob: … 95, we sat down with 19-year-old Sean McDowell.

Dennis: Son of Josh McDowell.

Bob: He was a little bit of a punk back then, do you think?

Dennis: I wouldn't say that.

Bob: You were a punk, weren't you?

Dennis: He had some edge to him.

Sean: I think you drew it out of me a little bit.


Bob: We were getting to interview …

Dennis: Well said, Sean, I think you nailed Bob there, that was good.

Bob: We were getting ready to interview Josh on …

Dennis: We wanted to surprise him a bit.

Bob: He had written a book on how to, really, what was it?  How to love your child – do you remember?

Sean: "How to be Here to your Kid," maybe that one?

Bob: That's the one, that's the one.  And it's good that you know it, by the way.  And so we thought before we interview Josh, let's just see what kind of things his son would have to say about their relationship.  And I don't know if you remember any of this, but you talked about how you and your dad would have fun.  I want our listeners to hear what you said back then.

[from audiotape]

Dennis: Tell me what you would say would be your favorite memory of your dad?

Sean: My favorite memory?

Dennis: That's right – of all the memories you've had with your dad growing up, what would be your favorite memory?

Sean: I can come up with a few different ones.

Dennis: Okay.

Sean: I can't think specifically.

[end audiotape]

Bob: All right, stop the tape, stop the tape.

Dennis: That's right, let's find out what it is today.

Bob: That was the question we asked.  Now, if we were asking you today, favorite memory with your dad, let's see if you come up with the same one all these many years later.  Have you got one?

Dennis: And you can only keep just one memory.  This is my standard question.  What memory would you keep and why?

Sean: My guess is that I talked about jumping on beds, would be my guess.

Bob: Really?

Sean: Probably.  Or one of my favorite memories is when we would sit around in the Jacuzzi, and my dad would make a little popcorn and put it in a tin bowl and float it around in the Jacuzzi and we'd just talk and kind of have fun and be goofy as a family.

Bob: Well, let's see if either of those was the answer you gave back then.

[from audiotape]

Sean:  We were at a hotel.  We stayed there.  We locked all the doors and ordered room service, and we were jumping on the beds and just, you know, in the middle of a hotel. 

Bob: Your dad was doing this?

Sean: Yeah.

Bob: Jumping on the bed?

Sean: Yeah, and we ordered, like, you know, this guy served us breakfast.  He just brought a bunch of candy bars, and we just messed around and had fun.

[end audiotape]

Bob: [bell dings] There you go, that's what you were thinking of, isn't it?

Sean: Not too bad, huh?

Bob: You pulled out the old jumping on the bed and eating the candy bars for breakfast, didn't you?

Sean: I did.

Dennis: Why?

Sean: You know, I think that just – it just told me a couple of things; that, number one, as busy as my dad was, he wanted to do something that was important and valuable and fun for me, and at five that was my world.  I mean, my son Scotty is two, and every night he goes, "Daddy, after dinner, jump on beds."  You know, so a dad who loves his kid is going to do the things that are most important for his son or daughter.

Bob: And you're saying it's inherited that jumping on beds is a McDowell family kind of tradition, huh?

Sean: That's one.  There are some others I might not tell you on air, but that's probably one of the main McDowell traditions.

Bob: Well, we also had a chance to ask your dad about some ethical issues that parents face as they're raising their teenagers, and ask him what he would do if you pressed him on – I don't know that these are moral or ethical issues, but listen to what we talked about.

[from audiotape]

Bob: What would you do if Sean came home and said, "Dad, I'd like to get an earring?"

Josh: I'd probably sit down and – I know he would come to me with that and not his mother.


 I know that.  That wouldn't bother me.  I'd just sit down, I'd want to make sure he understood what he was doing, why he was doing it, what significance does he place on that, and I think a lot of it would depend on his answers, and then he'd have my blessing.

Bob: In fact, you'd probably get out the awl and ball peen hammer and …

Josh: Yeah, I would …

Bob: Let's hear what Sean has to say.

Josh: Well, you know, let me make the statement this way – is we've got to be careful where we draw the battle lines.  Too many parents draw the battle lines with an earring, with long hair.  No, I want to draw it with moral issues – with drugs and sex and disobedience – that's where I want to draw the battle lines.

Bob: Did you ever want to have earring in your ear?

Sean: Not really.  I've thought about it.  Actually, I did say that to my parents to test them to see what they would say.

Bob: Yeah, and?

Sean: But my mom just said, you know, if you really want one, we'll sit down and talk about it, and I didn't really want one, anyway, so …

Dennis: What did your dad say?

Sean: Let's see, I don't think I really said it to my dad.  He was just joking around, and going, "Yeah, right."


Bob: How about – have you ever wanted your hair to be longer than it is now?  Or has it been longer?

Sean: When I was in 7th grade, I was into skateboarding, and I shaved, like, all the sides around, and my hair was – I had long bangs and stuff, and I remember my mom – she just let me do it, and my dad said, you know, "Let him go through the phase or whatever."

Bob: So he was cool with it, huh, he relaxed.

Sean: Mm-hm, yeah.

[end audiotape]

Dennis: You know, I'm looking at him right now. 

Bob: I'm trying to imagine him with those shaved sides and the bangs.

Dennis: I am, because he's a little short on the hair on the top right now instead of the bangs.  I want you to just remove the headphones here in the studio.  I don't see any pierced ears or anything.

Bob: No, you never got to the diamond stud, did you?

Dennis: You didn't pull that, did you?

Sean: I never did, no.  I honestly never really wanted to have my ear pierced.  But the hair thing, I did actually go – my mom freaked out, and my dad, the response he said, exactly – I wanted long hair and actually ended up bleaching it blond.  And my dad was, like, "Hey, it looks good, great."  On the inside he might have been going, "What is my son doing?  Is this the beginning?"  And he said, "Great, no problem," and …

Dennis: Well, you know what?  You're a good sport.  You've allowed us to kind of venture back in the past here a couple of times this week, and it's not easy to be a Christian leader's kid in this culture, but you not only survived it, you've thrived through it.  You are now a high school teacher, and you've written a book called "Ethics," and we've emphasized all week a couple of things. 

Number one, which is relationships.  If you're going to reach the next generation, you have to build a road, not to their head but to their heart, and that really is what these last two clips that we've played with you and your dad have been all about.  Your dad understood he had to have a relationship with you, but the second thing that we've been emphasizing as well, is that parents today have to take truth to their children's hearts as well.  Not just love them and hug them but give them a standard and call them to begin to believe that standard and base their lives on that standard and make choices against that standard.

Bob: And I was interested, listening back to your dad talking about the difference between long hair or pierced ears, and he said, "I'm not going to have a battle over those things.  I'm going to have a battle over moral issues, because when it comes down to it, that's what matters.  That's what our worldview is going to affect more than whether there's a pierced ear or long hair, right?

Sean: Yeah, and I think my parents really lived that.  I mean, that was true for him.  At times, I got into a band called Metallica for a little while in high school and started listening to them, and that raised …

Dennis: That's not a Christian band, is it?

Sean: Definitely not a Christian band.  In fact, kind of the opposite.  They sing a lot about despair, and it was just popular, so I was into it, and that was a battle line that he was concerned about.  I was a sophomore or junior in high school, so I was starting to be on my own.  Obviously, he couldn't discipline me as if I was seven or eight listening to that, and I remember, he just sat down, and he said, "Son, you know, I understand you're enjoying some Metallica.  Have you thought through what that means and what it's saying, and it obviously concerns me," and we just talked it out.  He left, and I kind of just took it to heart and stopped listening to them, and the main reason was because of the relationship that we had built.

Dennis: Well, because of that relationship, your parents taught you a lot of things.  I want to know who taught you about the birds and the bees?  Do you remember who had the first conversation with you and how it occurred?

Sean: You know what?  I'll tell you this – I don't think I've every formally had the discussion of the birds and the bees, but I would say here is how it worked – always, from when we were younger, it was age appropriate opportunities to teach me about sexuality.  So by the time I got 10, 11, 12, we were having a little bit more sophisticated discussions.

 Now, a thing my dad would do, and I didn't really see it at the time, but he would just find a newspaper article or put a song on in the car and just kind of act like it happened so we could talk about it.  But it was very strategic and, I mean, over dinnertime and having a McDonald's with Dad, my dad would come home when I was probably 9 or 10, and he'd say, he'd sit and go, "Look at this research they're doing on sexually transmitted diseases," and just lay it out there.

Dennis: Nine or 10?

Sean: I'm not kidding – like, probably 9, 10, 11 years old, we would have sophisticated discussions, appropriately and in a relationship about sexuality.

Bob: So did you face the adolescent years with some convictions already in place about how you were going to approach the issue of sexuality?

Sean: Certainly, by the time I was about 11, 12, 13 years old, my hormones started kicking in.  I had already been able to think through what is God's design for sex, what are the implications of the choices that I'll make, how should I treat the opposite sex?  Now, I wasn't perfect, but I certainly had an understanding and an ability to deal with those situations and plan ahead of time and just save myself a lot of heartache.  And I thank God, I've been married six years, and I just look back, and the more I'm married that I'm just so thankful to my parents and, you know, by God's provision that I did have parents that built a relationship with me, spent time with me, helped me to think through some of these issues, and I feel like I'm really reaping the benefits in my life now.

Bob: I was talking to a dad not long ago, and he'd been having a conversation with his teenage son about this subject, and his son had made the statement, "Dad, I'm not going to be sexually active.  I don't want to get a sexually transmitted disease, and I don't want to get anyone pregnant."  And the dad said to me, he said, "You know, I'm glad for my son having that conviction, but I wish he would have said, 'Dad, I don't want to be sexually active.  I know that would not please the heart of God, and I want to glorify Him.'"  As a parent, do we settle for the pragmatic too often?

Sean: I think we do.  Now, the pragmatic plays a role, and studies will show that one of the weakest ways to motivate somebody to make changes is fear.  It works in the temporary, but it doesn't have lasting change.  Interestingly enough, though, when it comes to sexuality, fear of STDs is a prime motive that will stop students from having sex.  Now, I'll do whatever it takes to get kids to not have sex but, I agree with you, that if we tell kids not to have sex because of consequences, and then there's condoms, and a kid thinks they can get away with it, then they're going to choose to have sex.  So I think the deeper reason is – I do a couple of things with kids.  I help students to think through biblically and realize, studies show – in fact, in the back of USA Today there was an article in 1999 called "Aha!  Call it the Revenge of the Church Ladies." 

And it was the most methodologically accurate study about sexuality, and they found, for multiple reasons, that those who follow a biblical pattern for sex had the most fulfilling, satisfying sex lives.  Well, there's multiple reasons for that, but want kids to explore that and realize that the choices they're making right now, they're not saying no to one thing, they're saying yes to something else.  They're saying no to the pain right now or the potential consequences; they're saying yes to marriage, they're saying yes to intimacy, they're saying yes to trust to their future kids.  So that perspective, and then ultimately bringing it back to the character of God when we do that, I think we give kids a powerful and a fighting chance to stay pure today.

Dennis: I'm listening to you, and I'm just reflecting back on what Barbara and I did as parents, and we certainly did not do it all perfect.  But we attempted to stay engaged with our children beginning when they were little and, you know, sex education starts when they're small, when they're toddlers, and, you know, they're exploring their bodies and looking at parents, and you begin naming body parts, you know, and they begin to notice that they're different, and all the way through grade school there's discussions at different points as opportunities present themselves.

 We watched a Public Broadcasting special called "Nova," and that was great sex education, because my daughter, Ashley, asked the question, "How does the sperm get inside the mama?"  And later on I answered that question for Ashley.

 But as I've thought about it and just listening to you talk, Sean, what we, as parents, have to do is we have to engage our children purposely when they're young and not think of "the talk," a birds-and-the-bees discussion as a one-time event; that it is a discussion that occurs over a lifetime.

 In fact, just the other day I was thinking about talking to some of our married children just in terms of how they're doing, you know?  Making sure they pay attention to the needs of their spouse and caring for one another.  Now, in life, who else is going to do that with you?  Who is going to have that conversation?  Your parents.

 And I think the wholesome aspect of the Christian family and the Scriptures put together is the relational and the truth married together.  It's powerful, isn't it?

Sean: Amen.  Relationships and truth is ultimately what the Gospel comes back to.  You mentioned the importance of parents talking to their kids – all studies show that kids take their cues from their parents.  Kids take cues from what their parents are teaching them or not teaching them.

 I had a parent come in just this week.  I teach a freshman unit on sexuality for about three weeks, and a mom came in.  She has a freshman son who just turned 15 and said, "You know, I've never talked with my son about this.  Can you give me some hints?"  Well, I didn't tell her this, but in the back of my mind I wanted to say, "It's too late."

Bob: Yeah, it was.  And it's probably been a peer who has given him some information and who knows that the peer told him, and …

Dennis: Who knows how accurate it is.

Bob: That's right, and if he hasn't picked it up from peers, the media has been bombarding him with all kinds of things.  You're right, at 15 the chances that he has not connected the dots on this one is pretty unlikely.

Dennis: Yeah, and I'm just thinking, as we're talking here, you have to have the discussion with your child, I think, first, second, third grade.  It doesn't have to be full-blown human sexuality, but it needs to the fundamentals of what it's all about, all right?  But then I think one of the most important times in a young person's life is right before adolescence, and, Bob, there's where Passport to Purity, a little weekend getaway with a father/son or a mother/daughter for a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old, which is a Friday night, all day Saturday, it's all mapped out in this little kit that enables you to make sure your son or daughter have not only heard a thorough discussion about human sexuality from a Christian perspective but, beyond that, making some decisions about how far they're going to go with the opposite sex, what's the basis of their beliefs and pointing out the flawed thinking of peers.

Sean: Really, I think there's a couple of obstacles that prevent parents from having this discussion like you were talking about.  I meet a lot of parents who will say, "Gosh, you know, I've made mistakes, though.  How can I tell my kid how they should act?"  And I say, "Look, because you've made mistakes makes you the perfect person.  Now, don't try to cover them up, don't preach at your kid, but just talk openly and honestly, and many kids will listen.  Second, parents will say, "Well, I just don't know, how am I supposed to know?"  Well, pick up a resource, do a little bit of reading, and chances are the questions kids are going to have, you're going to know.

 You know, kids don't expect their parents to be perfect, they just want them to be real and open.  I've seen it over and over again, when parents are willing to talk openly and honestly and fairly with their kids, not corner them in the car and force them to talk about something, but fairly, I think kids will respond.

Dennis: And the best place for that to happen …

Sean: Is the family, number one.

Dennis: Is at home, and then if it can be supported at church, and in a school setting, I think that's great as well.  But one thing every parent needs to have as they seek to raise children in this culture, are resources, to be able to encourage their son or daughter with, and that's where I think Sean McDowell's book, "Ethics," is extremely helpful.  He's got a whole chapter here on the subject of sexuality, where he talks about the purposes and why God created it, and the thing he does that we can't do sometimes, is he talks in their language and in a way that they can not only understand but also can begin to grapple with individually and come to their own convictions.

Bob: From time to time, you've employed a strategy where you've taken a book like this and gone to your teenagers and offered to pay them to read a book like this?

Dennis: I have, shamelessly.

Bob: And then get a book report back.  I mean, you want some work product for your money.

Dennis: In fact, I think I did that with your son one time.

Bob: Well, we did that with the book that you wrote with your kids, "So You're About to be a Teenager," and, yeah, you offered to pay …

Dennis: Ten bucks or something.

Bob: My son, and you got a pretty decent book report back on that, do you remember?

Dennis: I did, he did a good job on that, and I think what Sean has reminded us of here is that young people today are far more capable of thinking and making quality choices and really processing information than we give them credit for, and our problem is we're not challenging that to a high enough standard.

Sean: We really lower the bar so many times for kids.  In fact, I taught this week on intelligence design to 7th graders, and they got it.  They could understand concepts about design and how there's purpose, and you can see in the world, where most people would say, "Well, they can't get that until they're in high school or college."  I agree completely that kids are capable of processing so much more, and part of that is a result of the Internet age where kids have so much information and images shot at them so early that they're processing things at an earlier age than you or I ever did.

Dennis: Yes, and I think the key is giving them the right information; not just leaving them to the world to gather their worldview of sexuality from "Desperate Housewives" or commercials in the Super Bowl or MTV or music.

Bob: But, as you know, there are a lot of moms and dads who feel inadequate when it comes to subjects like this, because they're not exactly sure what to say.  They don't know if their logic or their moral reasoning is going to stand against the bombardment of a teenager who is going to say, "Well, why?  Why do you believe that way?  What makes you so sure you're right?"  And that's where a tool like Sean's book, "Ethics," can be very helpful not just to pass on to our teenagers and say, "Here, read this," but for us to read and to make sure that we are ready to offer a biblical explanation of why we believe what we believe and why we think it's true not just for us but for all of us.

 We've got copies of Sean's book "Ethics," in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  I want to invite our listeners.  Call us, get a copy, go online, request a copy.  Again, the book is called "Ethics" – e-t-h-i-x – "Being Bold in a Whatever World."  Go to our website at and in the middle of the home page you'll see a red button that says "Go," and if you click that button, it will take you right to the site where you can get more information about Sean's book, you can order online, if you'd like. 

There's also information available there about your book, Dennis, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," where you and your wife Barbara took 14 issues that are facing parents of teenagers and those young people as well.  Moral issues like drinking or drugs or premarital sex, peer pressure, things that are going to be challenges for your young people as they grow up.  This is a book that's designed to help moms and dads think through how to approach this with your children and then to help press the children to think rightly about these subjects as well.

 Again, there's more information on all of these resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website,  Click the red "Go" button, and it will take you right to the page where you can get more information or place an order, if you'd like.  You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 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 how you can get any of these resources sent to you.

 By the way, for those of you who are helping us this month here at FamilyLife with our financial needs, helping us stay on the air on this station and on stations all across the country, our team wants to say thank you this month by making available a CD from Barbara Rainey where Barbara talks to a group of women about what a wife can do to help her husband be the man that God wants him to be.  Sending out this CD is our way of saying thank you when you make a donation of any amount this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  It's those donations that not only keep us on the air, but they keep our website up and running and really support a number of the ministries that are part of FamilyLife Today, and your donations are tax deductible as well.  And, listen, we don't want to do anything that would cause you to take away what you're currently giving to your local church.  That should be your top giving priority, but beyond that, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount this month to FamilyLife Today, we'll be happy to send you the CD from Barbara Rainey on helping your husband step up to be God's man.

 If you're making the donation online, when you come to the keycode box in your donation form, just type in the two letters, "CD," and we'll know that you'd like Barbara's CD sent out to you or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  You can make a donation over the phone, and when you do just mention that you'd like Barbara's CD sent out to you, and we'll be happy to get that to you.  Again, let me say thanks for your financial support this month.  We do appreciate hearing from you.

 Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to talk about preventive maintenance for your marriage – things you can do to help your marriage go another 12 months or 12,000 miles.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great weekend, we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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