Sigmund Freud had some disturbing theories about men and their relationships with their mothers; Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Psycho, makes clear that mothers really can do a number on their sons. But God created the mother/son relationship to be lifelong, intimate, and safe.
Unfortunately, all intimate relationships were broken in the Garden. Jesus Christ on the cross was mindful of his mother in the last seconds of his agony, as Mary’s love made it impossible for her to leave the horrific scene. (John 19: 26 – 27). In those moments, He secured for her a new son and a new home. This picture of a mother and a son is particularly moving to me.
So what is the role a mother should play in her son’s developing attitude about females and his sexual attraction to them? I confess that my preference would have been to punt completely to my husband and my son’s male youth ministers. Doing so, however, would have meant missing a very important opportunity to inform and influence a young man who needed to hear from his mother – the safest female in his life. After all, men cannot provide insight into the female brain, and that is something boys and men so desperately need.
Like it or not, mothers are their son’s first encounter with the feminine, and we continue to be the primary one for much of their growing up. Our sons notice how we interact in the world, how we ask men to do what we need them to do, and how we present ourselves physically.
Mothers have to talk to their sons about the mystery of sexual desire, as well as the political and the cultural fallout from sexual sin, especially sexual sin against women perpetrated by men. Most importantly, we ground all our conversation and our beliefs in the Bible. In a sermon on love and lust, Tim Keller emphasizes that the Bible has a very robust and comprehensive understanding of sex and the relationship of male and female. A helpful sex education class begins in Genesis when the loving creator presented the naked Eve to the naked Adam and called it good!
Mothers can “de-mystify” for our sons the feminine experience of flirting, dating, and being attracted to a guy. I did some translating for our teenage son when a small group of high school boys convinced a junior high girl to text a provocative photo. The text went “viral” and this poor girl became the brunt of all sorts of shaming and ridicule. My son was one of many who saw the photo. This was bullying- a concept my son understood. Just like the “mean” kids pretending to like the “nerdy” kid so they might get his trust and ultimately abuse that trust with some humiliating prank, these guys had manipulated another human being into doing something SHE DID NOT REALLY WANT TO DO. “Son, contrary to what this looks like, girls are not wired for self-exposure. We are wired for relationship.”
This leads directly to the elephant in the social media room, where females appear to be in charge of their bodies and the level of exposure they willingly present. What’s a red blooded guy to do? Write on the board 200 times, “I do not like to look at semi-naked girls” so he might come to believe it? This is so complicated, and I will not wager at this moment who is more confused: teenaged boys or teenaged girls. It is, however, in this mutual confusion that the Gospel speaks and mothers can be a resource for their sons.
Let us get back to that garden for a minute. God created sexual desire. He created mutual joy and vulnerability between man and woman. Adam and Eve came together as one flesh before the eyes of God. There was no shame in that relationship. Sin ushered in the shame, the selfishness, and the need for power. Teenage boys are capable of understanding this, especially when they hear it in the safety of their mother’s kitchen.
The mother/son relationship is safe, and it is intimate. Psalm 139 declares, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” Intimacy means I am known and still loved anyway. The mother/son relationship is a fallible, human expression of that kind of intimacy. It is the non-sexual version of the intimate love of covenant marriage, which in turn mirrors imperfectly the perfect love the Lord has for our sons.
The Christ-following mother has plenty of good news for her son when it comes to sex and his relationships with girls. It is not easy news because she will tell her son that the only place sex belongs is in a covenant marriage, and when a boy is fifteen years old, that may feel like a prison sentence. But the rich, challenging, GOOD news about love and sex as given through the Gospel is far better news than any expression the secular world has to offer. May our sons be equipped with the unflappable knowledge that they are known and loved by a perfect lover who will guide them in all the relationships of their lives, most especially in their relationships with the opposite sex.
To help parents talk to their kids about sex, Rooted has created a series of podcasts and questions to facilitate both teaching and conversation within the family. Follow this link to our Sex Education Curriculum and Parent Conversation Guide. For another parental guide, check out our interview with authors Jessica Thompson and Joel Fitzpatrick on their book titled Mom, Dad, What’s Sex?