Q:What should I tell my children about sex? When should I tell them, and how detailed should I get?

A:In most Western societies “sex education” is part of the school curriculum; in others, it is nonexistent. Many parents abdicate their responsibilities in this critical area of parenting. This leaves youngsters to learn from whispering, snickering companions at a much younger age than their parents may imagine.

While “telling” children may seem to be the most desirable method, we most powerfully “model” the spousal relationship. The respect and values with which we engage with our spouses send to our children a most powerful message. Children quickly learn the disdain communicated by the rolling of the eyes or the power struggle of controlling people locked in matrimony.

Sexuality, when expressed within the relationship of love, mutual support, nurture, and caring, rises to the level God intended. Adam, fresh from the hand of God, was alone and incomplete. He required a companion, designed emotionally and physically as a perfect complement. Eve was a person created to share his daily life, to engage with enthusiasm in the interests, challenges, and especially in the relationships they shared with God and His creation. In our marriages we must powerfully and adequately display for our children the essentials of mutual respect, kindness, gentleness, and caring—which are the foundation for a sexual relationship.

Begin Early

Children learn about “sex” from a very early age. Most parents start too late, with their information being confirmatory rather than new. I recommend the book Human Sexuality: Sharing the Wonder of God’s Good Gift With Your Children, by Ron and Karen Flowers.1 This is a curriculum framework on God’s good gift of sexuality. It outlines the ages at which awareness of sexuality becomes operative, thereby helping parents to gauge the level of understanding.

When children begin asking questions about sex, answer them simply and unambiguously. A 4-year-old’s question as to where babies come from does not warrant a full lecture on anatomy, physiology, psychology, and morality. Our answers must convey to the child the acceptability of their question. We do this by answering without embarrassment, and by telling them to feel free to question further, should they feel a need. It is far better to have our children learn basic facts from us without the sometimes-crude embellishments other children add to them.

Provide the Framework

Children need to understand that sex is a feature of the marital relationship. The existence of and method by which contraceptives work is an important part of our teaching, although, of course, at an appropriate age. For many this will be much earlier than perhaps anticipated.

In today’s world many children are failing to flourish. This is because of a lack of meaningful connections with caring, responsible adults. The casualness of modern sexuality reaps a dreadful and increasing harvest of broken homes and deprived children. Hollywood—in its isolation of the physical aspects of sexuality from the necessary framework of supportive, emotional, and sustaining marital relationships—has dealt a critical wound to society in general.

A Unique Human Bond

As parents it is important to know and teach the uniqueness of the human sexual bond. Desmond Morris, a zoologist, described 12 uniquely human, sequential steps that contribute to human sexual bonding. Each step Morris describes, when fully explored, accepted, and integrated, contributes to the strength of the sexual relationship. Once a step is established and has involved the relevant biochemical and neurosensory receptors, it becomes a part of the lifelong repertoire. Missing a step weakens the bonding process and devalues the relationship. I recommend his bookIntimate Behaviour: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy.2

One of the most important of Morris’s 12 steps is communication, which needs to mature and become wide-ranging and prolonged if anything meaningful is to come of the recognition of a special person. Most relationships perish on the rocks of noncommunication.

Sexual bonding is far more complex than a financial or convenient agreement. Sexual bonding is God’s glue in marriage and is much more difficult to handle than regular glue!

More Than Just Physical

In today’s world, where so many seek to make human sexuality merely a physical relationship, failed marriages abound. The mental, emotional, family, and spiritual dimensions cannot be ignored. Sexual intimacy prior to building a secure foundation will result in less than what is possible, desirable, or optimal.

To discover whether they are mature enough for the responsibility of a full sexual, marital relationship, young couples should ask these questions (among others): “Am I ready to make a lifelong commitment?” “Do my friend’s values, beliefs, and worldview match my own?” “Are our life goals compatible?” “Do we agree on the roles of a man and a woman in a relationship?” “Are either of us locked into a distorted view that sees one of us serving the use of the other?” “Do we bring out the best in each other?” A negative answer to these questions at this stage should trigger a reevaluation of the friendship. It may be wise to back off and say, “You are a good friend, but we both deserve someone who can dream our dreams with us.”

Take Ample Time

Long dalliance in the “getting to know you” phase is the most important advice that young people can be given. When there is disagreement on spiritual matters and issues of faith, a marriage is destined for trouble. God’s good gift of sexuality encompasses far more than mere sexual techniques. Provided there is a foundation of friendship that is unselfish, noncontrolling, and deeply respectful, there will be ample time and opportunity to grow sexually skillful. Many ignore these basic fundamentals in the headlong rush to a physical relationship. Marital harmony begins in the marriage of true minds, in the mental, spiritual, emotional, and aspirational world vision a couple share.

  1. Ron and Karen Flowers, Human Sexuality: Sharing the Wonder of God’s Good Gift With Your Children (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2004).
  2. Desmond Morris, Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy (New York: Kodansha America, 1997).

Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.

The ninth British-expedition attempt to scale the height of Everest, the world’s highest mountain, took place in May 1953. Led by John Hunt, the climbers were paired into teams, and Tom Bourdillon and his partner, Charles Evans, came to within 300 feet of the peak. Oxygen problems forced their return to camp, but by creating a trail and leaving behind equipment they facilitated the successful ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. For the millions of people celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, this news added a frenzy of exhilaration to the already-excited populace.

For several years this first ascent of Everest was labeled a “team effort,” with “we reached the top together” being the news release. A few years later, however, Tenzing said that “only the truth is good enough for Everest,” and indicated that Hillary had put his foot on the peak first. Such honesty speaks to the integrity of Tenzing Norgay.

Integrity—as strange as it may seem—is also an essential factor in the prescription for the vital and exuberant celebration of health. It’s a motivational ingredient that is very much at work in the implementation of health practices.

The distinction between integrity and simple honesty at times may be unclear. Integrity is a concordance in the life between theory and practice. It’s the transparency and trustworthiness that should characterize our every action. When there is a difference between what we say and what we do, we demonstrate a need for integrity.

Honesty may lead to confession or admission of guilt, but it may not be sufficient to influence behavior. Integrity means there is
a commitment to the principles espoused as being correct.

Integrity and Public Health

Integrity can influence both an individual’s as well as a community’s health, because it calls for both loyalty and commitment to honest codes of belief and behavior.

The Public Health Leadership Society in 2002 published “Principles of the Ethical Practice of Public Health,” a document representing a consensus on a code of behavior for public health protagonists.1 Three of the 12 principles the document addressed are:

“Humans have a right to the resources necessary for health.” Such belief will influence many aspects of how we live and model health principles, and will also provide a basis for health education. It highlights the degree of integrity with which we function as a society regarding health.

“Humans are inherently social and interdependent.” As the document points out, “one’s right to make decisions for oneself must be balanced against the fact that each person’s actions affect other people.”

Acceptance of this belief raises questions of integrity in how we relate to such issues as smoking and immunization and their effect on public health.

“Identifying and promoting the fundamental requirements for health in a community are of primary concern to public health.” We often substitute individual preferences for community needs, emphasizing the peripheral, borderline, unimportant, or trivial, while areas of major importance are ignored. Integrity will require of us a balance in teaching, practice, and advocacy of certain health practices.

Integrity and Personal Health

Integrity has personal as well as public health ramifications. It teaches us to recognize our common vulnerability and inherent weaknesses, but also our intrinsic worth and rightful equality as humans with inalienable rights. Such insight influences our belief in our commonality, our kinship, in the human family, and our value to society in general.

Integrity Can Help Us Avoid Problems

Have you ever wondered how many addicts started down the road to ruin because they ignored the dangers of which they were well aware? Possessing integrity has protected thousands who have declined an offer of drugs, even though fascinated by the potential pleasure.

How many smokers ignored known facts in an effort to “fit in” or appear sophisticated?

When we know that 7 percent of persons taking their first alcoholic drink will become alcoholics, and some 15 percent will have alcohol-related problems such as physical or sexual abuse or be harmed in an accident,2 shouldn’t we question our integrity if we serve such beverages?

Perhaps the most dangerous area regarding integrity is sexual behavior. The media trivializes marital infidelity and encourages sexual irresponsibility in the face of staggering numbers of single-parent children, insecurity, and emotional distress; this raises a question of corporate integrity.

Integrity impacts many aspects of living. It is the foundation for good mental health, trustworthy interpersonal relationships, and responsible and accountable behavior.

Mercy and Forgiveness

At one time or another everyone has failed to meet the standard of full integrity, but Jesus Christ described a forgiving God.

By the gift of grace God extends mercy and forgiveness. Even here, integrity is essential. We have to be honest enough to admit wrongdoing; it is by such confession that grace permits peace and rest to be attained. If we are to celebrate the completeness of whole-person health, integrity is essential.

  1. Public Health Leadership Society, “Principles of the Ethical Practice of Public Health” (2002), ethics.iit.edu/ecodes/node/4734.
  2. Journal of Substance Abuse (1997), vol. 9, pp. 107-110.

Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.

Several years ago my wife, Janet, and I began searching for a country cabin to purchase for weekend retreats. North of Toronto in the Muskoka district we found some beautiful turquoise lakes. We were deeply impressed and admired their tropical colors, only to be told that the lakes were “dead.” Acid rain, caused by industrial pollution of the atmosphere, had acidified the water to such a degree that the lakes were devoid of flora and fauna. Beautiful to look at but toxic for any kind of life within them, such lakes have become sterile.

Pollution of water and air, destruction of natural habitats, and massive industrialization threaten the continuation of life as we know it; therefore, environmental awareness is important to the maintenance of health.

Overpopulation: An Environmental Concern?

Many people are beginning to voice what has sometimes been labeled a “politically incorrect” viewpoint: that overpopulation is the worst environmental threat we are faced with today.

Current projections still predict a global population somewhere between 8 and 10.5 billion by the year 2050.1 The effects of overpopulation depend on the ratio of population to sustainable resources, as well as on the distribution of such resources, including clean water, clean air, food, shelter, and appropriate climatic conditions.

Destruction of forests to support the growing population results in loss of animal habitats as well as loss of plant species and their capacity to remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Overpopulation also presents serious difficulties to effective governance and stress; consequently, strife and turmoil often ensue.


Deforestation on a massive scale often results in damage to the quality of the land. Although some 30 percent of the earth’s surface is still covered by forest, large tracts of land are lost annually to deforestation.

Deforestation contributes to climate change. Moist forest soils quickly dry out without the shade of a forest canopy. Forest lands can quickly become deserts. The role played by forests in absorbing greenhouse gases is a central one. Poverty and the impact of climate change are felt much more acutely where drought and desertification take place.

Climate Change

Climate change may influence food production. Yields of grain, for example, have been shown in many situations to vary with temperatures. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines2 found that rice production declined by 10 percent for each 1-degree-centigrade increase in growing season nighttime-minimum temperature.

Energy Conservation

Reliance upon fossil fuels has characterized much of the energy utilization during the past century. It’s likely that the increased cost of such energy will drive the move to alternate energy sources. Regardless of cost issues, energy conservation is an important part of environment preservation.


Two areas of pollution that are particularly concerning are water and air pollution.

Industrialization has produced massive amounts of collateral waste material. Plastics, for example, are derivatives of petroleum-type products, and they do not naturally degrade easily. It’s been shown that plastic can persist for multiple decades. Plastic particles, called “nurdles,” have been found in the digestive tracts of krill, which are the ocean’s basic food source for most marine life.

Industrial waste—which includes such heavy metals as lead, mercury, and cadmium, as well as toxic dioxin compounds—is contaminating underground water. Radioactive contamination following the 2011 earthquake and massive tsunami off the coast of Japan will likely render the Fukushima area uninhabitable, perhaps for centuries. The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 resulted in increases in thyroid and other cancers. Radioactive isotopes leached into the water are a form of silent yet lethal pollution.

Domestic and Agricultural Waste

Outbreaks of disease are frequently related to viral and bacterial contamination by human and animal waste. The Blacksmith Institute Technical Advisory Board3 reports that persons living in polluted regions may not have immediate health problems, but may later develop cancers, lung infections, and mental retardation.

The American Lung Association4 estimates that roughly 50 percent of Americans live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or pesticide pollution.

Solar Irradiation

Much of the sun’s radiation is important to well-being, but overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can be harmful.

Sunshine also converts cholecalciferol into the active vitamin D we need for so many bodily functions. Dermatologists, however, have noted the association between sunburn and skin cancer and advocate the avoidance of overexposure. On the other hand, vitamin D is probably an important factor in controlling the growth of other cancers, such as prostate cancer.

Responsible Stewards

Health, God’s gift to us, is best maintained in the most natural state of unpolluted and hygienic purity. We are stewards of the earth, responsible for managing the earth’s resources and the environment of our bodies.

  1. Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, June 2009.
  2. S. Peng et al., “Rice Yields Decline With Higher Night Temperature From Global Warming,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101, no.27 (2004): 9971-9975.
  3. Blacksmith Institute Technical Advisory Board, e-pub, June 28, 2004.
  4. Report of the American Lung Association, “The State of the Air,” May 2, 2011.

Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.

This is the first of a 12-part series on healthful living based on the program and book CELEBRATIONS, produced by the General Conference Health Ministries Department. CELEBRATIONS is an acronym for 12 healthful lifestyle principles, one of which will be explored each month. To learn more, go to healthministries.com.

Some 100 years ago two team leaders adopted the same goal: they both sought to be the first to lead an expedition to the South Pole.

Once made, the decision presented them with countless choices: selecting the clothing to wear, the food to eat, and, most important, the mode of transport to use.

Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, gleaned from Inuit methodology the best type of equipment and clothing to use. He chose dogs to pull the sleds. He placed his supplies and foodstuffs strategically along the early part of the proposed route before the main expedition set off, thereby lessening the loads his dogs would have to pull. He carefully considered every detail, and from his informed base he made decisions as to how to proceed.

Robert Falcon Scott, however, a British naval officer, chose to use ponies and “modern” motorized sledges. He was a brave and daring man, but apparently did not pay the same attention to Inuit methodology that Amundsen did. His motorized sleds ceased functioning after a few days, and the poor ponies could not stand the frigid conditions. By the time he and his team reached the Transantarctic Mountains, the ponies were in such poor condition they had to be killed. Scott arrived at the South Pole to find that Amundsen had beaten him to the goal.

The outcome for one team was triumph; for the other, death and disaster. The diaries of Scott’s heroic team chronicled a story of frostbite, starvation, and eventual death on the return journey from the pole.

Decisions by Amundsen and Scott represented choices. Some were made very consciously and intentionally; others were possibly influenced by emotion, personality, culture, or whim. Brave and courageous though Scott and his men were, they suffered the consequences of their choices and decisions, perhaps made in ignorance, but nevertheless lethal in outcome.1

Choices—the Cradle of Destiny

Choices often determine our destiny. To a large extent even our health can be determined by the choices we make on how we live, the risks we take, and the balance we seek in life. We each come into the world with an endowment for health that may vary from that of others, but how we care for the gift of our health influences the expression of our genetic capacities.

The intricacies of handmade Asian rugs are remarkable and often represent hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of individual choices. For those rugs with 800 hand-tied knots per square inch, the maker has to select a colored thread to create the pattern 800 times. In the overall pattern the subtle variety in the shapes making up the whole speaks to the individuality of each knot.

Our lives are patterned in a similar way. Every day we make countless seemingly insignificant decisions, the sum of which determines the overall fabric of our lives.

The outcome for one team was triumph; for the other, death and disaster.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, “health reformers” developed a litany of health laws based on scant evidence. Fortunately, today a wealth of evidence can guide us in making choices. Principles of balance and moderation, with the avoidance of harmful substances, will pay dividends in the health of temperate and informed people.

One of the early classic studies on lifestyle and health was published in 1972. Drs. Nedra Belloc and Lester Breslow, from the U. S. Department of Public Health in Berkeley, California, were among the first researchers to present convincing answers on lifestyle habits that promote longevity. In their study of 6,928 adult residents of Alameda County, California, they found that some lifestyle habits influenced longevity:2

In a nine-year follow-up they showed that the more of these seven habits a person regularly followed, the greater their chance of longevity. Of the group following all seven habits, only 5.5 percent of men and 5.3 percent of women died before the end of the nine-year period, whereas in the group that followed only three of the seven habits, 20 percent of the men and 12.3 percent of the women died.3

A Gift From God

Good health is a gift from our Creator-God. The proper “preventive maintenance” reduces risk and leads to a happier, healthier, and longer life.

It’s only by developing and maintaining a close walk with our Lord that we will truly obtain optimal whole health and know the joy of living well, both here and throughout eternity.

  1. Roland Huntford, The Last Place on Earth—Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999).
  2. N. B. Belloc and L. Breslow, “Relationship of Physical Health Status and Health Practices,” Preventive Medicine 1, no. 3 (August 1972): 409-421.
  3. Ibid.

Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.