Mark Sarah Family 3-138

Mark and Sarah De Winne with their children Ines, Leon and baby Aaron. Mark and Sarah do not shy away from sharing their experience of sex outside marriage with their daughter. Photo courtesy of the De Winnes.

Theirs is a story that has been shared openly and often.

Sarah Cheng met Mark De Winne when she was 15 and he was 18. They had an “on and off relationship” for three years, a relationship their parents knew nothing about.

Then, Sarah discovered she was pregnant. She was about to take her ‘A’ level examinations and Mark had just started serving National Service.

“I couldn’t bear to make another decision that would keep me in shame for the rest of my life.”

“Sarah announced to me on the way back on the MRT. She told me, ‘I’m expecting.’ I was just dumbfounded. It was really, really scary,” said Mark, now 37.

Both were Christians and were heavily involved in their church as youth leaders. It was Sarah’s faith that gave her the conviction about the sanctity of life. Abortion was not an option.

Explained Sarah, 34: “I couldn’t bear to make another decision that would keep me in shame for the rest of my life because I could not imagine keeping such a big secret from my parents.

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“Already I had this secret relationship and I couldn’t think of bearing another weight.”

So, they told their parents, and the two families came together in prayer. Because of the support the couple got from their families and their church community, Mark and Sarah were able to not only decide to keep their baby but to get married as well.

From darkness to light

Their daughter Ines was born in May 2006.

“Our story is a story of coming out from darkness into light. It says in Psalms 139:12-14 that darkness is like light to God.

“He sees everything in the darkness. This was God’s way of pulling us out of darkness into light,” said Sarah.

Despite her happy ending, Sarah is aware that “sin has consequences”. She cautioned young people to “think twice if you want to be in a relationship that is asking for sex”.

Mark and Sarah are clear that had they not had the support of their families and church, they would not have been able to keep their baby and get married. Photo courtesy of the De Winnes.

“If you have sex with anybody, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of being pregnant no matter how clever or careful you are.”

With Ines now 16, the De Winnes have been careful to talk to her about sex, something which did not happen for them with their parents.

“Did they talk to you?” Sarah quizzed Mark.

He replied: “They asked, ‘Do you know what happens?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’”

The De Winnes shared all this on Salt&Light Family Night (July 26). They were part of the panel that discussed the topic: How do I talk to my kids about sex and abortion?

“Our story is a story of coming out from darkness into light.”

Also on the panel were Pastors Norman and Debbie Ng, founders of Heartbeat Project, a ministry of 3:16 Church that provides resources to help churches talk about life and abortion.

Rounding up the group was Anne Ng, 19, a third-year polytechnic student who represented the voice of youths.

Of the over 150 who logged onto the Zoom chat show, those between 36 and 45 made up the largest group (33%). Those aged 26 to 35 accounted for the other third (31%) while about a quarter (26%) were aged 26 to 35.

Almost half (48%) felt it was quite difficult to talk to their children or a young person about biblical sexuality, scoring the difficulty level at five out of six.

Here are what the panellists shared about how to talk about sex and how to maintain sexual purity.

Tips on talking about sex from a biblical viewpoint

1. Take charge of your kids’ information

Sarah talks Ines through the Ministry of Education sexuality education available for different ages instead of “leaving it to schools” to do the job.

“I had no older figure in my life whom I respected and loved to talk about an important life issue like that,” Sarah lamented.

She also makes sure her daughter knows about her experience with premarital sex.

“I make her watch the videos of our testimonies.”

2. Start the discussion young

Start sooner rather than later because you want your children to hear about sex from you first, advised Mark.

Once they go to primary school, the odds of them hearing about sex from a classmate increase.

Added Ps Norman: “We were considering having that conversation with our firstborn when he was eight. But when it came to P2, we realised that it might have been a bit late.”

3. Share God’s view of sex

“Start with God’s design and God’s heart for sex,” said Ps Norman.

“They had no one tell them about the sacredness of sex. They likened intercourse to holding hands.”

On one occasion, the Ngs spoke to the youths in their church.

Said Ps Norman: “We found out that some of them had no one tell them about the sacredness of sex. They likened intercourse to holding hands.

“It really did not carry the weight God places on sexuality. We need to be speaking about it to our children and the people in our churches.”

Sarah added that youths have been “indoctrinated to think that sex is your right, your personal freedom, for your personal pleasure”.

Ps Norman Ng and wife Debbie

Ps Norman and Ps Debbie Ng are strong proponents of life. Their ministry, Heartbeat Project, offers help to those with unplanned pregnancies. Photo courtesy of the Ngs.

That is not biblical, Sarah said. Sex was created for procreation and to bind a man and woman in a covenantal relationship as husband and wife. Stripped of these, it “loses its meaning and becomes completely twisted”.

“We want our children to have a positive view of sex. When you have that lifelong commitment, then if you get pregnant, you have that framework to hold the child.

“John Piper said that marriage is the matrix that you can raise the next generation for the Kingdom,” said Sarah.

4. Foster a healthy view of marriage 

Ps Norman advocated a healthy amount of public display of affection in front of the children, calling it “a good thing” because it opens up conversations.

“Marriage is the matrix that you can raise the next generation for the Kingdom.” 

“We are the safest place where our kids can get the world view about sex. Let’s not delegate that opportunity and privilege to someone else.”

The De Winnes make sure their children Ines, Leon who is seven and baby Aaron, have a healthy perspective of marriage by demonstrating a loving relationship. This helps the children develop a view of sex within marriage as a positive thing.

“We kiss in front of our children. We hug each other in front of our children,” said Sarah.

Because of this, Ines is comfortable asking her father for physical affection.

“We are the safest place where our kids can get the world view about sex.”

Added Sarah: “Daddy is very important to girls. The need for physical affection starts really young and it is modelled in the marriage relationship.

“I do feel that when you talk about physical affection, sex is a natural lead on discussion. 

“As girls, we want emotional connection. There is a need for physical affection, a physical expression of love.

“To have an available father and mother is so important for children, especially for teens.”

5. Build conversations on a strong relationship

“Parents must actively make connections,” said Sarah.

She advised parents to familiarise themselves with the world of their children. “Swipe TikTok so that you know what is happening. Discuss what you see.”

That connection will make other conversations easier and more acceptable.

6. Be vulnerable

The De Winnes have been honest with Ines about the fact that they had sex before marriage and paid the price for it.

Said Sarah: “Some people feel that me talking about my story is making them feel worse if they had gone through an abortion. No one needs to condemn you. Your own heart will condemn you when you sin.

“We would love to build a stronger culture of discipleship in the household.”

“But, in Christ, that’s where we can find hope. Because of the cross, Someone paid the price. That is the reason why we can stand in front of you. Through all our mistakes, we put it at the cross. We’re not perfect people. Jesus changed our lives and covered all our sins and we received that grace.

“If you have that courage and vulnerability to your children, your children will so respect you for telling them the truth about your past.

“You say, ‘I made that mistake. I want you to learn. I would love for you to have that happy, whole life. My role is to share so that, by my testimony, you can live a redeemed and free life. The curse is broken.’”

Anne agreed, encouraging all parents: “We would love to hear your struggles when you were youths. Share with us your experience. We would love to build a stronger culture of discipleship in the household and how the Lord has worked in your life and discipled you.”

7. Normalise conversations about sex

Find key points in life to talk about sex. The arrival of a baby in the family creates a perfect opportunity to talk about sex, said Sarah.

Ps Debbie agreed that it is important to talk about sex when the opportunity arises. For example, when a kissing scene appears and children avert their eyes, that would be a good time to talk about kissing as an expression of love.

“There are age-appropriate moments and conversations we can have with children even from a preschool age: What is love, what is family, what is a baby, how a baby is precious are great ways to start even at a very young age.”

Ps Debbie shared of a time two years ago when the family was cycling at East Coast Park. The children saw a pregnant woman and it sparked a conversation about where they had come from.

“It doesn’t always have to revolve around the sexual act, but around celebrating life together.”

“They asked how big my stomach was when they were inside? Then, it leapt to, ‘How did we come out of your stomach?’ Our youngest who was a two-year-old then said, ‘Just cut open and take out!’

“We had to explain how babies are formed, how the babies come out, what happens in the womb and how the baby is actually delivered. The two older boys were a bit stunned.

“We were cycling as I was telling them. But that was what made the conversation normal because it was like any other conversation that we would have.

“It doesn’t always have to revolve around the sexual act, but celebrating life together, celebrating the child in the womb.”

Added Ps Norman: “Instead of waiting for one particular marker, it should be a normalised conversation throughout life.

“When you are bathing them, don’t use substitute words for private parts; normalise these conversations. So, when they ask, ‘Where did I come from?’, you can use proper vocabulary.”

How can young people remain sexually pure till marriage?

Anne shared lessons she learned in this area gleaned from one relationship and one dating experience she called “a talking stage” where it was “dating without a title”.

Anne Ng leans on the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide her in maintaining sexual purity. Photo courtesy of Anne Ng.

“I grew up in a family where dating was a taboo topic or even sex. I never heard my parents talk about sex before. So, I never knew.”

When she first became a Christian about two years ago, she did not know the biblical world view of Christian relationships.

“All I knew was what I learnt through secular media, secular music and entertainment.”

Over time, the Holy Spirit convicted her of the right way to conduct herself in a relationship. She also read the Bible and sought to learn from pastors.

1. Clarify boundaries

“Look for clarity more than intimacy,” said Anne.

In her “talking stage” relationship, she realised that she “sought intimacy, both emotionally and physically”.

“There needs to be strong clarity in a relationship.”

“I was giving my heart and my life when I cannot make a commitment to marriage.”

So, Anne advocates talking about touching before actually touching so as to set boundaries. This is because while spontaneous intimacy may feel great in the moment, it “breeds shame, regret and distrust” afterwards, she said.

“There needs to be strong clarity in a relationship. What may stumble me may not stumble my partner and what may not stumble me may stumble them.

“For example, kissing may not stumble me but it may stumble the guy I am dating.”

2. Guard against temptation

Quoting James 1:14-15, Anne talked about how desires give birth to sin. In order not to give in to such desires, she makes sure she does not put herself and her partner in situations where she may be tempted.

So, travelling abroad alone is a big no-no for her.

“Being in a room alone with a guy gives space to so much temptation. You are alone with the guy; no one is going to keep you accountable.”

Anne is careful not to go to secluded places with her partner as well.

3. Love the person with eternity in mind

Anne has learnt to ask God to teach her to “love my partner as a brother-in-Christ”.

“That person is your brother-in-Christ. Anything you won’t do to a brother-in-Christ, don’t do to your partner.”

4. Be accountable to someone else

“Have wise mentors speak into your life. Invite them into your life so they are able to give you godly rebuke and godly counsel,” said Anne.

“Sex and abortion is one slice of a large pie called discipleship. Many youths would love to talk to their parents about it.”

This prevents her from being stuck in her own “echo chamber”.

Apart from spiritual mentors, turn to parents.

“My encouragement to the parents is this: Sex and abortion is one slice of a large pie called discipleship. Many youths would love to talk to their parents about it.

“But they may refrain because they struggle with issues like porn. They feel a lot of shame.

“Before making comments, listen to them, listen to their struggles.”

5. Learn to wait

Asked what she would do if pressured to have sex with the promise that if an unplanned pregnancy happens, they could always marry, Anne said: “I would ask him, ‘Why do you want to do it? What is in your heart and mind?’

“I would affirm the boundaries and ask him to wait for marriage. One thing I learned: If someone cannot wait, it is likely they have not waited on the Lord yet.”

Pointing her partner back to the Word of God and to his mentor would also be what she would do.

What does the Bible say about sex before marriage?

Sex is reserved for marriage, said Ps Norman quoting Hebrews 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Drawing also on the first wedding officiated in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:21-25), Ps Norman talked about how sex – “they become one flesh” – is in the context of marriage.

But he stressed that how this truth is delivered matters because “rules without revelation leads to rebellion”.

“Purity is a beautiful thing. When God says ‘no’ to something, He has a greater ‘yes’ in store for us.”

“Help them to see that God is the God of the greater ‘yes’. When He says ‘no’ to something, He has a greater ‘yes’ in store for us.

“We are seeing that if we follow His word on sex, as we progress through life, there is a beautiful time for things to unfold when sex is preserved for the marriage bed.”

For those who have fallen into sexual impurity, Ps Norman had words of encouragement.

“There are always consequences to sin. There might be a longer route to experience what God has prepared for us. But there is still restoration, no more condemnation.

“Purity is a beautiful thing. Let’s make purity an important thing again.”


“Mummy, what is sex?”: Tips on how to talk to your kids about the birds and the bees

Don’t put it off: Have that talk with your youths about sex

Is the Church ready to talk about sex?

Sex and the city: Purity is God’s prescription

About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.