How old were you when you first learned about sex? I was 12 and I didn’t hear about it from my parents or the youth minister that I didn’t have.
According to the “Youth Poll” from the 2007 National Youth Gathering, 30% of our LCMS youth believe premarital sex is “okay” as long as the couple loves each other or they are at least consensual. 23 percent report they have engaged in some form of sexual activity with 15 percent reporting the sexual activity of intercourse. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute reported that nearly half (46%) of all 15-19 year olds in the United States have had sex at least once. By the age of 19, seven out of every ten teenagers have had sex at least once.
I’ve bombarded you with all of these statistics in order to show you that you have believed a lie for way to long. Your teenagers know about sex. My wife is a middle school teacher and on one occasion she found a note that was written by several students in her class. The note was filled with sexual contents and the parents were shocked to find that their sweet children had written such things. How could they even know about stuff like that? The answer is simple. If you are not talking to your youth about sex, somebody else is. In a time where information is literally available at the click of a button, it is too easy for young people to find out what that “forbidden topic” is all about.
So, how do you start talking about the birds and the bees? First, stop acting like nobody knows about sex. This is clearly a myth that we as adults can only dream of being true. Second, get over the awkwardness of saying the word. Go ahead and practice. One, Two, Three–SEX. Ok, now that we can say the word we’re ready to consider sparking conversations with the youth and their parents.
It is extremely important to begin these conversations with the parents. Parents need to know how important it is to be open with their kids about sex. Many parents treat sex as a taboo topic around the house, so kids take their curiosity to school, and that doesn’t mean the classroom. Sex is not a bad thing. Last time I took a look through the Song of Songs, I did not get the impression that sexuality was an evil thing. Within the context of marriage, sex is an extremely beautiful expression of intimacy between man and woman. God created this beautiful expression and we frequently minimize the natural feelings and emotions that occur between a man and a woman in order to keep our children from finding out about sex. If we are honest about our past, we can all remember how difficult it was to refrain from sexual thoughts and actions during our teenage years. This challenge hasn’t gotten any easier for our youth.
After breaking the ice, it is important to be ready to hear what you don’t want to hear. The statistics above show that we may be surprised to find that our youth have been more active than we originally thought. Please fight the urge to express your anger. You may recall a story of a woman who had been caught in adultery (John 8). She was guilty and the elders were ready to perform the full punishment for her sin. Upon asking Jesus what He thought should happen, the elders were surprised to find a man full of grace. Jesus knew her sin and had mercy on her anyway. Don’t get me wrong. We do have a responsibility to show our youth where they have done wrong, but we also have the privilege of being there for them and proclaiming the gospel to them. Our youth need to know that their sins will not cause God or us to hate the sinner. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). While we hold them to be responsible for their actions, we walk with them through the guilt to the sweet forgiveness that can only come from Christ. If parents establish this kind of environment, they will be pleasantly surprised to find their kids talking to them about the challenges of staying abstinent before they have sex rather than afterwards. The parents will be able to give guidance and support to their kids in order to help them stay abstinent.
Part of this guidance includes sharing a bit of wisdom with the youth. The bible does not stop with a command to stay abstinent until marriage. In Proverbs, chapters 5-7, we are given an image of a teacher or parent who is sharing a bit of wisdom concerning sexual relations outside of marriage. These chapters expand on the dangers of committing adultery, and provide several poetic images depicting the consequences of sex outside of marriage. In our context, these images still hold true. There are dangers, and it is healthy for youth to know the potential dangers involved in the choices they are making. Educating your youth concerning the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, the challenges of teen pregnancy, and the ongoing emotional strains of broken relationships is all a part of sharing your wisdom with them. Again, the purpose of these conversations is to facilitate an environment where you are walking with your youth through one of the more challenging aspects of their life.
Unfortunately, many parents do not facilitate this kind of environment. This is where youth leaders become the reinforcements. When youth do not feel comfortable talking to their parent, they may feel more comfortable talking to you. This is why you cannot expect the parents to be handling the sex talks. This is why you cannot avoid talking about sex with the youth group. They need the same reassurance from you that they should be getting from their parents. You will not hate the sinner because of the sins they commit. It is my prayer that you are able to facilitate the previously discussed environment with your youth groups, always walking alongside your youth and their parents as they experience these challenging conversations.
I cannot tell you a cookie cutter outline for the ABC’s of talking to youth about sex. Each scenario is going to call for a slightly different dialogue. I’m not experienced with years of talking to youth, but I can tell you that this is what I needed as an “overeducated” youth in my teenage years. I can tell you that youth know more about sex than we could ever imagine and they know it much sooner than we expect. So, please get over the awkward feelings. Once you start this conversation, the dialogue is sure to continue past the time limits of a Sunday Bible study. I would definitely prefer the youth talking to you, rather than trying to figure things out on their own. May God bless you as you begin your conversations, and as you proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
*Guttmacher information was found at www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_ATSRH.html