Christian View of Sex – Senior High Retreat: Beyond the Birds and the bees

This past weekend I was a small group leader for a senior high sexuality workshop at my church.  We had twelve youth go through the program.  These twelve kids in this group represent a good diverse cross section of youth.  Robin Blakemore did an excellent job leading the event.  She has a passion and a gift for teaching junior and senior high school students a healthy, God-given perspective on relationships and sexual activity.  The twelve youth in my group are really great kids that come from solid households.  Given all of this, some of them are struggling with some very heavy relationship issues and some have grossly distorted views of sex.  The intent of the workshop is to express God’s vision for a loving relationship and paint a compelling picture of love and sex that they will want to have for themselves.

 

I will start by telling you all why I wanted to be a part of this conversation with the youth.  Ideally parents should be the front line dialoging with their children about relationships and sex and modeling what a healthy sexually fulfilling marriage looks like.  Unfortunately, this is not happening at a high enough frequency.  So the next line of defense is the church.  I believe that the church (collective) does a very poor job of portraying what healthy relationships looks like – equal parts friendship, commitment and physical passion – and why it makes sense to have boundaries that allow relationships to develop slowly.  This affects everyone, because if parents and the church are not portraying what it looks like, we are left to society, media, and pop culture to get our cues.  The most vulnerable are the middle and high school students that are just budding into maturity and trying to make sense of their bodies, sexuality, and relationships.  Talking about sex in church still feels taboo.  If the church is not going to engage our current culture in this conversation, can we blame our youth for thinking that intercourse at age sixteen is normal and that you don’t share your honest feelings with someone until after you are married (more on this later)?  Can we blame our young and old for porn addictions and illicit affairs?  Can we blame adults for the high divorce rate in our country?  Criticism without offering a solution is pedantic and isn’t helping communicate the beauty and power of love and sex to a world that, I believe, is desperately looking for it.  I want to be a part of the solution with the youth.  They need adults that are not afraid to answer the disturbing, heart-braking, silly, scary, honest questions that they have about dating, relationships, and sex.  We have to paint a compelling picture of what God intended with relationships so that they choose to want that for themselves, while also arming them with as much information as possible.  We need more adults engaging in this conversation with each other and with the youth that we treasure.

 

Event Description, Notes and Observations:

 

  • There were four sessions that focused on different aspects of a healthy relationship. 
  • At the end of sessions 1, 2 and 3 the youth had an opportunity to submit anonymous questions in to the question box.  Anything was fair game to ask the question box.
  • During each session we spent time in small groups and together as a collective group (3 small groups together) lead by Robin.
  • Before any of the sessions began, each of the small groups made their own rules of conduct for the workshop.  Here is what the youth in my group came up with:

·         The word of the day was “abstinence” – if anyone drops it in conversation everyone else has to scream. (Pee-Wee’s playhouse anyone?)

·         Be respectful.

·         What’s said in the room, stays in the room.

·         Use clean and appropriate language when describing body parts – no slang.

·         No one can be put on the spot to answer questions.

·         Don’t use real names when describing stories about friends.  All males are to be named “Greg” and all females are to me named “Sarah”  (We had a lot of Greg and Sarah stories)

·         No Chuck Norris jokes

 

Session 1

Goal: Establish the difference between sex and sexuality and how God affects our perception of both and to look at how the world defines “sexy”.

 

The first session eases everyone into the conversation.  It is easy to talk about the message of sex that media puts out there.  Someone brought up the premiere of ER last week.  Opening scene is a new doctor in bed with two women.  He gets up to shower, one of them follows him in and goes down on him in the shower.  Wow! this is mainstream, primetime programming.  

 

Session 2

Goal: To begin a discussion about dating and relationships, to look at challenges in dating relationships, to introduce the differences in love and infatuation, and to define intimacy.

 

This session had discussion worksheets that allowed the girls to express the annoying habits boys have in courting, relationships, and dating.  It also allowed the boys to express the same about the girls.  This is why the mixed sex groups work so well.  I think it was helpful for both sides to explore this and tell each other what works and what doesn’t work.

 

We watched the Nooma video “Flame”. This is an excellent video where Rob Bell describes the three Hebrew words for love used in the book of the Bible Song of Songs: raya meaning friend, ahava meaning an emotion that leads to a commitment, and dod meaning the sexual, physical element.  He used a lighter flame to represent each of the loves.  The video makes the case that when all three flames together, as God intended in a loving healthy relationship, that the fire explode into a huge bonfire (in the video he drops the lighter in diesel fuel starting a massive bonfire. 

 

Session 3

Goal: To compare when sexual activities are currently happening to when they are appropriate, to look at Christian values and decision making, to look at marriage and the long-term consequences of premarital sexual activity, and to discuss what God intends for us in sexual relationships and how that affects us now.

 

This session started off with a timeline in the middle of the floor.  Also on the floor was a pile of notecards with different relationship actions ranging from “holding hands with opposite sex” to “oral sex” to “get married”.  We first asked the youth to put the cards on the timeline where they know the activities are occurring (Not necessarily them performing the actions, but where the activities are occurring with others in their peer groups).  Here are the results:

 

  • 10 – Talk with opposite sex, Buy boy/girlfriend a present
  • 11
  • 12 – Give a Boy/Girl your picture, Put arm around your date, Go on a date, Hug opposite sex
  • 13 – Hold hands, Flirt with a boy/girl, Weekend date, Kiss
  • 14 – Group date, Lay on couch and watch TV with date, French kiss, Double date, Go steady
  • 15 – Feel above waist, Tell someone you love them
  • 16 – Feel below the waist, Have oral sex, Have intercourse
  • 17 – Car date, Use contraceptives, Blind date
  • 18
  • 19 – Get engaged
  • 20
  • 21 – Get married
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25 – Tell someone your honest feelings

 

Observations:

  • For the average sexually active kid everything your bodies are physically made to do are done by age 16, all the activity is compressed to age sixteen and below.  Robin has seen the activity compress over the past eleven years she has been leading this workshop (i.e. Oral sex almost the next step after French kissing now).
  • Contraceptives are used the year after sex starts
  • They think people get engaged at age 19 and married at age 21.
  • The absolute most striking observation is that they think that you don’t share you honest feeldings with someone until AFTER you are married.

 

Digesting the information:

I don’t think all of the kids in the group are sexually active, but the sexual activity of their peers is influencing them in their conversations and expectations in relationships – they are wrestling and dealing with it.

They have completely divorced investing emotionally into other (telling them their honest feelings) from physical activity.  This to me is the most troubling observation.

 

After talking with them about this (many Greg and Sarah stories), we asked them to redo the timeline the way God intends for them to progress.  This time the activities had a slower linear progression.  We made it clear that dating is not bad.  Dating helps them find out what they are looking for in their future husband/wife – it’s a form of self-discovery.  We stressed the need for having boundaries before getting into relationships and at the right time expressing the boundaries with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  Without thought out boundaries you have chaos and will probably get caught up in the tide and this will go a lot further than desired.

 

We also went over discussion sheets that provided a process for Christian decision making.  We also generated a two column list for YES/NO on Waiting for Marriage for sex.  Most of the reasons not to wait were positive (“win popularity”, “personal pleasure”, “do it before you die”, “you might not get another chance”, “further a relationship”, “put out to maintain a relationship”) and some of the reasons to wait were negative (“not prepared for child”, “No STDs”, “Save it for soul mate”, “Be the person you want your future spouse to be”, “God wants us to”).  For believers the “because God wants us to” trumps all else.  He wired us a specific way and if we decide to short circuit the progression, weird things happen and it very seldom (if ever) turns out enhancing a relationship at their age.

 

Session 4

Goal: To look at differences between males and females, to understand how to better interact with the opposite sex, to begin the process of setting personal boundaries in relationships, and to understand that we all make mistakes and there is Grace, Forgiveness, and Redemption in God’s eyes.

 

In this session we went through discussion sheets about setting healthy boundaries before you get into situations.  We talked about the need for boundaries in all aspects of their life, not just relationships. 

 

We also stressed that if any of them were already sexually active that we have an incredibly loving God that gives us grace, forgiveness and redemption.  Your current reputation does not define who you have to be in your next relationship.  You have the ability to make the path you desire.  We hope we described a compelling path that they want to travel on.

 

Question box:

 

The question box deserves a section unto itself.  At the end of sessions 1, 2, and 3 the youth were given the opportunity to write anonymous questions on a note card and stuff them into the question box.  In between sessions we rewrote the questions so that no one could be identified by handwriting.  The questions were then reviewed one at a time during the following session.  Some of them were very serious like the first one below, some sophomoric (I didn’t include those), and some were very innocent.  I listed a subset of the questions below.

 

  • How do you help a friend who has been sexually abused in a relationship?
  • Are threesomes appropriate before or after marriage?
  • Can swimming in a pool with sperm in it get you pregnant?
  • What is some advice for a first date?
  • What do most girls/guys find most attractive in the opposite sex?
  • Why do people (mainly adults) assume that if they leave a teenage couple together alone they’ll have sex?
  • What is a rim job?
  • Why has sex become something that is not such a big deal?
  • Why is sex not private anymore?
  • Is pornography ok?
  • Does being sexually active tear you apart from God?
  • Explain the bases.
  • Is oral sex really sex?

 

I think the range of questions illustrate the confusion that youth today are dealing with when it comes to sex and relationships. On one hand they are innocently still nervous about first dates and want to know what the opposite sex finds most attractive.  One the other hand they are wondering when it appropriate to have sex with multiple partners and if oral sex is really sex. All the while asking why sex has become something that is not such a big deal and wonder why it’s not private anymore.

 

The sex education that these kids get in school is devoid of the emotional and spiritual consequences of engaging in sex too early, and the historic abstinence only message of the church is not effective.  We have to get more creative and honest and paint a picture of what God wants for them in a healthy, committed, passionate relationship.

 

Our youth and children deserve more from us!

 

What do you think?

 

How do we paint a compelling picture of God’s vision of healthy, committed, passionate relationships to our youth and other adults?

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10 Comments

Filed under Culture - Sex

10 responses to “Christian View of Sex – Senior High Retreat: Beyond the Birds and the bees

  1. Holy Cow! That was a whole lot of decompressing about teens and their extra-curricular activities. You will be happy to know that I did actually read the entire post and I can’t help but thinking that one day I will be the wife of an author, or a pastor, or both! I’m impressed.

  2. Matt

    That’s a lot to digest at 10:45 at night when I need to be getting work done. Terriffic write up LTL. And I can’t think of anyone I would rather have being a leader in this discussion than you. You’re not only a role model for our youth, you have a huge influence on your friends as well. Hopefully I’ll add more thoughts later. I will say this though — this workshop sounds a lot more thorough, honest, and engaging than the one I attended at Trinity back in the late ’80s.

  3. sigmugi

    wrtingmonkey – thanks for your comments. its takes a lot to impress you, so I’m honored. And you get a gold star for reading the entire entry.

  4. sigmugi

    Matt, the only “official” curriculum on the UMC is “Christian View of Sex” which is geared for the junior highs. This workshop is not yet sanctioned by the church. I think it is a lot more engaging and gives a safe outlet for the senior highs to discuss. I will share some of the other questions that I filtered out with you later. Funny ones about SPTs.

  5. James

    Wow….wow…wow. Great detail and excellent summary. I had to read twice. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m pumped that you and Trinity embarked on this effort, but I’m also a little saddened that you only had 12 attendees. Still, I’m hopefully that those 12 will multiply.

    I agree with Matt’s comments about what we had pales in comparison to this workshop. To be honest, I feel like the church (and my parents) had one message…don’t have sex until you’re married. They said it as if it was as easy as not jumping off a building. I can’t recall any conversations about hormones, desires, or the fact that sex is actually beautiful and something that should be thoroughly enjoyed in marriage. I don’t think I can recall a single sermon in which the central message was sex. Like you said Larry, if parents or the church is not leading the discussion on sex then Hollywood will. I was fortunate in high school to socialize with a group of males who did not put sex at the top of the list of items to pursue. Just watch American Pie or Superbad…is this really how 18 year olds live now??

    Thank you again Larry for taking on this awkward challenge. I believe the youth of this country our preparing for a great revival. They are starving for the what God has to offer.

  6. Matt

    Quote: Still, I’m hopeful that those 12 will multiply.

    Wait a minute, isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid here??

    Ha ha ha.

  7. This is fantastic. Part of my job in Scotland is to talk to school groups about unplanned pregnancy.

    Here in Scotland we have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe, about about 40% of those will end in abortion. I’ve seen kids as young as 11 and 12 who are engaging in sexual intercourse. It’s frightening and heart breaking.

    Talking about unplanned pregnancy with a group of girls yesterday, and the conversaton went something like this
    -this is all too hard, I’d just not get pregnant’.
    -how would you make sure you didn’t get pregnant?
    -‘Use contraception’
    -and what if it failed?
    -Well, I’d get the emergency pill
    -and what if that failed too?
    -then I’m just not going to have sex until I’m with a guy who I know is going to commit to me for the rest of my life.

    The worst part is that so many young people see all the ‘good stuff’, know about the consequences but don’t equate the 2 together…’it’ll never happen to me’…except it does.

  8. poppi

    well thought written, LTL. i’m proud of you!

    one question though …
    when you took the UMC “Christian Views of Sexuality” at Latham UMC when you were in Middle School (because we took you to it!!!), did it help form your personal journey of relational/sexual and the passion you now have in guiding youth in theirs? I’m interested in as much as it will perhaps give good long-term credit to the UMC “Christian Views of Sex” curriculum and facilitators and to the youth who participate and the parents who do take their kids’ whole and authentic lives seriously and responsibly.

    a couple of other ??’s
    … did this recent gathering with the 12 youth at TUMC also offer a time of gathering with their parents so they were aware of the specifics of the curriculum … and so that they (the parents) could discuss their questions as openly and frankly as the youth??

    In the late 80’s, that component of the program was very effective in promoting better communications between parents and youth … and it was a “community building” time amongst the adults, as well, which you young families are finding is absolutely necessary in parenting with love and confidence (and sanity!).

    Would it surprise you that parents had as many questions as the youth ?
    … and that many of their questions were very , very similar to those of the youth?
    … and that others were because parents were truly seeking to understand the language their kids were using in reference to sexual expressions and stories and conversations among/about their peers?
    … and mostly, that parents were trying to find community and mentoring for guiding their kids regarding sexuality and intimate relationships as a beautiful gift of God with the foundation of 1 Corinthians 13:1-13?

    good for Trinity UMC in offering the “Christian Views of Sex” for our youth …
    and may I believe that the number of high schoolers participating (12) was nothing less than God-cindence??? 😉

  9. sigmugi

    brunettekoala,

    Glad to hear from another Scottish reader (you must be friends with Duncan and Kathy?). I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, and I am glad you are engaging in this conversation at your church.

  10. sigmugi

    poppi,

    You found the blog!

    The middle school version is good, but I believe a follow-up in high school is necessary. These kids need another opportunity to discuss this topic while they are encountering it.

    I forgoto to blog about the very last session with the parents (the youth went home and the parents came). I went over the whole curriculum in 1 hour, spending the most time on the timeline and question box questions. This had a huge impact on the parents. The questions opened their eyes to the types of activities their kids may be participating in or at least what is driving discussions with peers (i.e. setting expectations for their future encounters). Getting the parents familiar with the current lingo was important. Exposing the parents to the curriculum and the questions gave them all a good place to start a conversation with their children.

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