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
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 19 – Get engaged
- 21 – Get married
- 25 – Tell someone your honest feelings
- 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.
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.
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?