Why should we talk about sex and relationships?
The bottom line is this – if you aren’t talking to young people about sex and dating, someone else is.
Hannah Witton is a UK based youtube star who talks about sex for predominantly young women.
Her video “vaginas/periods/odour/shave” has 3.3 million views
“Why having big boobs sucks” – 6.7 million views
Masturbation hacks – 2.1 million
Is Monogamy realistic (and spoiler alert she says no) has 70 thousand views.
The most popular show ever among young people this summers season of Love Island – it is both a horrible show and great show but young people watch it and it teaches them something about sex and relationships.
Sex and relationship are consistently among the issues that young people want to talk about and also the issues which churches are not talking to young people about.
The most important point on why we should talk to young people about Sex, is this:
Sex is a gift from God.
Relationships – whether romantic or platonic are a gift from God.
They reflect something of who God is because God is an eternal relationship with himself. By not talking about them we are failing to show a true reflection of who God is.
We are not talking about sex from a place of fear that young people will all get pregnant if we don’t, or in an attempt to “save young people” – we talk to them about it because it reflects who God is, and the advice that will come to them from outside the church will be missing that central key to this issue.
When should we talk about these issues?
I asked my wife and her reply was,
“Think about when you would feel comfortable talking about it – subtract 4 years”. I said probably about 10, which means the correct answer is 6.
There is a new government initiative which means Sex and Relationships Education into all primary school curriculums from reception upwards from September 2019.
Kids will be told about sex before they leave primary school, which puts the ball in the court of Children’s Workers, not just Youth Workers. This changes this issue again. This isn’t an issue we need to talk about when kids are 15/16 – this is one we need to find ways of talking about when children are in Sunday School and then in the early years of secondary school.
I think parents should be encouraged to be the first ones to tell their kids this stuff. The first message is often the most remembered. It is the standard by which all other information is judged. I know that I want my daughter to know she can ask my wife and I questions in this area or any other and receive an answer.
The onset of puberty is getting earlier in both sexes and while for most it is between 10 and 15 it is no longer considered abnormal if a girl gets her first period when she is 8, meaning that it is important they have an understanding of what that is BEFORE it happens.
I am not saying you need to tell them everything all at once. . .
Sex and relationships needs to be a normalised thing for Christians to talk about and that means the church needs to take a lead, which means WE need to take a lead by serving our children, young people, parents and churches in this area.
Step 1: Equip parents to have conversations. This might take parents meetings to discuss approaches, getting parents who have just done this journey to share directing towards experts and resources.
Step 2: Group sessions with children and youth groups
If you haven’t done that before, you need to start as soon as possible.
With young people of Secondary School age, I do a series (somewhere between 6 and 12 weeks) on this every other year, while weaving it into everything else recognising it is one of the biggest issues they face. They need to know that it is something they can discuss and ask questions when they need to, not just when it is on the teaching plan.
When? ASAP, from kids ministry right through into youth and beyond.
How should we talk about Sex and Relationships?
Be frank, open and honest. Use the proper language.
For children the best advice I have ever heard is this: Allow them to ask questions and answer their questions honestly.
However, be sure to only answer their question – this is where lots of us go wrong.
For many children the first time they ask a question is when their parents get pregnant again, they might ask ‘how did the baby get in there?’.
The logic is that if kids can articulate a question then they can comprehend the answer, which isn’t always the case.
Answer the question – mummy has eggs in her tummy that have always been there, and the egg grows into a baby. You don’t need to take that question as the time to lay everything out, but you can still answer the question in an honest manner. They might ask a follow up question or they might go back to superheroes.
With younger children you can stick to facts, whereas with secondary school children who are starting to find each other attractive – you will be talking more emotionally and maybe offering teenagers advice and wisdom around the complexity of relationships and sex.
It is also important that those of secondary school age have space to talk about it with someone other than their parents.
If you are married, remember that young people are not going to be married for a good few years at the earliest and some of them may never be married.
We need to equip them to deal with the world and this issue and their hormones as single people. Of course, we can look ahead to marriage for some but they also need help in the here and now as single people and for however long their season of singleness.
Alongside that we need to ensure that we are not making an idol of marriage for them, ensuring that they know that those who will remain single are no less complete humans. Paul reminds us that singleness is as much a gift from God as marriage and we must ensure we make that clear.
When I was taught about relationships, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be sessions where the boys talked about porn and masturbation, while girls talked about image and beauty. While it may be helpful to talk about some things in single gendered groups – those issues are not “boy” and “girl” issues so we need to be prepared to discuss porn and masturbation with girls and image and beauty with boys.
I think it is helpful to hold a parents meeting before you run any sessions on sex and relationships, and tell them the details of your curriculum. What will you be covering, how will you respond to some of the difficult questions, and another opportunity to encourage them to also be talking about this. Ensure that your church leadership is completely aware of and supportive of the approach you are taking.
The final thing on how – is that we need to find a new narrative on beauty. I think it is right to talk about beauty on the inside with young people, but it is wrong to think that is the full answer to the question.
Song of songs says to delight in the breasts of the wife of your youth – last time I checked breasts were on the outside.
I find my wife attractive, physically. I want my wife to find me attractive – you might not believe me but that means I cut my hair more often than I would like because she likes it that way. Me finding my wife beautiful and enjoying her beauty, and wanting to be found attractive by her is a good, healthy and wonderful thing.
That means that young people have a good, healthy and wonderful desire to be attractive physically and to enjoy attractive things – we need to allow them space to explore beauty (through creation and the arts) in a God centred way, helping them to navigate those desires when they won’t have a spouse for a considerable length of time. It does not help them with this good desire to simply tell them to be beautiful on the inside. It does not give them the fullest expression of a creative God who made things beautiful. We are not Gnostics who believe that everything physical is bad and everything spiritual is good. Our bodies are good. They (like relationships) are gifts from God. Gods creation is beautiful, and we are the pinnacle of that creation.
How do our teenagers explore beauty in a healthy way? How do we equip them to challenge societies standard of beauty rather than the idea of beauty itself?
I have authored a number of curriculums on relationships for a number of churches with varying theologies and methods on this and am happy to provide advice and support as you develop your own approach to this. Come and say hello on Twitter if you would like to talk further.