Talking About Sex

Maybe this topic is edgy. You could call it NSFW. Or just flat-out uncomfortable.

But it’s something we’ve got to talk about, because our kids are talking about it (with each other — for many, there aren’t any authority figures talking about it with them). 

I’ll put it out there — not talking about sex in youth ministry means you’re completely missing one of the most important issues in a teens’ life.

You’re avoiding something they’re confronted with on a daily basis, something they worry and obsess over, something that they have questions about that will just go unanswered unless someone reaches out and responds to their (unspoken, usually) queries.

There’s a new survey out about American sexual activities. Some of it focuses on what the adults are up to, but a good portion touches on teenagers. Here’s what the report said:

1. What teens are doing. By ages 14-15, 10 percent of boys say they’ve had vaginal sex. By ages 16-17, the number is up to 30 percent. By ages 18-19, it’s above 60 percent. For girls, the trajectory is almost identical. Oral sex follows a similar trend. At ages 14-15, 9 percent of boys say they’ve performed cunnilingus. By ages 16-17, 20 percent say they’ve done it, and by ages 18-19, 61 percent say they’ve done it. Among girls aged 14-15, the number who say they’ve given a boy oral sex is 13 percent. By ages 16-17, it’s 29 percent. By ages 18-19, it’s 61 percent. If you’re turning 20 and you haven’t gone down on somebody, you’re in the minority.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but I was shocked by those numbers. They’ve all gone up steadily since the last survey was done. And I’d be wiling to bet that they’re pretty consistent for teens in many youth groups, too.

The numbers show that more teens are having sex, they’re having it earlier, and they’re not particularly discriminating about what type of intercourse they’re having–the lines have blurred.

This issue isn’t going away. So here’s a simple question for you: How does sex play a role in your youth ministry? How do you approach it?

There are two great pieces of advice for youth workers in this youthministry.com article, “The Sex Text Hotline,” and I’ll share them here because they said it better than I could. As youth workers, we have to create an environment for open and honest conversations and demonstrate the willingness to talk about anything with our kids:

Don’t just have “the” talk; have ongoing conversations. So many parents think having “the talk” once during their child’s adolescent period is enough. Too many youth workers believe if they address “sex and sexuality” one time each year, the problem is solved. Nope. Parents and youth workers must be committed to ongoing conversations…not intermittent lectures. If you are wondering how often you should speak with your teens about sex, just remember, they’re bombarded all day long with sexual images and messages in the world.

Create an environment where off-the-wall sex questions can be safely asked. Don’t wait for them to broach the touchy subject with you; be proactive in discussing the sex lives of the teenagers closest to you.

As far as some of the practical things you can do to broach the topic — use an anonymous survey before a specific “sex talk” week to gather questions from teens, take advantage of one-on-one mentoring relationships to talk about sex, use a good curriculum (Anyone remember Preparing for Adolescence? It’s old, but, um, some things don’t change.), invite a guest speaker in (no, it’s not totally passing the buck), and work with parents together on these issues.
If you have specific ways you’ve approached talking about sex in your youth ministry, please share your advice in the comments below!