It was 2014, and I was almost a year into my tenure at the second church where I held the position of Youth Pastor. Working with teenagers every week, and being in my late-twenties, I felt at the time I had pretty good grasp on the zeitgeist. I will be the first to admit that I was not hip to quite everything, but you had to be dummy not to think that SEX wasn’t on the mind or at the very least gossiped about in the halls of schools, talked about social media, and snapchatted between adolescent peers. As a single adult male at the time, I knew how difficult it had been for myself as teenager to navigate the culture of sex (Hollywood Movies, TV Shows, Magazines, etc) during puberty, let alone as an adult with the rise of social media, texting, and messaging! Perhaps it was simple arrogance or naivety on my part (which I am more than willing to cop to both), but offering something, that I never received as a teen, might be a way to encourage or at least educate those teens that I had come to care about, regarding a topic that I knew was integral to every person on the planet. I decide to do a Youth Group series on Sex.
The first thing that I knew I needed to do was get the Parents on board. And even though I had a bachelor’s degree, was in the middle of getting my Master’s, no amount of education can prepare you for facing down over a dozen parents when it comes to talking to kids about sex. But I didn’t come unprepared. I did my research. I knew that most parents didn’t talk to their kids about sex, after all, 90% of teens learn about sex from their peers or the internet. I knew that the current sex education in schools was dismally lacking, being that most schools in Ohio provide an abstinence only education (usually given only once in a student’s 4 years at high school), which has shown to be grossly ineffective compared to more comprehensive sex education programs. I also knew that the American Church rarely if ever talked sex, unless you were being told that pre-martial sex and homosexuality were a sin… and that dancing was just as bad, if not worse (because as the old baptist joke goes, sex can lead to dancing, and dancing can led to pregnancy).
I even went so far as to prepare all my lessons in advance (a big deal for a procrastinator like me), gave the parents everything that we would be talking about, gave them worksheets, and even a list of questions to asks their kids after every youth group session, so they could stay engaged.
It should be noted that the content of 5 night youth series was based on theology, not anatomy, biology, or sex acts. It was designed to be the comprehensive sex education experience but meant to open the door for teenagers to start thinking about their sexuality from a healthy, wholistic, and biblical perspective. One without shame. I had the Head Pastor on board, I ran it by the other staff and the College Pastor, even ran some stuff by a few parents. What could go wrong?
I think at this point you know where the story was going. I think I did one lesson before my “crazy and dangerous” experiment was shut down. And people that had been on board with me from the start told me that I should have never done it in the first place, that I had acted too soon, that I should have built better relationships first, that I should be married, or have kids before I talk to teens about this topic. That no amount of education makes up for the fact that you don’t have kids. In short I wasn’t at that church much longer, and I have not served in a ministry position at a church since.
But perhaps the most telling and most memorable moment of the whole experience, was when I had parent look me square in the eye and say,
All I was told was don’t do it. It worked for me, and it will work for my kid.
Talk about an eye opener.
Sex, whether we are talking gender, identity, orientation, or the act itself, is an integral part of the human experience. Sexuality begins in the womb, with some ultra sounds showing us babies with erections and already showing genital rubbing, and is with us until the day we die, where sexual activity can even increase near end of life (nursing homes are notorious for the transmission of STI’s between residents). The average American adult has sex at least once a week! And yet most of America, especially evangelical culture, where a lot of shame around this topic exists, takes the approach of, “Don’t do it.” And stops there. Ignorance over education. Which to be fair, makes sense when shame is involved.
This was the beginning of a long journey towards education and elucidation. My arrogance humbled and my naivety shattered, I quickly realized that this was an area where more work needed to be done. And it couldn’t be done in the church, at least not then, and probably still not now. But I put it behind me, the wounds too fresh, too raw, and too deep to deal with at the time. I continued and completed my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Ashland Theological Seminary. Met and married my wife. Had regular sex. Started practicing therapy. And yet, my journey with this area was far from over. And the comment, “All I was told was don’t do it,” was never far from my mind.