February is Sex Month in my world and it really doesn’t have anything to do with Valentine’s Day. It just so happens that I work at a church that promotes open conversations about sexuality in the safety of our sanctuary. I work with a small team of adults who lead a workshop called “Faith and Sexuality” for 5th graders. Then I lead a workshop with our 8th graders for the next piece of that Faith and Sexuality puzzle which is about attachment and the emotions of sex.
It is a lot of fun, actually. It has its perks if you get a mad kick out of horrifying unsuspecting kids. I'm just kidding...well, sort of. Although, I have to admit that I’ve probably made the whole experience too comfortable lately because the youth have been really open and seem less and less shocked by anything I tell them about sexuality.
5th grade is simple. The kids gather and we make sure they understand that God made them and he doesn’t make mistakes. We start in scripture to remind them that first and foremost they are His beloved children. Then we remind them that the changes they are starting to notice in their bodies are also part of an intentional plan. From there we make sure they get the difference between gender and sex. Then we break out into really comical small group situations where we basically get to explain everything that happens to boys and girls during puberty. Then we all come together for the climax of the experience where I get to tell them where babies come from. You will be amazed by how many kids hear this for the first time in our workshop.
It pretty much goes like this:
“Penis goes into the Vagina.”
Shock, horror, and occasional nods from the boys who reckon this makes sense.
Then there is the question from a girl “Do we HAVE to do that?” and my answer, “Nope.”
Then the next shock…
“My parents did that.”
Shock, horror, mild disgust; staring into space.
The next realization sometimes takes a few days to sink in. For some it happens in moments and for others it could be weeks but when it happens everyone knows.
“My parents have had sex more than three times!”
Yep. Sex feels good and people do it because they want to. That is a hard one to wrap a 10 yr old brain around.
We are starting at basics here and it is pretty amazing to be part of that experience. To have the opportunity to usher youth into their sexuality within the open and loving arms of the church is a gift. A gift! It is wonderful to look at a kid and say “I want you to know this information because the more you understand the better you will do at living into God’s plan for you life.” One of the key themes for the workshop is “When it comes to sex say know.”
We certainly encourage youth to wait until they are in a covenantal relationship before they experience the joys of sexuality, but it is wonderful to refrain from joining in the system of guilt and shame that the church has presented for centuries. I am glad to be a little part of making that go away.
By 8th grade it is a different experience. I don’t need to cover all the things they have heard from 5th grade or all the lessons they have learned in health class. They know the risks now, they have seen the STD pictures and they know they are not ready to become parents. They really don’t want to relive the moments when their health teachers handed out condoms right after they said "if you have sex you’ll die.” The contradictions of those health lessons just feed the frenzy of hormones confusing thoughts and emotions of the ill-equipped 8th grader.
We don’t talk about that stuff. We talk about the physiology of sex. The systems of creation that God designed so perfectly and invests into intimately to this day. We discuss how they all have meaning and purpose. That even the systems of our bodies and relationships connect us mind, body and soul to our Lord and the experience of his Love. We talk about attachment and how an orgasm literally releases hormones that tell you to nest. How even if you want sexual encounters to be casual it takes a lot of denial to keep them that way. It is a good conversation and each year the youth seem more and more comfortable and grateful to have it.
Another cool thing happens at Faith and Sex, every year I have parents and leaders tell me they learned something new and walked away with a whole new appreciation for the incredible gift of sex. I can’t tell which I love to hear more- youth living into a countercultural foundation about sexuality or adults walking away with a tidbit that might improve their experiences with sex. Either way, God is good and I am honored to just have a small part in it.