As part of my ministry, I work with both teenagers and young adults. When I was a teenager, my church very explicitly taught that premarital sex was wrong; I learned the same in my college fellowship. I personally no longer believe that premarital sex is *always* wrong (I think there is a big difference between a 15 year-old and, say, a single 25 year-old). My church also makes no explicit statement on this and has not been in the habit of teaching youth or young adults really anything about sex or sexual ethics. Surely there is something to say between "everything is always wrong until you get married" and "figure it out yourself." Do any of you have any resources you would recommend for helping teenagers and young adults think about these issues, and especially about how their faith should help inform their decisions?
This is surely one of those issues that many churches don't want to talk about. But our matriarchs didn't shy away. Here's what they had to say.
I'm all ears. I have used Pam Stenzel's DVDs - and been able to invite her live a couple of times! - info, "Sex (still) has a price tag." She takes the no sex before marriage approach. I have two daughters who have gotten married in the last three years. Neither of them lived with their fiance' before marriage. I find myself almost embarrassed to say that. (And I know that to really be the case, because I was the one encouraging them to get to the doctor to discuss birth control options because neither of them wanted to risk getting pregnant right away.) Our youngest daughter had a three month engagement because she and her fiance' didn't want to live together, but they REALLY wanted to be together. They figured they could 'hold out' for three months. I'm really proud of them for waiting. The divorce statistics continue to bear out that it is better for marriages if couples chose not to live together; or to only live together if they are engaged with a date set. That is information from Prepare / Enrich counseling which I have been trained to use. I can't pull up a source and exact quote right now because of all the piles in front of me. But there it is. I know my stance is not a popular one any more. And I don't advertise it, but I do still believe it is the best option. Where I serve, it would not be a popular sell - where the teen pregnancy rate is about 40%!
Pam Stenzel talks a lot about STD (sexually transmitted diseases) and the difficulties of sex before marriage. I don't agree with her ultra-conservative approach, but I appreciate a lot of what she has to say. And she does it with great humor! She usually targets middle school and high school youth, and travels around the world with her teaching. Her home base is in Plymouth, Minnesota. She can tailor her talk for schools or churches.
All that being said, I'm in my 50's, and I know most of my daughter's generation has a different take on this. So, I'm all ears.
I applaud you for wanting to go beyond "just say no"!
Does your denomination offer any study materials? The United Church of Christ has a sexuality curriculum called Our Whole Lives. There are different ones for different ages and stages, including youth and young adults. Description: "The resources are written by professional sexuality educators and provide accurate information for parents, teachers and pastors to be used in the affirming and supportive setting of our churches."
I have never used it, though, because getting everyone on board to do "sex ed" in church has seemed like more trouble than it's worth. What I have done, though, is to look for teachable moments in the midst of other conversations and classes and groups. They can think through what it means to respect one's own body, to love as Christ loves, and even counting the cost of actions before taking them. You could also ask them if they think "the rules" are different for a 15 year old and a 25 year old, and not just about sex!
Martha Spong at Reflectionary adds:
I would highly recommend "Our Whole Lives," a curriculum on human sexuality across the age range developed by the UCC and the UUA. http://www.ucc.org/
With my own children (now 27, 22 and 17), I stressed applying the Great Commandment to personal situations. Do your choices show love for God and self and other? I neither forbade not encouraged. One of my children described this approach as having made sex seem far too important to take lightly. Since that was my point, I think it worked.
Wow! Sounds like the UCC is on top of this! What about the rest of you? Are your denominations dealing with sex proactively, reactively, or not at all? Do you feel equipped to handle issues of sexuality, especially with youth and young adults? Our matriarchs also speak out of their experience mothering young adults around this issue - do you have anything you would share as a mother in addition to as a minister? Please join us in the comments section and share your experiences and wisdom!
And, as always, send us your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com. Only one question in the queue at this point, so we will be dealing with new questions soon!