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Welcome to the jungle: talking to teens about sex in a sex-obsessed world


From Eternity newspaper

We get it. Talking sex and relationships with teens probably isn’t something you enjoy doing.

Many of you faithfully do it anyway, but lean towards awkward, duty-bound talks on the “safe” topics of purity and abstinence. Who can blame you for not wanting to open up a can of worms and delve into issues like sexual desire, gender, cybersex or pornography?

Today’s teens live in a world of unsurpassed opportunities. Cyber-communication and one-click-away information have brought about a global village where self-worth is measured by your number of Facebook friends, online identity is just as important as reality, and technology is central to just about everything.

The result of this culture of instant gratification is reflected in the sexual attitudes, values and behaviour of youth. Driven by easily accessible pornography and the (horrifying) sexualisation of children by marketers, young people are engaging in sex more often, in various ways, and at younger ages. This is affecting their physical, psychological and spiritual health. Given new brain research which shows the importance of the teen years for adult choices and behaviour, the future worries me.

It was for these reasons that I wrote Teen Sex By the Book (Fervr, 2012)—a challenge for teens to dare to be different, to use the gift of their sexuality to glorify God and point others to him. However, we realise that while placing copies of the book in the hands of young people and their parents is a good start, it is not enough. We need to reach our young people in the medium of their world and the language of their culture.

In my view, the greatest challenge when talking to teens about sex is not disseminating the Bible’s teaching on it—that’s the easy part. The tough bit is addressing the issues from the perspective of biology and culture as well! Some of you will be just too embarrassed and unprepared to address it directly. The braver and more enthusiastic leaders might confront the issues of sexuality head on, but are unlikely to be well informed as to the immensity of the concerns teens face and unprepared for the hornet’s nest of issues they might uncover.

And then there are the parents. Research tells us that most parents live with a utopic belief that their children are neither interested in nor exposed to sexual material. Many believe the myth that sex education will make their innocent children suddenly promiscuous, and therefore are opposed to churches taking on this role. However, the reality is that children are exposed to sex everywhere they go.

Research tells us that 80% of students in years 10–12 are sexually active—this means that some members of your youth group are probably in this group. Research also tells us that sex education, especially when presented in a values-based framework, results in less risk-taking and a postponement of sexual activity. But rightly, as leaders, we’re concerned about how parents will react to the discussion of sex at youth group.

To meet all of these challenges, the folk at Fervr have taken my book and produced “Teen Sex By the Book— Interactive Workshops” ( This unique program, built to minister to teens in church-based groups (ages 15+), takes five core topics from the book of the same name and brings them to the youth group setting. With all the content and teaching notes provided, this resource is truly invaluable when you need to frankly and authentically talk about sex. Each session is an engaging mix of videos, small group discussions, leader-led teaching, games and other activities. All leaders need to do is some basic preparation and then facilitate the 1.5 hour session. There’s even a seminar for parents and carers to attend before you run the first session.

According to Zac Veron, CEO of Youthworks, one of the biggest errors we can make is to assume that our youth will “remain sexually pure because they once heard a talk on sex”. Our job is much more than to just say “no sex before marriage”– it’s to prepare our teens for the sex-obsessed world that will greet them at the end of youth group.

Dr Patricia Weerakoon is a Christian sexologist and writer.