Sex is a powerful word.
There is probably no other word we say to students that can simultaneously pique their interest and make them want to sneak out the back door. If you’ve ever driven a van of boys past a town named Middlesex or Sexton you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, you can probably imagine what it might be like. Talking about sex with my small group terrifies me. (It probably terrifies them, too.) I always want to be careful to protect the innocence of my students while making sure I appropriately challenge those who are further along. Even when we do have a good conversation, it seems like we are one accidental euphemism away from derailing the whole conversation.
Honestly, it would be much easier for me to never address the topic. I would love to pretend like it’s not a big deal, but I know that our students are submersed in a culture that is saturated with sex. Music, movies, TV shows, YouTube, video games, advertisements, etc. are constantly bombarding them with messages about sex that are contrary to the truth that God has given us. It is incredibly important that we speak truth in this area. If we remain silent on the issue, we force them to turn to culture for answers instead.
As I have tried to get better at having these conversations, I have talked with a lot of other leaders and discovered a few basic principles that help me. Hopefully they are good reminders for you, too. Pray Pray Pray: I pray that God will give me the words to say and that He will give me the strength and grace I need to speak truth into my boys’ lives. I also pray for my boys individually, for growth and for the strength to resist temptation.
Get comfortable with uncomfortable words: It is difficult to say words like masturbation, oral sex, sexting, and pornography. Even typing them here is challenging. It probably freaks you out a little to read them. But, these are real issues students are thinking about, asking questions about and possibly even exploring. I have found year after year that my boys are more willing to engage in conversation if they feel like I am comfortable saying these words.
Help them ask better questions: The question I hear most often is “How far is too far?” In other words, what can I get away with physically without sinning? When I talk to my guys about sex, I try to draw them back to the idea that God created sex and has the best plan for our sexuality. If we believe God’s plan is best, the better question becomes “How can I protect my sexuality?” not “How much of it can I spend?”
Offer Accountability: Sometimes students just aren’t ready to open up in front of the whole group. I always tell my guys that there is nothing they can tell me that will shock me, and that if they want to chat privately I am always available for that. I also tell them that one of the most helpful things for me when I was in Jr. High was to talk openly and honestly with my small group leader about my struggles, and that if they tell me something, I will keep it private and regularly ask them how they are doing with it.
Normalize: Middle School students feel extremely uncomfortable with the changes in their bodies, their minds, and their feelings. They often feel alone in their struggles and questions about sex. We need to help them realize these questions and struggles are normal. That doesn’t mean it is okay to continue in their struggle, but knowing they are not alone can be very freeing and allow them to get the help they need.
Keep parents informed: Especially when it comes to this topic, I try to keep the parents informed about what we are talking about, and I hope it encourages them to talk to their kids about the topic.
What practices have worked well for you in this area?