“I want to ask you a question,” the student in front of you blushes a little as they say this. “It’s about…you know…what you said earlier…” the student fidgets, then trails off. You mentally scan through your talk at youth group that night wondering what this could be about. “It’s about sex!” the student finally blurts out.
I am no expert, simply a fellow youth minister. So from one youth minister to another, here are a few tips, gleaned from the trenches, on talking with students about sex.
1. Listen to their exact question.
Most students are not asking for as much information as we think they are. Listen to the question they asked. Did the student ask for a word definition? Was there some kind of innuendo they didn’t quite understand and now they are feeling sheepish? Are they asking how far is too far or what to do when the line has been crossed? Are they curious about birth control, the will of God, the potential rage of parents, or your opinion?
Listening is always a crucial first step. What you hear are your main clues to what the student is looking for in a response.
2. Only answer the question the student asked.
This is super important with younger students especially.
“What’s a prostitute?” a young middle schooler asked me after a Sunday school lesson. This was not a time to get into anatomy explanations. This girl was asking what a prostitute was, because it was clear from the lesson it was an undesirable job. She really wasn’t asking about sex at all.
In most of our youth groups we have students ranging from the hyper-protected to the worldly-wise. In any given group students’ knowledge, experience, and (perhaps most dramatically for the youth minister) what their parents think they know will vary widely. Listening and answering only the questions that have been asked will help you navigate this potential minefield.
3. Talk about the whole picture
Some youth ministers talk about sex in reference to the body. Some talk about it in reference to power and or communication. Most talk about sex in the context of relationships. Sex always has a context. We should talk about sex in church. But we should not only talk about sex, leaving out the context of a purposeful God who made sex for a reason. Talk about relationships often, schedule into your regular teaching rhythm, refuse the temptation to make the subject taboo by silence.
4. Involve parents!
Before your relationship series, tell your pastor and tell your parents. The parents of the students in your care need transparency. Consider sending a weekly email with a few bullet points of your talk and a few discussion questions. Keep the parents in the loop and invite them to be your allies.
5. Plan it.
For young students consider having an all-girls or all-guys retreat where you talk about what to expect the next few years in terms of body, relationships with God, self, friends and parents. Play plenty of games and make this fun! At my church we have done a “Beauty from the Inside Out” retreat for middle school girls and “Man Maker” retreat for guys in the past. The girls mostly learned about friend and self-care, the guys mostly ate and beat each other up.
For high schoolers consider a yearly relationship series either in small groups or large teaching times or both. High schoolers know less then they think they do, and are making choices with lasting consequences. Get a group of volunteers together so you are not the only adult in the room, tell plenty of stories, and talk about relationships done well. Make yourself available for follow up conversations with individuals afterwards.
For graduates consider talking about power dynamics, desires, and God’s will. Graduates are heading into a time of incredible uncertainty and relational upheaval. They need small group and even one on one reminders of who they are, whose they are, and who they hope to be.
6. Have friends that aren’t your students
For real. After steps 1-5, take a mental break by hanging out with people you are not in ministry to. Youth ministry is a big, important job and people come to their youth ministers with big, heavy questions. Having people who are just your regular friends is an absolute must.