Shhhh! Don’t Talk About Sex

SEX! It’s a subject that Christian parents and youth workers don’t talk about enough with our kids, and so for the next 5 days I’m going to talk about… talking about it!

A couple weeks ago I was speaking at a camp in rural Wisconsin and I brought up the subject of sex to my middle school audience of about 500 kids. Funny enough, I received a handful of the typical “Why are you talking about sex with this age group!” comments.

Since that camp (not even two weeks ago, as I write this), I’m amazed how much the subject of “talking about sex with teenagers” has come up. This “hush” isn’t just limited to Wisconsin.

Let me say it simply: talking about sex is something we need to talk about.

Just a few days after the camp, Marko wrote this insightful blog about how he actually prefers to speak to middle schoolers about sex—the perfect time to talk with them about it. He articulated it like this: “It’s pure irresponsibility as a youth worker to avoid this subject.” He goes on to describe how “all over the board” they are developmentally and how, often with middle schoolers, it’s more “what sex will be” than “what it is” for them in their lives.

I can’t agree more.

A few days ago I had breakfast with my friend Doug Fields and shared what had happened at this camp, specifically the moms who told me, “These kids weren’t thinking about sex at all, but now that you brought it up they are!” Doug, having seen this overprotective parenting style on way too many occasions, nodded his head in disbelief. Forget the adults for a moment- we both felt for these poor misinformed kids that were basically taught, “We don’t ever talk about ‘the naughty thing.’” It’s something we observe way too often.

Is this a national problem?

How about international.

My dad is on a missions trip to Uganda right now teaching and equipping African pastors how to preach God’s word. One of the African ministers traveling with him, Andrew, is a pastor who travels to different villages talking about sex and the AIDS epidemic, educating young people about the truth. Sadly, in the African culture they rarely talk about sex. (Wow, Uganda is just like Wisconsin!) Andrew has earned trust with several of the schools and has been teaching “True Love Waits” rallies, presenting the truth and then interacting with kids afterwards, answering questions they have.

My dad just sent me an email about this from his phone while in Uganda:

Had another good night sleep. We are at a catholic retreat center and it is pretty primitive, but the team is all so positive. We don’t have showers or hot water. Learning to wash my hair at a faucet. Cold shaves.

Our team that taught the “true love waits” to 200 middle school kids was pretty moved yesterday. After Andrew made the aids presentation they handed out cards for ?s. Everyone wrote ?s. Schools are in English. The ?s were heart wrenching. Things like “I’ve been raped. How do I know if I have aids?” Or “I have aids. Should I quit having sex with my boyfriend?”. This from 12 and 13 year olds! The headmaster of the school invited them back today to talk to another 200 kids. The team is very excited to present this material that Andrew has written. He was on a Ministry of education committee when he wrote this and now he can present this in public schools.

The African AIDS epidemic is pretty scary. Those of us in the US probably would like to think that we have an entire ocean separating us from this problem. Sadly, this isn’t just an African problem. It was only a few years ago that we all woke up to the headlines, “One in Four Teenage Girls Has a Sexually Transmitted Disease.” Teenage girls in the US are making the same mistakes.

Part of the problem is ignorance. Last month USNews wrote about a study revealing that one in four teenage girls who took the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine mistakenly thought their risk of getting other STDs was lowered. Sound crazy? I constantly encountered this kind of reasoning in my work with middle school students on campus. “I’ll just wear two condoms.” “I always shower really good after sex.”

The fact is, parents aren’t talking about sex enough with their kids. One “sex talk” isn’t enough. This needs to be an ongoing conversation. Adults aren’t spending the time to tell kids the truth.

I talk about sex to young people frequently, openly, honestly… never gratuitously. TV and movies talk about sex all the time; they just don’t tell the whole story. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk candidly about the subject, sharing the truth on the matter. Sex isn’t bad, sex isn’t naughty… it’s an amazing gift that God gives to a man and woman in marriage. The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about it in lurid detail and we shouldn’t be scared either.

So why is it that the church always squirms when we talk about sex? We’re so afraid of being “inappropriate” that we avoid talking about the elephant in the room. Meanwhile, Hollywood isn’t holding anything back when slinging lies.

Recently I read a study that tracked all the sexual dialogue in current MTV reality show programming like Jersey Shore, and the various Real Word shows (Side note: Jersey Shore was the #3 watched show on cable last week. This sexually charged show is very often the most watched cable show on any given week.) This sobering report revealed that in all the talk about intercourse, foreplay, oral sex, masturbation on these MTV shows… 96.4% of this kind of sexual talk didn’t mention any responsibility or consequences of any kind. Only 3.6 percent of the time did they ever talk about any sexual responsibility like virginity (.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) or consequences like STDs (2%). Today’s music isn’t much better at presenting truth.

The lies about sex are obviously getting good airtime. When are kids going to hear the truth? Who is going to tell them?

Parents… are you listening?

How do we have these talks with our kids?

Chime in with your 2 cents. Tomorrow I’m chiming in with “Four Facts About Sex We Can’t Hush.”  (OR CLICK HERE FOR ALL FOUR FACTS IN ONE ARTICLE ON OUR WEB PAGE FOR PARENTS)

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If you liked Jonathan’s candid approach to this subject, you’ll really enjoy his books like, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, and Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. Right now you can get FREE U.S. shipping on these books and others on Jonathan’s Recommended Books page.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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16 Responses to Shhhh! Don’t Talk About Sex

  1. Nick O'Donnell says:

    How do we have these talks with or kids? First of all don’t spring it on them let them know on Sunday that Wednesday we are going to be talking about sex. Or tell them Wednesday that we are going to be talking about sex on Sunday. Give them a heads up. Number two just be honest and come out with the truth. Sex is fun, in the marriage setting. Because having sex outside of marriage is just difficult you don’t know how to act around each other, afterwords there is this fear of getting pregnant or worse yet an STD! It is never as great as you think it might be the first time. And what you see on tv and what really happens behind close doors is very very different.

  2. Ami M Tallent says:

    We are on the same page…For the whole month of February, I have been talking about sex & dating. I have been making notes from the book I am using ” Every Teenager’s Little Black Book on Sex and Dating”. It’s really simple & to the point for teens to understand about issues on sex. It’s a really good teaching tool that I would highly recommend. The kids have really enjoyed it. I truly believe you cannot teach enough or start young enough to talk about sex. We especially , in our County should talk more. In 2010, ages 10-17 totalled 486 births in all! This should not be. So you see the importance of teaching this subject . I say go for it & thank you so much for inspiring others to talk about this. There is truly something wrong when noone else is talking!

  3. Eric Hayslett says:

    Jon,
    I think u are right on key with this one!!
    What do u think about talking to
    Middle schoolers about pornography?
    I am speaking at our JH convention this week end for the boys “purity” talk. I want to speak to them about pornography, accountability, and guard rails. Some parents may think they are to young? I do not think so. I think they need candid conversation about it. Help me out if u have time.
    Thank u so much for your time u put into helping youth workers!!

    • Eric, I think porn definitely needs to be addressed in middle school. Sadly, you will have some people there who think that we shouldn’t talk about this subject with this young age. I recently told a story to a middle school audience about a young man who “found some pictures” on the web and kept going back and looking at them. He found himself “clicking for more” each day… I told this story and talked about the guilt this kid felt and how we tackled it together. I had an overprotective mom come up to me afterwards and tell me, “Our kids didn’t even know what porn was, and now you gave them a guide of exactly where to find it!”

      Let me be clear. All kids know that porn is on the computer. We aren’t putting any ideas in their head if we talk about it. Just make sure you don’t give them something specific that might be a temptation. Obviously don’t tell a story saying something like, “I just met with a kid who had discovered a site with free pornographic videos when he simply did a Google search for….” THAT would be leading them to something that many of them didn’t already know about. In other words, don’t HELP them find porn.

      This is a tough balance. On one hand you don’t want to sound like, “Everyone’s doing it! Something’s wrong with you if you haven’t looked at porn yet!!!” But on the other hand, you don’t want to make them feel dirty if they have. You don’t want them to feel naughty if they have questions about their sexual feelings and desires. Pray about this balance. And always create an atmosphere of love and grace so that your kids will come to you and share honestly about their struggles.

      But I think it’s very important to share the truth about porn. Just use the search box on the left side of my blog– type in the words FLEEING PORN and you’ll find a helpful blog with some links to some great subjects to address about porn. I’ll be chiming in more this week in this blog with some facts about sex that I think we can’t withhold from our kids.

      Hope that helps just a bit.

  4. Ben Palm says:

    Jonathan,

    Your timing couldn’t be more perfect! We’re starting a new series in our middle school and high school groups NEXT WEEK talking about sex! Our series title is PURITY – we’re going to focus on the difference between purity and abstinence, and we’re going to talk about how to find, live, and restore purity. I’ll be reading every day and taking notes – thanks for doing this!

    Any thoughts on what should be left out of the middle school discussion that needs to be addressed to high schoolers? The only thing I was thinking was giving high schoolers a little more detail about STDs and specifics regarding the “how far is too far question” (oral sex, anal sex, touching, masturbation, etc.). Thoughts?

    • This can be tough- trying to decide what to talk about, and what to leave out. It can vary a little bit from group to group. I’ve worked with church groups where middle school kids were very protected and inexperienced. Many of these kids weren’t plagued with sexual influences. Don’t get me wrong- it would be silly of me to think that we should NOT address the subject with this group, because, like Marko mentioned in the blog of his I mentioned/linked above, much of this might be stuff they WILL deal with soon. And would you rather equip them with some good decision making skills beforehand, or when it’s already too late.

      Besides. I find that young people today are often way more aware of sexual influences than most adults know.

      But no, I don’t think a group like that needs to know explicit details about the dangers of anal sex. Although, if you do a question box and someone asks about it… I wouldn’t avoid the subject. Just keep thinking about what the Bible chose to include. Some of the stories in Genesis still make me shudder: Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and having sex with him? A bunch of guys surrounding a house and begging for them to send the men out so they can have “sex” with them? (“Dad, how do men have sex with other men?” “Mom, what is Onan’s ‘seed’ that he spilled on the ground?”) Does the Bible have an R-rating that I missed? Are we supposed to edit these passages for a 6th grader?

      Personally, I err on the side of full disclosure.

      Other groups of young people might not be so conservative. They might be way more sexually active. I ran a middle school campus ministry for years where the kids were VERY sexually active. This group was ready to talk about everything. When I would do “question night” where they wrote questions on a card, it was scary to read the questions I received (threesomes, anal sex, porn addictions). Listen to Dr. Drew’s radio show even once and your eyes (or ears) will be opened!

      Don’t be scared to talk about God’s design for the awesome gift of sex, the consequences that we face when we go outside of his plan, and a clear plan to not set ourselves up for failure.

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  6. Ed says:

    Jonathan,

    Enjoying the conversation and totally agree with you. I find that generally the parents who don’t want us to talk about it are the parents who themselves don’t want to talk about it.

    One admittedly picky comment, and I’m sorry if I’m being “that guy”. When writing about AIDS, it is an acronym and all the letters should be capitalized.

  7. Smiling says:

    I agree its never too young to start talking about Gods plan for intimacy.
    A young man from our church that is now an adult became addicted to pornography around age 13, his parents had found the first porn magazines around age 6, at 13 they found on limewire porn depicting c.p. , they over reacted and didnt know how to talk to him, he said he got addicted when he was given a magazine with underage (16 years and up) he posted on yahoo asking about it and was sent numerous links from people who viewed it, he has struggled with it ever since and is now in jail due to some of the content that was on his computer. Not to mention the emotional issues that come along with it.
    A parent recently told me that they found their 9 year old hiding with the laptop on youtube viewing porn, a history search showed that he had viewed youtube content with sex with animals , girl on girl and more. He said that he was lured in by a youtube video
    A 13 yr old girl sent a text asking a boy various sexually explicit questions. I think children should be made aware the dangers and legal consequences of sexting and sharing photos.
    shows on mtv talk about sex, parents who allow children private internet access or cable tv need to be aware of what temptations they are allowing
    and how to handle it when their child takes the bait
    I believe that parents should be made aware of the dangers out there and given the resources to deal with these issues, along with the notice that it will be discussed and the invitation to join.

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  10. Stephanie says:

    Very refreshing to see this blog and the comments and ideas. A great place for parents to “check in”. I often talk to my kids in an honest and often “raw” way. I refuse to let my kids get inaccurate information or put themselves in a tricky -or worse- bad situation because I was uncomfortable to have a conversation. To Jon and all the parents out there willing to be honest with their kids . . . Keep up the good work!

  11. Kathie says:

    Jonathan,

    We have 5 children of our own, oldest being 13 and in eighth grade. He has already been tempted by porn, starting with other kids on the bus. At his school, there is a seventh grade girl who is pregnant. Our first grader hears kids at school talking about it already. Obviously, the kids are experimenting/talking about it. It’s better to take the offensive with kids and give them the biblical truth about it than have them learn all sorts of wrong things from classmates at school.

  12. Dwayne Chapmon says:

    Was shocked in a recent meeting with our new pastor as he frowned upon learning we’d done a sex talk with our youth group a few years ago. Gave him the material we used & hopefully he’ll come to understand why this subject is near & dear to us. We began with a meeting with the parents before proceeding & shared the material & all but one parent supported us. In this day & age this is must discuss topic.

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