5 Thoughts on Sexual Integrity

Bells have started ringing once again in the hallways of America’s schools. By now kids have worn out their new back-to-school clothes and the sniffles are starting to invade the hallways of our homes. And with the start of the school year we are starting to get back into the swing of things here at Project Six19. Something we will talk about a lot this year is how to engage in the conversations on sexual integrity as both parents and as youth workers. Here are five things to consider as you engage this subject with your son, daughter, or student.

First, it’s not about saying NO. Often we think that when we talk about abstinence, sexual purity, or as we say it, sexual integrity, we are training our youth to speak in the negative. However, I think we miss something important when all we do is teach our youth to say, ‘no’.

This generation desires to know what they stand for, not against. If we don’t do a good job pointing out all the reasons for waiting, then someone else (our culture for instance) will point all the reasons not to wait. This is not only important semantically but also logically. Often times the church culture we surround ourselves in can be more about sin management. However, as a Christian, choosing to wait should not be a primary decision, but secondary one as a Christian. It should come out of our desire to say YES to following Christ which means saying YES to scripture which leads to a particular way of living.

Second, be clear with your values. Sometimes we think we’ve clearly spoken what we believe only to find we haven’t. Or, and this is common, we just expect our kids to know what we believe. Well, yes, that last statement could be true if we learned through some sort of osmosis or vulcan mind mold. But as of this writing I am not aware of anything like that. So words and living our life in a way that reflects these values is our best way of communicating these truths.

Live out LOVE. This is a phrase we’ve been kicking around the office this summer. Sometimes our expectations go un-communicated. However, if I’ve never spoken my expectations then how can I ask for those things to happen? Often our biggest disappointments come from unmet expectations. Therefore, be sure to share yours with your son, daughter, or student. Then make sure your life also reflects the expectations that you are holding others to.

Third, we are not the sum of our past choices. This is important for both parents and teens to understand. Parents need to be careful not to lay down the law based on their own hurt or pain. Understanding past mistakes, knowing you are forgiven, and clearly being able to articulate why you believe your choice was a mistake is one thing. Teaching or sharing a value that you believe only because of your own pain, hurt, or shame is another. When we discuss a subject as sensitive and as important as when and where we choose to have sex, we need to be aware of how it is shared. Most times our past experiences influence this discussion.

I also share this because we might have students that have already made a different decision. Or even worse, that decision was stolen from them. We need to make sure that when we are sharing our values we also let our sons, daughters, and students know there is nothing they can do to separate them from the grace and forgiveness found through Jesus Christ.

Fourth, we are also not the sum of our future choices. Shame is one thing but pride is another. Shame communicates that I am a mistake. Pride communicates that I am without mistakes. Both are detrimental to our emotional and spiritual health. Even though our students might be making a choice to wait does not make them better or even more ‘pure’ than the next person. They are simply making a choice that is best for their sexual health. And yes, they are honoring God with their bodies which is an incredible testimony to the culture we live in. But let’s be sure we recognize this does not make us better than anyone else.

Finally, where we find our identity is where we will find our choices. In his letter to the Philippians Paul writes, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.’ (Philippians 1:27) When our identity is cemented in something or someone our choice will pour out from that one source and others will notice. When we are speaking to our sons, daughters, and students, Jesus Christ should to be the one place, one choice, one relationship we need to be pointing.  Identity can be found in so many things in our culture but none are as powerful as the transforming power of Christ.

Selfie – Word For a Generation

It came as no surprise that the word for this year is “selfie.” As in, taking a picture of yourself and posting it on whatever form of social media that is your preference, facebook, twitter, and/or instagram. In a decade that has continually become more narcissistic and ME has become bigger then WE the “selfie” is just another reminder of the world we live in.

The “selfie” doesn’t just stop with pictures on a website or social media. It has invaded every aspect of our life. The way we digest church and theology. If we don’t like it we move on or throw it out. The way we watch sports. Small plays are made to seem HUGE after we watch a celebration for a simple tackle. It has even impacted the way we think about relationships. We look for what is in it for me.

At first glance you might think this would have nothing to do with the work we do with Project Six19, which aims to promote biblical sexuality. It has a tremendous influence on the message we share. Here are 3 quick thoughts on how this works:

First, when we are so focused on our self we can easily forget about the one that created the self. We are all made in the image of the one that created us but it is not so we turn our attention upon us but rather turn our attention towards others. In fact, in Scripture when sex is first implied it is about being known…not about being seen. This would imply that it has more to do with others then the self.

Second, the biblical attitude towards sex and sexuality is always in the context of obedience. It is not restrictive in the sense of “no” but it is an attitude that reflects the beauty of the gift that God created and our desire to honor Him rather than just making it about a list of rules. When we turn inward and become more focused on the ME part of that equation then obedience becomes a lower priority.

Finally, the “selfie” perpetuates an already lonely society that looks for ways to be found in a culture that is lost. In the book “Alone Together” author Sherry Turkle argues that technology has become the architect for our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication and relationship. That will never lead to us being found….only more lost.

My hope is that the “selfie” turns into a search for the one that created the self. In Him we will find our true beauty and an intimacy that could never be matched anywhere else.

Speaking Out Against Slut Shaming

Today I was thinking about a conversation at the end of the the last school year. It surrounded the words “slut shaming.” Then I came across a video from a 20/20 interview that was done this summer. You can check it out by clicking here.

slutSlut shaming is defined as the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations. Some examples of behaviors which women are “slut-shamed” for include: dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, or even being raped or sexually assaulted.

I first heard this term late last school year from a female student in one of the high schools we speak in every semester. She approached me as I was cleaning up my materials with a stern look on her face. She began by kindly introducing herself and then went into direct conversation about her thoughts on what we presented. The short version of what was shared was that she was surprised.

When teens hear that someone is going to come discuss abstinence they automatically think that the individual coming to speak is both a prude and cosmic killer of joy. I don’t blame teens or even young adults for this. Most are taking their cues from popular media and what they probably have heard at some point in their past about programs similar to Project Six19. However, most are surprised by our tone and approach, which is caring, honest and direct. When this young girl approached, I placed her in the same category I’ve seen time and time again:  A frustrated student who is unhappy with the way things are talked about when it comes to sex and relationships, and wanting a place to point their frustration and concern. She said that our presentation did a good job of sharing an important message while not shaming anyone in the classroom for other’s past decisions. She briefly talked of her past; a boyfriend she had slept with, regretted that it happened, and wanting to move on. She even mentioned that she considered calling in sick to our presentation because was afraid that we might “slut shame” her in front of her friends. She was thankful just the opposite happened that day. So am I.

There are a few things that I take from both the video and this conversation as they relate to this discussion.

sticks-and-stones1First, I applaud Katelyn (in the video) for her willingness to step up and be a voice for those that were marginalized. Or, at the very least felt marginalized which is very much the same. We need teens and young adults who are willing to make us aware of how words hurt. The old adage that sticks and stones will break your bones but words never will is not correct. Words are THE sticks and stones and although they don’t break bones they can break hearts.

Second, the media will always spin stories like this to make a message of abstinence look silly and wrong. Although I have no idea what was exactly shared during Pam Stenzel’s presentation I can speak to her heart. She wants youth to make a decision that is healthy and safe. Her own story speaks to this reality. Yes, I do think that she can be a bit brash but that is her approach and it has seemed to work well over the years. The number of people that invite her to speak backs this up. I also doubt she incorporated any talk on faith in the school setting. However, this does not negate our responsibility to be aware of how we speak on subjects of sex and relationships. Honoring those that we are speaking to while holding onto the convictions we share is a balancing act that takes great care.

Third, the language we use is important. Yes, we need to be honest and concise with the language we use but that doesn’t give us permission to shame. This is something that Project Six19 holds as one of its key values. Language can either build up and change minds or cause us great pain and become dogmatic. Specifically, I think it is important to realize the power of shame with this generation. It communicates that one person is a mistake. That is wholly different then guilt, which communicates that you made a mistake. Remember we have all been created in the image of God and He does not make invaluable or shameful things.

Let’s talk with honesty, building up those around us, holding onto our convictions while also being aware of how the words we use impact others.