Let’s Talk about Sex: Teaching Chastity at Church

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll recall (possibly) me mentioning a few weeks ago that I have a new job at church: teaching the 12 and 13 year-old boys. There’s a prescribed lesson schedule in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), so it was up to me to teach the next lesson, which happened to be (drumroll, please):

The Sacred Power of Procreation

Yeah. There are only two boys that age in my congregation, so it was going to be me and two twelve year olds, talking about procreation. Not exactly my comfort zone, and it wasn’t helped that the lesson manual I was to teach from dated back to the early 1980s. (And this lesson in particular was all based on a speech from 1974.) So I was to use material almost 40 years old to try and connect with kids of today.

This brings up so many different things I want to discuss, I don’t know where to begin. First off, the easy bit: what I ended up doing, and how it went. Thankfully, the church has just released some revised lesson materials for teaching the youth–materials that are to start being used in January. I cheated somewhat, and went and found them and used some of them for the basis of the lesson. (Curious what I chose? It was this article.) In the end, I didn’t get into a nitty gritty on the do’s and don’ts of chastity and morality. I didn’t feel like it was my place (more on that in a moment). What I did discuss was why we have rules in life.

Basically, I talked about how God gives us rules to help us be happy. Sometimes some of those rules seem like they keep us back from having fun, but there’s a fundamental difference between happiness and fun. I used as an example the fact that my kids want to eat as much sugar as humanly possible, but our family has rules to keep that from happening. Those rules (theoretically) help protect our kids from having health issues later in life. Health issues which would influence their happiness.

The boys I was teaching were responsive and active in the lesson the whole time. It didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, and I was very relieved it went as well as it did. I was in my comfort zone–teaching about something I had strong feelings about. I really do believe much of the happiness I have in my life can be traced back directly to the degree to which I follow what I believe are God’s commandments. Yes, they seem to restrict me in some ways, but from a long term perspective, nothing the Church or my religion has asked me to do has every brought me anything but joy, so it’s pretty easy for me to teach that principle.

However.

I will say that this experience has opened my eyes in some ways to things I should have seen earlier, but hadn’t. My kids will continue getting older, and one day, they will be the kids getting taught these lessons. And I won’t necessarily have any influence over what’s being taught. That’s . . . more than a little frightening. I love my religion, and I know the people in it all mean well. (Most of them, at any rate.) But we’re all unpaid volunteers when it comes down to it. So someone will be teaching my son or daughter about sex, and who knows what they might try to pass off as doctrine. (Came across this blog post a month or two ago that talks about some of the misguided efforts young women in the church have encountered. I found it very interesting and thought I’d pass it along to you.)

What it boils down to is that we have untrained adults having conversations about intimate topics with teens, and I’m not entirely sure how okay with that I am. I’m not saying I’m genuinely worried about my kids. We have discussions about what they learned in church each week, and I feel confident and capable I’ll be able to stay on top of whatever curve balls are thrown their way. (I hope.) But my religion is 14 million members and growing. Anytime you get that many people doing something, the pure law of averages says some bad things are going to happen, and I wonder if there’s a better way of handling this particularly sensitive subject.

I know church members who are very upset with what public schools teach about sex in the classroom. (Well, the teaching is done in the classroom, not the sex. Stupid misplaced modifiers . . . ) Honestly, I’m not that riled up about sex ed. I’m sure my kids are going to hear far worse from their friends, and I’d rather I was aware of what’s being taught and by whom–and at the very least, public school teachers are (supposedly) trained in what they’re doing.

I don’t know. I’m rambling some at this point, trying to get my thoughts in order. This post is mainly just to say that up until this experience, I’d always sort of thought what my kids found out about sex came down to what I told them, what they asked their friends, what they saw on television, and what was taught in school. Now I see what’s taught in church could be problematic, too. Problematic in a different way. In a guilt-inducing, soul shattering, potentially life-altering way. I’ve got friends who had real struggles with this growing up in the church, and I want to spare my children that experience if I can.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the church should abandon teaching about chastity. I’m still all in favor of that law. But . . . it can be handled in a variety of ways. I guess that’s part of life. Find out what the punches are, and then roll with them.

Hey–at least I don’t have to teach about chastity again this week. This week’s lesson is on Decision Making.

I think I can handle it.

And what about you, faithful readers? Has anything this post had to say sparked some sort of response from you? I’d love to carry the discussion on. Please feel free to comment. Just keep things civil . . .

7 Comments

  • By Rachael, October 16, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    This is something I also realized during the course of my time in YWs (sniff, sniff, released a couple weeks ago and that was hard! They’re not even my own children, but I was panicking about the new teacher…what if she only uses those old outdated manuals?!! Will she only do clip art? If there’s a lesson on women’s roles, what will she focus on?!).

    I found a really great site that I loved using as a resource: beginningsnew.blogspot.com. I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent for the YM, but reading through that was the first time that I realized how potentially devastating some well-meaning teachers could be (like all the licked donut chastity lessons. So glad I never had one of those, but it’s disheartening to realize how many have). And like you, it got me a little concerned about my own children. We’re really fortunate to live in a ward packed full of educated, intelligent, dedicated people right now, but we have been in some wards that were…not like that. At all.

  • By Bryce Moore, October 16, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

    Exactly. I mean, I’m not *as* worried about my kids in particular–it’s more of a general worry along the lines of “What in the world might be being taught each week at church?” Licked donuts being a prime example.

  • By Katya, October 17, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    The thing I want to ask people who freak out about school sex ed is “Do you honestly think that your kids are never going to hear anything in their lives that you disagree with? Why not teach them how to navigate that, instead?”

    You raise a good point, though, about some of the particular problems with Church-based sex ed.

  • By Bryce Moore, October 17, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

    Yeah. Far better to prep your children to deal with a variety of different viewpoints and beliefs. School sex ed is what it is. I don’t get in a huff about it. Of course, I also don’t have to *teach* it . . . 🙂

  • By Becky Green, October 23, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    I have to agree with you and the majority of that linked article from femministmormonhousewives. When teachers have to add so much of their own emotional lessons into a prepared lesson from a manual, to me it’s clear that manual lesson doesn’t have it right. From a personal point of view, I had a combination of great and not so great lessons from the church growing up. I was one of those sexually abused children who thought I was used garbage for years, and it’s absolutely true that the church gives no opportunity for teachers to touch on that subject. Girls are taught a combination of things–that we have divine natures, self-worth, but also that everything we do with our physical bodies pulls at the strings attached to boys and men. We’re taught to cover our bodies because they’re temples, but also to cover our bodies so boys don’t see it and want to touch us. There seems to be a lot of conflicting lessons taught. In high school I was shocked to find out that literally half of the close girl friends I knew had been sexually abused as children. That’s a statistic that I think can’t be ignored by the church. So many kids need more to their church lessons than “any sexual contact is wrong, and if you’ve lost your innocence in regards to sex, you’ve also lost your purity.” I also agree with that article you linked that it’s so difficult for a teenage girl to go to her bishop for guidance and repentance relating to sex. Girls are taught that boys can’t be trusted in regards to sex, and yet, we’re told to go confess our deepest fears regarding sex to a man. Youth need to be empowered, not squashed. The title of your lesson “The Sacred Power of Procreation” seems at first to be exactly what it should be–a lesson on how sacred sex is because of the power and purpose behind it. I always felt I learned more from the teachers who taught me what sex SHOULD be than from the teachers who taught me what it SHOULDN’T be.

  • By Bryce Moore, October 23, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

    Very insightful comment. Thank you so much for being willing to share it. I do believe the church curriculum is improving and will continue to improve. How it’s actually taught and applied, of course, is a different matter entirely.

  • By Becky Green, October 23, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    I think there could be a lot learned by studying the way the youth actually interpret the lessons in the manuals. I do agree with you though, it’s improving, and has improved an incredible amount of the years. And I also don’t think the Mormon church is the only church that has this sort of issue to deal with. Kids are kids no matter their religion.

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