Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Sex Education The Answer?

What is Sex?  In the simplest of terms sex can be defined as a physical act ultimately resulting in the procreation of a species. However the fact that sex can rarely be discussed without a flood of emotions indicates that there is much more surrounding the topic than just the physical act. It is the side effects into the rest of life rather than the act itself that is the most widely discussed and debated.

Physical effects such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are often on the forefront of the mind of society as issues to be addressed. In a recent article I also discussed the viewpoint of the brain chemistry as it relates to sexuality. Such a discussion shows many of the physical reasons as to why the physical act of sex can result in emotional ramifications both positive and negative. There are also moral and religious arguments as to how one’s sexual life should be correctly conducted. These issues often lead into either heated arguments and judgmentalism on all side of the issue or are ignored almost entirely and placed almost solely into the social aspect of humor.

So what is the issue? When it comes to teenage sexuality it is almost a societal form of risk management. Sex education has become a regular part of the curriculum in the school system to adequately prepare students with tools and knowledge to conduct sexual relations safely. However perhaps an article posted on states it best with their comment that, “Sex ed simply can’t compete with teenagers’ hormones.” Typically the idea here is that teens are going to have sex, let’s help reduce the physical risks as much as possible. This is why many social workers and medical clinics give condoms out for free.

The first risk that is always brought to the surface is the teenage pregnancy. A father myself I know that having kids is something that completely changes one’s way of life. Things I know I wouldn’t have been mature enough to handle as a teen. But what if teens don’t see pregnancy as a risk? Single parenting is so common now that it doesn’t carry the social stigma that it used to. The article even went so far as to say, “Teenagers having babies is really not such a bad thing – younger parents have the energy that older parents lack.” STD’s are also a risk, but everyone has different sources and studies on the risks and there doesn’t seem to be any hard data on the statistical odds.

However, in terms of calculating risks, as intelligent as teens are, they do not seem to always make decisions based on logical data. If you don’t believe me, or the copious amounts of scientific data on that, just ask car insurance companies. Teens are risk takers. This is not necessarily a negative trait, but while some risks are worth it, others are not. So is sexuality worth the risk or isn’t it? The thing is that even if someone intellectually decides against an activity – the emotions and physical feelings that are raised in the midst of a sexually charged situation can through even the most well adjusted kid off their base.

So the problem with sexual education is we don’t know if it is working because we are unsure as to what it is we want it to accomplish. I think the better question is to ask why youth participate in these risky activities in the first place and how we can foster them to make mature decisions about their lives as opposed to having them rely on emotional or even intellectual aspects of these sexual choices. After all the choices that we make may technically be “healthy” but still leave a lot of other aspects of life a mess.

What is sexual maturity? Well in an interview with Dr. Harry Schaumburg on Family Life Today he paints a picture of sexual maturity by comparing it to sexual immaturity. He says, “Here’s the proof that it was immature. How did you feel when you didn’t get it? How upset did you get? How frustrated did you get because I couldn’t get what I want. That sounds like immaturity. Hopefully as a mature man when I can’t get what I want I can handle that in a more appropriate way.” How many young boys manipulate their girlfriends because they are after something that they want as opposed to actually showing her more love. I have talked with countless young people that talk about the fear of losing their relationships if they don’t engage sexually even if that is something they wouldn’t choose for themselves.

So how do we train youth in maturity? It is a commitment to a lifetime of sexual conversations as opposed to a one time class on sexual mechanics and risk management. However, before I discuss my idea on how to promote maturity. What are yours?

RECONNECT: Is there a link between sexuality and spirituality?

Heads: Sexuality - Tails: Spirituality
Guest Blogger: Brad Sumner
What connection exists between sexuality and spirituality?  Put another way, how does what I do with my body relate to what I experience spiritually?

Early twentieth century French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard said it well when he observed, “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.”1  What we do in our physical bodies affects our spiritual lives and what we do spiritually (prayer, impulses of compassion or love) must be expressed physically.  They are intimately connected.

Admittedly, part of the challenge in exploring any meaningful link is that organized religion is mainly seen to be against sexuality.  Christianity, in particular, has been painted as having a history of repression and prudishness when it comes to talking about sexuality.  The images that come to mind include, well, the entire middle-ages (think clothes designed to ward off potential suitors), or contemporary religious people that are pretty famous for (and pretty good at) setting up boundaries without ever explaining or clarifying origins, purpose and other elements of the truth.  And the truth is that God invented (or should we say, created) both sexuality and spirituality.  In one place in the Old Testament, the text says, “Didn’t the one Lord make us…?  In body and spirit you are His…  So guard your heart and remain faithful...” 2 Since the physical and the spiritual are both created and ordered and blessed by God, it makes sense that sex and spirituality would be inexorably connected.3 

Sexual acts cement people together in ways that nothing else can.  Sexuality expresses something of a deep and abiding commitment of body, soul and spirit to another individual.  But as such, it is not designed as solely a physical event or a solely private experience.  Author Phyllis Bird notes that, “sexuality is the primary means of self-transcendence on which all community depends.”4  Understood this way, we begin to see that sexuality is perhaps the most sacred experience that two people can share – the deepest means of expressing our desire for connection with another.  And just like spirituality, sexuality can be misdirected, misused, twisted and manipulated if it is taken out of context.  And so when it comes to spirituality and sexuality, if you really want to know how both work, you may want to ask God.  Because ultimately, He wrote the book on both of them.  
2. Malachi 2:15 – New Living Translation. 
3. The discussion of sexual union being reserved for marriage due to the depth and irreversible connectivity that occurs is beyond the scope of this article but is a wise and passionate tenant of belief that this author agrees with.
4. Bird, Phyllis,  Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel.  “Genesis 1-3 as a Source for a Contemporary Theology of Sexuality”, p. 155, Overtures to Biblical Theology Series.

Brad Sumner is father of two cute kids and husband to one amazing wife.  He lives in Willoughby, is part of the team at Jericho Ridge Community Church and loves Starbucks’ Christmas Blend.

 Pastor Brad Sumner
The title RECONNECT on this blog entry represents a project my team and I did in our area to self publish a magazine to reconnect youth culture to the rest of culture. Printing costs have killed us so I will occasionally add this title to my blogs as a way of getting this great content into the hands of the people that would benefit from reading it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A poetic look at teen relationships

I wrote this poem as collection of the things I have heard a lot of the young girls tell me and my youth work team about relationships over the years.  I am not ignoring the voice of the boys but I find most of the injustice I face in this work is against these young ladies.  That is particularly hard for me as a father of a daughter of my own.  I wish I could make the world a safer place for her and for all the girls that are wronged, abused, and raped.  
I know that I can't change the things that have happened, but I hope that God can use my wife and I (along with our whole team of qualified youth workers) to help these kids get counseling, peace, forgiveness and a voice and a passion to help others who have been through similar circumstances.
The boys come past
It happens so fast
The first kiss has come at last
And now I stand aghast
Love turned to lust awfully fast
Is it me he likes?
Is this right?
Should I fight? Or  take flight?
Where is that white knight?
The guy who awoken Snow White?

I liked the attention
That came from attraction
But his reaction feels like an infraction
I’d like to take action
But I have no traction

I’ve had it with boys
Who treat girls like toys
I don't enjoy their ploys
Now I’m poised. To make some noise.
Isn’t it my choice?
Isn’t it my voice.?

Friday, June 18, 2010

OPINION: Thoughts about teenage sexuality.

Did you say "SEX"?

I surveyed some people in our community about their views on sex. Here are some of the stats and responses I heard. They are from all walks of life and from a vast age range. Enjoy

"I’m in grade 12 and I have to say, there are much worse things than sex. Why can't we have it without people trying to make us feel guilty? Instead of trying to get people to save themselves for marriage, educate people about it. Inform them about the complexity and issues of a sexually active relationship. Help people make better choices about who to even get in a relationship with. Other then that, sex is 100% natural. Let it happen. when people are ready."

29% of teens say they learned about sex from their parents*

"I’ve lived a long time and I’ve learned that teens/young adults need to be talked to about the intimacy that comes out of a relationship. They need to remain pure until marriage to honor themselves and God."

13% of adults say they learned about sex from their parents*

"As an adult I think faith groups are in a tough spot when it comes to sexuality. I believe that their moral standard is right. However, as adolescence is beginning younger and marriage in our culture is happening later, the years in between are increasingly difficult to navigate sexually. I don't have an easy answer, but I think those years need to be approached honestly and creatively."
85 % of adults believe there is a link between spirituality and sexuality

"I have teenage kids and looking at our faith I don't think we have unrealistic expectations, but I also think that we do not give enough support to our children to help them achieve them. "
74 % of teens believe there is a link between spirituality and sexuality

"I’m in my early 20’s and I’ve noticed that some people treat sex like fast food. The "I want it now" attitude and way of thinking. But understand that every meal is a gift. The experience should be savored and carried out so that you enjoy the meal longer. People who truly enjoy quality understand that you need to be patient to get something that will last and that will taste better and satisfy you longer. Sex is a gift. Treasure it, get creative, but not sadistic. It's about the experience of the two people not just yourself."

9 was the average age teens first found out about sex*

"I may be young but I see that faith groups have generally poor discussions about sex. It is either over emphasized, oppressed, or ignored. I don't see a balance thought in any religious group, just an agenda, but i don't see a balance taught in any group at all, not just religious."

10 was the average age when most adults found out about sex

Add your two bits:
What are your thoughts about teenage sexuality?
Is there a link between sexuality and spirituality?
Where did you learn about sex?
How old were you when you found out about sex?
What are the attitudes of faith groups toward sexuality?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

RECONNECT A woman writes to her past teenage self about sex

This letter was written by a lady in our community. It is a letter written from herself now to herself as a teen.

Hindsight .
If I could go back and talk to myself about sex this is what I would say

Hey girl,
I wish I could tell you how much you are loved. If you knew how much you are loved by God you would not have to go through the relationship hell that lies ahead. You are so special and wonderful! You don’t have to run from God because you think he doesn’t like you or forgive you because of the things you’ve done. You don’t have to sleep with all those men to fill the emptiness inside left by Dad. He didn’t know how much his drinking and distance would hurt you. He didn’t know that you would seek love from nameless, faceless men to make up for the lack of love you got from him. He didn’t know that you would use sex as a way of manipulation. You don’t have to drink or do drugs to be able to face the pain inside. Just because Mom blames you for the choices she made that doesn’t make it truth. You don’t have to feel guilty because you were sexually abused as a kid. It’s okay to really love yourself. Find out what that looks like. Set good boundaries about what is acceptable to you and stick to them. Don’t give away your precious self to anyone you think is cute. Don’t chase them. You never have to compromise yourself to get a guy. It’s okay to be alone. It is healing to forgive. Be courageous and face the pain. Accept the healing that comes from a relationship with the only perfect man you will ever know: Jesus. Get the help you need from those who have been there. Become a whole person, ready to face whatever comes. You cannot change what has happened so let it go. Embrace truth: you are a child of God and you are forgiven . Also remember to embrace what God has for you knowing that it is absolutely the best! Don’t be scared. There is perfect love. He will never leave you or hurt you. Forgive yourself, forgive others, love God and give yourself fully to Him and trust in the promise of a new life.

Love, me

So what do you think? What sort of letter would you write to yourself about the road you have walked?

The title RECONNECT on this blog entry represents a project my team and I did in our area to self publish a magazine to reconnect youth culture to the rest of culture. Printing costs have killed us so I will occasionally add this title to my blogs as a way of getting this great content into the hands of the people that would benefit from reading it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RECONNECT: Honest answers from a teen about sex

We interviewed a teenage girl named “Brielle” (Not her real name) from the local area about her perceptions of virginity.  Here are her honest answers.

 Photo by: Maria Rempel
used with permission

What do you think about staying a virgin until marriage?
Brielle: It’s a nice idea, but it never works out. Most kids I know are into drugs or alcohol and once they start partying they’ll have sex as a result.

 A friend says, “I’m a virgin and I plan to save  myself for    marriage” What’s your reaction?
  B: I would probably respect their decision.  They would seem to have more self respect and  think better of themselves.  Kids who are always having sex are just “whores” and it seems that in the group I hang out with we’re always peer pressuring each other to have sex.

Do you regret/have second thoughts about  doing it?
     B:  Sometimes, mainly depending on who I was involved with. When  I’m sober I am more insecure and I don’t usually let it happen.  But when I’m drunk I’m more outgoing and that’s when I usually get involved.

What will you say to “Mr. Right” when the time comes for marriage?
   B:  I’ve never thought about what will happen then, it never occurred to me.  That is something I should think about as it makes sense that it could cause issues.

How would YOU respond to Brielle?  Please share your comments.

The title RECONNECT on this blog entry represents a project my team and I did in our area to self publish a magazine to reconnect youth culture to the rest of culture.  Printing costs have killed us so I will occasionally add this title to my blogs as a way of getting this great content into the hands of the people that would benefit from reading it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Teens: Casual Sex Culture Vs Brain Science. Book Review "Hooked"

Recently I finished reading a book titled, "Hooked" by Joe S. MCILHANDY Jr., MD and Freed Mckissic BUSH, MD. Available on here

I picked up the book after hearing an interview of the two doctors that wrote it on Family Life Today.  I was interested in a scientific approach to looking at the issue of teen sexuality as opposed to a strictly moral standing on the issue.  In the educational processes within the schools centers upon the physical risks of sexual involvment such as pregnancy or STD's however these authors point out that,

the emotional and psychological impact of sex cannot be guarded against with condoms or other forms of contraception - page 15

Having worked with many young people I am well aware of sexual trends within the youth culture and know first hand that this aspect of sexual involvement is rarely addressed until after much of the damage has been done within a teen's life. However the stance of abstinence is often balked at as being the idea of the religiously intolerant and unaccepted at a social norm.  That is why this book is excellent because it examines the brain chemistry involved in sexual active people and the implications that can have on a person's entire lifetime.  For instance consider this:

When two people touch each other in a warm, meaningful, and intimate way, oxytocin is released into the woman's brain.  The oxytocin then does two things: increases a woman's desire for more touch and causes bonding of the woman to the man she has been spending time in physical contact with. - Page 37
A better picture is to think of the brain chemical as masking tape that sticks the man's picture to her brain as being significant.  Each time this couple touch the bond becomes stronger, however if there is a break up and the tape is ripped off it is harder to use that same tape to stick a new picture up.  Repeated multiple times with multiple partners and the brain loses the ability to stick any longer.  This is an amazing finding but also explains why break ups, especially when involving a couple that has has sexual contact becomes so detrimental and emotionally damaging.  The authors go on to explain, and that is widely proven, that the adolescent brain is in development continually until well out of high school.  This has huge implications for making judgements involving someones sexuality.

The finding that cognitive maturity does not reach completion until the mid twenties does not mean that young people are somehow physically slow or that they do not possess the capacity for complex thought.  It does mean that their brains are not fully physically equipped to make sound judgments and reason through long-term consequences of behavior they might become involved in until a little later in life.  When people first hear this information they often take it to mean that young people are inherently less intelligent than adults.  This is a misinterpretation - Young people can be extremely intelligent.... [or are not]...otherwise physically mature.  The ability to make sound judgments then, does not depend on one's intelligence.  - Page 52
I know from my own life that this was true.  My judgment was not sound the day as a 17-year-old I went car surfing and faced death (quite literally as I landed on the street with my face).  I'd like to think intelligence was not the problem as I was already finished with high school courses and was on my way to an engineering drafting degree.  Sexual decisions should involve sound judgments the same as any other risky adventure.

However what is the problem with the tape losing it's stick?  What if the people growing up don't want to be bonded to another person?  The authors address that as well in saying that part of being human is the connectedness that we have with other people.  Healthy humans connect with others. A healthy addiction of sorts.  The more connected a person is to others the more love and peace the will experience as well as better odds on long-term physical health. These statements bring to mind to question:

Will a woman or man who is involved in sex with someone they feel is just using them as a sex object, or having repeated broken sexual relationships, continue to bond with and trust their sexual partners?  Probably not.  And this crushing of these inborn healthy responses to sex may be one of the saddest outcomes of such sexual experiences - for damaging an individual's future enjoyment of sex and bonding with a partner that loves and cherishes them. - Page 85

I'd say that the evidence of a "post-traumatic stress disordered" over unhealthy sexual experiences is very common and very heart breaking to observe in people so young.  However,

Research has shown that adolescents are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of stress and this is exactly the time when rape, date rape, and sexual coercion are most likely to happen. - Page 86
Of course the argument can be made that not all sexual experiences for young people can be classified onto this list of terrible things, but the Doctors that did the research and penned this book make the bold statement that,
The problems young people have experienced with voluntary sex may not be as immediate, obvious, or violent as the problem of rape or coerced sex, but they are nonetheless very real and quite prevalent.  Page 90
The authors of the book finish well is saying that at the end of the day the choice really is up to the individual.  As doctors, however, they feel an inclination of addressing unhealthy behavior before it becomes a problem.  A doctor may tell you to stop smoking or to stay away from fatty foods, there are risks involved in those behavior patterns.  Despite the risks and any manor of education young people will continue their involvement of sexual behaviors, however it does show the need for people to be involved into young lives.  I felt very affirmed as a youth worker in trying to assist young people through the labyrinth of life.This aspect is pointed to throughout the book through the use of quotes from young people regarding their life choices and the pain associated through well meaning but devastating decisions.

If you are a youth worker, parent, teacher, or pastor it would be a good idea to pick up a copy of this book and learn more about the science of the issue. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teens value the gift of words

I sat in a hard wooden chair at starbucks. While I remained in that chair a virtual stream of people passed in front of me.

I want to highlight two conversations.

1. A young person flooded our conversation with tears as they told me all the "failures" they are seeing in their life. I've known this young person since they were in the fifth grade and I knew some of what has happened and why they would take the blame. I had a chance to say these words:

You are not a failure at life...

I don't think they had ever heard those words.

2. A young person came and sat with me and questioned me about God. This was unusual from this person who previously avoided such conversations. They told me they want to meet God but they need some time to think. I had a chance to share these words:

"you are attracted to God because you have so much in common with him...namely your desire to help people when they are hurting."

God then told them to give them my bible. My personal bible. I told them what a pain it was for me but it marked where our spiritual lives had intersected of only for a moment.

I drove home with a sore back but a happy heart.
Danny Ferguson
Langley Area Director
Greater Vancouver YFC / Youth Unlimited

I love being married to April

Friday, June 4, 2010

God sends a teen some mail.

A young friend of mine was wrestling the the idea of getting baptized.  It is an awesome conversation for me to have with her because when I met her she didn't believe that God existed.  Even if she could have been convinced He wouldn't have been someone that she liked very much.

Then one day she got a pretty serious injury to her back.  She told us about it and how the xrays showed her vertebrae had been chipped.   We asked if we could pray for her and she agreed.  As we prayed someone started saying that when she went in for the follow up appointment that God would heal her and there would be no injury.  I didn't like that very much.  I didn't want to ruin the idea of God forever for this girl if God choses not to answer this prayer exactly as we prayed it.  It made me more concerned that it was my own voice I heard praying it.  Sure enough though she went in and there was no sign of her injury.  God had healed her.

This was some time ago and she has grown a lot when it comes to the idea of God.  So now she is the rebel in her family for going to church.  she felt as though she should get baptized to show how important this really was to her.  We had been talking for weeks about it as she debated the pros and cons of what baptism would mean for her and her relationships.  We talked a lot about it and after one conversation she went home.  She happened to check her mail box and inside was a flyer that said

"Get baptized.  Befriend God"

I live in the same neighborhood and I didn't get any fliers about baptism. Just goes to show that God isn't limited to mystical or spiritualized answers.  Sometimes he may just drop something in the mail. And guess what... She is getting baptized.