This is a transcript of the large-group presentation portion of FLC’s March 14, 2018 Faith & Sexuality conversation for youth and parents. At the end are links to the small group activities that students and parents participated in, as well as resource links for further information and conversation.

As we get going tonight… I know as well as you do that there is a wide range of knowledge and experience in this room. Some of the stuff we talk about tonight might be totally old news. Some if it might be really really new. Wherever you are coming from tonight, know that this space here tonight is a safe space. If you get too uncomfortable, if you feel at all unsafe, feel free to leave the room, or take a break, or to pull aside one of the trusted adults in this room to talk privately. I’ll stick around afterward if you have questions, or if you need a word of assurance, or want a word of forgiveness. If you want resources or need help, I can help point you in the right direction. Tonight will only work well if we can promise to keep this space honest and confidential for one another. The stuff that I talk about and that you hear in our videos tonight? Feel free to share and talk about with your friends. The stuff that you share in small group, the stuff that your friends and parents might share in conversation tonight? That is for our ears only. Our promise to each other is that we will not rat each other out or share stories that are not ours to tell. Cool? Ok. So like we do most weeks in confirmation, let’s start with a video.

Video – “Is it a sin to think about sex?” (from the Re:Form curriculum by Sparkhouse Publishing. Contact Pastor Melissa if you would like to borrow a DVD copy of this video.)

Hopefully it isn’t new news to you to hear tonight that sex is a good thing, and that it is a totally normal, natural part of life, and that there’s no reason to feel bad or ashamed for thinking about it or talking about it. Sex, the video argued, is a fundamental part of our creation. So as we continue our conversation about relationships and bodies and sex, let’s take a minute to think back to Genesis, and to the story of creation, because there’s some really helpful stuff there.

From Genesis 1 & 2: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;  so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them….The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. These passages from Genesis tell us three really important things:

  1. God created humans in God’s own image. You are created in the image of God. The person sitting next to you is created in the image of God. Your friends at school are created in the image of God. That kid who is trying to understand their sexuality is created in the image of God. That girl you have a crush on is created in the image of God. Your parents are created in the image of God. If you remember nothing else that I say tonight, I want you to remember this. We are each made in the image and likeness of God – not just you, but the people around you too! God cherishes each and every one of us as beloved and asks us to do the same.
  2. God created our bodies. God created humans, naked and unashamed. Your body was created holy, and whole, a gift from God. God has blessed your body. Whatever you love or hate about your body, this is the body that God has given to you and you are created holy and whole. Your body is not something to be ashamed of. Your body is yours (and no one else’s!), and God loves you, all parts of you. Your body is deserving of love and respect. And everybody else’s bodies deserve love and respect, too.
  3. God created us for relationship. Adam needed a companion, and God agreed that it was no good for him to be alone. We as humans relate to one another, whether we like it or not. We live a shared existence. We are not alone. We are all in this together. Every decision we make has an effect it has on other people whom God loves just as much as God loves us. When Jesus talks about loving our neighbors as ourselves, he means that we are always in relationship with others and that we should care a lot about how we treat one another.

We are created in the image of God, we have been created with a body, and we have been created for relationship. And remembering these things is how we are best-equipped to have good, healthy, fulfilling, life-giving relationships. Think about your relationships with your friends and classmates, with your brothers and sisters and other family members, with your teachers and pastors and other trusted adults. When do those relationships feel good? When do they feel bad? I’m guessing that your happiest relationships are ones where you feel respected and cared for and encouraged and valued.

Now when you think about what a healthy romantic relationship looks like, what sorts of qualities  make those relationships feel good? Love. Honesty. Humor. Compassion. Forgiveness. Sharing. Encouragement. Trust. Affection. Agency. The feeling that you are valued and respected. The feeling that you are safe.

The truth about sex (and everything that goes with it) is that the only way it can truly be healthy, safe, life-giving, honoring the image of God in one another – is when all of those other important qualities are present. Sex is meant for relationship, as one part of a healthy relationship out of many important parts. You can have a healthy relationship without sex – a relationship full of love and forgiveness and humor and all that good stuff.  But you can’t have a healthy relationship that is full of sex, but that doesn’t have all the other good stuff to back you up. Without all the other good stuff, it’s not healthy. And it’s not actually a relationship.

This is why there are lots of adults who love you who would encourage you to think again about getting too physically involved with someone until you are ready to make some sort of lifelong commitment to be all of that good, healthy relationship stuff with them, long-term, which is something that takes more years of your life and more life experience to be able to figure out.

Your dating relationships for the next decade are going to be a wild ride. You are going to fall head over heels for somebody and feel certain that you’re going to be together forever. And then you’re going to get dumped. And you’ll fall in love with somebody else and then you’re going to dump them. Trust me. You’ll have crushes and people with have crushes on you, and you’ll have all sorts of moments where you think that maybe this relationship is “the one.” But just because you fall in love with somebody doesn’t mean that you should be sexually involved with them.

Because sex is about as intimate and vulnerable as you can ever be with another human being. The more naked you get with somebody physically, the more naked you get with them emotionally. And no matter how much trust and love is there, when a relationship ends, you have a lot more work ahead of you to untangle your heart from that person if you’ve been really physical with them.

The brutal truth is that you’re probably going to go through at least a few failed relationships before you end up finding the person that you’re going to marry. And so caring deeply for someone in a healthy, life-giving, I-see-the-image-of-God-in-you way means caring about them not just in the midst of a romantic relationship, but also caring about their hopes and dreams and future, whether or not that future is with you. And so this changes the way you think about the boundaries you set in your physical relationship, when you are putting their well-being and their future ahead of your own wants in the moment.

It is out of love and respect for each other that we don’t have careless sex with lots of partners that might spread disease, and we don’t have careless, casual physical encounters with people and then dump them the next day, and we don’t have careless sex that could lead to an unintended pregnancy. God calls us to care too deeply about one another to let any of that happen.

It’s easiest for me to say, “so just don’t have sex until you’re married,” but it is just as important to me that you know and learn how to keep yourself and others healthy if and when you choose to have sex, and not just sex sex, but all the other stuff that still looks or feels like sex. All the embarrassing things you learn in health class and sex ed? The awkward conversations you have had or you will have with your parents? Take it all seriously, no matter how terrible those conversations might feel. Be safe. Keep your partners healthy. Don’t get in a situation that will change the course of your life or theirs, just because something feels good in the moment. Don’t turn off your brain, don’t turn off your concern for one another.

You know as well as I do that there are all sorts of images out there of sex and sexuality and sexiness used for advertising and marketing, for entertainment and for making money. Don’t believe the lies, and don’t play their game. Sex is for relationship, not for selling hamburgers. Your body is a beautiful gift of God. And you are worthy of love and respect and self-respect. Your body doesn’t have to be a certain size or shape, and it doesn’t need to fit a certain set of gender norms. You are whole and beautiful and you are loved just as you are. And nobody gets to tell you that you’re only worth love if you look a certain way or if you use your body in a certain way or if you are physically intimate. You never have to use your body to earn somebody’s love. Your body is for loving and cherishing and doing good stuff out in the world, not for somebody else’s entertainment.

And when we see bodies and sex as objects of entertainment, as something we have a right to “consume” – something that we think we get to use or use up without giving anything meaningful in return – this mindset is how we get pornography and prostitution and sex trafficking and this whole other world where people are exploited, and sex is manipulative and one-sided. Sex should never be a tool of power or control; it should never be used as a way to hurt someone, or as a way to make yourself look good at someone else’s expense.

We know that the big stuff is not okay – rape, groping, abuse, obviously harassing comments and behaviors. But the truth is that there is plenty of small stuff that you might think is “okay,” that actually isn’t okay. Plenty of small stuff that you might not even have thought about before. How many of you have been watching the latest American Idol reboot? Did you see what happened the other night, with Katy Perry and the guy who had never been kissed?

Video: Katy Perry gives a guy his first kiss:

So that seems harmless, right? But is it? What makes it okay to kiss someone against their will? What makes it okay for you to know that they are waiting for a relationship before they want to kiss somebody, but you go ahead and kiss them anyway?

Stuff like this isn’t harmless. Joking about gender stereotypes, calling a sensitive guy a “girl” to razz on him, making gross comments about people’s bodies, being cruel to somebody about their sexual experience or lack thereof, pressuring your friends into seeking sexual experiences, making a game out of sex and relationships, asking for or joking about sexual favors, making rape jokes, touching somebody against their will just to be funny…this stuff matters. And I get it. This stuff is so easy to fall into when you are hanging out with your friends and goofing off, and I know that making dumb sex jokes with your friends doesn’t seem like a big deal.

But this sort of stuff starts to train your brain that it is okay to ignore people’s boundaries and it is okay to treat sex as a joke, and it is okay to be mean or hurtful in our relationships, or to use sex as a threat or a means for control. When we think the little stuff is okay, then we send a message to the world that the big stuff might be okay too. And abuse, violence, harassment: none of these things are ever okay. All of this runs completely counter to the idea that God has created us for the good of one another, and that we are all made in the image of God and loved the same by God. If you’ve been the victim of any of this, my heart goes out to you. I encourage you to find a trusted adult to talk to about it. You are all part of the #metoo generation, and there are more resources than ever available to you to help you speak out and to heal from the hurts and the abuses that you might have experienced. This is why there is so much talk out there about consent these days, about how important it is to recognize and respect one another’s boundaries, not just assuming that you know what somebody wants or is comfortable with, but checking in, and always seeking the best for one another in all things.

Video – Parents explain consent:

Consent is about knowing your boundaries. And honoring the boundaries of others. Consent means getting an “enthusiastic yes” before you enter into something sex-related with someone else.

It means listening and respecting when the answer is “no” and backing off. It means listening when the answer is “maybe” and not pretending that “maybe” is a “yes.”

It means knowing the times when consent isn’t even possible, like if someone is drunk or high or sleeping or unconscious, or sex between an adult and a minor.

Consent means making your choices about sexually-themed conversations or sexual advances or even friendly touch based not on your own feelings, but based on the comfort level and the desires of the other person.

Consent at its core is about committing yourself to the well-being of the other. If you love and care for someone, as God has loved and cared for you, then you will want to check in and make sure that they are feeling safe and comfortable with your conversations and your acts of affection. If you honor and respect someone’s body as created in the image of God, then you will want to make choices that won’t hurt them or frighten them. If you love others in a self-giving way, the way that Jesus loves you, then you will want to keep your words and actions in check.

Friends, God has created you in God’s image, with a body that is beloved, and you are created in relationship with one another, for the sake of one another. Know tonight that you have agency.

You don’t owe anybody anything when it comes to your body and sex. And nobody owes you anything. You are the one who calls the shots about what happens to your body. You are the one who gets to choose who you are in relationship with, and you are the one who gets to choose what happens in that relationship. You always have the choice to say “no,” whether it is saying “no” to a partner who wants you to do something physically that you aren’t comfortable doing, or whether it is saying “no” to a friend who is making some bad choices and wants you to join in.

You are the one making choices about what jokes you make, or what videos you watch on the internet, or what text messages or Snaps you send, or what you post on Instagram. You are the one making choices about how you treat one another and how you are respecting their boundaries.

And the thing about all of this is that God loves you. That sounds so cheesy, I know, but God loves you. You are everything to God. You are whole and beautiful and amazing. Don’t let anybody try to tell you that you are somehow less worthy or less lovable or less awesome for making good choices, even if they aren’t popular, even if they aren’t what your friends or the cool kids or your boyfriend or girlfriend want you to make.

As you navigate all of your future relationships, romantic and otherwise, you will have to do some serious work and some serious soul-searching to have to figure out what sorts of lines and boundaries you need to draw in order to keep yourself, your emotions, and and your relationships healthy. And it’s not always going to be clear. That’s why your parents are here tonight. Because like it or not, they have some expectations for you when it comes to relationships and sex. And like it or not, they have some life experience behind them and have some wisdom when it comes to relationships and sex. And you need to know that, however awkward it might be, you can ask them questions and can ask them for help and advice in your decision making. And you can ask me or Adrian or Pastor Chad. And I bet that you have older siblings or friends or other trusted adults that you can talk to as well. Because we all want you to be healthy and happy.

We want to see you flourish in your relationships and we want you to flourish in the futures that God is preparing for you. We want you to grow as whole persons, who are strong and healthy in mind, body, and spirit. You, brothers and sisters, are fearfully and wonderfully made. And Jesus wants you to have not just plain old boring life, but abundant life, where you are filled with hope and joy and the knowledge that you are beloved of God. God made you. God loves you. God is using you to care for one another. And God has blessed you in all of this.