Friday, August 20, 2010
Please, I beg of you all. Before teaching this lesson, go to your nearest mirror and practice saying "sex" out loud. When you've got that down, say "oral sex" "masturbation" and any other word that might arise to get these girls to understand what you're talking about. The stakes are way too high for politeness, and if you can't even bring yourself to say the words, they're not going to find you very credible.
There was one memorable occasion I was teaching a chastity lesson and I talked about masturbation. One of the girls asked me what that meant. Nervous titters went up through the room but in what I consider one of my finest teaching moments, I didn't even blink but just said, "Oh sure, it's when you sexually stimulate yourself. You've probably heard to it referred to as 'jacking off'." Then I kept right on moving with the lesson. The jaws of the leaders on the back row hit the ground, but the girl who asked the question totally knew what I was talking about, and all the other girls stopped laughing and started paying strict attention. Since I was unafraid, they were unafraid, and I had many girls from that group come talk to me about sex since they knew I could handle it.
In those discussions about sex, the first question girls ask is, "How far can I go without it being too far?" My answer to that is usually, "If you have to ask, that's probably too far." and then discuss intent, and how a relationship with God should be our first priority and we should always be mindful of how our actions affect that. This is also a good time to discuss self-respect and whether they are engaging in a physical relationship (at any stage) because it's what *they* want or if it's because they want someone to like them.
Then I actually answer their question.
I draw a continuum on the chalkboard with "No Physical Contact" on one side and "Sex" on the other. We talk about their social development, learning what they like and don't like, what they're attracted to and not, learning about relationships and boundaries and how all of that is important work.
Then I write "Marriage" bisecting the continuum, and put oral sex and "touching" (which we carefully define as touching breasts or genitals - because nobody from *my* generation knew what necking or petting meant and they certainly don't now) on the "sex" side of the continuum. I tell them that if they cross that "Marriage" line before they are actually married, then they should clear it up with their bishop. We discuss how it's up to them to decide where on the continuum between "No Personal Contact" and "Marriage" their personal boundaries are, but that they need to decide before they are with a boy they really like in an environment where they could go further than they should, because nobody is thinking rationally then.
Then we talk about masturbation which I do not put on the continuum at all. I tell them that they should avoid it because bringing those feelings up in ourselves will make it harder to stick to our boundaries when we're swept up in a moment. I tell them that on the big scale of sins it's maybe a 2, and it's not something they should feel shame over, but it is something best saved for when they and their partner can explore their sexual relationship together.
This is one of those issues that kind of make me crazy. When we talk about chastity, we tend to use WAY too much fear and shame. Please, please, please, don't use any object lessons that objectify the girl. She is not a cupcake or a rose or a piece of gum.
One object lesson I liked was one I heard from a friend. She arranged to teach a chastity lesson on a fast Sunday, and brought in a delicious baked good. She told the girls that what was on her tray was her favorite thing and brought a lot of enjoyment to her life. But since it was fast Sunday, she didn't want to taint her enjoyment of the treats by feeling guilty about eating them when she knew she shouldn't, so she put them away and promised to bring some back when it was an appropriate time to eat them. This could be fantastic for Beehives. There's no fear of catastrophe, there's no public shame or messages on how dirty sex is, it's a sex-positive chastity message for goodness sake. I didn't know if we'd ever find one.
Also, I beg of you, throw in a big fat disclaimer for victims of abuse. Statistics say that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The odds are that at least one of your girls already has been, and it can be shocking who it turns out to be. Emphasize that they do not need to repent for violence inflicted upon them. Make sure they understand, thoroughly, that rape has nothing to do with chastity.
In our sex obsessed culture, these girls hear all about every little detail of sex, and often. We cannot change that by ignoring it, so I think we need to be every bit as frank with them in our teaching the gospel, as our larger culture is with them in convincing them it's no big deal. Plus, this is an intensely valuable time to build trust with your girls. If they can talk with you about sex, they can talk with you about anything.
The entire website of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is stuffed with really good, productive, information, but this pdf has some really wonderful advice for religious leaders.
If you have older girls, the chances are pretty good that someone in your group has already gone further than they should. Let that knowledge give you gentleness. Leave room for the Atonement, and testify of its power.
Remember that they are going to carry what you teach into adulthood and marriage, so be mindful of their future as well as their present. Unfortunately a temple sealing does not come with one of those Men In Black style mind wipes and there are legions of us grown married women who do not enjoy sex because we can't get past those feelings of shame that kept us away from it when we were single. Sex is a really big deal, but it's not dirty. The sin in premarital sex is not engaging in sex, but engaging in a covenant we have not made.
This one's important, but we can do it. God bless us in our efforts.