How Youth Workers Are Teaching Sex Ed.

October 7th, 2009


What is your single best tip or idea you’ve used in teaching sexuality to your teenage students? What is your single best resource for teaching sexuality? We asked 39 youth workers these two questions to see how practicing youth workers like yourself are actually teaching this critical subject to kids. Here are their comments. Their pick of sex-ed. resources is indicated towards the bottom of this page.

  • Bring in someone else–preferably with an impressive title. The title immediately gives the person credibility–especially if she or he is from out of town. 
    Stephanie Burke, minister to families with youth, Christ Lutheran Church, Charlotte, N.C.

  • Both males and females should be included in the teaching or leadership of the educational experience. 
    Paul J. Bock, youth pastor, Reedwood Friends Church, Portland, Ore.

  • Junior high kids are signed up by parents and commit to a 10-week, after-school preadolescent-issues course. I use a variety of sources.

    The senior high kids attend our fall retreat called “Love, Sex, and Dating.”
    Randy Brothers, director of student ministries, First Presbyterian Church, Spokane, Wash.

  • Conduct sessions in which youths and parents meet separately, and other sessions in which they meet together.* We have run very successful programs combining junior and senior high kids. 
    Tom Brummett, youth director, St. Matthew United Methodist Church, Mesa, Ariz.

  • Have a panel discussion as a part of your sexuality series. Let the kids hear from married couples they respect on issues of love, sex, and dating.
    Michelle Bursch, youth pastor, Roseville (Minn.) Covenant Church

  • Don’t water down the issue of sexuality.

    Make sure that both the parents and youths know exactly what an upcoming sexual education class will be about. Don’t call it something like “Growing Up!” Encourage parental support always.

    I get a man to lead the sessions with the boys and a woman to lead the sessions with the girls. The adult leadership is pulled in from among those presently serving on the youth ministry team in our church. 
    Randy M. Cheek, president, RMC Ministries (youth ministry consultation), Marietta, Ga.

  • Hook students up with people who will hold them accountable by meeting regularly with the kids and establishing a relationship of prayer, encouragement, and accountability. Teaching is not enough–there must be individual support. 
    Michael Collison, director of student ministries, New Life Community Church, Sayville, N.Y.

  • Express empathy. Let your students know the emotions, frustrations, and struggles you experienced at their age, and perhaps still experience (leaving out the sordid details). Your talk will ring true, and your students will be more receptive. 
    Jason R. Condon, minister to youth and young adults, Church of the Nazarene, South Portland, Me.

  • Because I value her opinion, I talk to my wife about the sexuality teaching I give my kids. I honestly share with the kids my own teenage experiences of struggling with my sexuality. 
    Tom Couser, director of Christian education, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Dallas, Tex.

  • Bring in a nurse or doctor with several condoms in various packages. Form single-sex groups to share ideas, feelings, and thoughts on sexual intimacy.

    We use 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (about our body belonging to God) as a discussion starter.

    We discuss where lust comes from using James 1:13-15. 
    Roxanne Derr, director of youth ministry, Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, San Diego, Calif.

  • We form an interactive panel made up of adult male volunteers and male students who answer questions from girls, and follow up with a panel of female adults and students who answer the boys’ questions. 
    Kara Eckmann, associate minister to youth, First Assembly of God, San Diego, Calif.

  • Raise the subject of sex regularly — because the only reason I can see for American kids not to be sexually active is purely in response to God’s command. So four or five times a year I get them talking about sex, about God’s view of sex, and about why his view is best. That doesn’t always mean full-blown lessons or Bible studies. Often I’ll use an article from a newspaper or magazine, a chart from USA Today, or a video clip from a tv show to spur discussion.

    Another effective way to start discussion is having panels or individuals who authentically share their stories–both successes and failures. 
    Jay Firebaugh, minister of youth, East Side Grace Brethren Church, Columbus, Ohio

  • Our sex-ed. series always ends with a dedication service. Though we often talk of giving our souls to the Lord, we rarely emphasize giving our bodies to God (1 Cor. 6:18-20; Rom. 12:1-2).

    After teaching how we are called to glorify God in everything we do, including the way we use, dress, and present our bodies, I ask the teens to sit in a circle around a big box of candles. Then I turn out the lights in our room. I warn them that Satan would love for them to live in this world’s darkness, but Jesus came to be the Light of the world. “I know you think that your little candle of purity can’t make a difference in this very dark world,” I say, “but the darker the world, the brighter that candle will shine.”

    At this point I strike a match and light my candle. I call for those who feel that they can dedicate their bodies to Christ to pick up a candle and light it off of mine. Anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent participate. The room really lights up!

    I lead them in a prayer of dedication and give them a pledge certificate to be signed by them and two witnesses. They keep the candle as well. “There will be a time,” I then caution them, “in a most private situation with a boyfriend or a girlfriend when things start to get out of hand. At that point you will remember these lighted candles, this service, and your prayer of dedication. Remain true to your commitment at that time.” 
    David Fulks, Jr., youth pastor, Church of the Nazarene, Gallipolis, Ohio

  • Teach how boys and girls respond differently in relationships, how they view relationships, and how differently they feel about and in relationships. Then introduce sex and how it, too, reflects these vast differences in emotions and expectations of girls and boys. Break the Hollywood myth. 
    Bruce Greenough, director of youth ministry, University Place Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, Wash.

  • We have a session in which our adult men meet with the boys while our adult women meet with the girls. The following week our adult men meet with the girls and our adult women meet with the boys. During these sessions the adults share insights they have learned and also answer questions that the kids have written down beforehand. 
    Rick Hall, minister of youth, Traders Point Christian Church, Zionsville, Ind.

  • For over 12 years I have used a weekend experience led by certified leaders for youths from 5th grade to high school and their parents. 
    Lynn Hamilton, a diaconal minister in the United Methodist Church, serving a Lutheran church (ELCA) in Las Vegas, Nev.

  • This fall we called our series “The Real World,” after the mtv series. We used clips from that mtv program and from “Love Connection” and from Chevy Chase movies. Keep your series relevant and up to date. Two of my students have aids, so I had them share as well as an aids counselor. 
    Drew Jacobs, student ministry pastor, Valley Christian Center, San Ramon, Calif.

  • We do a course on an overnight or in a retreat setting. We involve parents in planning. 
    Robert Jacobs, director of student ministries, First Presbyterian Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

  • Use creative illustrations. Recently I borrowed an idea from Jack Perrine, a fellow youth worker. While teaching how God’s boundaries protect and provide for us, I brought up on stage a large goldfish in a small bowl. I introduced the fish as Oscar, my pet. During the next few moments, I went off about how unfair it was that Oscar had to live within boundaries. “Oscar should be free,” I insisted, “living without restrictions or rules.”

    Then I reached into the bowl, pulled Oscar out, and dropped him onto the table. The students went nuts. As Oscar flipped around, they yelled at me and called me names (a few girls even cried). I returned the hostility by shouting, “What’s the problem! I’m just giving him his freedom. I’m being a real friend.”

    After the stunt had made its impact, I put Oscar back into the bowl and continued to explain how positive God’s boundaries are for us. 
    Kent Julian, pastor of junior high ministries, Christ Community Church, Omaha, Neb.

  • Do it progressively. We deal with it at one level in 9th grade, another in 11th grade, and another in 12th grade. 
    Len Kageler, pastor of youth ministry, Long Hill Chapel, Chatham, N.J.

  • Use a ladder to teach teenagers about restraint in their sexual behavior. Each rung is another level of physical involvement leading to intercourse (hug, hold hands, and so on, and finally sex). We challenge the kids to draw a line on the ladder and never move past it until their wedding night. I use yellow police tape(police line–do not cross) on the ladder. It helps the kids see the progression. 
    Michael Kast, junior high youth minister, Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky.

  • We did a weekend retreat on the subject of sexuality. I invited as workshop leaders several people in our church who are knowledgeable in the area of teens and sex. 
    Bob Mabry, associate pastor, Grace Church, Show Low, Ariz.

  • We are the examples. Our lives are the evidence of the words we speak. Sex is one of the top 10 priorities on the enemy’s list of destructions.

    Observe your group to discover the problems that relate to sex (which are not hard to find). In the past I have blasted my kids with everything that had to do with sex; it was seldom effective. Instead, by watching for a current problem and dealing with it at that time, I helped the kids a lot more. Dealing with the problems throughout the year is more effective than once a year. 
    Derick MacFawn, junior high youth minister, Calvary Chapel, Las Vegas, Nev.

  • Be very frank:
    Discuss technical virginity
    Separate boys and girls 
    Work through a setting-standards chart
    Discuss sexual abuse and make counselors available
    Dave Mahoney, youth pastor, Fairfield Church of Christ, Lancaster, Ohio

  • Young adults usually blow it sexually after a slow, steady stream of choices that weaken their sexual integrity. I call those quiet, daily choices “fuse shorteners” –any patterns, places, or people that slowly move an individual closer to a place of sexual explosion.

    To illustrate this point, I create a tube out of large colored poster board–like a giant fire cracker. Out of its end I hang a long rope–the fuse. As I dialogue with my kids about daily decisions that shorten their sexual fuse and threaten their sexual integrity, I cut the fuse shorter and shorter. I verbalize justifications like, “Its okay that I’m doing these things. After all, nothing has exploded yet.”

    My point is that the enemy doesn’t care how long it takes to bring a person to sexual explosion, just as long as the fuse gets gradually shorter. In personal counseling I often ask teenagers struggling with their own sexual purity to make a list of fuse shorteners in their lives.

    This focus brings sexual purity to a level of daily, right choices. In contrast to a youth culture that says, “If it feels good, do it,” I often repeat, “Right choices will eventually bring right emotions.” 
    Jeanne Mayo, director of youth and young adult ministries, First Assembly of God, Rockford, Ill.

  • At the beginning of each session, I pass out blank index cards. Students are encouraged to anonymously write any questions or comments they have–there are no stupid questions. The leaders then read aloud the collected questions and answer them. Because the cards contain no names, we receive significant questions and have lively discussions. 
    Don McClune, director of family ministries, Lititz (Pa.) United Methodist Church

  • Kids always want to know how far is too far. I give them the standard of “nothing below the neck” until you’re married. 
    Ted Melnyk, director of youth ministries, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pawleys Island, S.C.

  • Don’t overdo it. Don’t teach more than three or four weeks in a row. Vary materials and teaching styles from year to year–published curriculum one year, guest speakers the next, a movie the next. 
    Jean Piccosi, director of youth ministries, Byfield Parish Church, Georgetown, Mass.

  • Be a voice for abstinence, but don’t do it naively. Acknowledge the present sexual reality. Don’t condemn your students for being a part of the cultural ethos, just tell them about another (Christian) way. 
    Mark Porizky, associate pastor, Miami Shores Presbyterian, Miami, Fla.

  • The gift of our bodies and sex is a good gift of God to be used wisely. 
    Theresa Nichols Schuster, parish minister, Immaculate Conception Church, Wolf Point, Mont.

  • Try to get kids to look seriously at their sexual standards and compare those to biblical standards. I give them a sheet of Scriptures to look at on their own to compare the two. 
    Troy Scott, youth pastor, Highland Park Community Church, Casper, Wyo.

  • Use duct tape to represent what God created sex for. Put the tape on a hairy arm while talking, then rip it off unexpectedly. It’s painful. Repeat the process two more times with different people. As the stickiness of the tape wears off, so does the pain associated with pulling it off.

    God created all sexual activity (not merely intercourse) to bond two people together, to hold two people tight in a marriage. The more we engage in sexual ways with different people before we are married, the greater the risk that sexual bonding will not hold our marriage together. The reality is sexual play now, divorce later. 
    Tony Silvestri, junior high pastor, First Evangelical Free Church, Fullerton, Calif.

  • Boys need respect in a relationship; girls need to feel cherished. Neither can take place without commitment and trust, which are best founded in a marriage relationship. 
    Mark Sonmor, youth minister, Sandy (Utah) Baptist Church

  • Sex ed. is not a topic I teach. Sexual behavior is a merely surface activity driven by deep needs and notions. I typically dialogue about our source of self-worth or self-identity and the joy associated with doing things God’s way in various life experiences, including sexual activity. 
    Marty Stayer, youth pastor, Bethany Bible Church, Glendale, Ariz.

  • We have a dating game where we send a couple of kids out on a date to begin our series. This builds the excitement. Then we have open discussion and teaching in male-only and female-only groups so all may speak honestly about questions, concerns, and problems. 
    Lee Terry, youth pastor, First Assembly of God, Helena, Mont.

  • Within the context of a parenting seminar, I learned that only apprehensively were parents discussing sexuality with their teenagers and informing them of the biblical standards of sexuality. We learned that most of our kids received their sex education from TV, movies, magazines, or peers.

    Parents agreed that I could help them overcome their apprehension by starting the conversation for them on designated Sunday nights and then telling the kids, “Your parents want to talk to you more about this after church tonight.” Parents would then prepare to follow-up the conversation at home.

    This team approach gave permission to and empowered the parents to carry on a family conversation. Parents, some for the first time, felt comfortable talking with their teens about sex. For us this process raised the comfort level of fathers more than it did mothers. I felt it also put sex education in the proper context–the family. 
    Greg Thompson, associate pastor to youth, Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Ga.

  • Panel discussions to introduce the felt-need issues with students. On one panel we had an unwed mother and a person with aids, along with married and nonmarried staff. 
    Kevin Turner, youth director, First Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, Wash.

  • Always inform the parents of your goals, objectives, and curriculum when teaching sexuality. Ideally have a session for the parents on understanding adolescent sexuality. 
    Lisa Walker, codirector of youth ministry, St. Margaret Mary Church, Winter Park, Fla.

  • As simple as this may sound, be honest, be tactful, be informed. 
    Kevin Winningham, administrator of youth ministries, Temple Baptist Church, Redford, Mich.

More Stuff

Favorite Sex-Ed. Resources

The same youth pastors here reveal their favorite, most-used resources for teaching sexuality in their youth groups. We've alphabetized the cited resources; annotation within quotation marks are representative comments of youth workers about that product.

Even if a product is out of print, we've still listed it; you can probably still get it in libraries (church, public, college) or on the bookshelf of a youth-working friend or colleague.



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.