by Barbara M. Kohl, D. Min.

What is our agenda as we deal with our teenagers and sexuality? We want to be realistic about who they are, realistic about the world they live in, realistic about the contradictory voices they hear, and realistic about our own ambivalence about sex. But we especially want to be sure that our realism reflects the hope of the gospel. This hope is what motivates and shapes our work with teenagers.” [1] Paul David Tripp

Teaching adolescents about sex is probably not high on the list of priorities of most pastors, and understandably so. Pastors are responsible for multi-generational congregations with a wide variety of needs, and in all probability they have never had any training in preaching or teaching about sexuality. Sex may even be a “taboo” subject in the church, subject to censorship by the pastor’s superiors if he or she should be courageous enough to broach the subject from the pulpit or in a Sunday School class. Some pastors have told me that they preached one sermon on the issue and were told “Never again!” Quite possibly pastors themselves never received sexuality instruction in their youth, so they lack confidence to deal with the subject and might be too embarrassed to do so even if it were possible. Some pastors address the issue only when someone has been involved in sexual sin, and then only as a matter of church discipline.

This is a tragic situation. Rightly understood and rightly practiced, sex can be a great source of enjoyment and unity in marriage, a blessed gift from God. It can also be misused and can be a cause of great pain, disrupting young lives and separating young people from God. Teaching sexuality is an essential element in discipling teens. If you as a pastor do not deal adequately with this issue you have not thought through the implications and consequences of this omission.

I. The Tragedy of Widespread Teen Sexual Activity

A. The Situation

Worldwide, an ever-increasing number of teens have become sexually active over the past few decades, and at an ever younger age. Brazil and other countries in Latin America are no exception. The Ministry of Health of Brazil has said that sexual precociousness, which is accompanied by a tendency toward drug use at earlier ages, is “the most serious adolescent health problem in Brazil.”[2] Studies indicate that 61% of 16-19 year old youths have had sexual intercourse[3] and 40% of sexually active youth had their first sexual intercourse before their fifteenth birthday.[4] According to a UNESCO study, the average age of sexual initiation for boys is 14.5 years of age and for girls, 15.5 years.[5] “Staying” (boy meets girl, they kiss and sleep together, and may never date again) is widely practiced, as is ficar (so-called “safer” sex practices such as oral sex, mutual masturbation, and heavy petting).

Are the youth in your church any different? If Brazil is like many other countries, the answer is “No!” The rate of those who are having sexual intercourse may be lower, but the practice of other forms of sexual intimacy is just as prevalent.

B. Consequences of Premature Sexual Activity

What are the consequences of premature sexual activity? Young girls confused and frightened when they discover they are pregnant, often not knowing to whom to turn for advice and help; as they struggle to deal with the situation over days and months and years many others are impacted – parents, friends, the child that may never know its biological father or may be shuffled through the years between two sets of parents, the church’s witness. Young couples who are unable to have children because of the damage to a young woman’s reproductive system by a sexually transmitted disease or a botched abortion.[6] School dropouts, at-risk babies, emotional trauma,[7] poverty, separation from God.[8]

According to the Ministry of Health of Brazil, every 17 minutes a baby is born to a girl between the ages of 10 and 14, and every minute to a girl 15 to 19 years old.[9] More than 51,000 adolescent girls have post-abortion complications every year.[10] Forty-nine percent of 10- to 24-year-olds in Brazil have one or more sexually transmitted diseases.[11] Many of these diseases cause cancer, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, birth difficulties, and chronic pain. Adolescents have a higher susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases; 15- to 19-year-olds have higher rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia, for example, than any other age group, and teen girls are particularly susceptible because they have an “open” reproductive system and because of the immaturity of their systems at this age. Bacterial infections can usually be cured if treated at once, but many have no symptoms, so that young people are unaware that they have been infected.[12] Even if the disease is cured, permanent damage may already have been done.[13] One infection with chlamydia, for example, results in a 25% chance of never being able to conceive; with two infections, there is a 50% chance. “The truth is worse than our nightmares” says Dr. Joe McIlhaney. “My saddest sessions in my ob-gyn practice were spent with adult women who could not have children because of a STD contracted as a young woman.”[14]

It is estimated that two percent of Brazilian young people between the ages of 15 and 19 have HIV, and AIDS has already claimed the lives of 13,000 between the ages of 13 and 24.[15] For HIV/AIDS and other viral infections such as herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV) there is no cure. The presence of another STD facilitates HIV transmission.

One of the most frightening consequences is the potential impact on future marital relationships of teens who have been sexually active. “When the physical part of a relationship races ahead of everything else,” says David Walsh, a psychologist and author of the teen-behavior book Why Do They Act That Way?, “it can almost become the focus of the relationship and they’re not then developing all of the really important skills like trust and communication and all those things that are the key ingredients for a healthy, long-lasting relationship.”[16] When physical intimacy is approached so casually, and when teens have no understanding of true intimacy, they may have difficulty forming healthy, intimate relationships later on. “What it means to be intimate is not clearly spelled out for young people by their parents and people they trust,” says Sabrina Weill, a former editor in chief at Seventeen magazine.[17]

C. Current Approaches to Dealing with This Situation

Your teens need guidance in dealing with their sexuality. Where will they get this guidance? Sérgio de Castro Nascimento, coordinator of Grupo Atitude, says that nobody knows how to talk to you about sex: not the government, not the family, not the teachers. Even health professionals have trouble communicating clearly. [18] Few parents talk with their children about sex, and many sex education teachers in the schools are untrained.[19] Yet teens must learn about sex and so they go to the only sources available to them – the media and their peers (who in turn have for the most part learned from the media).

The view promoted by the media – worldwide – is that teen sexual activity is unavoidable and it is therefore essential to teach young people to reduce the risks by using contraceptives and condoms and by engaging in “safer” forms of sex such as ficar. Public policy takes the same approach, also in Brazil: “Our policy is to drive home the idea that using a condom is the most effective way to prevent infection,” says Alexandra Granjeiro, national coordinator of Brazil’s program to fight AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.[20] To that end the government, with UNESCO’s help, recently launched a pilot program to hand out condoms in high schools. The goal is that by 2006 some 2.5 million teenagers will have access to them.”[21]

Worldwide, most school sex education programs emphasize the use of contraceptives and condoms; abstinence is mentioned, but only in passing. Abortion is presented as an option for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

Are these approaches effective? The rate of sexual activity, unintended pregnancies, and STDs has continued to rise in countries using this “Comprehensive Sex Education” model, first introduced in Sweden some 50 years ago. The greater the amount of public money allocated for such programs, the higher the rate of teen pregnancies and abortions. Rather than questioning the effectiveness of such programs, authorities call instead for more such programs, begun at an earlier age, and with better-trained teachers. But the state of New Jersey, the first state in the United States of America to adopt comprehensive sex education, the first state to require sex education for all students (beginning with primary age children), and the state with the best trained and most experienced teachers has had the fourth highest rate of teen births out of all states in the entire country.[22] In Brazil, a recent study of sex education programs in schools in the city of Belo Horizonte found that more of the participants in these programs reported sexual activity in the three months prior to the study than did the controls.[23]

Are they healthy? A young teenage boy asked, “Which works better to keep my girlfriend from getting pregnant – the pill or condoms?” The teacher gave a clear, simple answer: “The pill.” Then she added, “But you should know that contraceptives don’t work so well in young girls, because their menstrual cycles are still irregular. If she does get pregnant because of contraceptive failure, the pregnancy can be dangerous for her and for the baby she conceives – because her reproductive system is not yet fully developed. You should also know that contraceptives give no protection against sexually transmitted diseases and that they actually make a young girl more susceptible to STDs. If you really love her, why would you want to put her at such risk?” New evidence shows that the injected contraceptive Depo-Provera may triple the risk of STDs[24] and cause bone loss, and that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer. Condoms can fail – even when used consistently and correctly – and adolescents have not demonstrated that they can use them consistently and correctly for long periods of time. Even if they did, condoms do not protect from STIs such as genital herpes and HPV that are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact as opposed to bodily fluids. We also know that early sexual activity has serious emotional consequences for many teens, with both boys and girls more likely to be depressed and more likely to attempt suicide.

Are they in accordance with God’s Word? Sexual intimacy is a gift from God to unite and bring pleasure to a husband and wife and to enable them to have children. Sexual intimacy in any other context is contrary to God’s Word, and you want your teens to be obedient to his Word out of love for him – and for their own good. Even if we could reduce or eliminate the risks, sex outside marriage is wrong.

II. Changing the Paradigm

Your teens are in desperate need of instruction in sexuality. Government recognizes this, secular organizations working with youth recognize it, and both are attempting to provide help of the kind they deem best. Is what they offer in your teens’ best interests? Will it encourage your teens to live a life of sexual purity and integrity? The answer to this question is probably a resounding “No.”

A. Rationale

What, then, can you do for your teens? Should the church step into the breach?  Yes, since the church is responsible for teaching the whole counsel of God and since relationships – including sexual relationships – are a central theme in Scripture. Yes, since the church is called to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19-20), and teens cannot be disciples if their sexual relationships are not under his Lordship. Yes, because pastors and teachers are called to “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may . . . become mature” (Eph 4:11-13). Young people cannot be spiritually mature members of the body of Christ if they have not learned sexual responsibility.

Teens need help in developing a right perspective of sexuality – a biblical view of who they are in God’s sight, of what it means to be male or female, and of what is appropriate in social relationships between males and females in the teen years.

B. Understanding Teen Sexuality

Why do teens become sexually active? According to the world’s view, the answer is “raging hormones”; awakening physical attraction for the opposite sex and the desire for romance make it impossible for adolescents not to have sex. According to those who have studied teen sexuality, however, this is not the determining factor. “Contrary to popular wisdom,” says Dr. David Hager, a well-known and highly respected American doctor and writer, “the choice to initiate sexual activity is rarely made on the spur of the moment in the heat of passion. A variety of pre-existent factors influence that decision.” What are those other motivating factors? Lack of a sense of self worth, depression, a “love famine,”[25] parental neglect, lack of moral standards, a broken home, previous sexual abuse, poverty, or use of drugs and alcohol. Parental neglect can be unintentional; sometimes parents spend too little time with their teens because they believe (often wrongly) that their sons and daughters would rather be with their friends. Or sometimes other activities (career, their own interests) are given priority over their children, and they fail to make the time to communicate: to find out what is happening in their teens’ lives, to talk with them about their relationships, or to provide adequate supervision. [26]

Another factor is unhealthy influences. “Sexual activity for most unmarried young people,” says Dr. Joe McIlhaney “is not the blissful involvement of two psychosocially mature young people. More often sexual activity is a result of unhealthy influences affecting the child.” These include peer pressure and societal acceptance and promotion of teen sexual activity. Most parents have no idea how much pressure is put on even very young teens by their peers, day after day. Television, movies, music videos, teen magazines, commercial advertising, the Internet – all are filled with sexual talk and sexual behavior, mostly between people who are unmarried and mostly presenting sex as glamorous, pleasurable, and adult – and beneficial and normative even for teens. Even adults who are close to teens (their parents and other adults in the church) are often an unhealthy influence because of their example (in dress or speech), their approval or even encouragement of sexual intimacy, or their mixed messages (“I’d rather you didn’t have sex, but here’s a condom just in case.”).

III. The Pastor and Sex Education

In Ephesians 4:11-13 we read that God “gave some to be . . . pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may . . . become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” When we speak of teens and sex, we could paraphrase the passage to read “God gave some to be . . . pastors and teachers, to prepare parents for teaching sexuality to their children, so that teens in the body of Christ may . . . become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The primary responsibility for sex education rests with parents – for two reasons: because God himself has commanded that parents teach his commands to their children (Deut 6:6-7; 11:18-19), and because parental involvement has been shown to be the greatest single deterrent to teenage sexual activity.[27] For the most part, parents have abdicated that responsibility – possibly because of embarrassment or not knowing what to say or because they believe this, like other subjects, will be handled better by the schools. It is your responsibility as a pastor to challenge parents to accept this responsibility, to provide within the church the training they need to do so, and to provide supplemental teaching for their teens.

It is possible for teens to save sex for marriage. They are capable of making healthy lifestyle choices. Rates of teen sexual activity have gone down in school districts in the United States where abstinence-based curricula are taught, and in Uganda, where abstinence has been promoted at every level of society.[28] Young people need to be challenged to live a life of sexual purity and to be given the skills to resist pressures and temptations. Josh McDowell tells of teens who come to him following a “Why Wait?” talk and say, “You mean I don’t need to have sex? Nobody has ever told me that before.” Or, “I was always told it was wrong to have sex before marriage, but when the opportunity came I couldn’t think of one reason why I shouldn’t.” Jesus has compassion on teens today who, in terms of sex, are for the most part “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). The church has the privilege and the responsibility of showing the way to sexual purity: “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa 30:21).

A. The Pastor as Preacher and Teacher

Many a young person who has suffered the consequences of premature sexual intimacy, whether physical or emotional, has said, “If only I’d known. I would have waited.” They can know. We have a God who has given instructions for living an “abundant” life, and warnings about ignoring these instructions. His commands are for our own good (Deut 10:12-13). As you preach to and teach the teens in your church, whether in sermons or in Sunday School or on other occasions, you can give them a firm foundation for a life of sexual purity, a reason for choosing a way contrary to that of the world and a standard against which to measure behavior. You can also challenge and help to equip their parents to fulfill their role.

There are so many passages in the Bible that speak directly to teens. As some of these passages were being read at a weekend retreat for 12- and 13-year-old girls, the girls exclaimed in amazement, “That’s in the Bible?!!” A God-given opportunity – eagerly grasped – for the leaders to say, “Yes! There is no situation you will ever face for which you can’t find an answer in God’s Word!”

1. Biblical teaching on sexuality

Take every opportunity to bring such passages to the attention of your congregation, as the topic for a sermon or a Sunday School lesson (several times a year) and, when fitting, as part of a related topic.

Sex is a good gift of God. (Genesis 1:27-31; 2:20b-25) This passage explains the natural attraction of a man and a woman for each other, an attraction that God said is “very good.” Because woman was made from man we have a longing in the very depths of our being to be reunited with our “sexual other.” Girls should rejoice in their femininity, boys in their masculinity, because gender is from God. Sexual intimacy is the ultimate expression of this mutual attraction, but is to be expressed only in marriage – in conjunction with “leaving” one’s biological family and “being united” with each other in a permanent covenant relationship (Mal 2:14; Prov 2:17) with another follower of Christ (2 Cor 6:14-15; Mal 2:11; 1 Cor 7:39).Within marriage sexual intimacy is to be celebrated and enjoyed (Song of Songs). Until marriage, virginity is to be cherished and protected (Song of Songs 4:12; 8:12; 2:7; 3:5; 8:4).

Sex outside marriage is wrong and has negative consequences. (1 Cor 6:9-10; 2 Samuel 13) The account of Amnon’s seduction of Tamar is filled with desires, emotions, and consequences to which teens can relate: Amnon was “frustrated to the point of illness” because of his desire to have sex with Tamar. His friend Jonadab encouraged him to be deceptive in order to get his own way. Amnon tricked Tamar into being alone with him and refused to honor her plea not to force her to have sex with him but to wait and have a marriage arranged. When Amnon had had his way with Tamar, he “hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her” and sent her away. Tamar was devastated by the experience, and the whole family suffered the consequences, far into the future. The account of Shechem and Dinah (Genesis 34) is also relevant to teen experience.

Sex is neither a physical necessity nor an act to be taken lightly. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Your teens may have heard or even been told directly that it is unhealthy to repress sexual desires. A spokesperson at the conference on AIDS in Thailand even said publicly, on television, that it is “inhumane” to expect young people to be abstinent. They will certainly have been told that it is normal to express sexual desire. That is what the Corinthians had told the Apostle Paul with regard to their sexual behavior: “Everything is permissible for me” and, apparently, something like “If God has given me this desire, then I should be able to satisfy it, just as I satisfy my desire for food when I feel hungry.” Paul’s response was that “not everything is beneficial” and that they needed to be careful not to be “mastered by anything.” Satisfying sexual desire outside marriage can lead to abuse and addiction. Even worse, when a follower of Christ bonds with a person outside marriage (because sexual intercourse bonds, whether it is with one’s spouse or not) that person is taking Christ himself into that relationship because as Christians we are temples of the Holy Spirit; Christ lives in us.

It is possible to resist temptation. (Gal 5:22-23; Proverbs 7) The day-by-day choices made by young people can make the difference between sexual purity and sexual immorality. The young man in Proverbs 7 made unwise choices: He went where he should not have gone, at the wrong time of day. He met with someone whose intention was to seduce him and he allowed himself to be kissed, listened to her “persuasive words” about “love” and “enjoyment,” and followed her to her bed. At any point before having sex with this woman, this young man could have saved himself from sinning. He could have refused to entertain the thoughts of temptation when they first came into his mind (2 Cor 10:5b); he could have chosen a more appropriate companion (1 Cor 15:33); he could, even at the last moment before yielding to temptation, have fled (1 Cor 6:18), as Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife, leaving his clothing behind in order to escape (Gen 39:6b-12). Self-control is possible; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

Sexual purity is a matter of the heart. (Romans 12:1-2)  Teens who know God and truly love him with all their heart and mind and soul and strength (Deut 6:5; Mt 22:37-38) will want to obey him, because obedience to his commands is the sign of their love (1 Jn 1:3-6; Heb 4:15). They will want to control their bodies (1 Thess 4:3-8) so that they can offer their bodies to God as living sacrifices and as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:13). They will, like Job, want to “make a covenant with their eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1) because, as Jesus said, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). They will not want to have “even a hint of sexual immorality” in their lives, because this is “improper for God’s holy people” (Eph 5:3). They will want to think pure thoughts (Phil 4:8; Col 3:1-5). Sexual immorality is the fruit of the sinful nature, of a heart not attuned to God (Lk 6:45; Rom 6:12; James 1:13-15).

Obeying God may not be popular. (1 Pet 4:4-6) Young people today, like Joshua or Peter and John long ago, have to choose whether they will serve and obey God or others (Joshua 24:15; Acts 4:19). There will be those among their peers who “heap abuse” on them for choosing God’s way rather than the way of the world. Those who are persecuted for choosing God’s way, said Jesus, are blessed and they should “rejoice and be glad” (Mt 5:11-12; 1 Pet 4:12-16).

There is always hope. (1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Jn 2:1-2) Some teens who have already had sex tend to be discouraged, feeling that there is no hope for them. But if they repent God forgives, and in his eyes they are like virgins again.[29] Godly sorrow for their sin “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor 7:10).

God’s love is beyond comprehension and everyone is of inestimable value in his sight. (John 3:16) Nothing a young person does or does not do can make God love them more, and nothing can make him love them less (Romans 8:38-39). His love is unconditional; he gave his only son to die for them while they were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He has “engraved them on the palms of his hands” (Is 49:15-16a) and “knit them together in their mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13).[30]

As you preach and teach regularly about sexual issues members of your congregation, young and old alike, will begin to feel more comfortable with talking about sexual issues. Topics you touch on will strike a chord in their own lives and, because you have openly mentioned these issues, they will feel more comfortable about bringing them up in conversation – if not with you, then at least with each other.

2. Challenging and equipping parents

As you preach on these topics and these biblical passages you will be giving parents a basis from which to discuss sex with their children and teens. You also need to challenge parents directly to accept their responsibility to teach children about sex as a gift from God; to prepare them for puberty; to prepare adolescents for opposite-sex relationships, help them set boundaries, and guide them in these relationships as they develop; and to provide supervision. We know from research that young people who feel strongly connected to their families are less likely to engage in any of the risk behaviors – drugs, smoking, and sex.[31] You also need to emphasize the vital importance of the father-child relationship and of a good marriage relationship between the parents.

You need to remind your congregation as a whole of how essential it is that they model sexual integrity in terms of dress, language, and relationships, and that they show respect for women and girls as persons in a world that portrays them all too often as little more than sex symbols, servants, or the “property” of men, to be used for their own pleasure.

3. The tough issues

You need to deal openly with issues that are not easy to discuss: homosexuality, pornography, premarital pregnancy, abortion, abuse, masturbation, and oral sex. Teens are exposed on a daily basis to conversation on these topics from a point of view which is anything but biblical; they need to know how to respond.[32] You need to provide guidance, for example, on what to say and how to act toward someone in your congregation who admits to struggling with homosexual feelings, someone who has had an abortion, or an unmarried teenage girl who is pregnant,[33] as well as to the families of such individuals.

B. The Pastor as Administrator

At the close of a conference at which I was speaking on teen sexuality, one pastor came to me to talk about the high rate of pregnancy among young teen girls in his church. I could see he was having difficulty expressing his concern and I realized that he was struggling to hold back tears.

If you have this kind of passion for teens and the sad consequences of premature sexual intimacy, you will have no trouble finding within your congregation or your community others who will willingly, even eagerly, offer to help find a solution. Your passion, combined with their own concern for teens, will inspire them and give them courage. When you provide the impetus and the foundation though your preaching and teaching, you do not need to do all the work involved in conceiving and carrying out the programs and special events necessary to train parents to carry out their role in sex education and to supplement what they do by going one step further with the teens themselves. I have seen this happen, most notably in my own home church, where one member of the pastoral staff initially organized a retreat for young teen girls in which she involved four other women in the congregation. After the second retreat, other women in the church – mothers of girls who had participated in the retreat and young women who knew from experience the consequences of poor sexual choices – were so impressed with the program that they began volunteering to help. Men in the church began volunteering to help with a program for the boys. It is your job to encourage such volunteers and to provide, or find, training and resources for them to do the job.

C. The Pastor as Counselor

Finally, as counselor, you need to be approachable for teens who have sinned sexually, so that you can assure them of God’s forgiveness when they acknowledge their sin and repent, and so that you can help restore them and give them hope. How can you do this? From your preaching teens will already know either that you do not care about their sexual lives or are judgmental, and therefore unapproachable, or that sexual purity is very important to you, that you want to help them to choose this path, and that you are there for them if they fail. On our son’s first day at university, the dean of his school said to all his students, “If you are ever in trouble, no matter what it is you have done, call me – even in the middle of the night. I will come and get you. If you’ve done something wrong we’ll deal with it later, but first I want to make sure you’re safe.” That professor was approachable.

When you sense that a teenager is headed for trouble, or when you are aware of sin in his or her life, take action; never ignore the issue, however difficult the situation. You are their shepherd (Lk 15:3-7). Like the Apostle Paul, you can encourage, comfort, and urge young people to live lives worthy of God (1 Thess 2:11-12). Just coming alongside that young person, or encouraging someone else to do so, may be all that is needed to let him or her know that someone cares and to motivate him or her to change direction.


IV. Overcoming Obstacles

A. Too Little Time

Moses faced this problem as he tried to single-handedly judge the disputes of the people of Israel. His father-in-law recognized this and said to him, “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” His advice to Moses was, “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men . . . Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you” (Exod 18:13-23). Make the time to preach and teach God’s Word about sexuality and relationships. Ask yourself, “Is what I was planning to preach on really more important than this topic?” Then choose others, men and women who have a passion for young people and who may themselves have experienced the results of unwise decisions in the area of sex, to minister to teens on your behalf, referring the difficult cases to you.

A. A “Taboo” Subject

Is it unacceptable in your culture and community to talk openly about sex? You may need to be the one to begin to change this attitude, and you will see how hungry people are for an opportunity to ask questions and talk about their concerns on the topic. You accept the Scriptures as your guide to faith and life, and the Scriptures are filled with references to sex.[34] The letters of Paul and other leaders of the early church were widely distributed and read aloud in the churches. You need to change the paradigm. If you take the first steps, you may well find that at least some members of your congregation will say, “Yes, we want you to talk about this.

B. Lack of Knowledge and Expertise

You may not feel qualified to teach about sex, but remember this: the so-called “experts” who may be teaching your teens are very often giving them information and guidance that is neither factual nor helpful. These “experts” are often individuals who have been “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8). They themselves believe a lie, that teen sexual activity is inevitable and that the only way to help teens is to inform them of ways to “reduce the risks.” You have God’s truth about sex in Scripture, and you can enlist the help of others – Christian doctors, nurses, teachers – for other aspects that need to be taught.

C. Embarrassment

The need for you to take the lead in sex education in your church is so great that you need to do whatever it takes to overcome this embarrassment. Just begin. Each time you talk about the subject it will become easier, and as your people respond and you see how much the discussion is needed your desire to help will overcome the embarrassment.

V. Transforming Pastoral Ministry in Sex Education: Seven Beginning Steps

  1. Become aware of your teens’ environment and how it influences their decisions regarding sexuality and relationships. To do this you must get to know your teens, either by interacting with them yourself or by regular conversation with those who know them well: their parents, their teachers, their youth leader or Sunday School teacher. You need to be aware of their family situations and of societal influences, as well as of their own personal needs and problems.
  2. Preach the Word of God on sexuality, regularly and with clarity, not only on topics relevant to teens and their parents but also those relevant to adults of all ages. Teens need to know that sexual purity is not an issue just for them. Speak about the reality of sexual temptation and of human frailty and sin at all stages of life, but also about the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from sinning. Do a series of sermons periodically to keep the subject before your congregation for an extended period of time and to emphasize its importance.[35
  3. Dare to initiate private conversations with young people whom you sense (or know) are in danger of making unwise decisions or are already involved in unhealthy relationships or activities. To be able to do this you need to have the reputation of being approachable and to have already established a relationship of trust with them.
  4. Provide regular and frequent opportunities for teens to make a public commitment to save sex for marriage. The “True Love Waits” program provides guidelines for preparing for such a public commitment with a bible study done by parents and teens at home, the signing of a commitment card, and the presentation of all signed cards in a special worship service at the church.
  5. Work toward creating a culture of openness on sexuality in your church. Your openness, as pastor, and your encouragement for others to express their needs and concerns, is vital in creating such a climate. Enter into discussion with other pastors, seminary professors and students, and other Christian leaders to find answers to dealing biblically and effectively with sex-related topics of public concern such as violence, efforts to shut down all public opposition to homosexuality, and sex as a way out of poverty.
  6. Promote a high view of marriage and family. Teens long for an exclusive, lasting marriage relationship. Many have not experienced such a relationship in their own homes or even been acquainted with an intact, happy family. Your teaching on marriage and family, celebration of wedding anniversaries as a church body, and corporate prayer for children (including babies yet to be born) all help to give teens a picture of marriage and family as it can be. You can also encourage families to begin early to pray together for their children’s future spouses.
  7. Provide hope for all individuals in all situations. You can provide assurance for teens that it is indeed possible to postpone sex until marriage and at the same time enjoy healthy boy-girl relationships. You can also provide assurance that no situation is without hope; it is always possible to start over. You can teach and model grace in dealing with sexual sin, as well as with all other sins – the grace that each individual can offer another because all have experienced the grace of God. Show the members of your church how to offer forgiveness and restoration to those who sin sexually, how to nurture them and give them hope for the future (Gal 6:1).


What a privilege it is, and what a wonderful opportunity, to teach and interact with young people on a subject that is so central to their lives and of such intense interest to them as they pass from childhood to adulthood! And what a tragedy if their sexual education is left, by default, in the hands of those who do not know that sex is a gift of God, a source of blessing and enjoyment when rightly used. As their pastor, you must know your teens and their environment, you must hold up God’s standard for sexual behavior in your preaching and teaching, and you must enlist others to help you encourage and train your young people in sexual purity.

Published in Portuguese under the title “O pastor e a educação sexual de adolescents,” in Manfred Waldemar Kohl and Antonio Carlos Barro (eds), Aconselhamento Cristão Transformador (Londrina, Brazil: Descoberta, 2006).

[1] Paul David Tripp, Teens and Sex: How Should We Teach Them? (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 27.

[2] Lidia Rebouças, “Brazil Confronts Adolescent Sexual Health Issues” (October 2002). Lidia is a freelance writer with the Brazil Information Center, based in Washington, DC.

[3] Ministry of Health, Brazil, “Psquisa sobre Comportamento Sexual e Percepções da População” (1998).

[4] “Sexual Behavior of Brazilian Population and HIV/AIDS Perceptions,” a study conducted by the Ministry of Health in Brazil and CEBRAP (Brazilian Center for Planning and Analysis), Sao Paulo (September 2000).

[5] Youth and Sexuality, a report by UNESC (July 2004). This study interviewed 16,000 Brazilian students between the ages of 10 and 24, along with their teachers.

[6] Many gynecologists speak of the prospect of “an infertile generation.”

[7] Sexually active girls are more than 3 times more likely to be depressed, sexually active boys more than twice as likely. Sexually active girls are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, sexually active boys 8 times more likely.

[8] For insight into the effects of premature sexual activity on teens, see Richie Lambeth, Innocence Lost, Hope Regained: Teenagers Talk Openly about Premarital Sex (Salem Oregon: Amuzement Publications, 1999). This book includes true stories told by young people about their own personal experiences of having sex before marriage.

[9] Ministry of Health of Brazil, cited by Lidia Rebouças.

[10] Lidia Rebouças. This is the number of girls seen at public hospitals for post-abortion complications in 2001. The actual figure would be much higher.

[11] Youth Survey by UNESCO (July 2004).

[12] Up to 85% of women infected with chlamydia show no symptoms. Thomas R. Eng and William T. Butler (eds.), The Hidden Epidemic – Confronting Sexually Transmitted Disease (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997), p. 34.

[13] Gonhorrea and chlamydia travel from the cervix into the uterus, the fallopian tubes, and ovaries, blocking the tubes so that the egg and sperm cannot get through.

[14] Dr. McIlhaney is founder of the Medical Institute of Sexual Health in the USA and author of Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Doctor Confronts the Myth of “Safe” Sex (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).

[15] Epidemiological Bulletin of the Ministry of Health (2001). Worldwide, half of all new HIV infections occur in young people 15 to 24 years of age. United Nations Youth Report (8 October 2003).

[16] Sharon Jayson, “Teens define sex in new ways,” USA Today (19 October 2005), p. D2. Jayson’s article addresses the findings on oral sex among teens of a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA.

[17] Jayson, p. D2.

[18] Grupo Atitude is a nongovernmental organization working at schools, bus stops, and other public places to spread knowledge about sex to young people. Lidia Rebouças.

[19] According to a poll taken in urban areas of Brazil in 2001, 47% of teachers said that their own knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health was insufficient. Lidia Rebouças.

[20] “Shock therapy in Brazil,” The New Courier (October 2004).

[21] “Shock therapy in Brazil.” In 2004 the Ministry of Health program called for the distribution of 235,000 condoms to students between the ages of 14 and 19 enrolled in “Health and Prevention in Schools” programs in 205 municipalities. Each student received eight condoms per month.

[22] Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “The Failure of Sex Education,” The Atlantic Monthly (October 1994), p. 73.

[23] Margarita Diaz, Maeve Brito de Mello, Maria Helena de Sousa, Francisco Cabral, Ricardo de Castro e Silva, Márcia Campos, and Anibal Faúndes, “Outcomes of three different models for sex education and citizenship programs concerning knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of Brazilian adolescents,” Cad. Saúde Pública,Rio de Janeiro, 21(2): 589-597 (mar-abr 2005). No mention was made of sexual activity rates in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, the other cities studied.

[24] “A recent article in Sexually Transmitted Disease (Morrison et al STD 2004; 31: 561-567) suggests that ‘[Depo-Provera] use  . . . appear[s] to be significantly associated with increased acquisition of cervical chlamydial and gonoccoccal infections.’” Joe S. McIlhaney, “Response to The Content of Federally-Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs. Report prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman” (2 December 2004).

[25] Josh McDowell’s term. For an analysis of the reasons teens become sexually active, see his book Why Wait? What You Need to Know about the Teen Sexuality Crisis (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life, 1987). McDowell is a well-known speaker on teen sexuality.

[26] Patricia Hersch, A Tribe Apart: Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998). Hersch says that teens’ greatest need is for adults who will listen.

[27] Add Health Study USA (2000).

[28] In Uganda the decline has been dramatic; within seven years, from 1991 to 1998, the percentage of sexually active young people aged 15-19 declined from 30% to 6%. It was this change in behavior, along with a change in the behavior of adults to being faithful in marriage, that has brought about the reduction in the HIV/AIDS rate in the country that just a decade ago was the most seriously AIDS-affected country in the world. In the USA, the rate of sexually active teens has declined steadily, from 54.1% in the 1980s to 49.9%. The rate of pregnancies and abortions in the USA has also declined in the same period.

[29] “Secondary virginity” is a term widely used to express this concept.

[30] Other biblical passages relating to teen sexuality: singleness (Mt 19:11-12; 1 Cor 7:7-9;32-35); male-female relationships (Lev 19:18; Mt 7:12;22:39; Lk 6:31; Gal 5:13); loving and living for Christ (Rom 8:5-11; Gal 5:16-25; Col 3:1-10; Mk 7:21; 2 Cor 5:15); trusting God (Jer 29:11); being content (Phil 4:12); separation from God leads to sexual immorality (Rom 1:21-27; Eph 4:17-19); considering others above oneself (Rom 12:10; Phil 2:3-4); the meaning of love (1 Cor 13; Eph 5:25-33); homosexuality (Gen 2:21-24; Lev 18:22; 20:13; 1 Tim 1:9-10; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11).

[31] A USA study of 90,000 children.

[32] For a enlightening picture of how far apart are biblical teaching and the world’s view on these issues, see Lynn Ponton, The Sex Lives of Teenagers: Revealing the Secret World of Adolescent Boys and Girls (Toronto, ON: Plume, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000). Dr. Ponton is a secular counselor of teens. In this book she reports conversations with her clients on all these issues.

[33] For a thoughtful, personal treatment of the issue of teen pregnancy see Heather Jamison, Reclaiming Intimacy: Overcoming the Consequences of Premarital Relationships (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2001). On homosexuality see Christl Ruth Vonholdt (ed.), Striving for Gender Identity: Homosexuality and Christian Counseling: A Workbook for the Church (Reichelsheim, Germany: The German Institute for Youth and Society, 1996); on abortion, Bernard N. Nathanson, The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1996) and Guy Condon and David Hazard, Fatherhood Aborted: The Profound Effects of Abortion on Men (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001); on abuse, R. Timothy Kearney, Caring for Sexually Abused Children: A Handbook for Families and Churches (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001); on masturbation, Walter and Ingrid Trobisch, My Beautiful Feeling (Bolivar, Missouri, 2003).

[34] The Apostle Paul mentions sexual issues in all but two of his letters to the churches (Rom 1:24-27; 2:22; 6:19; 7:3; 13:9,13; 1 Cor 5:1-5, 9-11; 6:9-20; 7:2,5,36; 10:8; 2 Cor 6:6; 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 4:19; 5:3-5; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3-8; 1 Tim 1:10; 4:12; 5:2,11). The author of the letter to the Hebrews refers to sexual immorality and keeping the marriage bed pure (Heb 12:16; 13:4). Peter writes about lust, orgies, and adultery (1 Pet 4:3, 4; 2 Pet 2:14, 18). John mentions lust (1 Jn 2:16), Jude sexual immorality (Jude 7).

[35] Rev. Dr. G. Leslie Somers, a Canadian pastor, has preached a series of seven sermons on “True Love Waits,” challenging teens to sexual purity and parents and other adults to help them do this. His challenge to parents includes the challenge to “example” (your example in living a life of sexual purity), “explanation” (explaining why you believe and act as you do) and “expectation” (have high expectations for your teens). G. Leslie Somers, True Love Waits audiocassettes (Temple Baptist Church, P.O. Box 358, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada B4C 2T2).