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April 28, 2005



For what it's worth, Hugo, I think that's an excellent answer. I admire your unwillingness to preach either of your two previous positions which no longer ring true for you, and I have to imagine that the kids in your youth group heard the genuine caring in your words and will respond to it well and wisely. Bravo.


It's the only honest answer--some teenagers have sex and it's a positive experience and denying that fact is a lie. And lying to children is, to my mind, a worse thing to do than a little fornicatin'.

La Lubu

I think the statement was heartfelt, intellectually honest---but more important, something the kids in the youth group are actually likely to listen to and reflect on.

I know as a teenager, I instantly turned off on any "save your virginity for your husband" or "abstinence is the best way to avoid teenage pregnancy, which is a fate worse than death" message. Such responses are canned; a painfully obvious case of talking at you rather than to you. They might be kids, but they already know that sexual relationships are more complex and nuanced than that.

There seems to be plenty of cultural room amongst adults to talk about the mixed messages youth receive about sex, yet very little cultural room for discussion of the mixed messages youth are constantly receiving about maturity and adulthood. I think your message conveyed that message far more than any traditional prepared script could have.


Thanks, Rachel. Amanda, La Lubu; I hear you and appreciate the kind words. Except I worry, a lot, about the various ways I could be lying to "my kids." Telling them the truth as I see it means I'm being honest, but what if what I believe is also, in fact, a lie? That's what haunts me.

I've got Matthew 18:6 in my head all the time these days.

And I still stand by what I said.


He did preach -- it's just a sermon we heard too often and has almost no value to guiding Faithful behaviour, except that which strikes us as faithful in any particular moment.

Hugo, you asked, so here goes: I think you missed a significant opportunity to help these kids. You spoke and reinforced the prevailing attitude of permissive culture to them -- perhaps beautifully, perhaps heartfelt and sincerely -- but a lost chance to provide True guidance to them nonetheless. And they tossed a softball to you. If they needed to hear your words they could have opened Teen People or watched sit-coms -- but at a churuch? Just sad.



Stephen, with respect, Teen People doesn't know who they are. Teen People sees teens generically. It flatters them indiscriminately. I'm talking about kids whom I know, who have confided in me, whom I've watched struggle and grow.

True guidance is not simply the winsome presentation of ancient, unchanging truth. It's making that truth applicable to individuals, in the knowledge that we are all unique and special creatures. In our father's house, there are many mansions, and some will choose to live in one room rather than another, but they will all be sheltered under His roof.

Oh, and it didn't feel like a softball. It felt like a wicked curve.

La Lubu

Well, Hugo....I'd still say that "your kids" have their own agency.

And that's the sticky wicket, isn't it? I mean, what are we really talking about when we (adults) discuss teenagers and sex? What's it really about? Is it about religious restrictions? Is it about gender roles? Is it just about avoiding pregnancy?

See, we tend to couch whatever we say in the vague terminology of "maturity"...yet in the meantime, what are we doing to teach maturity? I'd guess that most of those kids get lectured or told about 'maturity' every so often, yet get a helf-hour's detention if they show up a couple minutes late for class. The rationale is that this teaches the kids "consequences", yet the counterpart to the couple-minutes-late scenario is likely to be nil at either work or college, provided that it's a rare event, not a typical one.

Point being, that we give lip service to the teaching of maturity; in reality we aren't that comfortable with giving teenagers the responsibilities of adulthood that were typical of teenagers in days gone by. High schools resemble grade schools far more than colleges, and that was not always the case.

You might be a little uncomfortable with your comments to the kids, Hugo, but by recognizing their own agency you've given them a greater gift. Teenagers can and do reflect on their level of maturity (remember?). And especially in this day and age, they have a hard time finding adults who will recognize them as having a certain degree of maturity.


What you believe is not a lie--this is why black and white, one size fits all moralizing gets people off the path. Our own eyes and ears tell us that different people have different approaches to sex, and that they generally do best when they are allowed to make their own choices. But moralizing makes us second guess what we knew was true in the first place.


"True guidance is not simply the winsome presentation of ancient, unchanging truth."

Why? It can be done with grace and love, with humility borne of knowledge of our falliability but providing Truth seems a good starting point.

How is what you provided different than what Teen People provides?

You obviously were not entirely comfortable with your answer either, else your conscience wouldn't be bothering you this morning. (See the article on conscience in this month's First Things.) A good thing, I think.


I would add--the kid who asked that is probably already having sex.


You know what I hear when I hear judgements like Stephen's?

"Sex is a treat that is only doled out to the deserving. And the people who get to decide who is deserving are the deserving."

Amazing how some pleasures are marked off by the rule-makers are pleasures only for themselves. Funny, really, how that works out.



May I suggest a really big Q-Tip?



I think you gave the kids a very honest answer. Why are you doubting yourself? Why do you think your answer was a lie?


Because, Karla, I'm prone to doubting myself, and I carry within me many voices. I've got the conservative evangelical talking to me along with the progressive Protestant; I've got my own background as a secular peer sex educator at Cal to balance with my own fascination with traditional faith and traditional mores. I'm torn. But in the end, I have to come down on the side I came down on -- I felt inspired, but wouldn't dare suggest that it was the Spirit's inspiration. I simply have to trust I said the right thing.


You know Hugo, I don't believe that you are prone to doubting yourself at all! ...I think that you have great instincts, but you are an intellectual, so you will naturally doubt your intuition. __I'm the opposite, I'm more intuitive than intellectual. __You need to trust your instincts, they are rarely wrong. I've learned that this is an untapped area for most people.__ Lucky is the individual that can learn to use both their intellect and intuition!


The question was "What do you really think about us having sex at our age?", not "Does [the Church/the Bible/our pastor] say about sex?" Hugo, I think your answer was entirely appropriate. (Use a grain of salt of the size you think correct, since I'm an atheist.)

Thunder Jones

Have you had a chance to read Lauren Winner's new book on sex, Real Sex? I haven't, but from what I read in an interview she did with Beliefnet she presents a way to encourage chastity without the "just say no" babble that encourages repression instead of understanding.

One thing she says, and that I agree with her about, is that sex outside of marriage is a disordering of sex in the Augustinian sense of disordering. In short, sex doesn’t belong any other context than marriage. It is an unintelligible act outside of marriage and the type of commitment affirmed in the marriage relationship. Sex is more than passion and an intense personal exchange to be understood as a pleasurable good. It means a lot more than that and pretending that it doesn’t is further supporting the disordered sexuality that permeates our culture. Sex is trivialized by our culture, thus making it that much more irresistible.

In a seminary, I once had a professor say that it used to be that sex was a drive that someone had. There was a way to alleviate that drive, namely the sexual act. The problem today is that sex is tied to acquisition and achievement. It has, in a very real sense, been co-opted by capitalist logic so that screwing and who you screw is a status symbol. The problem in this transition is that lust and greed have become intertwined in such a manner so that the sexual act no longer gives reprieve from lust. Like greed, a little is never enough.

I do think that chastity is a Christian virtue. I do think that one cannot epistemologically appreciate sex outside of the marriage relationship. I do think that regardless of my discussion of virtue and epistemology that teen will have sex. Thanks for the work you do in being honest with your teens rather than denying the reality that they are immersed in daily. I do, however, believe in the power of a resurrection that makes to common sense of reality subordinate to the New Creation.


Here's the link to the interview:


Bob C

The Winner book is actually quite good - she is a primo writer, juggling tradition, personal experience and stories from her circle of friends.

I like your response, for it's care, it's open-ness and it's ambiguity. You are clearly the embodiment of the radical Incarnality of Jesus for these kids.

OTOH, I wonder about what seems like the money shot part of your response:

In truth, while I think in general it is better to wait before taking on the enormous responsibilities and consequences of sex, I know full well that some of you are simply "readier" than others.

I am 41, have two kids - my wife & I started dating when I was 14, she 15. We grew up in the belly of YM - I've got all the t-shirts, my highlighted THE WAY, my Michael W. Smith track. No one ever unpackes the responsibilities of sex for us in non-fear context - it's all about JUST SAY NO.

What strikes me as confusing is if this conversation were about the consequences of abusing food or money, rather than the kryptonite that Church Inc (tm) attaches to our gentalia. Would you have responded differently ? Would I ?


Hugo - I can't speak to your faith issue, as you know, but I approve of what you told the kids.

Kids need adults to be as honest with them, as you were honest with that group. There comes a point when you have to stop giving "lessons" and speak directly to the teens about themselves. (One of the reasons they aren't considered "adults" is because many of them don't yet have the ability to take an abstract or objective "lesson" and correctly apply it to themselves.)

They're at a tricky age...still needing and wanting adult guidance and yet nervously eager to be seen as "adults" with all of the rights and privileges. You acknowledged this by acknowledging each of them as a person in their own right. I'd imagine this also helped to reinforce for each of them their own personal responsibility for their decision.

At the same time you gave those who might not feel ready, or not know if they're ready, you gave those kids permission to say 'no.'

I think that's something that gets lost in our society today. Not a demand that everyone say no outside of heterosexual marriage for the purpose of procreation.

A, "you know, I really don't want to" kind of 'no'. Permission to say 'no' in a way that doesn't make the kid feel like their "maturity" is in question.


I think Hugo's comment was perfectly worded and delivered, it sent the right message to the right audience. It sounded great to me! __I would have probably added that once you take a step in that direction it changes your entire life. You have to worry about birth control. You have to worry about where you will meet. You have to worry about the guilt. You have to worry about the change in the status of the relationship.__ You aren't friends anymore...you are lovers, and this changes the dynamics considerably. __Life is about change, you just have to make sure that you are committed to that change.__If you don't feel good about it, you should not do it!__The only way to know is to spend time with your partner,if it's not right, the two of you will know!


As someone who's pretty much an outsider to Christianity as it's actually practiced, I find this discussion, and the one on divorce, interesting.

I have fewer problems with a church that uses strong social/spiritual pressures to attempt to discourage divorce among married members of their congregation than I do with one that uses those same pressures to discourage sexual activity amoung youth in their congregation. I think it's because of the idea that the adult congregation is self-selected, whereas a lot of youth don't have the same opportunity to accept or refuse the religion.


Oh, my hearing is fine, Stephen. I'm just translating for clarity.


One thing that occurred to me is that some teenagers might here your response and get all anxious and worried about whether they're one of the 'ready' ones in your eyes, and if not, why not, etc. etc. But I can't think of a way around this potential problem, and your response seems about as good as one can imagine.

I must say, I respect the kid who wrote the question a great deal. Here you are trying to figure out ways to get them to talk honestly and openly about sex and this one completely turns the tables. Smart kid.

Thunder, with due respect, (and I haven't read the Winner book) it's very hard for me to imagine that a heady dose of Augustinian philosophy is going to inspire a wave of chastity amongst teenagers. In my experience (secular, higher ed, but still), the youth of America have shockingly little interest in Augustinian philosophy.

Thunder Jones

The philosophy provides the background for something else to be built upon. Mediated tradition, djw, mediated tradition. It's what Anglicanism is all about.

BTW, I don't want to bring in Augustine's phobias about his genitles, but his understanding of the proper ordering of affections towards God is pretty helpful.


I've been reading your blog for several months now, but I've never commented until now. Although I have never been a Christian, I attended a conservative Church of Christ with my mother until I left for college. Although I'm pro-choice and quite liberal, I have to say that I disagree with your answer. I saw very little healthy sexuality in high school. I'm sure that you're very close to your students, but there is still a side of them you don't see. I think that teens are better off waiting until they are out of high school to engage in intercourse. That being said, I do have a question for you. While some issues, like homosexuality and abortion, are ambiguous, how do you reconcile your views about sex with the very clear Biblical message against pre- or extra-merital sex?

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