Why is the chaplain teaching sex ed?

Before I started my current job as a high school chaplain, I had the chance to sit down with my predecessor, who is also my schoolmate and friend. We talked for an entire day, or, rather, she talked while I tried to absorb everything she was telling me and hold my then-five-month-old daughter at the same time. One of the many things she mentioned was that she helped teach the school's sex ed course. While she was talking, I got the impression that I wouldn't be included again, because the students had found having a clergy person in the room awkward. I understood what they were saying. However, the time for the class rolled around, and I was apparently up to bat, along with the counseling staff.

I felt reasonably well prepared to talk about sex from a Christian perspective. I had taken a sexual ethics class in divinity school with a renowned theologian. I read pages and pages and wrote a few of them, too. I often left class more than a little confused and occasionally resentful. In particular, I wondered about the polarity of many different messages I had received about sex when I was younger, from the church to the media: "Don't; you'll get pregnant or a disease and go to hell to boot" to "Whatever's fine as long as you use a condom." Afterwards, I wasn't really content to use the class only for my own edification but wanted to figure out how to translate all this theological discussion.

The class that I am now responsible for helping facilitate is that translation. Since we're talking to fifteen year olds, we assume that that the "plumbing" talk has already happened. Instead, we talk about relationships, myths, abstinence, clear communication, values, and decisions. I talk about, for example, how our bodies, minds, and souls are interconnected, so that though we may want to compartmentalize what we do with our bodies, sometimes it's just not that easy to do. That is one of the many complicated but important messages we attempt to get across to a group of teenagers, most of whom are still in the concrete thinking stage.

I'm not in the room to try to convince everyone to remain abstinent. I'm in the room because I'm of the mind that Christianity is a sensual religion, that is, a religion that depends on the senses. God became flesh in order to communicate the divine love in ways that humans were supposed to be able to understand better. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about our resurrection bodies (not just our ressurrected souls). The bread and wine speak to those primordial needs and wants that are often difficult to articulate, which is why I like being part of a denomination that has communion so often. 

The common misconception is that our bodies are always obstacles to God. However, Scripture repeatedly tells us that our bodies are sometimes pathways to the divine. Like money or fear, the body and sex are benign or neutral; it's when we choose to misuse them that things go somewhat awry.

Am I involved with this class because my predecessor was? Yes. Am I involved with this class because I think Christians need to talk to teenagers about sex, because everyone else is? Yes. However, I also help teach sex ed because I wish an adult had spoken to me in this way when I needed it. I don't know what I would have been able to hear, but I wish I would have had the chance to listen.

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4 replies
  1. Elsa
    Elsa says:

    Thank you for voicing the sensuality of our faith while pointing to the incarnation of our Lord. I do believe it might be the only thing that will save us in this much needed conversation about sex. Thank you for all you do to bring the conversation into the present.

  2. Katy
    Katy says:

    What a vital ministry you have! I’m so, so glad these young people have your voice as they make decisions. And I’m very impressed that your school is willing to tackle sex ed in a thoughtful, well-rounded way.

  3. Heather
    Heather says:

    I was chaplain at a summer camp one summer, and met with each cabin group to discuss something of their choosing, and the sr girls wanted to talk about sexuality and relationships. It was such a wonderful, honest conversation about self-respect, and spirit/body connectedness. Passed around a condom out of the package, because if they can’t bring themselves to touch one, they’re not going to be comfortable using one. Talked about abuse in relationships, and how to reach out for help. So life-giving, it must be wonderful to do this kind of ministry in an on-going way.


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