By our creator
and in our churches
Here’s an alarming article on BBC News about the pressure teenage girls are under to perform sex acts. It’s a blunt and realistic article so be aware of that; the summary points to some of the issues raised but it’s worth reading the whole article.
Are children turning to pornography to educate themselves about sex? Are boys coercing girls to do things they later regret? A 24-year-old secondary school teacher tells the BBC she’s shocked by the stories she hears from her teenage pupils.
I have yet to put together a youth group session on these issues for this site, but it won’t be far away. What I’ve thought of so far are some things that churches and youth groups can do to counteract this sad trend.
We need to talk about sex
I get why we don’t: our world seems to be obsessed by sex and we have way more important things to talk about. However, that doesn’t grow an atmosphere where a young person under pressure can come to their youth leader or a trusted person in their church and tell them that they’ve been pressured into sex acts; that they need help getting out of a relationship that they think is heading that way; that they’re addicted to porn or they’ve performed acts that they know are wrong.
Be aware of the most vulnerable
The teacher in this article has correctly diagnosed a source of the problem: girls think being asked to perform sex acts is “a validation of their appearance and attractiveness”. All teenagers are at risk of this. But some of those with SEN tend to be more trusting, find it harder to recognise abuse for what it is and gravitate to what they see as normal for other kids their age. It is a sad truth that those who don’t fit in society’s narrow boundaries of conventional beauty are in danger too; that means ethnic minorities, those without hourglass figures, those who don’t have the latest trends, those with acne etc. They don’t see people like them on TV or in magazines so they think they’re not beautiful and are more susceptible to the idea that if someone wants to have sex with you that means you’re beautiful.
The pressure is on boys too
The article focuses on girls being pressured by boys to perform sex acts. But we can’t ignore the damage the world has done to the picture of masculinity. Boys may feel pressure to ask/demand sex acts as a way of validating their own masculinity, attractiveness, as a way of keeping up with their friends. This is the model of male-ness sold by American Pie, The Inbetweeners, The Big Bang theory where even the ‘uncool’ protagonists have girlfriends and copious amounts of sex.
So what can we as a church offer to counteract this message. Better sex-ed than they get in school? A watchful eye over our youth? More to do on a Friday night than have sex? Models of healthy relationships? A listening ear? Absolutely yes, to all those things but at the heart of the gospel is not only salvation for our souls but for our attitudes to sex.
Everyone is made in the image of God
Genesis 1:27 puts it like this:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
That means that each individual has worth and value as someone-like-God regardless of their appearance or popularity or how attractive they are perceived to be. They deserve to be loved and valued by others simply because of their humanity and they are very, very much loved and valued by God because he made them to be like him. That means we don’t need to look for validation in the mirror or a romantic partner or how good at sex we are. We are valuable to God. We also need to treat others as individuals whom God holds as valuable.
Whatever you’ve done whether it is sexual, been forced on you, been a desire you had, been consensual doesn’t make you worse than other people. Sexual sin is no worse than any of the myriad of other sins that people in your church are struggling with. We’re all broken so sexual sin also shows up in all of us. Just think of the list of Biblical heroes who have fallen in this area: Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Rahab, David and Esther is in no sense in a healthy monogamous marriage – even before we get to the issue of consent. Sex, no more and no less than any other area is a broken aspect of our world, meaning we’re free to ask for help, confess our sexual sins and that no-one should sit in judgement over us.
There is forgiveness for everyone
Having said that we’re no worse than any one else when it comes to sexual sin, that is abundantly and wonderfully untrue when it comes to Jesus! The one who died to rescue you, did so out of great love, valuing you more than his own life, and set you free from the power and guilt of all your sin, including your sexual sins. This total forgiveness is available for the girl who did something she knew she shouldn’t because she wanted a boys love more than God’s love. This complete forgiveness is available for the boy who spends every night on a porn site. This absolute forgiveness is available for the youth leader who struggles with the masturbation in their own past. This unrestricted forgiveness is available for the ‘lad’ who asks his underage girlfriend for sex even though neither of them want it, and even when they both do.
Our mission to share this good news is so important especially with young people in today’s sad and broken world, not just in words and teaching, but in loving them and valuing them the way our Father does.