Sex education has always been a tricky topic in the church. Part of that reason is because sex is a private matter between husband and wife that can make any discussion about the topic embarrassing and uncomfortable. Another reason is that we first teach that sex is “bad,” but after marriage it becomes “good.” However, no matter how difficult it can be to talk about sex, it needs to happen regularly. Here’s why:

Young people are not asexual. We are all created with sexual thoughts and urges, just the way God intended. Young people in our church have questions about sex but many feel uncomfortable asking because they feel we condemn their curiosity about sex. We as the church expect them to subdue or shut off their sexual nature until marriage. Through education and honest answers we can show young people that we recognize their nature and want to help them learn to control and appropriately express their sexuality.

When young people feel they cannot ask a church member about sex, they will turn to other sources. We live in the information age and ignorance about sex is not plausible.

The Internet knows everything about sex, but the Internet does not speak from a biblical perspective.

There is power in information and a healthy sex education means our young people can make smarter, more informed decisions about their sexuality. Our young people deserve a better answer than society can give them—something only a biblical perspective allows. We as Adventists have that answer, but we have done a poor job of relaying that information.

Do’s and Don’ts

Below are several sex education methods I have come in contact with or personally experienced over the years.

  • Fear and Guilt. These emotions are not beneficial to sexual health. When we instill these emotions into our young people, those emotions have a tendency to remain, even after marriage. The brain simply doesn’t switch emotions associated with certain behaviors overnight. If this tactic is used, it is likely one or both newlyweds will continue to fear sex and feel guilty when engaging in sexual behaviors with their spouse.
  • The Purity Cult. This method largely affects girls and has a long-standing tradition in society. The female is taught to protect her purity and virginity at all costs. Girls often attend purity lectures, wear purity jewelry, or sign purity pledges. This gives purity a value higher than all other facets of her character. The problem is that virginity is only temporary. Once married, a woman is no longer “pure.” After the wedding night the bride can feel remorse at the loss of her purity and may suffer psychological damage as a result because her character is now devalued. Because purity can extend a lifetime and virginity is only temporary, the two should not be interchangeable.
  • Withholding information without a legitimate reason is never beneficial in sex education. Open communication with young people shows that we as a church care about them personally and builds trusting relationships. Not answering questions is the most efficient way to shut down communication and young people will learn they must seek their answers elsewhere. Remember that you as a Christian have a more balanced and biblical view of sex than mainstream society.
  • Please do talk to young people about the health risks of sex outside a monogamous marriage. A pregnancy can change a life, but an STI can cause life-long health issues. Not all forms of birth control can protect against an STI and some STIs are almost impossible to test for.
  • Sex education is not a one-time event. As young people grow and mature their questions about sex will change. Most students in Adventist education will receive sex education in 5th grade science, academy health, and maybe senior religion. Sometimes this just isn’t enough. Sex is not a simple topic with easy answers.

Talking about sex is not easy because it has been a taboo in our culture for so long. We often fall into the trap of falsely believing that if we discuss sex with an unmarried person we are giving them the okay to have premarital sex.

By discussing sex we are not giving a stamp of approval, but rather arming young people with the information needed to make a good and biblical decision for themselves.

A young person who makes a personal commitment of abstinence is much more likely to stand firm than one who has been denied information or has only been spoon-fed ideas. Certain details are not appropriate for younger church members, but a sincere request for information should never be turned away. It will take the efforts of parents, teachers, and sincere church members working together to bring this about.

Kelti Barcelow graduated from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln in May 2020 with a master’s degree in architecture. She and her husband, Travis, live in Orlando where he is pursing a doctorate in anesthesiology.