So there you are, a twenty-something college Religious Studies graduate running a high school youth group in the suburbs, in a room filled with 100+ teenagers who are collectively angry at whatever it is you, as an old man, have to say about sex and relationships. You clear your throat and begin...
BUT WAIT! Don't make the same mistakes that I've made in my rookie days as an anstinence-pledge-card-bearer. Here are 3 simple things you can do when giving a chastity talk to have a wider impact on the hearts and minds of your students that can create lasting change.
THE VISION OF LOVE
First, start with love. Students want to love and be loved. Oftentimes we use love to get sex, or we use sex to get love, but either way, these two concepts are bound to each other. Much of the confusion and complication around relationships has to do with misunderstandings about what love means. If love is merely emotional, then yes, maybe you do love your girlfriend of two days. But if love is more than a feelin', then maybe your relationship with your girlfriend needs to evolve in deeper ways before sex becomes a reality between you two.
Starting with God's vision of the nature of love, especially human love, gives an overwhelmingly positive and universal scope to relationships and allows them to measure their love for one another against this background. Since love involves emotions but is not reduced to mere emotion, teens need to see that emotions are good, but not everything. In fact, following emotions blindly can lead to some severely damaging places at worst, and solitary islands of existence at best. We need a love bigger than "My needs", that is capable of making two I's become one We.
CHASTITY AND THE ART OF LIFE
Second, build up the virtue of chastity within this matrix of love. Let love become the atmosphere through which things like chastity, purity, self-gift, sex, and emotions move in. Chastity is a virtue, so don't be afraid to talk about the importance of virtue in the art of life.
The art of life- is that the way we paint Christian morality, or do we construct a rigid system of moral laws?
Living is an art, and the virtues are the qualities of our performance as human persons. Chastity makes sure that, in the living portrait of our lives, we ensure that our beloved one is never reduced to an instrument to make me satisfied.
Chastity, then, becomes a virtue of protection and power. It reaffirms the loveliness of one's beloved, not the ugliness of sex, as the Church is often cariactured as presenting. Chastity is not a negative thing. That is abstinence. Abstinence is a part of chastity, but not the whole of it. Saying "No" to this or that must serve a wider purpose. Protestants, cut off from Christian Tradition, give abstinence talks. Catholics give chastity talks.
Chastity is a subvirtue of temperance or moderation. That means sex is a good thing, but has a proper time and place. Abstinence-only talks create a negative perspective on sex and sexuality. It's focus is denial, negation. But from the framework of a virtue based life, chastity and purity are transformed into beautiful, heroic, and even arousing dimensions. I mean, there are few things more emotionally, intellectually, and physically gratifying then two married people locked in an embrace that they have reserved for their beloved alone.
CLARITY, SYMPATHY, COMPLETENESS
Third, once you have poured the foundations of love, relationships, chastity, virtue, and this grand, sweeping vision of human love in the divine plan, make sure you speak the Church's teaching as it relates to what is right and wrong in sexual matters clearly, sympathetically, and completely. These three smaller points speak to your style in presenting the material.
Once human sexuality is placed in its proper and beautiful context, then the do's and don't's can be laid out in a systematic and thoroughly clear manner. Avoid your fancy theological or technical words and speak straight. Masturbation will always be an awkward word spoken out loud to a room full of teenagers, but if you're hiding behind complicated phrases, like self-abuse or autoeroticism, you would lose them immediately.
Also realize that hormones and culture are ganging up on them, so speak to that. Acknowledge that it is difficult to follow the path of the Gospel concerning chastity when they are in high school. Offer them a sympathetic ear. Talk about the struggle, the failure, and the need for repentence and Confession. Give them hope, encouragement, and room for failure. They may think it is impossible, but they will know that you are there for them, and that is worth a thousand abstinence pledge cards.
Finally, don't hide an issue because you do not think your teens are ready to accept it, or you are uncomfortable with it. Speak the truth plainly and boldly. Do not hide the full rigor of the Gospel. You will be judged accordingly and I do not think your shirt looks great with that mill stone tied around your neck. So when you dive into hard subjects, like homosexuality, use a little of that sympathy spoken of above and your message will be better received. Your job is not to make sure everyone receives it, your job is merely to sow the seeds in truth and love.
So go forth and spread the Good News about human love, sex, and the craziness of human relationships!