[This is the third post in a series on topics addressed at the Youth Work Summit in May 2012] There were two talks on sex and porn on the Youth Work Summit 2012 (one by Ruth Corden and one by dr. William Struthers) and both shared data and facts that got me thinking. Often, when we address sex and porn in our youth ministry, it’s somehow related to sinning.
We talk about sex because we want our young people to know how God meant sex, how it’s supposed to be. We want to impress on them how important sexual purity is, for several reasons. We want to help young men (and young women in growing numbers as well) to become free of addiction to (internet)porn.
Those are all valid and honorable reasons, but after hearing the issue of sex and porn addressed on the Youth Work Summit I’m thinking this is not enough. There’s another crucial reason to talk about sex and porn in our youth ministry: to educate our students on these issues.
Statistics on young people and porn
Here are some interesting statistics Ruth Corden and Dr. William Struthers shared in their talks:
- The average 14-year old watches 90 minutes of porn a week
- 3 in 10 young people learn about sex through porn
- 60% of young people say porn gives the wrong idea about sex
- The average age of first exposure to porn is now 11 for males and 13 for females and those are dropping fast
- 1 in 6 teens has received a sexual image from someone they know
Now to me, these statistics are revealing a deep truth: young people don’t just watch porn for stimulation, they also end up watching it because they’re looking for solid info, for sex education so to speak. But if their education on sex comes from porn, what image of sex will they get? How will they come to view the roles of men and women in sexual encounters?
It’s one more reason for us as churches and youth ministries to talk about sex, to maybe even offer sex education. We can’t allow porn to become the ‘standard’ for sex, we need to counter this horribly deviated image and help young people discover sex as God has intended it. And our ‘sex talks’ should be about more than just Biblical advice, I think we should spend considerable time teaching the facts as well. If young people are looking for sold info, we should provide this in a safe and responsible way and help them find the answers they’re looking for.
Language of sex
Ruth Corden shared something else I’d never thought of: she listed some of the (British) English terms for male and female genitalia and then made an interesting observation. Most of the terms for female genitalia are derogative, whereas most of the ‘male’ terms are either innocent (‘Mr Winky’) or proud (‘big salami’ – I’m using just two examples here so you know what she was talking about). What was interesting to me, is that the same applies in Dutch (my mother tongue). So it’s not a language thing or a cultural thing in the English speaking world, it’s a reality.
Now I’m not even going to go into the many, many negative words used in rap and hiphop songs about women. But this all shows the same message: that women are inferior to men and when it comes to sex, that women have a certain role and are certainly not equal to men. That is a message that we need to counter, that we need to make young people aware of.
Ruth suggested that we talk about sex and porn with our young people and simply pay attention to the terms and language they are using. We should educate them for sure, but we can and should also challenge derogative terms and help young people see these for what they are.
Intimacy and porn
Dr. Struthers stressed two other important issues: the unwanted exposure to porn is growing, so young people don’t always go looking for it but stumble across it. That’s something we may need to discuss with parents, help them become aware of this and maybe protect their teens better or start a conversation about this.
And secondly: when they go looking for porn, they can have other reasons than stimulation, like boredom or curiosity. But a big reason is the search for intimacy. Dr. Struthers explained the ‘Craver’s law’: sex can become a craving, like food. That way porn can become addictive, but it’s a sign that an intimacy need isn’t being met.
Again, this should encourage us to start a conversation with our young people on sex and porn, not from a judging point of view, but from a willingness to dig deeper and find what’s at the core of the issue. If they long for intimacy, for bonding, for belonging, what can we offer to help them find that in another way than through porn or sex?
My conclusion: we need to talk a lot more about sex and porn and in different ways than just offering a Biblical viewpoint on it. Young people need us to be open and honest about these topics and to help them find their way in a sex-filled world that’s shouting a distorted version of sex from the top of its lungs.