BY LARRY ACOSTA, MARY ARIAS, AND CLAUDIA RAMOS
The issue of teen sexuality in our Latino community has been one that is both culturally and spiritually difficult to deal with as church leaders. Our teens need positive role models who will talk honestly with them about sex, but often times this openness clashes with our culture and with what church leadership sees as appropriate. To be honest, very few of us have had good sex education. So as opposed to righting this wrong, we concede to repeating history all because we don’t want to make waves in the church or because it’s a difficult subject to address.
In the meantime, the number of Latino pregnancies is higher than any other ethnic group. In 1995, a poll was taken in which the outcome was 38 percent of Mexican-origin children, 44 percent of Central and South American children and 60 percent of Puerto Rican children were born out of wedlock in the United States.
Some of the cultural reasons for this are related to our strong religious roots along with our respect for motherhood, which causes our ladies to complete their pregnancies. Family values weigh heavily in our culture where family relationships are primary to all other attachments. Parents may be extremely angry at the announcement of a teenage pregnancy, but soon accept the idea and support their daughter for the sake of the child. If the girl’s parents cannot financially support the girl and her child, she is usually welcomed into the boyfriend’s house.
While these are noble aspects of our culture, the fact remains that there are far too many teenage pregnancies among our young people and something proactive needs to be done in order to help our teenagers make more responsible choices with respect to their sexuality. Other cultural influences are the economic and educational obstacles that we Latinos face in this country. Just what can we do in our churches in order to encourage our teens to make right and wise choices with respect to their sexuality?
TEACH OPENLY ABOUT SEX AND DATING
Teens need Christian role models who will dare to speak truthfully about sex. This is a major need as sexuality is a primary issue for teens. Perhaps you would consider hosting a panel discussion where teens can have their questions answered. A great way to facilitate this is for you to hand out index cards one week prior to the meeting for teens to write any question they may have related to sex and dating. You and the youth staff may even submit a few just to insure that all the bases get covered. Kids need to know specific dating “do’s” and “don’ts”, implications of dress, how early they should start, etc. Be warned, they will ask you everything! However, you and your panel can prepare in advance and be ready to equip students with insights that will help them to make responsible choices. How great for the church to morally and practically supplement what may or may not be talked about in their homes.
HELP TEENS SET SEXUAL STANDARDS
The number one question teens always ask is “How far can I go?” Use the following chart to help teens establish their sexual standards prior to the “test”. Pass out this chart and ask them to put the appropriate letter under the appropriate category. Don’t tell them what their standards should be, merely ask them the questions. Later in the process you can share your convictions and why you hold to them. Your goal is to provide genuine rationale so that students may come to the same convictions to which you hold.
Teens ask: How far can I go?
L = Look
h = holding hands
H = holding hands constantly
k = kissing
K = strong kissing
B = fondling of the breasts
SO = fondling of the sexual organs
HELP TEENS UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF WAITING
The following are some reasons why waiting to have sex until after marriage is so important:
Know that a person likes you for who you are not because of what you give away
Become a better communicator who is able to be intimate without being physical
Develop good friendships and be choosy in dating. Don’t just settle for someone who is available
Learn the difference between genuine love and infatuation
Be free of pregnancy and STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)
Be free of guilt and regret
Be free of emotional scars
Have dignity and self-respect
Avoid disrespect and an unwanted reputation
Be respected by others for standing firm on something you believe in
Have a solid foundation on which to build your marriage
Bring trust, honesty and patience into your marriage
Enjoy a guilt-free marriage with no comparisons with past experiences
Share a bond with your spouse that no one else shares
Have a honeymoon to look forward to
Get pastoral and parental support prior to beginning your series on sexual purity. Depending on your context you may need to provide appropriate rationale, an outline and even a permission slip.
Other Helpful Things the Church Can Do to Help Teens Make Wise Sexual Decisions:
The church can give meaning and value to sexuality.
Help provide positive peer relationships.
Call teens to sexual purity (abstinence).
Provide solid adult role models.
Help teens deal with forgiveness and anger.
Teach Biblical Sexuality.
Bring in an expert who can relate (doctor, nurse, psychologist, teacher, youth pastor).
Equip parents to talk to their kids about sex.
Talk about all aspects of sexuality!
Avoid simplistic answers.