Teaching adolescents about sexual orientation and gender


Moving Into Adolescence

As children move into adolescence, they take on the important developmental task of forming a sexual identity.  This process is made up of at least four interrelated components:

  • They mature biologically into adults; their bodies and emotions undergo changes as they develop the capacity to bear children.
  • They experience their first adult like erotic feelings.  Almost all teens begin to experiment with some sexual behaviors, alone and/or with a partner.
  • They develop a stronger sense of who they are as a woman or a man (gender identity).
  • They develop a stronger sense of their own sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or bisexual).

(from Debra Haffner, Beyond the Big Talk p 3)


As caring adults, we have a responsibility to help adolescents in many aspects of that developmental task.  Youth need accurate information about sexuality to make healthy decisions about sexual behavior. We easily recognize that children need guidance in navigating the murky waters of confusing value messages. But sometimes we forget that teens also need guidance as they learn, grow, and mature. They need adults in their faith community willing to be open, adults who care enough to ask and try to answer difficult questions, and adults able to walk alongside them as they wrestle with complicated dilemmas.  It is through these processes that young people develop a spiritual context for the life-changing decisions they face during adolescence.


What can we do?

  1. Provide a weekend sexuality education seminar within your faith community for teens and their parents.
  2. Use The Gift of Sexuality: Empowerment for Religious Teens, Steve Clapp, LifeQuest (2005) Based on extensive research on teenage sexuality, this book contains factual information and clear guidance to help empower teenagers for the decisions they face about the care of their bodies, dating, sexuality, marriage, and parenting.  A separate Adult Guide to The Gift of Sexuality is also available. This resource can be used in a variety of ways: for private reading by teenagers; for reading by teens and discussion with their parent; or for class, youth group, or retreat use.
  3. Plan to use the Our Whole Lives Curriculum — This lifespan series of sexuality education curricula   equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information.  It provides not only facts about anatomy and human development, but helps participants clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.
  4. Show the DVD Call Me Malcolm followed by discussion
  5. Use Normal Range of Sexuality and Gender or Circles of Sexuality with discussion as a basis for a youth group or parents program.

Ultimately, we want our youth to grow up to be sexually healthy adults.  Openness and guidance from caring adults can nudge young people toward that goal. Along the way, be open, be honest. Remember you are living, breathing, loving examples as you both talk the talk and walk the walk. Your example is important because faith, values, and beliefs about people, sexuality, and relationships are caught as well as taught.  Boldly take on the awesome responsibility of being a guide to young people in the process of exploring the wondrous gift of being created in God’s image!