Session 2—Communication: How Do We Talk about Sex?
NOTE to FACILITATORS: This is the second of two mandatory 90-minute sessions for groups using this small group ministry (Chalice Circle) series. Before facilitating any session in the series, please read the Introduction and Preface so that you can honor the spirit and intent and consider the implementation suggestions provided for this program.
Many parents and caregivers avoid talking about sex and sexuality for fear of doing it wrong. Yet even imperfect conversations can build an adult’s comfort and skill, a child’s trust, and positive, healthy communication around sexuality-related matters. In this session, participants recall both positive and negative instances of sexuality-related communication with adults from when they were young. They explore the holistic Circles of Sexuality model that anchors Our Whole Lives sexuality education programs and consider how our values guide us in physical, personal, and social aspects of sexuality. Participants support one another by sharing and listening. They discover ways to create positive interactions in their families using verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED candle
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Computer with Internet access and a projector
- Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
- Journals or paper, and pencils or pens
- Handout 2.1, Circles of Sexuality
- Handout 2.2, Parent Power
- Handout 2.3, Recommended Multimedia Resources
- Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. Update any links as needed. Expand the handout to include local resources. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan to visit recommended websites during the session (this will extend your meeting time), or copy the handout to distribute in the session.
- Copy Handout 2.1, Circles of Sexuality, and Handout 2.2, Parent Power.
- Preview the video The Birds and the Bees (4:45), part of a series called Parents Explain.
- Set up the computer, test the Internet connection in your meeting space, and cue up the video.
- Post the group covenant.
- Write the Focused Check-in prompt on newsprint and post it.
- Write the Spotlight questions on newsprint and set them aside.
- Decide which Reflection questions you will use. Write them on newsprint and set them aside.
Opening (5 minutes)
Welcome participants. Tell the group that communication is the focus for this session. Say that, although it can be awkward or difficult, communicating about sex is necessary for adults who wish to play a positive, healthy role as their child’s primary sexuality educator. Say that many parents and caregivers avoid communication about sex because they fear they will make a mistake. Explain that while perfection cannot exist and comfort cannot be promised, communication can still be effective and can always be improved.
Do a quick round of name introductions. Refer to the group covenant. Review its points quickly. Ask for and answer any questions.
Say that people of all ages have times or places where they feel more relaxed and able to hold a potentially challenging conversation. Some people prefer to face someone while talking, others prefer to be side by side, and some may prefer to converse by text, email, or phone. Some people have an easier time talking while doing an activity together, such as cooking, building, gardening, or cleaning, or maybe riding in a car.
Invite a participant to light the chalice while you read the following passage from The Partnership Way: New Tools for Living and Learning, Healing Our Families, Our Communities, and Our World, by Riane Eisler and David Loye (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990):
In face-to-face personal communication, the role of the listener is critical. If we look at personal communication as a partnership where two or more people take turns talking and listening, we see that to build good relationships the listener’s part is just as important as the speaker’s. And if we recognize that good relationships are based on mutual trust, we also see that good listening skills are an essential ingredient.
Focused Check-In (10 minutes)
Ask the group to sit in silence to take in the words just spoken. Lead the participants in taking a deep breath together. Then ask everyone to reflect on and, if they wish, share how they might complete this sentence: “For a conversation with my child that may be difficult for me, I would most prefer a time, place, and situation such as ________.”
Invite participants to respond briefly, as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants consider the question. Offer each one an opportunity to speak or to pass.
Spotlight (10 minutes)
Say you will show a five-minute video, “Parents Explain the Birds and the Bees.” Post the Spotlight questions, read them aloud, and invite participants to keep them in mind while watching:
- What emotional reactions do you have to the video?
- When do you notice an adult explaining just what a child wanted to know? Explaining too much? Not enough?
- What do the adults seem to say with nonverbal communication, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language?
- What memories do you have from childhood or adolescence of being on the receiving end of adult communication about sex? How did your parent or caregiver’s communication influence your understanding or acceptance of your own sexuality? Your sexual decision making?
Show the video.
When the video concludes, offer a minute or two of silence for participants to gather their responses to the video. You might reread the prompt questions. Invite people to journal, as they are moved, with any thoughts, feelings, or issues that have come up.
Ask participants to take a moment to consider how they would like their children to feel about the communication they share around sex and sexuality. Allow brief answers. Ask participants to consider situations where an uncomfortable conversation would be better (or worse) than no conversation at all.
Perspectives (15 minutes)
Distribute Handout 2.1, Circles of Sexuality. Explain that the Our Whole Lives sexuality education programs provided by the UUA and the United Church of Christ are grounded in a holistic view of sex and sexuality, graphically illustrated as Circles of Sexuality. Ask the group what they notice, agree with, or wonder about in the Circles of Sexuality chart. Allow some conversation; there is no need to try to answer every question.
Make the following points if no participants do:
- All five outer circles of sexuality are part of what makes us sexual human beings.
- Sexuality and sexual intimacy are not limited to genital sexual behavior. Sexual intercourse is only one behavior in one of the five circles.
- Emotional intimacy—sharing love and caring in a relationship—can happen in many types of relationships, such as those of family members, friends, and romantic partners. Emotional intimacy with a partner can happen with or without sexual intimacy.
- All five aspects are affected by personal values, which is why Values is placed in the center, touching all components.
Tell participants you will read a post from a young woman on the Scarleteen website about the kind of relationship she wished she could have with her parents. Read the following quote:
I wish my parents understood that my sexuality is valid, that I am not gay nor straight, but have a fluid sexuality and like people of all gender identities. I wish my parents would have been open to my sexuality and learning about all the different kinds and shapes that sexualities and gender identities come in, instead of labeling people based on the prejudices they learned when they were kids. I wish my parents would be more open, and not as entrenched in their prejudiced beliefs about sexuality that harm my relationship and my trust in them.
I also wish my parents would act more like guides and facilitators to life than authoritarian figures I must figure a way around. I wish I could seriously talk to them about sex, about birth control, about sexuality. I wish they understood I am a sexual person. I wish they respected my choices and treated me more like a person who is beginning to have autonomy over my life, take responsibility for my choices, and dictating the values I will [live] by. I wish that through this phase of my life, the phase where I am figuring out who I am, that they would guide me through it by using their own life experience, instead of saying only their life experience is valid/good.
I desperately want guidance, acceptance, support and love in navigating my sexual life (something i will live with until i die). I wish I could have received it from them instead of Tumblr, Scarleteen and feminist websites. Instead I receive fear and threats about not having sex and not being queer, which has turned me into a highly anxious and paranoid person in relation to pregnancy, because i fear my parents would not let me have an abortion if my birth control were to fail. I wish I did not have to sneak around to have sex, because I hate lying and sneaking around has been more than humiliating and tiring.
Distribute Handout 2.2, Parent Power. Tell participants that this handout presents results from a survey of teenagers about the influence parents have on them and their decisions about sex. Give the group a few minutes to look over the research findings.
Reflection (30 minutes)
Invite participants to reflect on the “Parents Explain the Birds and the Bees” video, the reading from Scarleteen, the Circles of Sexuality, and the Parent Power handout. You may offer all the following questions for reflection, or choose one or more you think speak especially to the group and will encourage deep reflection and sharing. Post the newsprint with the questions you have chosen and read them aloud.
- How has your view of the “sex talk” expanded with today’s session? Do you have new ideas? New concerns?
- How do the stories shared today relate to communication between you and your parents or caregivers when you were young?
- How might you prepare yourself for a conversation? For what do you need the most preparation: knowing what to say, saying it, or listening to your child?
- How can your effective communication with your child help prepare them for making autonomous decisions about sex and sexuality?
Invite participants to speak one at a time, as they are moved, without interruption. After everyone who wishes to has had a chance to respond to a question and speak uninterrupted, invite participants to respond to one another. Facilitate as needed to support participants in honoring the covenant’s guidelines. You may wish to indicate the posted covenant or read its guidelines aloud.
Taking It Home (15 minutes)
Invite the group to engage with one or more of the scenarios below, either by brainstorming together or by having some volunteers act it out. Say the goal is to practice a variety of communication skills in each situation presented. Start with the scenario that seems most relevant to the participants; do more if you have time.
Explain that good communication has both verbal and nonverbal aspects. Ask for examples of each. Offer these if others do not mention them: the words that someone chooses; the tone with which those words are expressed; the ways someone holds their body while speaking and while listening (for example, relaxed or tense, attentive or turned away); the time and place someone chooses for a conversation.
If the group is willing, combine acting and brainstorming: Ask two volunteers to begin acting out a scenario. Say the actors may raise their hand if they would like another participant to “tap in” and take over for them, and that any participant may also ask to “tap in” to take over a role if they have an idea for getting an interaction unstuck.
- Scenario 1: You and your 9-year-old are in the car together. You really want to ask about a conversation you overheard between your child and a friend, since you noticed your child seems to have significant misinformation about sexuality or reproduction.
- Scenario 2: An hour ago, you received a phone call from your 14-year-old’s school principal, who tells you that your youth was disciplined at school today for kissing and heavy petting in the hallway. The youth has just arrived home.
- Scenario 3: Your 11-year-old has just asked to have a friend over to watch a movie that you’ve heard contains substantial sexual content. You try to defer a decision until later, but the youth is insistent on discussing it immediately.
Leave several minutes for participants to recap any insights gained from working with the scenarios and to contribute any skills and strategies for good communication about sex and sexuality that they will take home.
Closing (5 minutes)
Invite participants to share thoughts, feelings, or issues that came up for them during this session. Why, when, and how do they anticipate a need for a new conversation with their child? How can they prepare themselves for both speaking and listening?
Did God’s heart (I mean the love-mushy, endearing part of God)
The heart that I don’t really believe in as a thing,
With pulses . . .
Did that heart
Break just a little;
When God realized
“Oh no --
They have made leaves into underpants!”
If God says things like “underpants”?
And then the weight hit God
Like the first time you watch your child feel self-conscious
Hold back the loud belly laugh
Or worse yet bring down their eyes
Because the shoes you bought
Did God’s heart
Break just a little
to see the beauty of freedom slip from their hearts
As the heat and heaviness of shame washed over
The two in that garden
Who now knew
No more naked
No more belly laugh
And for the first time wondered
Am I good enough?
Did God cry a little,
Maybe even turn away so they wouldn’t see the tears?
Invite a participant to extinguish the chalice. Thank the group for their participation. If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 2.3, Recommended Multimedia Resources, for participants to take home. Remind the group of the day, time, and place of the next session.