Session 1: “Pour Out Your Heart”: Identifying Priorities and Misconceptions

Aim: To provide the atmosphere and framework within which teens can express their ideas and concerns about their sexuality within the context of the Church.

Guidance to Leaders: Expect participants to come into this session with a lot of preconceived notions, assumptions, and ideas about sex and sexuality. Teens are bombarded with sexual images through the forms of publicly accessible (and seemingly inescapable) media such as TV, radio, advertising, and the internet.

If current statistics are correct, then chances are that many of the teens you encounter will have had some sexual experiences. Therefore, we should be neither naive, nor prudish, nor callously blunt, but sensitive to the situation of today's teenager.

The purpose of this session is for you to develop an environment that is safe enough for them to assess their personal experiences and ideas about sex and sexuality. A safe environment means one in which a participant can trust the group and the leader enough to be honest with their feelings and thoughts with others, without fear of ridicule or judgement.

There are too many questions with regards to sexuality and too many misconceptions on the subject to discuss in one session. Stay focused on the central objectives and aim of this session. If a question arises that you feel unable to answer right then, make it clear that you will address it at a later time, and then do so. If the topic comes up in a future session of this unit, you can tell them to ask the question again at the appropriate time.

We should think of ourselves as shepherds leading them to the safe pasture of the Church where they can experience the love of God.

Objectives: By the end of this session participants should be able to . . .

1. Articulate the difference between sex and sexuality

2. Begin to assess societal messages about sex and sexuality

3. Compare societal images about sex and sexuality with those presented in the Church

Useful Texts (Scriptural, Canonical, Liturgical, Lives of Saints, etc.)

1 Cor. 6 “Your body is not your own . . .”

1 Cor. 13:4-8 some of St. Paul’s lists (review the "What's Love got to do with it?" unit)

1 Cor 13:11-12 “When I was a child I spoke like a child . . .”

Materials needed:

  • Composition books or paper and pen for journals.
  • Chalkboard, large pad, poster board or similar.
  • Bibles
  • 3 x 5 cards
  • Current Magazines with plenty of advertisements, scissors, paste.


I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In

III. Activity #1: Putting it in Perspective

IV. Activity #2: Let's Talk about Sex

V. Activity #3: Media Blitz

VI. Conclusions

VII. Closing Prayer

I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In: Take five minutes to check-in with your group. Introduce yourself , share something that happened today and say how you are doing. Have each person also introduce themselves in the same way.

Preface the check-in with a brief explanation such as,"Hello my name is ____ (If you don’t already know the participants). Today we are beginning a study unit (retreat, etc.) on relationships and specifically, on sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage. Each of us brings to this gathering our own important experiences and perspectives, and our own preconceived notions and assumptions. Each of us has something to offer. One of the experiences/preconceived notions/concerns I have to offer today is _______________. [The Church says sex is bad; A friend of mine got so wrapped in sex that it became an addiction; You can wait until your married to have sex and live a great, fun life; etc.]

III. Activity #1: Putting it in Perspective

Time: 15-20 minutes

Purpose: This activity is a directed discussion meant to warm up the group and introduce the topic of sex and sexuality in its largest context. This is also an introduction to the journal that participants will keep throughout the unit.

"Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Conan the Barbarian (and Genghis Khan) said that the 3 most important things in life are to 'crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.'" (If you want, use the movie for extra effect.)

Have participants form into small groups of 5-7.

  • "Let's begin by asking ourselves a question. What do you think are the most important and basic things in human life? Come up with as many possible answers that you can think of, and don’t judge them."[ Possible answers might include God, Money, Love, Family, Oxygen, Sex, etc. Allow them about a minute to think and respond. If they can't decide, go to the next question so they know they have more than one option.]
  • "Let us see if we can narrow our choices down a little more. See if you can come up with a list of what you as a group think are the top three most important things in life." Allow about 5 minutes for group discussion. Have each group present their list. Either write them on the board yourself or have someone from each group do it. Briefly have them discuss their choices or affirm them yourself by repeating their answers out loud. Comment on similarities and differences in groups’ responses. Make a mental note of where and if the issues of sex and sexuality are mentioned.
  • “From all of these are important things, each of us has our own “top 3.” These are the things that guide us as we make choices in life. In your journal, under the heading “Most Important,” come up with your own top three. They don’t have to be in any order, just what you personally consider most important. Keep all of these in your journal so that you can record how your choices develop over time. They might be equally important or may change in importance to you over time." Give time for reflection and response.
  • "While we all have determined the three most important things in life, it is likely that we did not all pick the same things. As Christians, there are some things that Jesus told us are especially important to our life. Looking at all the things we have listed here, and thinking about what we know about Jesus and His Church. what do you think He would say are the most important things for a Christian life?" [God, Prayer, Church, Humility, Love, etc.] You may not want to limit it to three things, since there are several interconnected aspects to Christian life. However, try to include most of the following: God/ Jesus Christ, prayer, love, salvation, healthy sexuality/marriage, virtue/morality, etc.
  • "Compare the list for Christian life to the list your group came up with together. How do these compare to your personal list?”
  • “St. Paul made his own list, as he was thinking about these things. He, like us, went through times in his life when he had to choose what was really important in his life.” You may want to provide them with a copy of this text they can keep in their journal, or ask them later to copy it down in their journals. The reading is from 1 Corinthians 13:11-13. In it St. Paul writes:
    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
    For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

“St. Paul says that faith, hope and love are the most important things in life. Out of these, he says that love is the most important of all. Compare your lists of the three most important things in your journal for comparison. It is not uncommon for us to put other things ahead of God and our relationship with Him. Over time (the next few sessions/weeks), see how your personal choices compare to this ideal list of Christian priorities. Your ideal list might also change.”

IV. Activity #2: Let's talk about Sex

Time: 15-20 minutes

Purpose: This activity now gets into the subject matter proper: Sex. If you perceive that the group may be shy, start the discussion with the question, "What's the most embarrassing thing that happened to you recently that you are not too embarrassed to tell us?" Make sure to go first. Today, most teens do not lack experience in talking about sex with each other. They may, however, lack the experience of talking with adults or in the context of a Church activity.

Write "SEX" in big letters on the board or pad you are using for discussion. Leave room around the word to fill in with responses to the next question:

  • "What do you think of when you see the word, 'SEX'? What other words or terms come to mind?" [Making Love, Wedding night, Reproduction and Intercourse are a few rather tame examples.]

Allow them as a whole group to throw out words to you. Write each one down on the board around the center, as if each word is radiating from the word "SEX." If you prefer, have each person write 2-3 words on a small 3 x 5 card and then turn them into you. This takes a little longer but saves people from potential embarrassment.

There should be a variety of different types of words: emotions, images, ideas. Briefly discuss the words they come up with and point out the types of words they used (feeling words versus factual concepts) and ask why they think they might have used them. You might want to copy down some of the key words (or better yet have them do it) for later reference.

At the end of this activity be sure to erase the board to avoid embarrassing anyone. Remember:

you will be the determining factor in creating an open honest environment. Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself and the flock will follow.

(Alternate Journal Exercise: Have them write the word “SEX” in their journals and connect to it all the words and images that they personally associate with it. They can make word-association chains as well. To do this, write "SEX" in the middle of a blank page, then think of 8-10 words that you associate with them. Arrange them around the center like spokes on a wheel radiating out from the word in the center.

Now take each word individually and create a word association, letting a string of words follow one another from the first. Don't try to rationalize it out, just write down the words honestly as they come to mind. Write them down following the root words in a pinwheel design. The pinwheel visually demonstrates the flow of our thought and its interconnections.

You may wish to have an example of this to show them, if they have difficulty understanding the activity)

Next, write the word "SEXUALITY" on the board and do the same as above. When finished, ask,

  • "The word 'Sex" brings up many images and ideas almost immediately. But "sexuality' is a little more complex. What differences do you see between what comes to mind when you see the word 'Sex' and the word 'Sexuality'? What do you think is the difference between the two words, if any?" [Sexuality is orientation, heterosexuality, male/female or masculinity/femininity; sex is an act, something you do]

Briefly Discuss. Again record the answers on board or individually on cards or in journals. Make comparisons and connections. You may want to ask, "What words would have come to mind if you had seen the word 'SEX' five years ago?" Discuss.

"Let's try to clarify what we mean when we say 'sex' and when we say 'sexuality.' "

"By 'sex' we can refer to two things: 1) the biological distinction between male and female, , and 2) sex as in 'having sex', engaging in sexual intercourse, or performing a certain type of action."

"'Sexuality', on the other hand, is not about something you do but about something you are. It refers to your identity as a human being — your personality and sense of self — not just your reproductive system. Sexuality refers to what it means to be a man or a woman in the world. The way we express our sexuality says a great deal about how we value our self, our body, and those with whom we interact."

"Let’s begin to look at what the Bible says about sex and sexuality. Find two passages and keep them both open so that you can look back and forth between them: Genesis 1:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 6. In both passages we read about who and what were created to be. “

Read both passages out loud.

Genesis 1:27-28a

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, make and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

1 Cor. 6:13-20.

. . . Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For 'the two,' He says, 'shall become one flesh.'
But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's."

“In 1 Corinthians, St Paul was writing to the Christians in the city of Corinth, who had many problems, some of which had to do with sexual immorality. In trying to guide them to a healthy and spiritual understanding of sexuality, he summarized some important Church teachings about sex:

Discuss this passage, using questions such as,

  • "What do you think St. Paul is saying about human sexuality?" ["Sexuality was created by God", "Sex is immoral", "Sex can be immoral", "Sex is okay except with prostitutes" are possible.]
  • How does this compare to what God says in the Genesis passage? [Can seem contradictory since God is saying to have children. Depending on the path the discussion takes, you may want to direct participant’s attention to the fact that God directed man and woman to fill the Earth before the Fall. Thus the sexual procreation of children can not be seen as sinful in and of itself.]
  • "What does the St. Paul’s passage say our body is meant for?" [The Holy Spirit, the Lord, Christ, glorifying God. If no one mentions it, make the point that St. Paul is referring to sexual immorality as sinful and not sex in general.]
  • "What does it say is the relationship between our body and God?" [Our body is a temple, God wants to dwell inside us, We can glorify God with our bodies.]
  • "What does the Scripture say is the kind of relationship we should have to our own bodies?" [Do not sin against our body, Respect our bodies, Don't be immoral with the body God gave you since it's really God's.]

“We should always approach our bodies and sexuality with great respect as a gift from God. We should not be ashamed nor proud of our bodies or the fact that we have sexual feelings. What is important is that we treat our bodies well and keep them as best we can for God. Very often, we hear of “sins of the flesh.” These are not caused by the body but by the weakness of our will. The body is a victim of sins, not their cause.”

Activity #3: Media Blitz

Time: 20 minutes or take home assignment.

Purpose: This activity is a creative project. You will need a couple magazines-- preferably commercial fashion and entertainment magazines with plenty of advertising--, scissors, poster board and glue or tape for each person or small group. If you want to make this a take-home project, then you need no materials on hand except for maybe some samples to show them. If done in class, you can do this in groups of 2-4 to speed up time.

"As we discussed, the world around us provides us with countless images that incorrectly shape the way we understand sex and sexuality. Advertising is one of the greatest offenders. More often then not, the messages they try to sell us are far from the Christian message about sex and sexuality. We've already talked about the words we associate with sex-- but pictures are worth far more in conveying information. "

"Take a couple magazines, some scissors and glue/tape, and a construction paper/ poster board backing. Go through the magazines and cut out pictures and images that say something about sexuality. Out of the batch of images you find, create a collage which expresses something about how the world views sexuality. If you can, use images that will contrast the view of sexuality presented in the media with that presented by the Church through the Bible and the Sacraments. Allow yourselves to be creative and make a statement that is your own out of the images you have been given."

Discuss their projects and have them explain how certain images exemplify how society’s view of sex and sexuality contrasts with what they understand of the Church’s teachings.

VI. Session Conclusions

Ask these review questions to test if the objectives have been met:

  • What does the bible teach us about our bodies and sexuality?
  • What is the difference between sex and sexuality?

"There are a lot of ideas out there about sex and sexuality – about our bodies and our relationships to them. It seems sometimes that the world has forgotten what the Church has been teaching: the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. There are those who would teach the un-Christian idea that the body is evil and corrupt and needs to be destroyed. Others believe we should do anything we want with our bodies, which is also un-Christian.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to recognize the special relationship we have with God because we have bodies, as sexual beings. Throughout this unit (retreat), we will continue to look at how our sexuality and our spirituality are related.

In your journals, write down examples of positive and negative ways you treat your own body. What are some of the ways you treat your body with respect? Contempt? Indulgence? Very often how we treat this “temple of the Holy Spirit” reveals unquestioned assumptions we have about God and ourselves, including our sexuality. We will discuss this more in the next session."

VII. Closing Prayer