Session 2: “In the Beginning . . .” Healing Our Misconceptions

Aim: To present sexuality as a God-given part of who we are as human beings.

Guidance for Leaders: In this session, you will be talking about sex and sexuality issues in a little more detail. Again, there needs to be an atmosphere of trust and security suitable enough for open and honest discussion.

Remember, don’t try to discuss every misconception and issue related to sexuality 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.

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

  • Identify one or two biblical passages which illustrate the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality
  • State in their own words the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality
  • Identify misconceptions people have about the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality

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

Genesis 1:26-2:25

1 Cor. 6

Galatians 3:28

Matthew 19:4-6


  • Journals
  • 3 x 5 index cards
  • pens or pencils


I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In and Review

III. Activity #1: Misconceptions

IV. Activity #2: Dear Abba

V. Activity #3: Misconceptions

VI. Conclusion

VII. Closing Prayer

I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In: Introduce yourself again and say "Today we are talking about what it means to be a sexual being, to be male or female, and what the Church teaches about our sexuality. As we check-in, give your name, say how you are, and state one thing about the opposite sex that ‘mystifies’ you." Give something from your own experience or perspective as well.


Before continuing ask the following questions:

  • What is the difference between sex and sexuality? ["Sex" is an act (also the biological difference of male and female of a species). "Sexuality" is about what it means to be a human being with a body and a sex.]
  • What is the relationship between the body and spirituality? [The human body is the "Temple of the Holy Spirit". The Lord is made for the body and the body for the Lord.]

III. Activity #1: Misconceptions

Time: 15-20 minutes

Purpose: This activity is a talk-starter. Like the last session, it is designed to identify participants’ unquestioned set of ideas and opinions that they bring with them, often unconsciously, to the discussion of sexuality. This discussion in particular attempts to draw the focus from our general assumptions about sex to our assumptions about what the Church teaches and what it means to have a "Christian" understanding of sexuality.

Begin by drawing two large square, straightedge boxes on the board. In the center of the first write “MEN” and in the center of the other, write “WOMEN.”

“The Bible says ‘Male and female He Created them’ (Gen. 1:27). Our sexuality began with our creation. Since the Fall, however, we have become confused about what it means to be male and female. On one level there are clear biological differences such as reproductive organs, hormones, etc.. On the level of social interaction, though, there is a variety of ways of distinguishing males from females, men from women, and vice versa.”

  • “What are some of the words or ideas that our society associates with ‘MEN’?” [Macho, warriors, aggressive, intellectual, protective, strong -- These are gender stereotypes and are subject to cultural changes. Some may be positive and some may be negative. Write their answers inside the box. If someone suggests a term which is not a normal gender stereotype in our society today, throw it back to the group and ask them if they would consider this as part of society’s conceptions or not. If not, place the term outside the box or on the border.]
  • “What are some of the words or ideas that our society associates with ‘WOMEN’?” [Emotional, passive, vain, sensitive, nurturing, intuitive — These are also gender stereotypes. Write the answers you are given in the “WOMEN” box, with exceptions on the outside or the border. Try to get a couple exceptions for each box.]

“These are stereotypes. Some may have a basis in fact, others may be purely fiction. Some may be genetic and natural, while others are created and nurtured by our culture. One thing is for sure, not all men and women fit this mold. Most men and women have some characteristics that fall outside the box or on the border. We need to be very careful not to try and put people into stereotypical boxes.” Erase portions of the boxes’ solid lines, replacing them with dashed lines.

  • “How would Christ compare to these models of gender? He was a man, so how does he fit exactly into the male stereotypes?” [He also has so-called “feminine” qualities of nurturing, meekness, etc.]

“We often base our decisions on unquestioned assumptions of what it means to be a man or a woman, trying to adhere to a social stereotype in order to fit in and be accepted. When we consider that as Christians we are called to be like Christ, this presents some challenges to our stereotypes. St. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, ‘There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’”

  • “Compare Galatians 3:28 with Genesis 1:27. Why does St. Paul tells us that in Christ we are one, if God created us male and female?” If participants have difficulty, have them read Genesis 2:18-24 [We are not meant to be alone. Our differences allow us to compliment and balance each other. They were created to bring us together not separate us. St. Paul was trying to get the Christians to see that we must not separate ourselves on racial, class, or gender lines.]
  • “How should we understand our identity as men and women?” Our gender is part of the path God gives us to "In this session we will be discussing myths and misconceptions about sex and sexuality specifically. Let's take a minute to brainstorm as many ideas that we can come up with that we think are myths or misconceptions. By myths or misconceptions we mean ideas which people act as if they are true, when they really aren’t."

Take a few minutes to get everyone brainstorming in their journals or on paper. With larger groups, you may want them to brainstorm in groups of 5-7. Brainstorming usually works in cycles, expect a creative lull after the initial outburst of ideas-- a second wave will come soon, and so on.

Next ask the questions below, going around the room, letting each person/group have a chance to contribute their ideas. With some answers you may want to ask for an example or a small explanation. The questions are framed in terms of things they have heard, seen, and felt, in order to emphasize the many ways in which information reaches us through the senses. If time permits, record their ideas on the board to affirm their contribution.

There is also the possibility that not everything a group mentions is untrue. You may wish to add clarifications where appropriate. Myths often contain a strong kernel of truth.

  • "What are some ideas about sex we might have heard that might not be quite accurate?" [Everyone does it, It can't hurt you, You will do it if you love me, You can't get diseases if you wear a condom, If you have ever thought about being gay you must be gay, Sex is a sin, etc.]
  • "What are some ideas about sex and sexuality that you feel aren't true but people often believe anyway?" [Sex is dirty and sinful, Rape is committed mostly by strangers, Children have no sexual experiences, Sex is okay between two consenting adults whether or not they are married, and similar ideas]
  • "What are some of the messages that we might have seen or heard that supposedly depict a ‘Christian's’ attitude towards sex?" [You have to hate sex to be Christian, You go to hell if you have sex, Christians are uptight and repress their sexuality, Christian women should be pregnant and in the kitchen. Christian men should be able to boss women around. You should only have sex to have children, etc.]
  • "Are there any icons or hymns in the Church that depict sexuality?" This one’s a little harder, but it can serve as an intro to activity #2. The Church is filled with depictions of human sexuality that is transfigured by the light of Christ. Remember sexuality is about being a male or female human being and not about "having sex." [Icon of Ss. Joachim and Anna,
If this proves too difficult, quickly move on.

"We all come to our own understanding of sexuality by wading through a river of false ideas and images which we pick up on a daily basis. Sadly, we often pass these on to others before learning our mistakes. Perhaps some of you have heard some things today that you thought were true but maybe are not. We still have a lot of questions and we still need a lot of answers. People talk about sexuality perhaps more often than anything else, and yet, we are often our own worst teachers. There are good people to turn to, however. ‘The Truth is out there.’"

As a follow up exercise, you may wish participants to record in their journals for the next session (one week, one day, whatever), where they see or hear myths and misconceptions being expressed.

IV. Activity #2: "Dear Abba"

Time: 20-30 minutes

Purpose: This activity allows participants an insight to the Church's pastoral approach to questions of sexuality. Attached are two fictional letters between a young Orthodox Christian woman and her priest. Participants will gather in small groups and discuss the letters and answer a series of questions based on them. You should copy the letters and distribute them either by group or by individual. You may have each group read it on their own or have everyone follow and listen to one person such as yourself. After they have completed the list of questions, come back together as a large group, with the small group members still sitting together, and discuss each question and their answers.

Begin by asking students to form smaller groups (5-7 at most per group). Introduce the exercise:

"In today's world there are many places where we can go to find answers to our questions about sex and our sexuality. Unfortunately, our sources are not always well educated or not very interested in our spiritual well-being. There is a place, however, where we can find answers, and that is in the Church."

"We need not be ashamed or afraid to ask our Church for answers. In fact, it is really one of the first places we should go. Because of the many misconceptions out there, however, it is easy to think that the Orthodox Church has nothing practical to say about sex and sexuality. Here are two fictional letters. One is a letter from a woman who has many questions about sexuality and its place in the Church. The second is the response she got from her priest."

Pass out the letters and read them together. Have the groups discuss the following questions.

Note: The priest’s letter should not be viewed as the perfect response to the woman’s questions. It is, rather, one possible response that can be used to ignite further discussion. Both participants and presenters should feel free to offer improvements. Participants will have another opportunity to review these letters at the end of the unit.

  • What are the main concerns of the young woman? [Sex before marriage, Sexual feelings, Sin, Shame, the Role of Women, etc.]
  • What is the priest's response to each of her concerns?
  • What do you think was the most important statement the priest made about marriage?
  • How would you describe the priest's approach to the young woman?

V. Activity #3: Letters to the Priest, or "Everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask a priest"

Time: 20 minutes

Purpose: This activity provides participants a chance to ask some questions of their own in a relatively light and creative format. This is a variation on a “fish-bowl” exercise in which individuals write a question they have about sex on a card and put it in a fish bowl, after which the teacher can pick questions and answer them without embarrassing anyone. In this case, they both create the question and help to answer it. You may want to continue this activity as a general “fish bowl” if time permits.

In small groups have them come up with their own fictional "letter" to a priest. They will be provided with the sketch of a character like Anastasia above, who has certain ideas about sexuality and the Church. Each group will then ask a question for its character based on the type of concerns and misconceptions he or she has. Each group will attempt to answer the question of at least one other group based their understanding of the teachings of the Church. Encourage them to use the above priest’s letter as a model.

"We have seen how the Church might respond to one person's questions-- but there are still many more questions that we could ask. Each of us has a unique perspective on this issue . As Christians, many of us will find ourselves in situations where either we, or someone we know, is too afraid or embarrassed to ask a priest, bishop, or other church member about something regarding sex. There is still something we can do to help."

Pass out the character sheets or cards to the groups. You can select from our list or come up with your own-- or have them come up with their own character if they want. We strongly recommend that you change the names of characters if there are people in your group with those names.

"On each sheet/card is the name of a person who would like to ask a question of someone like the priest who wrote the letter we just looked at. Next to each name is one word to describe a little bit about their personality and a quote that shows a little bit about their concerns.

"It's each group’s task to come up with a question that one of these individuals could ask their priest to help them better understand the Church's teachings on sex and sexuality. Based on what they have said, what kind of misconceptions do you think they might have about the Church's teachings? What kind of problems do you think they would like to ask if they had the chance? Design a question or statement of what concerns them in about one or two sentences and write it on the sheet/card."

In each group give them an opportunity to discuss what kind of misconceptions this person might have before they develop a suitable question for their priest. Be ready to help out if necessary. When they are all ready, have each group state their character and the question or statement of concern they came up with.

"How do you suppose we should answer these questions? Trade your card (or sheet) with another group and answer their question for them as if you were their priest. Based on what you know about the Church and the things we discussed before, try to come up with an answer to the best of your ability."

Give them several minutes to discuss the problem and try to come up with a suitable answer. Again, be ready to help out and give some guidance. When complete, have each group give their answers.

Conclude the activity by drawing attention to how most of us can relate to more than one of the characters, depending on the situation in which we find ourselves.

VI. Session Conclusion


  • What are some misconceptions about sex and sexuality?
  • What advice does the Church give us in dealing with sexual choices?

“One of the biggest problems we face as Orthodox Christians today is unraveling the messages we receive about sexuality and the Church. Our Church does not want us to deny or debase our sexuality, but keep it in the proper perspective. Our sexuality can be sacred and it can be sinful, depending on what we do with it. We need to ask God for guidance in making the best decisions — decisions which will make us better people who live in Christ and in whom Christ lives.”

VII. Closing Prayer