“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of Half the Sky  as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference. 
Sadly, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. Truth is, I kinda wish my parents did — not in a lecturing way or in an embarrassing way, incorporating stick-figure drawings, but honest talk about human sexuality. When you give youth freedom and a framework for values that don’t demand or shame, they are generally receptive to what you have to say. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry. We can talk about this over Christmas dinner. Should make for lively conversation while we’re passing around the ham.)
According to the 2010 National Campaign report, eight-in-10 teens (80 percent) say that it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Similarly, six-in-10 teens  (62 percent) wish they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents.
Moving from home to public education, I remember first being presented with the birds and the bees in sixth-grade health class. I didn’t quite understand it, but “The Miracle of Life” video in ninth-grade biology class certainly helped clear up a few things. Then came my freshman year of college in which my Sexuality in a Diverse Society professor had the class write a list of as many words as we could think of for “penis” and “vagina.” One person from each group had to read their group’s list aloud to the class. There were lots of giggles and guffaws, plus a few phrases I never thought to associate with human genitalia, leaving me utterly baffled and slightly disturbed.
Sex-ed’s debut can be traced back to the 1970s , when there was growing public concern about STDs, teen pregnancy, and increased access to birth control. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education ; 17 states and D.C., require that information on contraception be provided; 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed, while 11 require that it be covered.
Generally speaking, you can’t be a teen in America and not hear something about sex during the course of your education, but the content of what you hear may vary greatly depending on your state, locality, whether the school is public or private, or whether it has a religious affiliation.
Now from public education to religion: this is where I heard both the most appalling — as well as the most beautiful — messages about sex, some of which are quoted below. Too often, I fear the church is silent and bashful about sex. One reason, I purport, that youth look to society and friends for answers to questions is they fear it's taboo in religious settings, perhaps feeling embarrassed for even having such thoughts or questions.
And when the church has spoken out about sex, many messages I heard have either been shaming or repressive. Specifically, some ways in which many Christians condemn premarital sex have hurt and shamed young men and women who have regrets in this arena. It is not a picture of the grace and forgiveness I believe Jesus wishes we could experience, and it’s certainly not helping any of us to forgive one of the hardest people to forgive when it comes to something so personal: ourselves.
I think there is a place away from both the over-sensualized music videos of Rihanna gyrating on YouTube, and from bashful “don’t-have-sex” conversations, that discusses sex in a real, authentic way, unabashed in rich, non-shaming, gracious, and open discussion. Bona fide conversations, not lectures, that point to something to bigger than ourselves … our Creator. Herein describes some of those aforementioned messages and a more holistic alternative:
If none of those messages hit home, may I offer another alternative: Gracious, comprehensive, and holistic dialogue to counter an all-too-often rote conversation only about just waiting to have sex until marriage. This one’s particularly for all the girls out there — as many messages (such as the “lollipop” quote) are disproportionately directed at girls’ “purity:”
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
And one final question to ponder … where does your affirmation come from? If you can’t find value, worth, and acceptance from within — the person made and loved by God — it’s going to be even harder to find it when placed into the hands of someone else.
What messages have you heard about sex? What resonated with you as wise and helpful and what was not?
Melissa Otterbein is a research assistant at a Baltimore City HIV/AIDS clinic and blogs at melissaotterbein.wordpress.com .
Photo: Heart-shaped lollipops, ©