I've mentioned before that this year I have an assignment with the teenagers at church. In Mormon terms, I'm the "young men's president," which means that I'm supposed to be the moral compass to the 12 through 17 year-olds. We're basically exactly like the teacher and students on Glee except we're not absurd and offensive and nonsensical and obnoxious.
Lately, I have to admit, I have found entertainment in the lives of the Mormon teenagers here the same way one might find entertainment in a trashy daytime soap opera. In fact, Daniel and I have been referring to our time with the kids recently as "General Island." Everybody has a crush on everybody else and I seriously cannot wait each week to find out who is sitting next to whom. If I thought it appropriate, I would bring popcorn to church on Sundays and sit on the back row. It's like Friday Night Lights, the island version!
WE DON'T HAVE TV IN PALAU, OK!?
In the Mormon youth organizations there is an emphasis on promoting morally clean lifestyles, which includes encouraging the kids to avoid sex or compromising situations before marriage. The principle behind it all is to teach that we are to respect our bodies and others and that we can avoid unnecessarily complicating our lives by following these simple ideas.
I realized the other day that I have completely neglected to discuss any of this with the boys in the last year because AWKWARD.
But recently I've been feeling a little guilty for not opening the doors of communication on this topic because for all I know some of these kids might really want or need some guidance and they might not know to whom they can turn. And sadly, many of them don't really have responsible family members they can go to.
The problem is, I had no idea how to have a conversation on this topic with the boys. And I certainly wasn't going to revert back to one well-meaning but horribly misguided and ineffective object lesson I saw as a teenager where everyone passed around an unwrapped candy bar and then nobody wanted to eat it because it had been fondled by the entire class. BECAUSE, SEE!? SEX MAKES YOU IRREPARABLY DISGUSTING!
I was determined to have a more healthy conversation and, if nothing else, let everyone know that there was someone in their lives who was there to support and help them.
So it was with that that I finally broached a subject yesterday at church that I will NEVER discuss with ANYONE ever ever ever again!
The following conversation makes more sense when you factor in the language barrier and the general pure innocence of these island boys. Also, I never taught them to call me "Brother Eli." They just started doing that on their own when I got to Palau.
A Conversation with Teenage Boys about Chastity
Eli: Ok. So, um . . . who can tell me what . . . "chastity" means?
Eli: Not all at once.
Eli: Ok. How about we read this paragraph right here and see if that can help us get started.
[Paragraph about sex as a "special" and "sacred" thing and the importance of avoiding stuff that cheapens it, like "pornography."]
Boy 1: Brother Eli? What is pornomography?
Eli: Uh. Ok. Good question. Do any of you guys know what that is?
[Nodding in unison]
Eli: Ok. What is it?
[LONG awkward pause]
Boy 2: Is it sexual intercourse?
Eli: Well . . . uh . . . not exactly.
Boy 3: Brother Eli? What is sexual intercourse?
Eli: Ok. Uh . . .
Boy 2: Isn't it when you [beep] but not with [beeeeeeeeep]?
Eli: Oh my. Uh . . . I hadn't really planned on having this discussion with you today . . . uh . . .
Boy 1: Brother Eli? I have a question.
Eli: Um . . . ok . . . yes?
Boy 1: My friend recently [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep] with a girl after he [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep] but they [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep]. Is that wrong?
Eli: [bright red now] WHAT?! I didn't even know that was possible!!! I mean, yes. Or, no. Don't do any of that, ok?
Boy 4: Is sexual intercourse how a woman has a baby?
Eli: [Looking out into the hallway] Maybe . . . we should find . . . a grownup for this conversation . . .
Boy 2: One time I saw on a computer a man and a woman [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep] on top of a [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep]. Is what they were doing pornomography?
Eli: Oh my gosh! You saw that on a computer!?
Boy 1: I also saw that at the library on a computer once because someone was looking at a picture of [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep].
Boy 5: I saw that too, once.
Eli: NOBODY IS GOING TO USE ANY MORE COMPUTERS! Ok?!
Boy 5: Brother Eli? Do you ever [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep]?
Eli: Does anyone else think it's really hot in here?
Boy 2: Does it have to involve [words I've never even heard of] to be pornomography intercourse?
Eli: Seriously? Nobody else thinks it's hot?!
Boy 5: Brother Eli? Is [beeeeeeeeeep] the same thing as sexual intercourse?
Eli: . . . so I have a candy bar here that I want to pass around. . .
~It Just Gets Stranger