Dr. Corey Gilbert, Associate Professor of Psychology at Corban University, might not have much in common with Salt-N-Pepa, the American hip-hop trio, but he would heartily agree with them on at least one point: “Let’s talk about sex.” Just last month, Dr. Gilbert presented at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. His topic? “Sex and the Millennial: Transformative Conversations that Integrate Research and Theology.”
How did Dr. Gilbert come to present at the AACC conference?
Dr. Gilbert had attended the AACC World Conference for years—since he was a grad student in the 90s, in fact. But he hadn’t actually presented until now. “I had wanted to do this for years, but it is amazing the power of FEAR,” he writes in his blog. But this year he had finally submitted a handful of proposals related to the conference’s annual theme, “Break Every Chain.” Not only was his proposal on “Sex and the Millennial” accepted, but it received a great deal of interest leading up to the conference and was one of the few breakout sessions labeled full on the registration page. Indeed, Dr. Gilbert ended up speaking to a packed house of about 160.
Why “Sex and the Millennial?” What’s critical about this age group and conversations about sex?
Dr. Gilbert has witnessed first-hand the attitudes Christian millennials have toward sex, both through his career as a Licensed Professional Counselor and as Associate Professor of Psychology at Corban University, where he teaches courses such as Human Sexuality, Trauma Therapy, Counseling Skills, Psychology of Addiction, and Abnormal Psychology. Although the topics he discusses with his students in these courses are often uncomfortable ones, Dr. Gilbert is adamant that being open about difficult topics, especially under the guidance of godly mentors, is crucial to young people’s development.
And indeed, “Millennials want and need to talk about sex,” Dr. Gilbert explains in a summary of his presentation. “How they think about sex impacts them spiritually, behaviorally, relationally, emotionally, and neurologically. The decisions they make during the critical young adult years (ages 18-28) impact them for decades.”
The problem lies in where millennials are receiving their information about this topic. Although each generation has struggled with harmful attitudes toward sex, millennials have access to portals of information that earlier generations did not, including the internet and social media. Too often, young people turn to sources of information that are inaccurate or even harmful (e.g. social media and friends), instead of biblically-grounded sources.
Where does “Research” enter the discussion? What kind of research did Dr. Gilbert conduct?
For more than a decade, Dr. Gilbert has been collecting data. Both in his Human Sexuality course at Corban and in an equivalent course he’s taught for another private Christian university, Dr. Gilbert has administered a survey to his students at the beginning of each semester. The survey asks students to honestly and anonymously answer questions about their attitude toward sex, where they’ve learned about sex, their comfort level talking to their parents about sex, and other related questions.
For years, the data had been piling up, unused. “Two years ago,” says Dr. Gilbert, “a colleague of mine pushed me to do something with it.” Dr. Gilbert asked one of his student assistants, Danielle Horne, to begin compiling the data from the surveys. Danielle began to analyze some of the data and ended up presenting her findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April of 2016. Her presentation was titled “Safe Sex: A Study on the Influences on Sexual Decision-Making.” She concluded that a young person’s comfort-level talking with their parents about sex had an impact on whether or not they would make safe decisions. The higher the comfort level, the more likely they would turn to their parents to talk about sex, and the less risky their behavior would be. “It is the parent’s job to create an environment in the home where their children feel comfortable talking about sex,” Danielle concluded. The idea of parental responsibility became a key point in Dr. Gilbert’s presentation.
What about “Theology”? What role did Scripture play in this discussion?
Dr. Gilbert’s discussion on parental involvement dovetailed with an analysis of Proverbs 6:20-23:
My son, obey your father’s commands,
and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
Keep their words always in your heart.
Tie them around your neck.
When you walk, their counsel will lead you.
When you sleep, they will protect you.
When you wake up, they will advise you.
For their command is a lamp and their instruction a light;
their corrective discipline is the way to life.
He pointed out that this passage, in the context of warning young people away from sexual immorality, underlines the importance of parents in a young person’s decisions about sex—similar to Danielle’s conclusions. He points out that parents’ counsel, commands, instruction, and discipline come together to protect their children from unhealthy decisions regarding sex.
So… What’s the takeaway?
Both research and Scripture point to the importance of wise adults speaking into young people’s lives. Ultimately, Dr. Gilbert points out that parents, church leaders, and other Christian adults can’t afford to be silent on the topic of sexuality. Rather, their role is to counsel, command, instruct, and discipline young people. Evidence shows that, when communicated effectively in a way that makes young people comfortable, a parent’s input and involvement has a significant impact on a young person’s behavior, and can become more influential than powerful voices such as social media and the internet. Speaking to pastoral and professional counselors, coaches, church leaders, and others working in the field of young adult and family mental health, Dr. Gilbert urged them, “Be a wise voice in this conversation; don’t be silent.”
Dr. Gilbert hosts a blog and online resource called “Healing Lives,” whose mission is “to provide church leaders, young adults, moms, and dads with practical tools, teaching, resources, and guidance on matters of a biblical sexual ethic for their churches, families, and lives.”