Comprehensive Sexuality Classes in a Church?

Sat, 10/13/2012 - 09:58
Submitted by Anonymous

There have been times in the comment sections here that people have made broad statements about Christians being uniformly sex negative and blindly promoting abstinence-only sex education. When I see these comments I always comment back about the comprehensive sexuality education classes that were created through a joint effort of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a program based on the assumptions that teenagers have the right to:

  • ask any questions they have about sexuality.
  • receive complete and accurate information about sexuality.
  • explore any issues of sexuality that interest them.
  • have support in making their own decisions about sexual matters.
  • express their sexuality in ways that are healthy and life-affirming.
  • be treated with respect around issues of their sexuality.

It's also based around several assumptions about human sexuality in general:

  • all persons are sexual.
  • sexuality includes far more than sexual behavior.
  • sexuality is a good part of the human experience.
  • human beings are sexual from the moment they are born until the moment they die.
  • it is natural to express sexual feelings in a variety of ways.
  • people engage in healthy sexual behavior for a variety of reasons, including to express caring and love, to experience intimacy and connection with another, to share pleasure, to bring new life into the world, and to experience fun and relaxation.
  • sexuality in our society is damaged by violence, exploitation, alienation, dishonesty, abuse of power, and the treatment of persons as objects.

The program embraces and promotes 4 values:

  • Self-worth -- every person is entitled to dignity and self-worth and to his/her own attitudes and beliefs about sexuality.
  • Sexual health -- knowlege about human sexuality is helpful, not harmful. Healthy sexual relationships are consensual, nonexploitative, mutually pleasurable, safe (no or low risk of unintended pregnancy, STIs, and emotional pain), developmentally appropriate, based on mutual expectations and caring, respectful. Sexual intercourse is only one of the many valid ways of expressing sexual feelings. It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.
  • Responsibility
  • Justice and Inclusivity -- people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds, income levels, physical and mental abilities, and sexual orientations must have equal value and rights. Their relationships and sexual expressions are all valid and worthy of respect.

Our Whole lives was developed in the 90's in response to the repressive atmosphere most sexuality education takes place in for teenagers. And the church I am Director of Religious Education for, a church in Utah, of all places, volunteered to be one of the pilot sites for the brand new class in 1997. I am so very proud to be working for a church what was a beacon for progressive sexuality education in the midst of far-conservative Utah.  The Jr High version was officially released to the UUA and UCC congregations in 1999. Soon after High School, Young Adult, Adult, and versions for children K-1 and 4-6 were developed and released.

The curricula themselves are completely secular and appropriate for use by schools, community organizations, and even other faiths. Though all people teaching it should be certified through the UUA and UCC facilitator training courses. Religious aspects the the curricula are added via separate modules called Sexuality and Our Faith. The UUA version of Sexuality and our Faith focuses on our 7 Principles, whereas the UCC version includes bible stories and quotes that support the core values and assumptions of the program. Though we're teaching the UUA version, given that we are in Utah, where it seems every teenager has their own well-used copy of the Bible and Book of Mormon, at my church we also draw from the UCC passages to give our teens some tools to support themselves and their sexual values when in discussion with their Mormon peers.

At the end of September I traveled to Boston to become trained as a facilitator for the Jr and Sr High versions of the classes. Last week I facilitated my first class to 18 High Schoolers, youth in my Sunday School and youth from the community who had either heard of the class through their friends who attend my church, or whose parents had heard of the class and wanted their teens to take it. My church offers the class for free, and has done so since we beta tested it, as part of our community ministry, because we know that there is no other place in Utah for these teens to get this information.

I am incredibly happy and fulfilled in my job as a Director of Religious Education, but my job satisfaction more than doubled when I became certified to facilitate this class and joined the OWL team. I'll be doing a series here on what we're teaching these teenagers. My hope is that through these posts I can spread awareness of this program so that parents can seek it out and support it in their own communities, either through their local Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ congregations, or through secular organizations who are brave enough to offer this education and freedom to the teenagers in their community.

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UUA churches and sexuality classes

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 12:17

Kasini, your post several months ago was the first I had heard of 'Our Whole Lives'. Though I haven't studied the program in detail, I'm very impressed at the candor and sex-positive nature of the program compared with the awful repression and threats of damnation I received when I was a kid in Catholic schools. What a difference it makes to be compassionate and sensible about sexuality! I'm assuming that the program is positive about masturbation and orgasm as well, and lets young people feel happy and positive about exploring their own bodies and feeling sexual enjoyment. This is such a natural and normal part of growing up, yet so many churches shame kids and fill them with self-doubt and self-hatred about their own normal development! So best of luck in spreading such a terrific program.

Wow this is excellent!

Sun, 03/10/2013 - 13:28

I am really glad to hear about churches who are accepting of sexuality and promoting healthy, inclusive and educated sexuality.  :)  That's so wonderful!  Thank you for sharing this with us, and maybe someday as culture changes, other churches and institutions will begin to accept and promote empowered, healthy sexuality as well.  Cheers!