Assessing Sexual Health

This online assessment tool can be used by the ministerial and/or lay leadership of the congregation to identify both the strengths and areas where there is a need for improvement on sexuality issues. It provides an opportunity for planning on how to address each of the areas thoroughly and comprehensively. It includes links to other online resources that may help a Congregation improve their policies, procedures, and programs.

Introduction to Assessing Sexual Health

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has a long standing commitment to be a sexually healthy and responsible denomination. During the past three years, the UUA has been working with the Religious Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing sexual health, sexuality education, and sexual justice in America's faith communities. The Religious Institute published Toward a Sexually Healthy and Responsible UUA in 2009, and recommended that congregations receive additional information and assistance on how to create sexuality policies and programs.

A sexually healthy congregation promotes the integration of sexuality and spirituality in worship, preaching, pastoral care, children, youth, and adult religious education, and social action programs in the community. It makes a commitment to a sexual ethic that is not based on double standards and understands that dealing with sexuality is an issue of spiritual wholeness. It is a congregation that addresses sexuality openly and holistically.

A sexually healthy and responsible Unitarian Universalist congregation has nine central building blocks.

  • Congregation policies and procedures which support these goals, including visible signals that this is a congregation that addresses sexuality issues openly and justly
  • Sexually healthy religious professionals with training and experience in sexuality issues
  • Worship and preaching periodically on sexuality issues
  • Pastoral care on a wide range of sexuality issues
  • Sexuality education for children and youth
  • Sexuality education and support for adults
  • Welcome and full inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families with LGBT members
  • A commitment against sexual exploitation of all kinds, including sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct by staff and clergy
  • Social Action Efforts for Sexual Justice in Society

This online assessment tool can be used by the ministerial and/or lay leadership of the congregation to identify both the strengths and areas where there is a need for improvement on sexuality issues. It provides an opportunity for planning on how to address each of the areas thoroughly and comprehensively. It includes links to other online resources that may help a Congregation improve their policies, procedures, and programs. It is not expected that any congregation will do all of these activities or have all of these policies but rather that these items represent best practice for congregations to consider.

There are a number of ways that a congregation or clergy person can use this online assessment. UU ministers do not need permission to obtain additional training in sexuality issues or to preach about a sexuality topic. Other areas, such as developing a new safe congregation's policy or an adult sexual education program, may need the support of the board or key lay committees. Not all of these suggestions will make sense in every community; take what is useful and discard what is not.

Some UU congregations have developed a steering committee on sexuality issues to conduct an overall assessment and develop an overall plan to address the sexual health of the community. Others divide up the assessment to the relevant staff professional or congregation committee which creates its own plan. Others have had the board create its own subcommittee.

Ultimately, a commitment to developing a sexually healthy faith community needs to permeate every aspect of a community. It is not enough to offer OWL to our middle school students and go through a Welcoming Congregation Program once. Instead, UU ministers, religious educators, the Board, key committee members, youth, and parents must share the commitment to sexual and spiritual wholeness. We are called as Unitarian Universalist communities to promote sexual morality, justice, and healing. This online guide will assist in that process.

The Religious Institute is available to provide intensive technical assistance and training to congregations, districts, and UUA professional groups as their work on implementing or improving their plans as a sexually healthy and responsible congregation. Please direct your inquiries to info@religiousinstitute.org.

This online assessment was developed by Rev. Debra W. Haffner, and reviewed by the following members of the UUA staff Rev. Terasa Cooley, Rev. Judith Friediani, Rev. Harlan Limpert, Rev. Sarah Lammert, Alex Kapitan, Kay Montgomery, Robert Molla, John Hurley, Rev. Craig Roshaven, and Rev. Ned Wight. We are grateful for their review. I am also grateful to Blanca Godoi for her careful preparation and research for this publication. The development of the online assessment guide was funded by the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.

Assessing Sexual Health: Table of Contents

Congregation Policies and Environment: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #1

Assessment Questions

There are many ways that a congregation signals its commitment to be a sexually healthy and responsible faith community. These include policies, by-laws, membership materials, the congregation website, the newsletter, and the physical environment.

These assessment questions can be completed separately by:

  • Congregational Administrator
  • Minister
  • Chair of Board of Trustees

Congregation Policies and Environment: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Sexually Healthy Religious Professionals: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #2

Assessment Questions

The most important building block for a sexually healthy congregation is a staff of sexually healthy and responsible religious professionals. Sexually healthy religious professionals—clergy, religious educators, youth advisors, and pastoral counselors—are comfortable with their own sexuality, have skills to provide pastoral care and worship on sexuality issues, maintain professional boundaries and avoid misconduct, and are committed to sexual justice in the congregation and the society at large. Some of these issues will be covered in future sections in more depth as well.

These assessment questions can be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Youth Minister/Director
  • Committee on Ministry or Personnel Committee Chair may choose to review the answers to these questions to assess the level of training/background of the religious professionals in the congregation

Sexually Healthy Religious Professionals: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Religious Institute “Sexuality Issues for UUA Religious Professionals” Online Course—12 session course available to ministerial candidates, Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowshipped clergy, Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) members, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) professional staff members, and staff directors of religious education. Enroll online.

Worship and Preaching: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #3

Assessment Questions

Sexuality issues can be addressed from the pulpit and in worship. Most Unitarian Universalist (UU) clergy have preached on some sexuality issues, especially about gay and lesbian issues and marriage equality. Many UU clergy have participated with the Religious Institute in our Rachel and Congo Sabbath Initiatives. However, many congregations miss the opportunity to regularly integrate these issues into worship, and few have ever addressed such issues as sexual abuse prevention, sexuality education, or reproductive justice. Preaching and worship about sexuality issues can help congregants understand the relationship of sexuality and spirituality; that sexuality can be discussed in a respectful and serious manner; and that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has a prophetic voice on sexuality issues. Further, addressing sexuality issues during worship and sermons demonstrates that clergy are comfortable talking about sexuality issues and therefore open to addressing these issues in pastoral care as well.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Worship Committee of the Congregation

Worship and Preaching: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

  • A Time for Every Purpose, Religious Institute, 2009, has Responsive Readings on the following topics: Sex Education, Abortion as a Moral Decision, Adolescent Sexuality, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Marriage Equality, and Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible, by David Carr, Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the Love of God, by John Spong, HarperCollins, 2005
  • When Bodies and Souls Entwine, A hymn written for the 10th Anniversary of the Religious Institute

For More Assistance

Pastoral Care: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #4

Assessment Questions

Clergy and other pastoral care providers must be prepared and skilled in handling the sexuality-related needs of their congregants. The Religious Institute has identified more than one hundred sexuality concerns that congregants might bring, ranging from couples struggling with sexual dysfunction, infertility, or marital issues; people coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual; families dealing with the news of a teenage pregnancy or Internet affair; people trying to overcome a legacy of childhood physical or sexual abuse, and so on. Every clergy and chaplain can think of times that sexuality issues have been raised in their private offices. Clergy need special training to deal with these pastoral care issues; congregants need to feel comfortable raising these issues with their clergy; and there needs to be an active referral network for those congregants who need more assistance.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Lay Pastoral Care Providers
  • Care Committee Chairs
  • Small Group Ministries Facilitators

Pastoral Care: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Sexuality Education for Children and Youth: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #5

Assessment Questions

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) Our Whole Lives (OWL) program is the most comprehensive lifespan sexuality education curricula currently available. More than two thirds of UU congregations teach OWL at the middle and/or high school level, but many have not fully implemented the program. Further, support for OWL educators is often limited, and sexuality education often only includes OWL and misses other opportunities for educating children and youth about our values about sexuality.

To be completed by:

  • Director of Religious Education
  • Youth Minister/Director
  • Chair(s), Religious Education Committee

Sexuality Education for Children and Youth: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Sexuality Education for Adults: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #6

Assessment Questions

Few Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations offer either the adult or the young adult Our Whole Lives (OWL) program, and even fewer have trained facilitators. But, there are many other ways that congregations can support sexuality education and information for the adults in their congregation.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Adult Education/Lifespan Education Chair

Sexuality Education for Adults: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Our Whole Lives, Adults

By Richard S. Kimball

From inSpirit: The UU Book and Gift Shop

Buy This Program

Welcome and Full Inclusion: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #7

Assessment Questions

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) began its commitment to being a community that welcomed and affirmed gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as early as 1987, and in 1990 it published the first version of "The Welcoming Congregation Handbook." Since that time, there have been expanded efforts to fully include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, with almost 700 congregations having gone through a Welcoming Congregation process and receiving recognition from the UUA. However, many congregations have done little to address the needs of bisexual and transgender persons, few address the needs of LGBT youth, and a majority does not have a committee or task force with responsibilities for this area.

The inclusive congregation creates an environment where LGBT persons and families with LGBT members feel integrated within the congregation; are comfortable worshipping together and showing affection to one another; feel comfortable speaking freely about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other aspects of their lives and experience; know they and their children can come to their clergy and youth leaders for compassionate, informed pastoral care and do not hesitate to invite other LGBT people to worship services and congregational activities; "see" themselves as active members of the community; and "hear" their lives and issues addressed in congregational worship, preaching, and teaching.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Social Justice Chair
  • Chair/Members of the Welcoming Congregation Committee/ Rainbow Task Force

Welcome and Full Inclusion: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For Additional Assistance

Safe Congregations: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #8

Assessment Questions

Although the latest version of the Safe Congregation's Handbook was published in 2005, seven in ten Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations do not have safe congregations committees in place and one third do not have any written policies in this area. A sexually healthy and responsible congregation is free from sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and misconduct. There is much work for congregations to do in this area.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Youth Minister/Director
  • Safe Congregations Committee Chair/Members

Safe Congregations: Assessment Checklist

Suggested Readings

For More Assistance

Social Justice/ Social Action: Assessing Sexual Health

Building Block #9

Assessment Questions

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been a leader in promoting sexual justice. Individual congregations have an important role to play in advocating for sexual and spiritual wholeness in the larger society. The Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing calls on faith communities to advocate for sexuality education in schools, work for access to sexual and reproductive health services, and promote full inclusion for women and lesbian,, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.

To be completed by:

  • Congregation Minister(s)
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Youth Minister/Director
  • Social Justice Director/Coordinator
  • Social Justice Chair/Committee

Social Justice/ Social Action: Assessment Checklist

For More Assistance

Closing Words for Assessing Sexual Health

Becoming a sexually healthy and responsible congregation is an ongoing process. It requires a sustained commitment by the congregation, its staff, and its ministers. No congregation will do everything, but every congregation can do something to assure that the community is safe and that sexuality is honored as a sacred part of life.

We are glad you have begun this journey. Know that you are not alone. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) district and headquarters staff is available to help you. The Religious Institute provides training and resources on each of these areas; please reach out to us with your questions at info@religiousinstitute.org.

Thank you for your commitment to sexual health and justice.

Assessing Sexual Health: Table of Contents

Hotlines for Referrals: Assessing Sexual Health

  • American Social Health Association's Sexually Transmitted Infections Resource Center Hotline
    Hours: Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., EST
    Phone: (800) 227-8922
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National AIDS Clearinghouse
    Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., EST
    Phone: (800) 458-5231 TTY: 1 (800) 243-1098
  • Domestic Violence Hotline
    Hours: 24 Hours
    Phone: (800) 799-SAFE (7233)
  • Emergency Contraception Hotline
    Hours: 24 Hours
    Phone: (888) NOT-2-LATE ((888) 668-25283)
  • National Abortion Federation—Abortion Information, Funding Assistance
    Hours: Monday - Friday, 7:00 a.m. - 11:00p.m., Saturday - Sunday, 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
    Phone: (800) 772-9100
  • National Abortion Federation—Referrals
    Hours: Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 9:00p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Phone: (877) 257-0012
  • National Child Abuse Hotline
    Hours: 24 Hours
    Phone: (800) 4A-CHILD
  • National Gay and Lesbian Hotline
    Hours: Monday-Friday, 4 p.m. - 12 am; Saturday, 12 p.m. - 5 p.m., EST
    Phone: (888) 843-4564
  • National HIV/AIDS Teen Hotline, "From One Teen to Another" American Red Cross
    Hours: Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. - 12 a.m., EST
    Phone: (800) 440-TEEN
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
    Phone: (800) 230-PLAN
  • Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): National Sexual Assault Hotline
    Hours: 24 Hours
    Phone: (800) 656-HOPE
    RAINN Online Hotline
  • RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association 
    Phone: (703) 556-7172
  • Stop it Now! (Preventing Child Sexual Abuse)
    Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
    Phone: (888) PREVENT
  • Teens Teaching AIDS Prevention (TTAP) National Hotline
    Hours: Monday - Friday, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m., CST
    Phone: (800) 234-TEEN
  • The Trevor Project: Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Services for LGBTQ Youth
    Hours: 24 Hours
    Phone: (866) 4-U-TREVOR
    Trevor Project Live Online Chat