Welcome to a program for Unitarian Universalist parents and caregivers who seek support and skills to be effective sexuality educators of their children. This program invites adults to ask themselves: How can I embody my role as my child’s primary sexuality educator in a way that expresses my UU values and faith?
Of course, children pick up information and attitudes from sources beyond the home: peers, popular culture, social media, other adults. Many Unitarian Universalist children will participate in Our Whole Lives (OWL), the lifespan, holistic, values-based sexuality education program provided by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and they may also receive sexuality education in school. However, OWL encourages, and this program aims to nurture, parents and caregivers in their role as their children’s primary sexuality educators. Trusted adults carry extraordinary power to influence their children’s attitudes and values around sexuality. Many adults struggle to wield that power with intentionality, grace, and confidence. These sessions invite parents and caregivers to find support, insight, and courage with one another.
While the small group ministry format provides a spiritually grounded space, the program’s approach to sexuality is secular and grounded in science, in tune with the OWL lifespan sexuality education programs on which it is based. A facilitator can bring this program to a secular setting by omitting references to Unitarian Universalist Principles and values.
Purpose of the Program
The sessions are designed to meet the needs of adults raising children of a wide age range, from elementary through high school. Like OWL workshops, these sessions build comfort in talking about sexuality-related topics and offer skill-building activities. The sessions address topics also provided in OWL sexuality education for youth ages 12-14 (grades 7-9), but these sessions focus on these participants’ needs as parents and caregivers. Participants are invited to engage deeply with their hopes and fears, their values and practices. Where the OWL junior high program delivers a great deal of important knowledge, this program emphasizes the adult’s ongoing adult responsibility to share accurate, current information, as needed, with their child or youth.
Like OWL programs, this program conveys a holistic view of sex and sexuality (mapped out as Circles of Sexuality in Session 2), encompassing sensuality, intimacy, sexual health and reproduction, sexual identity, and societal sexualization. Participants identify their hopes, examine their concerns, and frame both in the context of their children’s lives, acknowledging that their children face different circumstances and pressures than did earlier generations.
These sessions also help adults build skills for healthy family communication. Communication is the foundation of this program, just as it is the foundation of healthy relationships within and beyond families.
Scheduling a Series of Meetings
The program provides ten 90-minute sessions that invite participants into learning, reflection, sharing, and skill building. Plan a series of at least four sessions to establish the group as a supportive container for discussion and exploration. The first two sessions provide framing and build community in the group. Session 1 invites participants to choose future topics. After Sessions 1 and 2, the group may explore any of the remaining topics, in any order.
UU congregations might provide this program for parents and caregivers whose children are meeting for Our Whole Lives sessions at the same time. Others may offer the program to engage community interest in a children’s or youth OWL program. A congregation whose family ministry already includes covenant groups of parents and caregivers might incorporate these sessions into an ongoing series.
In 2019, the UUA produced Faithful Consent, a short video featuring interviews with adults of all ages from a variety of faith traditions. A discussion guide accompanies the video. Groups that do Session 8, Consent: Building Healthy Boundaries, may wish to add an extra meeting to watch the video and engage in guided discussion of it.
Note that many of the sessions ask the group to go online to view a video or listen to an audio recording. Make sure your meeting space has a computer with Internet access, a large monitor or a projector and screen, and good speakers.
The Facilitator’s Role
The facilitator will need both experience leading a small, covenanted group and comfort and confidence presenting sexuality-related information. They need not be an approved Our Whole Lives facilitator. An ideal facilitator might be a religious educator or a minister. A lay leader can fill the role, perhaps someone raising children who have done an OWL program, or perhaps someone with experience in sexuality education, adult education, or social work.
An adult’s personal sexual history shapes their attitudes, feelings, and communication about their children’s sexual lives. This program invites self-refection. It guides adults to separate their own stories from the lives of their children and, at the same time, to develop empathy with their children’s explorations and challenges as they grow into sexual beings. The facilitator helps by modeling ease with sensitive topics, frank and challenging questions, and factual information. The facilitator will calmly normalize a range of sexuality-related situations and stories. By creating a relaxed, matter-of-fact atmosphere devoid of assumptions and judgment, the facilitator helps participants build comfort and confidence in their role as their children’s primary sexuality educators.
A participant may make a personal disclosure that involves threat or harm and meets a state or congregational standard for mandatory reporting. Facilitators need to know their state and congregational mandatory reporting guidelines.
Sessions include quiet intervals for reflection and journaling. Facilitators must be able to hold a friendly silence. Before the first session, facilitators can suggest that participants bring a journal. In any case, facilitators must ensure there are paper and writing implements at every session.
Each session has a Resources handout that facilitators may email or distribute to the group. Before each session, the facilitator must confirm that the suggested resources are current (the URLs still work, the websites indeed include relevant, worthwhile information) and enhance the list with current local resources relevant to the session topic—for example, contact information for the nearest Planned Parenthood facility, a local chapter of PFLAG (an organization of and for LGBTQ individuals, family members, and allies), or local programs for youth leadership, self-esteem-building, or identity affinity. You might provide each Resources handout by email with a reminder of the next meeting’s day, time, and place.
Today’s knowledge and trends differ from what participants will remember from their own childhood and youth. Encourage parents and caregivers to continue learning, after this program concludes, about the world their children live in. Keeping up with current information relevant to a child’s real-life experiences will strengthen communication between an adult and their child.
Format for Each 90-Minute Session
Opening: introduces the topic and welcomes the group
Focused Check-in: invites everyone to consider a question and share brief responses
Spotlight: further introduces the topic and sparks thoughts and feelings about it
Perspectives: expands understanding by providing sexuality facts, youth perspectives, and/or discussion of cultural trends
Reflection: offers a few questions to consider in silence and then optionally respond to while others listen deeply, without comment or question
Taking It Home: asks participants to reflect on the session as a whole, identify an important experience or piece of information they have gained, and think of an action or practice to do on their own or with their child
Closing: includes a reading with a message to take away from the session
- Hopes and Concerns for Kids’ Sexual Health *
- Communication: How Do We Talk about Sex? *
- Gender Identity: Exploring Emotions around Gender
- Sexual Orientation: Supporting Self-Discovery
- Relationships: Guiding with Wisdom
- Sexual Health: Be a Trusted Source
- Decision Making: Ready, Set, Let Go!
- Consent: Building Healthy Boundaries
- Social Media: Integrity in a Changing World
- Pornography: It’s Not Sex Ed
* The first two sessions provide framing and build community in the group. Please start with these.