Many adults worry, long before their children’s puberty, about sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs), abusive relationships, unintended pregnancy, and other sexual health hazards. This session helps adults channel their worries into a long-term, proactive strategy to support their children. It guides them into practices that demonstrate caring, respect, and faith in their children as decision makers about their own bodies and relationships. It is never too early to nurture a child’s sexual health.
Sexual health information evolves constantly. No parent or caregiver can have complete and fully current facts. However, adults can establish an atmosphere of open, nonjudgmental talk. They can point children and youth toward accurate information about sexual behaviors, risks, and precautions. Most importantly, they can nurture a child’s holistic sense of well-being across emotional, psychological, and social aspects of life.
This session asserts that sexual health is relevant to everyone, whether they are sexually active or not, whatever their genders and orientations, whether they are neurotypical or neuroatypical, and regardless of whether they have mobility limitations, cognitive disabilities, or sensory or mental health challenges.
The participants will reflect on their own experiences, which for some may include a sexual health crisis. Some may have experienced an STI or an unintended pregnancy. Some may share in the group. Others may not disclose, yet may quietly hold a painful story. No one should inquire about anyone’s personal history. Head off judgmental, stigmatizing, or belittling comments about unintended pregnancy, violence in relationships, and other sensitive topics. Maintaining a respectful tone will keep participants engaged and comfortable while modeling how they can respond to a youth who might confide in them.
- Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED candle
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Optional: Computer with Internet access and a projector
- Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
- Journals or paper, and pencils or pens
- Handout 6.1, Sexual Health Self-Assessment
- Handout 6.2, Recommended Multimedia Resources
- Facilitator Resource 6.1, Questions
- Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. This handout offers sources for frequently updated sexual health information. Update any links as needed. Expand the handout to include local resources, such as a local Planned Parenthood affiliate or a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session and invite them to bring a copy, or copy the handout to distribute in the session.
- Print Facilitator Resource 6.1, Contraception Methods Key. Familiarize yourself with the information on contraception available at the CDC website . You may want to have access to this website during the session.
- Print Facilitator Resource 6.2, Questions, and cut the questions into strips.
- Write the Focused Check-in question on newsprint and post it.
- Write the Spotlight prompt questions on newsprint and set them aside.
- Write the Reflection questions on newsprint and set them aside.
- Post the group covenant.
OPENING (5 minutes)
Welcome participants. If any participants are new, briefly review the posted covenant, answer any questions about it, and invite a quick round of name introductions.
Invite a participant to light the chalice. Then read the following quote from the American writer James Baldwin:
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.
FOCUSED CHECK-IN (5 minutes)
Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead the participants in taking a deep breath together. Then ask everyone to reflect on and, if they wish, share how they might complete this sentence: “When I think about my child’s sexual health, my biggest hope or my biggest worry is _____.”
Invite participants to respond briefly, as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants consider the question. Offer each one an opportunity to speak or to pass.
SPOTLIGHT (20 minutes)
Share these words from Act for Youth , a website supporting positive youth development:
Often when we speak of adolescents, sex, and sexuality, we focus on what adults don’t want young people to do. But sexuality is a normal, positive, and lifelong aspect of health and well-being, and it encompasses more than our particular behaviors. Healthy adolescent sexual development involves not only bodily changes, sexual behaviors, and new health care needs, it also involves building emotional maturity, relationship skills, and healthy body image.
Affirm that raising a child gives an adult a unique, long-term opportunity to nurture that child’s sexual health. Say that adults who are willing to explore their own sexual health attitudes, practices, and beliefs—as the group will do in this session—are on a path to becoming trusted guides and informants for a range of sexual health issues the children they are raising will face.
Say that sexual health can come into play across many aspects of life, such as romantic relationships, physical self-care, and online behavior. Point out that sexual health is relevant to everyone, whether sexually active or not. It concerns people of all genders; neurotypical and neuroatypical people; and people with mobility limitations, cognitive disabilities, and sensory or mental health challenges as well as those without them. Say that when children are young, no one can predict who they will become and what their sexual health needs are going to be.
Invite participants to take out paper and a writing implement and turn their thoughts to their own sexual health. Say that they will not be asked to share about these reflections. Remind them that, as always, if an exercise makes them extremely uncomfortable, they may remove themselves from the exercise or from the room, whatever they need for self-care.
Ask them to think of an experience, either their own or that of another adult they’ve been close to, that in some way demonstrates good sexual health. Say that they may reflect and journal about their sexually healthy memory for several minutes. Post these prompts and read them aloud.
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- How does this event or situation demonstrate good sexual health?
After three minutes, ask everyone to stop. Lead the group in taking a deep breath together. Invite a succinct check-in: “What was this exercise like for you? Please say easy, difficult, I’m not sure, or pass.”
Next, invite them to recall an experience of their own or of an adult they have been close to that was sexually unhealthy. What was the situation or event? Who was involved? What was sexually unhealthy about it? Allow several minutes for journaling, then ask them to stop. Lead them in taking another deep breath and have them repeat the brief check-in.
Acknowledge that the room now holds many different, unspoken stories. Offer this definition of sexual health, from the World Health Organization :
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.
PERSPECTIVES (15 minutes)
Say that research shows that receiving a comprehensive sexuality education is a predictor of healthy sexual outcomes. Share this quote from a 2018 article in The Atlantic magazine:
Over the past 30 years, more and more American sex-ed classrooms have shifted toward abstinence-only messages and away from more effective curriculums. Yet, over that same time period, Dutch sex education . . . has gotten progressively more comprehensive, and the Netherlands now outperforms most countries on various global metrics for sexual-health outcomes. On average, Dutch and American teenagers have sex for the first time around the same age—between 17 and 18—but with dramatically different results. Teen pregnancy has been on the decline in the U.S. for the past three decades, but American teenagers still give birth at five times the rate of their Dutch peers, who also have fewer abortions.
Note that comprehensive sexuality education teaches information, yet also equips children and youth to communicate comfortably and to seek new information as they mature. Further, Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality education programs establish an expectation of frank, accurate communication that adults can reinforce at home. Say that when families lack access to comprehensive sexuality education for their children, the adult role is even more critical. Suggest that the better adults understand their own sexual health, the better they can help children assess risks, take precautions, and communicate frankly.
Distribute Handout 6.1, Sexual Health Self-Assessment. Invite participants to take five minutes to think about the statements and respond privately to them as they like. For example, one participant might scan the statements and choose one to delve into by journaling. Another might prefer to consider each statement in turn and decide how true it is for them. Say that they will be invited, but not required, to share from this personal reflection.
When most participants seem to be finished or five minutes have passed, ask for any clarifying questions about the statements on the handout. Answer as best you can. (It is fine to say, “I don’t know.”) Then lead a conversation using these questions:
- How do you know what is sexually healthy? How do you know whether your idea of sexual health is appropriate for your child?
- What are some ways your sexual health attitudes and behaviors influence your hopes, needs, or fears for your child? What does your child need from you to grow into the attitudes or behaviors you want them to have when they are older?
- Do you have misgivings about activities your child may express interest in? How can you convey health information you think is important, yet not burden your child with your fears?
- How might you feel about putting a bowl of condoms and bottles of personal lubricant in the bathroom for your teenagers to access at any time? How would you feel about another parent or caregiver providing condoms in their home in that way?
Now invite the group to focus on the factual information one might need to maintain good sexual health. Ask, “Is it possible for you to have all the answers your child might need?” (The answer is “No.”) Ask, “Could you point your child or youth toward current, reliable, nonjudgmental sources of answers and support?” (The answer is “Yes.”)
Post a sheet of blank newsprint and ask, “Where can, or could, your child or youth get information and counsel they might need to maintain their sexual health?” Invite the group to brainstorm. Write their responses on the newsprint. Distribute Handout 6.2, Recommended Multimedia Resources. Look at the list together and share ideas for additions.
REFLECTION (25 minutes)
Invite the group to enter a time for reflection and sharing. Say you will offer several questions and invite participants to respond, one at a time, as they are moved. Say that everyone will have a chance to speak (or pass), without interruption. Post the Reflection questions and read them aloud:
- At this time, how well are you serving your child with accurate information about sexual health risks and prevention? How comfortable and capable do you feel in seeking sexual health information? How can you do better?
- What sexual health concerns do you feel comfortable discussing supportively with your child? What concerns do you feel less comfortable discussing? What is getting in the way?
TAKING IT HOME (15 minutes)
Say that while there are many actions and practices that will support children and youth in sexual health, the most important is that parents and caregivers must develop comfort with frank, comfortable talk about physiology and sexual function. Invite the group into an exercise that will give them practice.
Ask participants to form pairs. (If you have an odd number of participants, partner with a participant yourself. One purpose of this exercise is to practice one-on-one communication.)
Pass around the bowl of question strips from Facilitator Resource 6.1, Questions, and invite each pair to take one. Say that most of the questions were submitted to an anonymous question box by youth in an Our Whole Lives: Sexuality Education for Grades 7–9 program. Say that these are questions that may challenge adults to listen without judgment, to provide straightforward, factual information, and to affirm and support a child’s need for more information, a prevention strategy, or treatment.
Ask pairs to take turns, three minutes each, planning how they each would answer if their child asked them this question. One person should plan and practice, while the other listens and supports them. Say:
Answer the question to the best of your ability, without any additional resources, as if your child were asking it while you were traveling somewhere together. Take into consideration the age of your actual child. In addition to providing information, your answer can incorporate humor. It could include follow-up questions.
Ask pairs to make notes, so they can share later with the group, but to avoid writing scripts. Say that, in real life, a script may not be nearby when a child asks a sexual health question.
After three minutes, invite pairs to switch so that the second person can develop an answer to the question. After three more minutes, reconvene the group. Ask volunteers to read their question aloud, say how old they imagine the questioning child to be, and share their answer(s) with the whole group. Affirm participants’ comfort with factual use of sexual terms. Affirm warmth, humor, and lack of judgment in language or tone. Once all who wish to have had a turn, point out that working on their answers in this group has been practice for answering their own children’s potential questions.
CLOSING (5 minutes)
Thank everyone for being together. Say, in these words or your own:
Our children come from us, but their choices will be their choices. Their health will be their health. We can only offer them who we are, what we think we know, and our generous love.
Share the closing reading, “A Doorway from the Past to the Present,” a blessing written by Raquel V. Reyes, which is posted on the UUA’s WorshipWeb and used with permission. Say that the author writes in honor of her Cuban heritage, her husband’s Puerto Rican–Dominican heritage, and the teenagers in her Miami UU congregation, many of whom, like her own teens, are gender nonconforming. Raquel wanted to give their generation new words to modernize a cultural tradition, the quinceañera, that is important to Latinx heritage:
You do not have to wear the dress.
You do not have to have a party.
You do not have to dance the waltz con tu papá.
You do not have to accept the gift of your last doll.
You can break those traditions.
You have right of passage into adulthood simply for being you.
We are thankful that you acknowledge your Latinx heritage.
We are honored to celebrate this milestone with you.
We want you to know the fancy dress can equally be fancy pants.
We want you to know the fiesta is meant to be a souvenir to take into your future.
We want you to know the dance is a doorway from the past to the present.
We want you to know the doll is to remind you not that you are no longer a child,
but rather that you are regal;
that you deserve honor
deserve to be cherished.
Felicidades, dear one.
Invite a participant to extinguish the chalice. Thank the group for their participation. Remind the group of the day, time, and place of the next session.