Who taught you about sex? If you were lucky, a kind, understanding parent or relative told you about “the birds and the bees” and answered all of your questions as you came of age. Some people learned about intercourse in science class or sex education classes. Many found out about “it” from older siblings or peers. Still others learned through hands-on experience.
These days, it is essential that kids be informed about sexuality from an early age. Children are exposed to sexual images and language through television, movies, computers, magazines, music, and video games. Often these images portray unrealistic and sometimes dangerous messages about body image, gender roles, and promiscuity. Adults often give clues that they are uncomfortable talking openly about sex and so children often get information from unreliable sources like the Internet, magazines, or one another.
Making safe choices about sex is a life or death issue. Many kids are misinformed about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, date rape, and the transmission of AIDS. With peer pressure and strong messages glorifying sex in mainstream culture, kids need to understand all aspects of human sexuality and learn effective communication skills in order to maintain self-respect and healthy relationships. Gay youth in particular often struggle with their sexuality and without decent information and support can suffer from depression or even attempt suicide.
Our Whole Lives is an important program in the life of our congregation. This is the second time that our trained leaders will be offering comprehensive sexuality education for seventh graders as a part of the Religious Education Program. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ developed Our Whole Lives (or OWL as it’s known by its acronym) as a sex education program designed for congregations.
Many people are surprised to discover that sex is being talked about openly not only with thirteen year olds but in a church setting. OWL was developed in the 1990’s but this is actually a revision of a program that was taught in our churches during the sixties and seventies called About Your Sexuality. Unitarian Universalists have been offering human sexuality courses for over forty years.
I believe the “Abstinence Only” approach to sex education that is being promoted by some churches and schools is insufficient. Although OWL promotes abstinence, it does so by giving the participants detailed information about the real-life consequences of sexual behavior. The kids are encouraged to share their feelings and experiences not only with the class and teachers but also with their parents.
Sexuality is not a subject to be treated lightly. For that reason, it is important that kids understand what it means to have a mutually respectful and mature relationship. Kids actually learn how to make decisions, resist peer pressure, and express themselves more clearly. These skills are essential not only when it comes to sex but in all of the challenges that they may encounter as they come of age. We cannot expect youth to be able to “just say no” without affirmation and support from caring adults and peers.
At Channing Memorial Church, we strive to create a safe environment where human beings can seek meaning in life. We believe that the mind, body, and spirit are not separate entities but together contribute to our health as human beings. One of the goals of religion is to help guide individuals to becoming his or her best selves. This is why it is so important for faith communities to support people of all ages in making healthy decisions and to create a safe caring atmosphere to explore life’s most intimate issues.