Led by Mary DuVernay
When I mention the Our Whole Lives curriculum, responses typically fall into two categories: (1) confusion and questions about what sexuality education means within a liberal faith tradition such as Unitarian Universalism; (2) a smile, understanding nod, and story about how meaningful the OWL program has been to that individual or a child in their family. If you are part of the second group, thank you for your support and encouragement. If you are part of the first group, I hope that this message will convince you of the importance of sexuality education for the growth and health of our fellowship.
The Our Whole Lives Curriculum was created in partnership by Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ Members to fill a need for sexuality education within the faith community that was consistent with UU and UCC values. Originally developed for adolescents, the Our Whole Lives program has expanded to include workshops for kindergarten through adulthood, demonstrating the need for and benefit from these discussions for people of all ages. I participated in a training last fall on how to lead Our Whole Lives workshops for early and late elementary age children, and am working with your YUUTH committee on offering these workshops starting next fall.
You may wonder what crazy notion inspired me to attend this training, and then to volunteer to give my first sermon before this fellowship on the hot topic of sexuality education. I have wondered the same thing. There isn’t one simple answer. About a year ago, I found myself discussing John Krakauer’s book about the rape crisis on the UM campus with a number of other mothers. Mothers who each had a son between age 4 – 10, and each of us wondering what we say to our sons to teach them to respect and care for their future partners. Then I think about my daughter, and wonder about the kind of person she will grow to be, and whether she will live in a world that will respect her for all of her wonderful qualities. I think about the lessons I learned about gender, motherhood, and family from my parents, church and community, the ideas I embraced and those I rejected. I think about our political process and unequal participation of men and women in political office. This message can’t answer all these questions; the OWL program doesn’t answer all these questions. What I believe it does offer is a recognition of the pervasive, yet often ignored, role sexuality plays in so many aspects of our lives.
For many people, sexuality education is confounded with sex education. While the Our Whole Lives curriculum does include accurate, developmentally appropriate information about human anatomy and reproduction, sexuality includes much more than that.
Sexuality is healthy, natural, and a normal part of being human. We are all sexual beings. Our sexuality includes: (1) our bodies and how our bodies work; (2) our genders, gender identities, and gender roles and expectations; (3) our sexual orientations, such as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual; and (4) our values about life and the people our lives touch. Sexuality also includes how we feel about all of these dimensions as well as how we experience relationships, intimacy, and love.
The Parent Guide to Our Whole Lives – Patricia Hoertdoerfer
From the time of birth, the way we touch, talk about, and remain silent around our children’s bodies and our own send messages about human sexuality. As a fellowship, we strive to welcome members and friends regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, family or marital status. Yet, beyond the importance of creating welcoming fellowship, we also promise to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
- Singing the Living Tradition
We recognize the importance of complex social and moral dilemmas linked to sexuality – questions of reproductive rights, rape and abuse prevention, marriage equality, equal pay for equal work, anti-discrimination laws. Our Unitarian principles help us navigate these dilemmas and often spur us to action within our community, our country, and world. For our children to grow into adults who will also engage these issues we must furnish them with basic knowledge, vocabulary, and comfort with human sexuality. Starting with elementary age, the Our Whole Lives curriculum helps children become actors in control of their own bodies, recognizing and respecting themselves and those with whom they form relationships, practicing decision-making, evaluating the morals that inform our life choices.
Unitarian religious education may be, above all, an introduction to critical thinking and reflection. By teaching children to talk about sexuality, and showing them that we are not afraid to answer their questions, we help erode social patterns of shame. We allow children to explore their own identities and learn to relate to others, similar and dissimilar, without fear. We will each continue to express our sexuality in unique ways – our dress, our actions, our choices in relationships. Not all families will choose to participate in the OWL program. However, offering the program opens the door for our fellowship to recognize sexuality as an important part of our identities. Sexuality for many remains a very private topic. Through the OWL program, we can create a safe space to learn about sexuality, to discover and respect this sacred aspect of our humanity, and make the distinction between private and hidden, between personal and feared or shunned.
It is easy to call to mind the myriad ways in which our society fails to meet these values: narrow media representations of gender and sexuality, laws that exclude certain groups or fail to offer protection, on-going sexual mistreatment, abuse, and exploitation. It is much harder to find a path away from a complicated history of fear, ignorance, and shame clouding our view of sexuality. One step along that path lays through our religious education program, in particular the Our Whole Lives curriculum. When we provide accurate, age-appropriate information about anatomy and development, we empower children to feel in control of their own bodies. When we add to this an exploration of values, practice in decision-making, and recognition of rights and responsibilities, we can hope that our guidance will serve to “awaken the conscience, the moral discernment and the soul” of these children.