Sex versus Sexuality Ed: Healing the World

As I have written about before, OWL is the Our Whole Lives curricula regarding healthy sexuality. It was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the folks at the United Church of Christ. A long time ago I was trained in teaching sixth graders and have had the awesome chance to do just that twice at my home congregation. Helping a co-ed group of kids starting middle school to learn and talk about their bodies, about reproduction, about decision making, about the pressures regarding romantic and sexual relationships they are already feeling is a holy and serious responsibility. I love it.

When those folks named the curricula Our Whole Lives, they weren’t kidding. Not Our Whole Lives Til You Graduate High School (OWLTYGHS – how unwieldy!), but our WHOLE lives. This past week I spent two LONG, luscious days learning how to facilitate the classes for young adults and adults.

Yes, you read right: a sex ed class for ADULTS.

One topic raised in the class was Circles of Sexuality, which is a helpful, though not perfect, tool to engage what we are talking about when we are talking about not sex ed so much as sexuality ed.

ImageBack in middle school or high school, if you took a sex ed class, it primarily focused on sexual health and reproduction. How babies are made. What your parts are. What someone else’s parts are. How you can get VD or STDs or as they are now called, STIs (sexually transmitted infections). How you can protect yourself from those, and unwanted pregnancy. (Unless, of course, you got the abstinence only version.)

As you can see from the Circles of Sexuality framework, developed by Dr. Dennis Dailey, sexual health and reproduction is only one circle among many within the broad concept of sexuality.   Also included are sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, and sexualization (where sexuality and power meet).  So there’s alot there.  It’s kinda juicy.

Since its development, other riffs on this framework have emerged, including this one

image from Scarleteen

image from Scarleteen

which a friend of mine, a skillful and respected sexuality educator, uses and recommends, as she finds it more inclusive, more juicy, more truthful.

When I arrived home from class, having traveled 300 miles round trip, I was all bubbly with excitement that this is part of my ministry in the world. Good sexuality education rocks, but to do it in a faith context stands in resistance to the damage, historical and current, that religions have wrent upon the world when it comes to sexuality. Truly, I feel that in helping people connect to their healthy bodies, their healthy sexual bodies, to their healthy fleshy bodies, is nothing short of Tikkun Olam: healing the world.

But my buzzkill husband was like, “Who’s going to sign up and go to that?!?”

Not, “Who needs that?” because I think he understands that there might be at least some interesting content, and perhaps even necessary content. But who is going to be willing to attend such a class in public, with other people, some of whom they probably know? Some of whom they will perhaps see in the pew next to them during worship? Who would do that?

To be honest with him, and with you, I am not yet sure. I can see how this would fly high with young adults. I can easily see doing such a class – or weekend retreat – in a university setting. And I can see it in a community that focuses on elders – assisted living, nursing home, retirement communities. (Did you know that increases in STI rates are the highest among the over 55 crowd? It’s hard when you are newly divorced or widowed and are back in the swing of dating – a lot has changed in the past ten, twenty, thirty, forty years…)

I know there is not only a need, but sometimes a longing, to talk about sexuality, to hear about sexuality, to learn about sexuality in adults of all ages. There is a need to listen and to be heard, to see and be seen. There is in many of us a strong pull to know we are not the terrible things we were called, even if people who said those judgmental or hateful things didn’t know they applied to us. I think Our Whole Lives speaks to this deep longing and answers gently, with information, humor, compassion, and most important: facts.

I do wonder who will be brave enough to sign up for one of these classes? Who will be bold enough to cross that threshold of public taboo?  Yet I know I can’t find out unless I am that brave, I am that bold, and help by being a part of a loving community that provides such an important service. May it be so (soon).

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0 Responses to Sex versus Sexuality Ed: Healing the World

  1. Do it as a couples covenant group–there are other UU churches using this model, and from what I’ve heard, with some success. I’d sign up.

  2. Andrew Hidas says:

    If I can make a tiny joke, this idea is pregnant with potential and represents a truly immaculate conception! I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

  3. What an eye opener for old farts like me who only got the plumbing lesson. Would have helped me over a few bumps in life, and likely helped those I loved

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