05 May 2007

Do We Really Talk Too Much About Sex?

My blog post is a response to Rev. Christine Robinson's concern that we spend too much time on sexuality education in Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Wow ... where should I start?

I hate it when folks use numbers as a rhetorical device and not as a tool for conveying accurate information. I think I've said this a million times that we should not exaggerate numbers for rhetorical effect.

First, the 25% of religious education contact time spent on the Our Whole Lives program isn't factually accurate.

And the misunderstanding that the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program isn't "real" religious education (grounded in Unitarian Universalist theology and/or the United Church of Christ understanding of the Bible and their theology) is all too common among some folks who are not familiar with the Our Whole Lives program and the Unitarian Universalist/United Church of Christ Sexuality and Our Faith religious supplement for the Our Whole Lives program.

When one realizes that "sexuality" is more than body parts and lubricated friction and that it includes friendships, relationships, discovering who one is, etc, the time spent in OWL class isn't excessive at all.

This is one religious education (RE) class that we know our youth will use as adults.

Dr. Rebecca Parker has a very short and concise explanation of what Unitarian Universalist soteriology that she presented at the Liberal Religious Educator Association Fall Conference back in 2002. She says that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make life less whole.

Using this view of salvation, I would suggest that the Our Whole Lives program is part of that salvation that we offer a world badly in need of salvation.

That's enough theology -- let's go back to the numbers.

Here's a breakdown of the time spent in the Our Whole Lives program at each age/grade level for Unitarian Universalists who are not adults:

Grades K-1 - 8 sessions (8 hours)

Grades 4-6 - 8 sessions (8 hours)

Grades 7-9 - 27 sessions (41- 54 hours, depending on the amount of religious ritual used with the basic 90 minute sessions)

Grades 10-12 - 14 sessions (28 hours)

The total amount of time spent in formal sexuality education classes is 98 hours (based on the figures provided above).

The estimate of time spent in all RE activities (based on Christine's estimate) is 520 hours.

Assuming that OWL program happens on Sunday morning instead of non-OWL RE classes, the percentage is not 25% -- 18.9% is what I come up with.

However, I doubt that the figure is any near 18% in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.

For example, my congregation only offers the grades 7-9 program and I suspect this is true for many other congregations (the grades 7-9 program is viewed by many as the replacement for About Your Sexuality, the earlier UUA sexuality education program).

Furthermore, we offer the program outside the Sunday morning RE time slot and it doesn't replace the non-OWL RE program. It supplements it. For my congregation and for many others like it the actual figure is 9.4%.

It's rare to find a congregation that offers OWL at all age/grade levels. I know this from my experience as a trainer in my district. The only OWL training workshop that has happened every year in my district is the training for adolescent OWL. Some years, the children and adult programs don't make the minimum enrollment number.

However, there are some congregations that do offer all age/grade levels of OWL. But they offer them outside Sunday morning as a supplement to the non-OWL RE program. In those cases, the percentage isn't 18%. For these congregations, the percentage is closer to 15%.

Finally, I'm sure that somebody is wondering why anyone would need 27 weeks and 40-52 hours to talk about sex. If all we provided in the OWL program was just the biological - medical facts about anatomy, reproduction, disease prevention, etc, 52 hours of class time would seem excessive.

However, we cover more than just "sexual health and reproduction" in the OWL program.

We talk about sensuality -- body awareness - how we feel about our bodies, how it looks, feels and what it can do. Sensuality is about being aware of and in touch with the pleasure our bodies can give us and others.

We talk about intimacy -- the basic need to be emotionally close to another person or persons and have that closeness returned. Relationships give us a sense of belonging, connection, and affection. Relationships can be friendships, family relationships, or romantic relationships.

We talk about sexual identity -- who we are sexually, including our sense of gender; the ways we express our gender; and the direction of our romantic and sexual attractions.

We talk about sexualization -- the use of sex or sexuality to influence, manipulate, or control other people. Sexualization is not always negative. It can range from harmless flirting to extreme violence.

This multi-faceted and complex model of sexuality that we use in the OWL program can be found online here:

Circles of Sexuality

Teaching abstinence or condom use are both simple skills that can be taught in less than 1 hour. The hard part is providing the opportunity for folks to explore the relationship issues so our youth have the ability to negotiate effective and safe sexual decisions with their partners as adolescents and as adults in the future.

End of my rant.


Jo Greep said...

Hear, hear!

You trained me in 7-9 grade OWL last August and I spent the fall and spring of this year teaching it in my Brooklyn UU congregation, and I must say -

I really believe it's one of the most important ministries we do with our youth. OWL is so much more than just "sex" and anyone who describes it as a sex class vs. a course in sexuality is completely missing the point.

Steve Caldwell said...


It's great to hear from you.

Thanks for the feedback. I'm going to pass the link to your comments to Lara Campbell so she can see them.