It isn't that we aren't getting an education about sexuality; the question is who is doing the educating. Although parents and caregivers are – and should be – the primary sexuality educators for our children, we learn about sexuality from other sources, too.
Media and advertising is one such source. The marketers of the world are likely counting on members of the religious community to quash age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education, so that the values in their ads can effectively shape how we make decisions. In fact, increasingly, marketers use sexually-charged ads with images that communicate messages about self-worth, body image and what is important in relationships. However, the more educated you and I are about sex and sexuality, the more difficult it is for marketers to successfully exploit and distort our sense of self, body and relationships for the sake of making a sale.
Growing up in a Christian home, I was taught that sexuality is a good gift from God. I've always had the sense that my sexuality is a good and integral part of who I am. As a sexuality educator of the Our Whole Lives curriculum, I believe we are called to enrich our lives by expressing our sexuality in ways that enhance human wholeness and fulfillment, and express love, commitment, delight and pleasure. To take good care of this good gift, each of us needs to have accurate information about sexuality and to be grounded in the healthy values of self-worth, sexual health, and what it means to be responsible, just and inclusive.
Developing a healthy sexuality cannot happen in a vacuum. We cannot expect to acquire accurate information, develop strong values and have the capacity make healthy and responsible decisions by being complacent. To do so is to put the good gift of sexuality into the hands of those who are more concerned about selling their products than what creates health and wholeness.
Faith leaders and faith communities have a vital role to play by encouraging the creation of safe spaces for people of all ages to engage in age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education. Knowledge about human sexuality is helpful, not harmful. Every individual has the right to accurate information about sexuality and to have their questions answered.
A few years ago a colleague and I met informally with a handful of researchers and officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland to talk about comprehensive sexuality education. We shared our vision and experience in doing this work in our houses of worship and other settings. We talked about the guidelines for age-appropriate sexuality education developed by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). It didn't take long before they were talking about themselves and their children.
Some in that meeting indicated they had to figure it out for themselves; a journey they often found lonely, difficult and fraught with misinformation. That was not what they wanted for their children, but in spite of their own medical training, they were keenly in tune with the challenges of providing good and accurate information to their children, desiring to instill in them the values for making good, healthy and responsible decisions. That is what comprehensive sexuality education is all about - honoring and valuing the good gift of our sexuality, and equipping one another with the information we need to make healthy decisions that impact our entire lives.
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer is the UCC's executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy.
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