Sexuality Education as Ministry
by Kiely Todd Roska
Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Growing up in the United States, young people see and hear about sexuality from many different sources. Youth receive confusing and conflicting messages from parents, peers, media, and religious institutions. Parents want the best for their children, but many parents have difficulty talking with their children about sexuality. Teenagers can pressure one another into sexual activities and share inaccurate information. Media often objectify human bodies and glorify sexual violence. Many religious institutions preach abstinence, while others are completely silent about the issue because sexuality causes discomfort and controversy.
However, if religious communities do not address sexuality, it is not that young people will have no information; rather, youth will have inaccurate and inadequate information to make healthy choices for their own bodies. And most likely, young people will not have discussed sexuality in the context of ethics, morality, love, and justice.
Even the more comprehensive sexuality education programs in public schools deal primarily with issues of physiology and anatomy: how human bodies function, how pregnancy occurs, sexuality transmitted infections, and contraception. However, all of these subjects describe bodily functions without discussing relationships, decision-making, identity, or abuse of sexuality. Broadening the definition of sexuality is essential if we want to have meaningful conversations about this sacred part of our humanity.
As religious communities, our mission involves caring about the spiritual well-being of all people, and healthy sexuality is an essential part of our spiritual well-being. Religious communities should be concerned about helping young people develop a moral compass that honors their lived experiences and helps them navigate their lives with integrity.
Making sure that all young people have the opportunity to make fully-informed decisions about their sexual lives is the honest and responsible approach. We need to teach young people that their sexuality is a sacred gift, and that what they do with their bodies is part of how they live out their faith.
Teaching sexuality education in congregations also provides desperately-needed resources and community support to families who are often at a loss for how to effectively engage or counter the messages that their children are being taught by peers, music videos, video games, or television programs.
We live in a society that does not respect the moral agency of young people, does not respect the dignity of LGBT persons, and celebrates women as sexual objects. Being holistic in our approach means that we strive to tell the whole truth about people’s sexual lives. When people are being hurt by silence, misinformation, discrimination, and objectification, we need to courageously challenge the status quo. In this environment, teaching comprehensive, holistic sexuality education in congregations is a compassionate, prophetic act. Indeed, it is a form of ministry.
The Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice works to recruit and train people to teach the Our Whole Lives curriculum and the Keeping It Real! Curriculum. for teens in African American churches.