Sunday morning, I wake up early. I run around the house trying to feed the dog, throw in some laundry, and gather everything I need for the day. I make some tea to-go, pack up my computer and notebook for a meeting, gather a change of shoes and a hat for the #BlackLivesMatter vigil in the afternoon, and make sure I have my copy of the “Our Whole Lives” sexuality education curriculum for 4th and 5th graders.
I don’t know what other people do Sunday mornings, but sometimes I teach comprehensive sexuality education to kids. At church.
It pretty much rocks.
Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a lifespan comprehensive sexuality education curriculum developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and United Church of Christ. I have been “trained” to teach the elementary components of this series — both the curriculum for K/1 and the curriculum for 4th-6th grade. There are also curricula for grades 7-9, 10-12, for young adults, adults, and for older adults.
The goals of these curricula are to assist individuals in gaining the knowledge, values, and skills necessary to express their sexuality in ways that affirm their whole person. They seek to strengthen self-esteem and encourage an appreciation of their bodies as good and right. They provide accurate and developmentally appropriate information and assist in preparing children/participants to make responsible and respectful decisions. They attempt to prepare individuals for normal bodily changes and teach interpersonal and relationship skills, among other goals. Damn. Wish I had any of these things at any point growing up, right?
In the 4th and 5th grade curriculum, we talk about a variety of topics: health and safety. Puberty. Sex and gender. Decision making. Family. It’s fun. And it’s interesting. It can get a little uncomfortable. And it’s loud and thoughtful and chaotic. It is Sunday morning with amazing, awkward, funny, embodied, smart, growing, changing 10-year-olds talking about families and friends and puberty. Who knows what might happen next.
Some days, I feel like I am drowning in overwhelm. There have been days in the past two weeks where I am so tired and emotionally worn down from my all-day job as a psychologist and my life-job as a person that the thought of doing literally anything else has been beyond what I could handle. I have felt small, and it feels as though my voice cannot possibly make a difference. I have been so tired. I have actually wondered several times if I have ever been this tired. It’s hard to explain the kind of tired I am.
Like many of us, the word going through my head these days is resistance and somehow, in the scheme of everything, this act of teaching comprehensive sexuality education to young people feels like a concrete act of resistance. It feels like I am taking the seeds from the flowers being picked and trampled and thrown away and I am planting and watering those seeds. This resistance feels meaningful, and necessary, and timely, even as these young people before me have no idea any of this is happening in my head.
So why do I do this? Why do I believe in sexuality education for all of our children at all ages? Why do I believe this education is spiritually and religiously necessary? Why do I choose to view this as an act of resistance?
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because our bodies are holy and precious and right. They are amazing creations through which we get to experience the world. I want every child to get to know this as truth in the core of their being, as early as possible.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I want every young female-identifying person to know that I, our congregation, our denomination, believe in her right to choose. I want her to know reflexively that her body is her own, that she is in charge of it and all decisions made about it, around it, and within it. I want male-identifying people to know and believe without question that women are in charge of their bodies. I will teach them, over and over, that their body is wonderful and amazing and private and belongs to them. I will teach that they are in control of their bodies and what they do with their bodies. We will talk about decision-making and choices and hard things that are appropriate for their developmental level. I want them to know that women can be strong, and also vulnerable, and they can like dolls or Pokemon or monster trucks or My Little Pony. I want them to know there is no wrong way to be a woman.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I want every young male-identifying person to know that I, our congregation, our denomination trust that he is a whole and complex person. I will teach them that their bodies are wonderful and amazing and private and belong to them. We will talk about decision making and choices and hard things that are appropriate for their developmental level. I want them to know that men can be vulnerable, and also strong, and they can like dolls or Pokemon or monster trucks or My Little Pony. I want them to know there is no wrong way to be a man.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I support transgender and gender nonconforming youth. Because I want them to know their bodies are right and holy and good. Because I want them to know they are loved and supported. I want them to know that I will fight for them and with them. I want gay and lesbian youth to know they are loved and supported. I want all of the LGBT youth in my life to know that I stand in direct opposition to our current administration, and that I stand with them. That I support them. That I believe them and believe in them. That they are welcomed and supported and loved in our congregation and denomination.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I want to live in a world where I am not asked to write poems honoring lives lost to domestic violence. Comprehensive, lifelong sexuality education teaches young people of all genders what is healthy and safe. It teaches communication and respect. It teaches consent. I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I have walked too many women and children through safety planning. Because I have given out crisis numbers too many times. Because teen dating violence has faces I have met and faces I have not. Because I want to believe we could live in a world without domestic violence.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because sexuality is just another piece of development. As embodied beings, we deserve to know how we work.
- I believe in comprehensive sexuality education because I believe young people have the right to accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education. In a world where this education is being increasingly taken from us, sexual assault is normalized by the president of the United States, funding is being taken from Planned Parenthood, the rights of our transgender siblings are being removed, the future of abortion and birth control are in peril…I will be part of the resistance. I will provide this education as a labor of love for my community and for the next generation.
Dear 4th and 5th graders:
Here is what I want you to know.
I believe you. I will always believe you. Here, you will find people who will stand with you and beside you.
You and your body are good and right. You deserve to know your body. You deserve to say no. You deserve to say yes. You deserve to know how and when to say no and how and when to say yes.
You are loved and you belong. There are confusing times ahead. Friends and relationships and love and life will happen to you and within you and around you. You will make it. Community makes it better.
I love your loud, embodied, compassionate, boisterous, smart, awkward, funny selves. I love your quiet, shy, self-conscious uncomfortable selves. I love that you don’t know how amazing you are, and yet you also kinda do. I love the many ways you are oh-so-smart, and I love how much you have to learn.
Keep doing that — keep doing you — your whole entire life. Okay?