Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sex Ed?

I work with the middle schoolers at my meeting, and I brought up to the other teachers that I'd like us to do a few discussions with the kids on sex and sexuality. Not really the basics at all (I think they all learn at school about where babies come from and the effectiveness of various sorts of birth control)

I'm hoping more to lay some groundwork for developing about sexual ethics. The kids in my meeting know lots of same sex couples, and some trans people (though I don't know how well they understand that) and some know something about polyamory.

So, I'm not talking about a set of "rules" that I think of as common to religious education. I'm not interested in telling them what's "wrong" - but I feel as if there's a lack in first day school of any talking about that stuff, so kids may be a bit at a loss when confronted with ideas and practices that they're not "used to" - let alone the challenge (for some of us anyway) of figuring out one's own sexuality. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it :)

We had talked about trying to borrow from the Unitarian/UCC "Our Whole Lives" or "OWL" program, but it's much more intense than we expected, and they dont' even sell the curriculum to people who haven't been trained.

We've been working a little in class with question cards - a deck of cards with queries (pretty much) written on them to inspire conversation about spiritual or emotional issues. Last week the teachers decided that maybe we can come up with some similar questions around sexuality, but we haven't set a time to meet and do that yet.

I'm not sure why I'm blogging about this, I guess just for input. I'm wondering if quaker parents have things they'd like their kids to discuss (or really don't want them to discuss!), things people wish they'd gotten to talk or learn about as 12-13 year olds, etc.

Or if anyone has suggestions for questions, or other ways of approaching the topic (whcih is a little awkward and giggly, I must say!)



Robin M. said...

One of the things that matters to me is that in most schools there is plenty of information about how (puberty, sex, reproduction) but not much about why or why not. Mostly because we, as a salad bowl mix of cultures in our society, don't have a shared set of ethics. I think that our religious community is a place where we should be able to talk about the fact that our bodies and our relationships are sacred. That we don't practice respect just because "it's cool, man," but because that of God in me speaks (and listens) to that of God in you, in our most intimate relationships.

Another thing I think is important is not to unintentionally reinforce the idea that everybody is doing it. Yeah, we all know that some people are, but we also know that not everybody is,and that's okay - you're okay if you don't, if you don't know what you want yet, and you want to wait until you're clearer. That sexual intimacy is a choice people make, and that celibacy, whether by choice or not, is not a bad thing for young people. Too much of our culture says that sex is the reason for everything - to buy a car or a computer, to drink this kind of beverage and not that, to wear these clothes and not those. I think I want my children to be able to think and talk about having sexual ethics, not just with someone they want to have sex with or who wants to have sex with them, like right now.

It's still a little hypothetical in my case because my children are so young and I haven't really thought about it much, but I hope that the first time someone in meeting talks about sexuality with our kids, it isn't just about preventing child abuse.

earthfreak said...


Thanks for responding! You've mentioned a number of things that inspired me to bring this up. First, that there is info about the "plumbing" and whatnot, but not about the spirituality of it all. Of course I don't think I'd want this taught in school, as certainly mine is not the majority opionion.

This "quest" found me on a unitarian posting board, looking for info on their "OWL" program. A woman had already posted with that topic line. Her concern, however, was that she wanted to make sure her daughter would be taught what was "good" and what was "bad" - I'm not interested in doing that, but in finding a way to help kids go a little deeper than the surface and figure that out for themselves when the time comes.

For example, I think some people are monogamous and some aren't. I don't really know what's "ethical" as I'm monogamous and that's generally encouraged, so it's hard to see "the other side" - I know people who are just not monogamous though, and claim that when they try it's just about lying to their partners and themselves. I don't want to tell kids that God will be mad at them if they are true to themselves.

I guess that's about it - how to help them be true to themselves.

I was certainly a late starter, and still struggles with the ways that I don't "fit in" in terms of sexuality - I think your point about communicating that not "everybody's doing it" is a really good one.

I thought I was the only 18 year old virgin in the world, and then when I got to college, the vast majority of my friends were, but somehow it's hard to find that stuff out as a teenager (sometimes)

Canine Diamond said...

I don't know how this could be approached with kids that young in this sort of setting (so this comment is going to be no help at all. Sorry) but one of the things that always irritated the heck out of my mother is that nobody ever talks about, as you and Robin noted, the spiritual aspects OR the emotional complications of sex and relationships. You're right taht it's always nuts and bolts.

I was a late bloomer, too. Later than I care to admit, really. Even after my college boyfriend and I broke up, though, what hurt me most was the emotional aftershock. We never felt guilty about anything we did physically (I'm not an adventurous person; we just didn't do anything until we were comfortable with each other, and then didn't do anything stupid), but we both felt terrible because we had had other issues we couldn't overcome. We were 23 and 20 and it was basically a good relationship and we still felt blindsided. But I don't know how you would get that across to middle-schoolers. The media never seems to show it.

Plain Foolish said...

I've been trying to put my thoughts into actual coherent sentences to share, but I think that emotional health needs to be talked about - that different people develop in different ways. So many people are pressured to believe that their way of developing isn't the "right" or "normal" way - whether because they're late bloomers (Hi. Way late bloomer, here.), or have some other aspect to their sexuality that doesn't "fit the usual picture", whether that's because they're gay, or intersexed, or transsexual, or whatever...

I think everyone to one extent or another may secretly suspect that they are in some way weird. I think allowing folks (not just kids. There are adults who feel this way as well.) to know that differences are okay is a good thing. Encouraging folks to be clear with themselves about their wants and needs is not a bad thing either.

Liz Opp said...

Oooh, Pam, here's an idea:

Offer an interest group at the Gathering this summer! You could pass out copies of your blog post and the comments (with names blacked out if necessary), and see where the discussion goes. smile

I really think you are a gem, wanting to encourage people to go deeper into an issue, especially when the world (or religious society) at large balks at doing just that.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Paul L said...

As one Quakerly parent with a daughter in your group, I applaud the general idea of discussing sexuality in First Day School (though I wouldn't assume, as you appear to, that school-based sex education is limited to plumbing; this is especially true of your students who attend Friends School, but I'd bet public schools have plenty of value discussions as well.)

My concern, similar to Robin's, is that the discussion take place firmly within the context of Friends' spirituality and not be framed within secular psychology or political values.

An example of what I mean: Years ago, when I first started attending meeting, I ran across something in the form of an Advice concerning use of drugs (It might have been Philadelphia YM's 1972 Faith & Practice [still my favorite].)

Paraphrasing from memory, it said something like:

Regarding mind-altering drugs, Friends are of course concerned with health effects such drugs may have, some of which are as yet unknown, on users. But even more importantly, we have found that use of illegal drugs and the need to keep such use secret creates in the user an attitude of furtiveness and suspicion that is incompatible with being open at all times to revelation of the Spirit."

I loved that. The point I most appreciated was that the issue of drugs was discussed in terms of its effect on the user's spiritual life, not as some abstract ethical duty (stay sober all the time; obey the civil laws).

Children have no problem finding information and discussion of sexuality and its effects on their own development and their relationship with others. But where but a Friends meeting -- or at home -- can they learn about sexuality as a spiritual gift and how it can be used or misused.

(A relevant aside: I remember -- also from the PYM 1072 F&P -- a quote by Kenneth Boulding to the effect that when a young man is considering marriage he often asks "Does she love me?", but the more important question is, "Does she love God?")

Sorry, I don't have any suggested questions at this point.

earthfreak said...

Thanks, Paul,

and I do appreciate your pointing out that it's not all about "plumbing" even in public schools.

It's such an odd thing to approach, and I know it's coming up (last year, when planning an xmas pagaeant, we sidetracked into a discussion of internet porn, which most of the kids had seen - they claimed accidentally - !!!)

In any case, though, it's often hard to remember how NOT grown up a 12 or 13 year old is. I have read things that claim that's only cultural, and that in many societies 13 year olds are starting families, but that's definitely not where our kids are.

Last week we talked about death, another big topic. I was surprised at how well it went.

I appreciate all of your comments, and will hold them as we move forward on this.