In 1999, Unitarian Universalists, in collaboration with the United Church of Christ, created the sexuality education program Our Whole Lives, known colloquially as OWL. OWL offers young people a profound opportunity to deepen their faith and put their values into practice. It covers topics and skills that both parents and students want to have available, but that most schools are unlikely to cover in scope and detail.
There are multiple age-appropriate programs, starting at the Kindergarten and 1st grade level. There is OWL for 4-6th graders, the OWL “centerpiece” for grades 7-9, then 10-12th grade OWL, adult OWL, and soon, elderly OWL.
OWL teaches caring, compassion, respect, and justice, and addresses attitudes, values, and feelings that people have about themselves and the world. Although the curriculum was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, the primary text that is used is secular and free of specific religious doctrine or reference. However, the underlying values of the program reflect the justice-oriented traditions of both faiths.
Many people ask us: “Why sexuality education in church?” Our response: Sexuality is an integral part of being human. Within our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, sexuality is understood as both natural and positive and as encompassing ethical, spiritual, emotional, social, political and interpersonal issues as well as physical ones. Our faith has a long tradition of urging religious communities to take an active role in the promotion of education and justice in human sexuality.
And while the Our Whole Lives curriculum is itself secular, it is not value-free. The program gives clear messages about key sexuality issues, including:
- sexual health
- justice and inclusivity
OWL recognizes and respects the diversity of participants with respect to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and disability status. The activities and language used throughout the program have been carefully chosen to be as inclusive as possible of this human diversity.
OWL for 7-9th graders, the longest and most comprehensive of the OWL programs, is made up of 25 ninety-minute sessions, run by two carefully trained facilitators of different genders. It is a thorough sexuality education designed to equip teens with accurate, age-appropriate information to help them make informed decisions about their sexual health and behavior. It provides not only facts about anatomy and human development, it also helps youth clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.
As one can imagine, participants often form strong bonds and friendships among themselves that are enriching, rewarding and supportive. These are meaningful side-benefits beyond the formal lessons they are being taught together.
The curriculum promotes sexual and emotional health in our communities and fosters meaningful dialogue between peers, partners, families and friends. OWL for 7-9th graders includes the following sessions:
- Examining Values
- Sexual Language
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Personal Concerns about Puberty
- Understanding Gender Roles
- Disability and other Diversity Issues
- Social Media/Internet
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Introduction to Relationships & Relationship Skills
- Lovemaking is more than Sex
- Masturbation & Other Sexual Behaviors
- Defining/Redefining Abstinence
- Sexual Harassment & Acquaintance Rape
- Conception, Planned Pregnancy & Birth
- Teenage Pregnancy
- Contraception & Unintended Pregnancy Options
- Sexual Decisions
- Recovering from Sexual Abuse
- STI Facts & Prevention
- Thorny Issues in Friendship
- Dating and Lifetime Commitments
OWL programs have been offered in many churches throughout the globe. The Unitarian Universalist Association has additional descriptions of the programs. Readers might want to go to the UUA’s web page Our Whole Lives: Lifespan Sexuality Eduction a quick overview.
As previously mentioned, although developed by two religious organizations, Our Whole Lives contains no religious references or doctrine. That said the OWL program can be put into the context of religious values with the addition of the Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ companion supplements, Sexuality and Our Faith. In our program in Westport, we do not typically use the supplements.
CLICK HERE to email Nate Pawelek to register for OWL