Our Whole Lives (grades 7 – 9) starts this weekend at our Unitarian Universalist church. OWL, as it’s called, is a sexuality education program, has programs for preschoolers through adults, although our church (like many) offers it to only one age group. OWL, offered by Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ congregations around globe, addresses human sexuality in age-appropriate ways while valuing responsibility, self-worth, sexual health, and justice and inclusivity. I’m all for that, but I’m still not ready.
My formal sex education consisted of a copy of “Where Did I Come From?”, handed to me by my mother in third grade. I’d already dug around for information, so the book offered little new, aside from a somewhat disturbing (to my eight-year-old mind) cartoon of two rather heavy-set appearing adults making love. With the mechanics (mostly) understood, I filed the information to the back of my mind until puberty hit. At that point, I counted on the resource most kids turn to: friends. Okay, books, too. Teen and adult romance, anatomy-focused nonfiction, and a few looks at a friend’s parent’s copy of “The Joy of Sex” (complete with line drawings) gave me a bit more of the picture. Perhaps surprisingly, my best information came from my Catholic high school, where sex and birth control were addressed in three classes: Biology, Conscious Formation, and Marriage and Family. You read that correctly. I learned about birth control in Catholic school. Three times. Sex education? Check. Sexuality education? Not quite.
As I’ve posted before (Life Lessons), my boys and I have had plenty of discussions about the mechanics of sexuality and birth around here. I’ve answered questions, shown videos, shared books, and interjected comments when watching media. Sex is open for discussion here, as is gender identity, homosexuality, reproduction, love, marriage, procreation, birth, breastfeeding, and more. I’ve work hard to create an atmosphere where the boys can have a healthy understanding about their bodies, appreciate the differences in bodies of men and women, and feel welcome to ask questions.
So why am I anxious about OWL? OWL essentially takes this openness into a slightly larger forum, encourages learning of the facts, and facilitates discussion. All good stuff, in my book. My concerns rest mainly in my contribution to the audience. My older son, despite being 13.5 years, is completely prepubescent (and has many late bloomers on his dad’s side) and (nearly) violently opposed. He’s concerned that he’ll be too embarrassed (so will the other kids) and that he’s just not interested (probably true, although he is 13). I’m concerned because he’s so opposed.
But he’s going. He’s going to learn from someone other mom about his body works. He’s going to learn how the female body works, too, since he’s statistically likely to pair up with one of those types some day. He’s going to discuss gender identity, traditional and nontraditional; to discuss the wide spectrum of normal sexual expression and the role love, respect, and safety play in that expression. He’ll learn that sexual feelings are normal. He’ll learn about relationships. He’ll learn that sex can have unintended consequences, and that sexual intercourse isn’t advisable until older. He’s attending to develop a fuller view of human sexuality than I received, either at home, in school, or (surprise, surprise) from friends.
But now he’s anxious and a bit upset. While trying to maintain equanimity, I’m struggling to find ways to reassure him that while it may be uncomfortable at points that it’s likely to be safe, interesting, and, perhaps, fun. Perhaps I’m reassuring myself, too, that despite his mental unease and prepubescent body, this is a suitable age for him to participate.