In these post-Roe times, the importance of medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education cannot be understated. Access for all to sexuality education is a component of reproductive justice alongside access to healthcare, living wages, safe neighborhoods, abortion healthcare, and other factors that allow women, trans, and non-binary people who can give birth the ability to decide when they are ready to be parents. And to be clear, men also need comprehensive sexuality education to prevent disease, protect their partners, and make responsible decisions about their behavior and paternity.
The opportunity to support families as primary sexuality educators and their children in developing a sex-positive, consent-based, value-centered, and justice-aware understanding of sexuality is something that happens in many UU congregations that use the Our Whole Lives Program, known as OWL. When I was planning for the Justice Ministry Council retreat a few months ago, I reached out to one of our congregational life staff with concerns about how difficult it is to determine which causes to pursue as a congregation. One of her comments was that there are many opportunities for interfaith work or to take the lead of community organizations that already lead in justice work. She invited me to explore what UU Asheville had to offer the community that was unique. OWL immediately came to mind.
OWL was developed in partnership with the United Church of Christ. It offers life-span programs (K-adult) that engage key issues of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice, and inclusivity. Facilitators are trained and undergo a background check. I am grateful for all the trained, active OWL volunteers in our UU Asheville community. Your commitment is needed now more than ever!
When I served the UU congregation in Vero Beach, FL, as Director of Religious Education (DRE) our program was open to the community and word got around as parents shared with friends. These non-UU families often made sure all children in their family participated in the program. Parents from diverse religious backgrounds understood how comprehensive sexual education was crucial for their children. I established a relationship with the local health department and worked to expand the presence of OWL in the community. Such partnerships with UU congregations that benefit the larger community should be more common.
One reason I said “yes” to becoming your Minister of Faith Development four years ago was your strong commitment to religious exploration that offers OWL to children and youth. I have often thought that if I had sufficient resources, I would start an OWL Institute. I believe OWL saves lives. Education about healthy sexuality helps improve decision-making about relationships and sexual behavior. It can help avoid unhealthy relationships, misunderstanding about gender identity and expression, and minimize unintended pregnancy. In these times when federal dollars are still used to fund abstinence-only programs and states are passing laws such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, sexuality education is crucial. Only 11 states mandate sexuality education that is medically accurate. We cannot leave it to government or social media (!) to educate our children about sexuality.
I may not have the funds to begin an OWL institute, but I wonder if OWL could be a ministry that reaches beyond our walls. What is the state of sexuality education in Asheville and Buncombe County? Can we build relationships in our community and through those relationships, explore wider implementation of OWL programs? What grants or partnerships might be available to finance community OWL programs and train facilitators? I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to consider becoming a trained OWL facilitator. Post-Roe, that would be an excellent way to serve our community.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development