Watson: Preparing for ‘the talk’

Feb 12, 2018 by

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Many Mennonite congregations provide sexuality education for their youth, at least on paper. Many churches include it in the four-year Sunday school curriculum, alongside baptism and the Bible. Why does sexuality education belong in churches? Often, the answer from pastors, youth leaders and parents is, “If they don’t learn it from us, they’ll learn it from the internet.”

Hillary Watson


This answer, while true, is incomplete. It hinges on a negative, as if adults need to feel threatened in order to teach about sexuality. But we should be eager to help youth develop healthy sexuality.

Sexuality education belongs in church because sexuality shapes our faith. A youth who is only taught to be ashamed of his or her desires will feel ashamed and afraid in the presence of God. A youth who is taught that sexual desire is beautiful and a power and to be exercised cautiously will come before God with awe and hopefulness.

Youth deserve to learn sexuality from adults who love them and want the best for them. They deserve to hear how we avoided unhealthy relationships; what we learned from any unhealthy relationships we fell into anyway; how we navigated abstinence; how we exercised kindness, consent and respect. And they deserve that information at the point when many of their peers are becoming sexually active and pressuring them to do the same.

As I prepared for my church’s cycle of youth sexuality education this year, a parent told me about a local Mennonite church. They choose a curriculum that was thorough, devoted time to it and invited friends of youth to participate. One friend came for the curriculum and continued attending the church through high school, though her parents didn’t. When she graduated, she attended a Mennonite college.

That curriculum is called Our Whole Lives, a lifelong holistic sexuality program widely regarded as the best available. Produced by the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Church, some Mennonite congregations will find its sex-positive tone undermines the wait-until-marriage message or may be turned off by the unit on contraception. However, the curriculum explains in detail why high school students should delay sexual activity. It shows how to examine sexual feelings and respond appropriately, and equips them to respond to real-life scenarios. It requires adults to attend training to be adequately equipped for the challenge of teaching teens.

As I attended an Our Whole Lives training, I was doubtful the full curriculum would be a good fit for my congregation. Although I may not use the content, I’ve learned how to facilitate teen conversations about sex effectively and how to make information stick, and I’ve deepened my own knowledge and ability to explain sexual ethics. Our Whole Lives is a valuable resource for any congregation that finds Anabaptist resources insufficient, is looking for an updated curriculum that matches teens’ realities or wants a way to train adults teaching sexuality units. Teaching sexuality does not come naturally to most of us. Our Whole Lives offers the skills to implement whichever curriculum is right for your congregation.

The trainers in my workshop like to say sexuality education saves lives. They mean it not just in the literal sense. Sexuality education saves youth from abusive relationships. It saves them from making bad decisions. It saves them from becoming abusive or reproducing unhealthy patterns from TV or pornography. Anabaptist youth need sexuality education, and they need to receive it from their churches.

Hillary Watson pastors at Lombard Mennonite Church in suburban Chicago. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com.

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