Reproductive Justice Updates

Last week, the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS) released their monthly policy updates for sexuality educators and advocates.

Included in the May 2010 policy updates are the results of a new study from the Guttmacher Institute showing that rates of unintended pregnancy among teen women in the US may have been previously underestimated. Previous studies have counted the unintended pregnancy rate per 1,000 women in each age group surveyed without accounting for the rates among women who identify themselves as being sexually active versus those who do not. The new study shows significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy for sexually active women than for women in general nationwide, particularly among women between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.

There’s also good news for comprehensive sexuality education advocates in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. House Education Committees in both states have just voted for legislation that would allow more comprehensive sexuality education curricula in public schools and provide guidelines for what that would look like.

If passed, both new laws require schools in each state to provide sexuality education that teaches about abstinence and contraception in ways that are medically accurate. While the Pennsylvania law leaves the specifics of curriculum development up to individual school boards, it also calls on the state department of health to create a list of guidelines that programs must follow to comply with the new legislation.

In Louisiana, sexuality education curricula must provide “information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development” in order to conform with this proposed legislation.

Both states have been previous recipients of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage federal grants, but if these new laws pass, they will no longer be eligible to receive those funds. Federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs was eliminated from the 2010 federal budget by Congress and President Obama, but the funding stream was reinstated in health care reform legislation that became law this spring.

New funds available to states and community-based organizations from the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative could help states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana implement the new laws if they pass. These programs could also provide young people nationwide with the comprehensive, medically accurate sex education they need to make healthy decisions.

You can advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in your own state by researching your state’s laws and supporting legislation similar to the Louisiana and Pennsylvania bills. Consider organizing your youth group or congregation to write letters to your governor or state legislators encouraging them to reject Title V abstinence-only grants and create policies that support comprehensive sexuality education in local school districts. For the basic information on your state’s sex education policies and funding, see the SIECUS State Profiles. For resources on how to get started as an advocate, check out the Future of Sex Education website.

Sex Ed Training Pays Off!

A small group on the steps of the Religious Action of Reform Judaism during an exercise on storytelling/messaging

As far as we know, our Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) is the only national, multigenerational interfaith advocacy training focused on supporting comprehensive sexuality education. It started in 2006 as a partnership between the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and Advocates for Youth. Currently the United Church of Christ, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are also cosponsors. The great news is that SEAT is paying off! Here are some highlights:

First, many of the Congressional Offices visited by 2010 participants remembered SEAT visits from previous years—and had positive things to say about them. This recognition is incredibly important, because even if they don’t agree with our position they know who we are, and that we’re strong advocates for what we believe. Thanks to our SEAT lobby visits–and there were over 60 this year alone–not a single one of those offices can say that they “never hear from religious people who support comprehensive sexuality education.”

Second, one office reported that their boss—a member of the House—decided to become a REAL Act cosponsor as a direct result of last year’s SEAT lobby visit. Even better, I just heard—literally as I was writing this blog—that another Representative decided to cosponsor as a result of this year’s visit!

Third, more than one lobby team reported that, as they were sitting an office lobby waiting for their visit, calls were coming from folks back home participating in the Sex Ed Call-in Day! This combination of in-person and grassroots action is exactly what we hope for, so many, many thanks to everyone who made a call!

We usually stop at three in stories like this, but one more point is necessary. For SEAT to be properly called a success, it must also help participants spread the word outside of Washington, DC. Hence this final highlight:

Fourth, during an expected (and quite long) layover in Denver, a SEAT team from the Seattle area shared their stories and passion with other passengers in the waiting area! Amy talked to a young mother of three who had never heard of comprehensive sexuality education but liked it so much that she immediately started tweeting about it. Sierra, Carolyn, and Sam struck up conversations with nearby passengers and informed them of the whole experience, including—get this—giving out the handouts from their packets! Nice work y’all!

At this point, we’re hoping to have a 7th annual SEAT next year. Look for an announcement in the fall!

October is National Sex Ed Month of Action!

Join our partners, including Advocates for Youth, SIECUS, and youth, young adults and their allies across the country this October for the Sex Ed Month of Action!

On Wednesday, September 30, the Senate Finance Committee passed Senator Orrin Hatch’s amendment to restore $50 million in title V funding for failed abstinence-only programs. Learn more about the amendment and what you can do to prevent it from becoming a law.
Take Action and tell your Senators that as a person of faith, you demand an end to abstinence-only programs. Our nation’s young people deserve comprehensive sex education that gives them all of the facts they need to make healthy decisions, including information about abstinence and contraception.
Stay tuned! This month, we’ll highlight different ways that you can support comprehensive sex education in your own communities and nationwide. Act Now!

Back to School for Comprehensive Sex Education Advocates

In his speech today, President Obama expressed these hopes for our nation’s young people:

Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn.

The President also said that he expects a lot from our nation’s youth, but one thing he can’t expect is for them to be able to make healthy and responsible decisions about their lives without all of the facts.
That’s why we are calling on Congress to support the President’s vision of teen pregnancy and disease prevention programs by funding comprehensive sex education in schools and communities around the country.
Take action today! Tell your Senators that you support eliminating funding for ineffective abstinence-only programs and dedicating federal funds to proven, comprehensive sex education that teaches our youth the facts they need and prepares them to put their own values into action.

Our Whole Lives Featured in "O, the Oprah Magazine"

Look for the July 2009 issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine” on newsstands now, which features a cover story on the Our Whole Lives (OWL) adult sex ed curriculum. Amanda Robb, who wrote the article, attended a session of the Adult OWL class at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, and interviewed participants as well as the course facilitator Barbara Tuttle. Also quoted are Unitarian Universalist OWL trainer Jane Detwiler, Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, who co-authored the OWL Young Adult curriculum, and UUA Public Relations Director Janet Hayes.

Comprehensive sex education is important and meaningful to people of all ages and must address the changing needs of participants from childhood into adulthood. That’s why OWL is designed not as one curriculum, but as several age appropriate programs based on the experiences and needs of young people and adults across the lifespan.

To learn more about “Our Whole Lives,” check out or visit your local Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ congregation.

Prayer for Wholeness

by Rev. Meg Riley. Inspired by the participants at the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT), 2009. For more information about SEAT, see the SEAT FAQ.

Sweet source of hope and healing, longing and life,

We know our first responsibility is to create a world which supports the growth of our world’s children

A world safe for them to explore, and to learn and grow, without being judged or punished.

A world safe for them to make mistakes, knowing there is nothing they can do to lose our love.
May we provide them with tools to protect themselves and those they love from decisions which hurt—information about the physical, spiritual, emotional aspects of sexuality.

May they know it is safe for them to come to us always, and we won’t make it worse.

We wish that life were simple.
We wish that unwanted pregnancies never occurred,

That no one engaged in any kind of sexual activity without protection and real choice, real response-ability,

That all people were equally valued.

We wish that every person knew his or her own beauty and worth, and thus that of the others with whom she or he interacted.

A child I love dearly, aged ten, was struggling with gender identity.

“Do you ever feel,” I prodded gently, trying to understand, “as if you were born into the wrong body?”

The young one paused for a moment of silence, and responded, “Nope, this is my body all right. I feel like I was born into the wrong world!”

We pray that we can make this wrong world a little bit more right for our children.

May they know and cherish their own bodies as sacred, beautiful, true.
May we create a world which reflects this back to them.

May we demand schools, governments, communities, which honor them

And in so doing, be worthy of this gift of life, this beautiful broken world.


Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.

What exactly is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

Recently, there have been questions in the media about what comprehensive sexuality education is. What is it that we are teaching our youth in Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ churches across the country?

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) defines sex education as “a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values that encompasses sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles.”

The “lifelong process” means that comprehensive sexuality education is age-appropriate. The curriculum for Kindergartners will be different than that of 5th graders and that of high school students.

The UU and UCC comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, Our Whole Lives (OWL) , teaches grade K-1 students about respect for others, how each of us is unique and wonderful, that our bodies are private and that if someone tries to hurt them or touch them inappropriately that they should immediately yell and run to tell an adult they trust. It also discusses families and what to expect when your parents have or adopt another baby.

Creating dialogue with five and six year olds about respect and families is a great way to increase self-confidence and develop close relationships among parents and children. The topics and questions brought up in the curriculum are common questions many young children have.

In contrast, teenagers in the OWL Grades 10-12 curriculum discuss body image, STDs, contraception, gender roles, sexual orientation, healthy relationships and communication. These topics are appropriate for teenagers who are exploring their sexual identity and entering relationships. These topics are not taught in the K-1 curriculum.

Parents are strongly encouraged to be involved in their child’s sexuality education. The primary teacher is always the parent. Comprehensive sexuality education gives tools to both the parents and children to talk about important sexual health issues that are age appropriate.

Comprehensive sexuality education gives us the tools we need to be in communication with each other and how to respect ourselves and others. It also helps us make healthy sexual decisions when we decide we are ready to do so.

Rev. Sinkford’s Reflections on HIV/AIDS in the Daily Voice

For years, Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the UUA, has pushed for our government to fund comprehensive sexuality education as a way of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Today, he published an editorial continuing his advocacy in the Daily Voice, a web site aiming to be the leading destination for African American news and opinion. In it, he reacts to a slew of recent developments, including the Saturday release of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, last week’s signing into law of the new President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the recent study from the Black AIDS Institute. Click here for the Daily Voice.

The South and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

HIV/AIDS has been a problem in the United States for the past three decades. Many groups have worked tirelessly to educate the public on how to prevent transmitting HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself from getting it in the first place. The fact that we knew so little when the epidemic first hit made it difficult for people to know how to protect themselves, but now that we are more knowledgeable and many myths have been largely dispelled it seems that we should be in a state of decline. HIV/AIDS cases should be at an all time low yet the rates have stayed largely the same since the 1990’s and have increased dramatically in the South and mainly among African Americans and women.

Let’s look at Alabama for instance, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention African Americans, who make up only 26% of Alabama’s population, accounted for 72% of new cases of HIV. And the data is similar for most of the Southern states and especially the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Between 2000 and 2003 the number of new AIDS cases increased 35.6% in the Deep South compared to 4% in the other Southern states and 5.2% nationally*. Not only are residents of the Deep South becoming infected with HIV at a higher rate they are also among the states with the highest death rates related to AIDS.

These rates are incredibly alarming. One explanation for why the HIV/AIDS rates has increased is due to the high levels of STI’s in the Deep South, which are the highest in the nation. STI’s have consistently been found to increase the risk of HIV transmission. That leads us to the question of why there are such high levels of STI’s. AIDS Alabama and SIECUS connect the HIV/AIDS rates to abstinence-only education which is prevalent in Alabama and across the South. Since 1998 when Alabama began receiving federal funding for abstinence-only education the STI, HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy rates have increased. Yet Alabama is still using these programs even though many studies have proven abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. Alabama, in particular is suffering from extremely poor health conditions.

The fact that the South and the African American population is greatly suffering from this disease needs to be addressed. Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs need to be instituted to educate people about STI’s, HIV/AIDS and contraceptives. People need to know how to protect themselves. They are not learning it through medically inaccurate, gender stereotyping, religion promoting, homophobic and shame based abstinence-only programs.

Call on your Representatives to GET REAL! and support the Responsible Education About Life Act. Our lives depend on it.

For additional information:

*HIV Infection and AIDS in the Deep South

AIDS Alabama

Southern AIDS Coalition

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States