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What is OWL and why does it matter?

Think back to your middle school and high school years. If you were like most teenagers, you had lots of questions about your body and relationships with others. Perhaps you didn’t understand why your skin was breaking out or why your stomach did flips when you saw a particular classmate. Maybe you worried that you would never have a romantic partner—or what you would do if you did!

Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a comprehensive sexuality program designed to alleviate those worries and answer the tough questions that we all have about sexuality. The curriculum was co-written by the UUA and United Church of Christ (UCC). Its premise is simple: everyone is sexual, from birth to death, and diversity in sexuality is normal.

While the program spans kindergarten through adulthood, First Unitarian offers the middle and high school curricula. Laura Laing, Becky Redett and Gene Slouthour-Hudnall are currently teaching the 7-9th grade program to a group of 10 kids. Beginning in January, the session will go through May. Typically, the middle school program is offered every other spring. When there is demand, we offer the high school program on off years.

But why? What does OWL have to do with Unitarian Universalism? And why would parents want their kids to be part of the OWL program?

OWL affirms each person’s inherent worth and dignity

With a focus on five circles of sexuality, OWL helps normalize the healthy feelings and reactions of participants. Diversity is considered the norm, and participants are encouraged to affirm their own and others’ values, while recognizing unhealthy expressions of sexuality.

As it is often taught in schools, sexuality education focuses on negative consequences of sexuality, including unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. OWL covers these topics, but devotes a great deal of time to positive expressions of sexuality, including sexual orientation, gender identity, dating, marrying and building a family.

OWL helps parents and promotes kids’ healthy relationships with other adults and other kids

For many parents and kids, the “sex talk” is a challenge—at a particularly challenging age. And even when those discussions are open and easy, it can be very helpful for middle and high schoolers to have additional adult connections. Plus the discussions among the kids themselves can be enriching and enlightening. Facilitators model respectful language and interactions. Often the group creates a strong bond that extends into other parts of their lives and the church community. 

OWL offers participants and facilitators the opportunity to grapple with difficult and critical questions

Although sexuality plays a prominent role in our culture, there are few opportunities for us to talk openly about the complexity of being sexual. The OWL curriculum excels at sparking conversations that we wouldn’t normally have. Kids can ask basic questions that are taboo in other settings, and the group delves into less clear-cut queries that have no right or wrong answers.

Participants leave OWL with a better sense of who they are as sexual beings

For teenagers, this means having a greater sense of their personal values and how they can act responsibly. While this won’t eliminate their natural impulsivity or tendency to make questionable decisions, OWL graduates have more tools at their disposal. The hope then is that they will not only make better decisions for themselves but help others make good choices. 

OWL is one of our most effective outreach programs

Because we do not have a large youth population in our congregation, we actively recruit participants. In most middle and high school OWL classes, there is a mix of faiths and backgrounds, from the unchurched to Catholicism to Judaism. The curriculum allows for these different backgrounds, and the group is enriched by this diversity. While OWL is not intended to be a recruiting tool for UUism, it is an avenue for demonstrating UU values.

First Unitarian is always looking for more OWL facilitators. Training is offered at various times of the year and is required. For more information, email Laura Laing at llaing@comcast.net. We are considering offering the 10-12th grade OWL program next spring. If you have a child who is interested or would like to facilitate that group, email Laura. 

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