Sexuality education in Religious/Orthodox settings
Many religions and cultures of the world have their own particular requirements when it comes to sexuality education. There are often very clear guidelines surrounding the sexual health curriculum in religious schools, and in some cases members from the religious studies staff will advise on the information to be shared or even sit in on sexuality/adolescent health sessions.
Over the years I have been privileged to facilitate classes in sexual health with schools as diverse as Greek Orthodox, Jewish (orthodox, conservative and progressive), Coptic, Catholic, Christian and many others. In primary school puberty classes, obviously the information is very much the same for everyone; but the way in which this information is presented can tend to differ. Most primary schools will elect to run their sessions in mixed sex classes, but it is more likely that our religious clients will request single sex classes. In the very orthodox schools the children would not see diagrams of the reproductive systems and organs of the opposite sex. They may not be given particular information about the specific puberty changes experienced by the opposite sex. In certain schools the girls do not receive information about tampon use (for instance) as tampons are not an accepted option within their religion. When we discuss sperm production as a normal aspect of puberty for boys, it is not uncommon to introduce information about wet dreams and masturbation. In many religions masturbation is forbidden, and the majority of religious/orthodox schools will not allow this topic to be discussed. Children beginning to experience puberty are often becoming interested in romance and relationships; yet boyfriends and girlfriends, dating, kissing or even holding hands are forbidden by some religions until after marriage. Sexuality educators need to be aware of the particular ‘rules’ and requirements of each religion and community.
Reproduction, safer sex (STIs and contraception) , sexual orientation, and even sexting are areas of particular sensitivity in religious secondary schools. Many religions advocate sexual relationships only after marriage; others forbid the use of condoms or indeed ejaculation for any reason other than procreation. Homosexuality is also an area of much debate in religious/orthodox communities and schools.
Some people may argue that limiting sexuality education in certain schools and communities is doing the young people a disservice. I admit that I personally believed this at one stage. I have since come to discover that the school staff, the parents, the religious leaders in these schools and communities are very aware of the incredibly fine line they are forced to tread. They know that young people in the wider community are experimenting with their emerging sexual feelings, that they are starting relationships and learning to keep themselves sexually healthy. They also know that there will always be young people within their own communities choosing to disregard some of the rules and expectations of their religion. They want their young people to be protected, yet, religiously, they need to believe that their youth are following the teachings of their particular religion.
One of the ways we, as sexuality educators, are able to provide the knowledge these teens need to keep themselves sexually safe is to share with them the information that their peers in “the wider community” are currently receiving whilst at the same time encouraging the students to consider their personal beliefs before making any choices. It is also crucially important to make very sure that all young people are aware of all their options. They need to be aware that every young person is not sexually active; there are ways of showing love and commitment to a particular other person without having sexual intercourse or taking part in sexual activity.
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