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National News
Faith Programs Help Teens Sort Out Sex, Morality

April 11, 2003

A growing number of churches and synagogues are offering sex education as part of their religious instruction curriculum, a movement that expanded in the 1980's when faith communities confronted the twin crises of AIDS and soaring teenage pregnancies. On April 2, the National Institutes of Health issued the findings of a study of almost 5,000 teenagers ages 15-18 concluding that "teens -- particularly girls -- with strong religious views are less likely to have sex ... largely because their religious views lead them to view the consequences of having sex negatively."

Faith-based sex education courses range from the Unitarian Universalist-United Church of Christ curriculum "Our Whole Lives," which explores subjects including homosexuality, STDs, masturbation and oral sex, to the Southern Baptist program "True Love Waits," which simply asks young people to promise to abstain sexually until marriage.

"Keeping it Real!," a curriculum for black youths ages 13-17 developed by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, is designed to foster dialogue about sexuality. Each of seven sessions, held with parents present, studies a Bible verse, with time spent discussing questions such as, "Have you ever had a conversation about sex with your parents? What do you remember thinking and feeling about those conversations?" Teenagers also discuss "The 411 on Sex and Slang" -- a glossary of technical and street-talk terms -- and debate hypothetical situations meant to teach good decision-making.

Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest Washington is using the abstinence-emphasizing "True Love Waits" for middle-schoolers and "Keeping it Real!" for older youths. Rabbi Jonathan Stein, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, recast an early version of "Our Whole Lives" with a Jewish perspective and began teaching it to youths at weekend retreats.

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Excerpted from:
Washington Post
04.06.03; Carlyle Murphy

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