TRAVERSE CITY — The Our Whole Life (OWL) program offered this fall by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse sure ain’t your mother’s — or your father’s — sex education class.
The OWL program, in fact, is in stark contrast to the abstinence-based programs offered in Michigan’s public school system and covers such topics as self-worth, gender and sexual identity, sexual orientation, consent, social media, sexually transmitted infections, contraception and more.
“All people are sexual,” said Katie Tomczyk, OWL’s lead educator. “This program teaches that sexuality is a good part of the human experience. It assumes that human beings are sexual from the time they are born until they die.”
OWL is being offered to all seventh- through ninth-graders, including those who are not members of the congregation. The class will meet in two-hour sessions two Sunday mornings per month from October through May. Teens will also go on an overnight retreat.
Sex education has been taught in UU congregations for more than 40 years.
The OWL program has been around since the 1990s, having been revised from a program taught to UU congregations in the 1960s and ‘70s known as About Your Sexuality.
OWL has previously been taught at the Traverse City congregation, but not for several years, Tomczyk said. She is hoping that kids from all over the community participate.
The program is not religion-based and has no explicit religious references, said Cathy Harrington, interim UU minister. It does teach ethics, morals and values that are a part of UU’s faith and tradition, she said.
“Healthy sexuality is essential to being a whole and healthy human being,” Harrington said. “It’s more about preparing kids so they’re not in a situation they can’t handle and making bad decisions on the spur of the moment.”
The OWL program is tailored for every age group, including adults, and teaching about human sexuality is considered a part of UU’s ministry, Harrington said.
OWL is taught by Tomczyk and a co-facilitator, so there are always two people leading the class. Guest speakers also will visit.
Parents can come to one of two informal orientation meetings where they’ll get an overview of the program and be able to ask questions. Those meetings will be held at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the church at 6726 Center Road.
There is also a two-hour mandatory session for parents, though the date has not yet been set.
“We want parents to see the video their kids will be watching and have an opportunity to dive a little deeper into the sexual content of the program,” Tomczyk said.
A small fee covers the cost of class materials.
The goal for the program being offered this year is for young teens to learn to learn to respect themselves and to respect the sexuality of others, Tomczyk said.
“It gives them the tools to know and experience the part of themselves that is sexual in a responsible way,” Tomczyk said. “It’s a really important topic — especially for today’s adolescents — to be able to explore.”
They’ll also have a safe space to learn the skills that let them talk about sex with others, including those who may be potential partners, Tomczyk said.
“It’s quite remarkable,” Harrington said. “It gives them a comprehensive understanding of their bodies and sex and how to be safe.”