Our Whole Lives (OWL)

One First Parish program that you won’t find at many other Sunday schools is “Our Whole Lives,” an age-appropriate health and sexuality course, developed in collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. OWL programs are value driven and focus on helping children and youth to develop a strong sense of self worth, an understanding of their own bodies, and a respect for responsible, just and inclusive approaches to human biology and sexuality.

OWL classes are offered at three grade levels

  • K/1st grade
  • 5th grade
  • 7th/8th grade

The classes are lead by UUA trained facilitators. Parents must attend a mandatory orientation as well as complete and sign a permission form before their children will be allowed to participate. Questions about OWL can be directed to the Director of Religious Exploration, Mark LaPointe.

Our Whole Lives Program Assumptions

  • All persons are sexual.
  • Sexuality is a good part of the human experience.
  • Sexuality includes much more than sexual behavior.
  • Human beings are sexual from the time they are born until they die.
  • It is natural to express sexual feelings in a variety of ways.
  • People engage in healthy sexual behavior for a variety of reasons including to express caring and love, to experience intimacy and connection with another, to share pleasure, to bring new life into the world, and to experience fun and relaxation.
  • Sexuality in our society is damaged by violence, exploitation, alienation, dishonesty, abuse of power, and the treatment of persons as objects.
  • It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.

(from the UUA Our Whole Lives manual)

Religious educators in the Mass Bay District respond with this compiled list:

OWL teaches youth how to live in covenanted community and right relationship*

OWL affirms UU values by:

  • addressing the whole body
  • affirming- does not shroud, it presents sexuality in a positive
  • light without fear
  • being honest and respectful
  • building community*
  • creating a safe place to explore diversity
  • explaining the diversity of sexual orientation
  • giving a positive response to life
  • giving participants a core of knowledge
  • life affirming
  • makes a mind, body, spirit connection
  • respecting decision-making ability
  • saving lives
  • strengthening parent relationship with their
  • children about the subject of sexuality

We do not want the public school to teach values. We as UU’s want to instill our own values in our children.

*Covenanted community is an agreement with how you want to live in community with one another.
*Right Relationship is honoring the right of one individual to another, and the community (justice, equity and compassion in relationship)

  • Abortion: Our Whole Lives discusses the medical procedure of abortion, and provides a respectful format for participants of differing viewpoints to discuss the ethical controversies that surround this procedure. (Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult)
  • Abstinence: Our Whole Lives supports abstinence from sexual activity as one of a number of healthy choices individuals can make at any point in their lives. Abstinence is consistently stressed as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. Our Whole Lives also emphasizes the maturity and responsibility required for sexual activity, and presents abstinence as the best choice for young adolescents. (Gr. 4-6, Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult)
  • Body Image: Our Whole Lives affirms that bodies of all genders, sizes, colors, ages, and abilities are beautiful. Our Whole Lives offers the opportunity to critique the prevailing cultural standards of beauty, and to expand that definition.
  • Families: Our Whole Lives affirms that families come in many forms. It features stories and readings about stepfamilies, single parent families, two-parent families (both same-gender and other-gender), multi-ethnic families, adoptive families, and families where children live with a family member other than their parents.
  • Gender Identity: Our Whole Lives upholds the worth and dignity of people of all genders, including transgender people. It affirms that gender identities are not limited to male and female, and clarifies the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Gender Roles: Our Whole Lives stands for gender justice, countering sexist stereotypes. The program affirms people in non-traditional, as well as traditional, gender roles, and challenges participants to understand the pressures that sexism puts on everyone.
  • HIV/AIDS: Our Whole Lives contains up-to-date and age-appropriate information on HIV and AIDS symptoms, treatment, and prevention. It stresses the importance of safe behavior and HIV testing. It promotes compassion for those infected with HIV and afflicted with AIDS.
  • Homosexuality and Bisexuality: Our Whole Lives teaches that bisexuality, homosexuality, and heterosexuality are all natural sexual orientations, and that people of all sexual orientations have the right to express love, commitment, and pleasure. Our Whole Lives (Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult) invites guest panels of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual people to speak to the class. Our Whole Lives assumes that its participants will include people of all sexual orientations.
  • Love and Commitment: Our Whole Lives celebrates love and commitment at all stages of life. It teaches that love requires understanding oneself as well as one’s partner; that loving oneself improves one’s ability to love another person; and that loving another person can be one of life’s greatest joys. Our Whole Lives stresses that marriage and lifetime commitments require mutual effort and understanding.
  • Masturbation: Our Whole Lives presents masturbation as a natural, valid, and safe form of sexual expression. Our Whole Lives (Gr. 4-6, Gr. 7-9, Gr.10-12, Adult) recognizes that individuals, cultures, and religions have differing opinions about masturbation and that ultimately, the individual will decide for him- or herself.
  • Parents: Our Whole Lives affirms that parents are children’s primary sexuality educators. Our Whole Lives’s parent orientation programs and the Parent Guide help foster positive, proactive communication between parent and child regarding sexuality. Studies show that comprehensive sexuality education programs like Our Whole Lives promote communication between parents and children. (For more information, see Facts about Comprehensive Sexuality Education.)
  • Puberty: Our Whole Lives teaches that people go through puberty at different times and in different ways. Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6 educates participants about the changes their bodies will be going through and teaches that those changes are natural.
  • Relationships: Our Whole Lives helps participants recognize that healthy relationships are based on responsibility, respect, love, and commitment. Same-sex relationships are celebrated in the same way that heterosexual relationships are.
  • Sexual Relationships: Our Whole Lives teaches that healthy sexual relationships are respectful, consensual, nonexploitative, mutually pleasurable, safe, developmentally appropriate, and based on respect, mutual expectations, and caring.
  • Values: Values are central to Our Whole Lives. Our Whole Lives gives participants the opportunity to evaluate and strengthen their values, and to act on them.

If you’re interested in learning more about our OWL program, please check out these resources:

Sexual Development Through the Life Cycle

Boston Globe article about OWL

Unitarian Universalist Association