uuworld.org: liberal religion and life

Nurture your spirit. Help heal our world. Unitarian Universalists.

Archives

UU Parenting with Michelle Richards, author of Tending the Flame: The Art of UU Parenting

A discussion about parenting and liberal religion, with Michelle Richards, author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting. | Welcome | Subscribe

Dating rules for Unitarian Universalist teens

young couple embracing

© Vladimir Piskunov/iStockphoto

A fellow Unitarian Universalist parent and friend of mine is creating a wiki-style site for his family and recently asked me to check out his “Rules of Dating.” Beyond being intrigued by his use of wiki-style postings, I loved what he had to offer as dating advice to his teenage children. He writes, for example, that “dating is about knowing what our limits are and being brave enough to communicate those limits to others.”

Reading my friend’s rules, it occurred to me that we parents spend a lot of time communicating with our teens about what not to do—ride in a car with someone who has been drinking, experiment with drugs, have risky sexual encounters, etc.—but not much talking about what makes a good relationship and what partners in healthy relationships should do.

Communicating about dating and relationships with your youth really comes down to values. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that sex is not sinful but can be a healthy expression of affection between consenting persons. Beyond that, we as parents need to communicate our personal values, such as keeping sexual activity within the confines of a committed relationship. This is especially important in the current climate in high schools and colleges, which encourages such things as “friends with benefits” and equates engaging in oral sex with “making out.”

Stressing that individuals may decide to engage in sexual intimacy if they are mature enough, ready for the responsibility, and committed to one another is a powerful yet positive way of communicating that casual sexual activity can be harmful. A young person who feels empowered to wait until they feel ready to take on the responsibility of commitment is less likely to experience an imbalance of power or pressure to engage in sexual activities they’re not ready for.

My friend’s wiki post goes so far as to refer to what he calls making “sacred choices.” He emphasizes that if “something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t the time for it,” and that basically it all comes down to trust. He says, “Whether or not you should move forward in a relationship, back away, or keep it right where it is depends on how well you can trust the person with friends, with family, but most importantly, you.” This is pretty heavy stuff—but it is measureable. Youth who are in the fog of love and raging hormones may need such guidelines to help them make the right choices at the right time.

Likewise, the wonderful Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ also communicates the message that if a youth is unable to talk with a partner about preventing pregnancy and/or transmission of STDs, then they are not ready for sexual intimacy. Talking about contraception and sexual health is not easy to do for many adults, but it is very important—and a gauge by which youth can evaluate whether their relationship is mature enough and they are ready for the responsibility of sexual activity.

As parents, what we communicate about sexuality is important, but we need to remember that talking only about diseases and unplanned pregnancy makes it all seem like a negative. We need to talk, too, about the thrill of romance and the joy of falling in love. We also need to communicate what makes a healthy relationship so our young people don’t find themselves enmeshed in something that just doesn’t feel right but yet may feel so good.

Other resources: “What’s Distinctive About UU Relationships?” (UU World, Mar./Apr. 1999); “Don’t Just Say No” (UU World, Fall 2005); “Forty Years of UU Sexuality Education” (UU World, Winter 2011).

  • Anonymous

    Wow, when did it become an assumed part of my values as a Unitarian Universalist to engage in sexual activity only within a committed relationship? That makes a giant assumption about what is wrong and right for other people and is pretty hostile to a lot of the normal activities of young people. 

    This article made my late teen and young twenty year old self someone who was way on the edge of culturally-condoned morality and yet I had PLENTY of company in my days of “friends with benefits.” The reality is this: Sexual activity between consenting people mature enough to take responsibility for their emotional and physical health and the health of their partner, and for the pleasure of themselves and their partner are not acting outside of ANY of our values. Their actions represent a legitimate choice, one MOST people make in their lives. I do not regret mine at all. My sexual love for my husband is about intimacy and partnership. Not all sexual expression has to be to be worthwhile, or to have integrity.

    I think this is all wrong. How we should be raising our teens is to be aware of their needs, to learn to recognize another’s needs, to evaluate that they may be different. They need to know that sex can cause bonding but it can cause confusion and hurt, if there is not communication, integrity and clarity. Our kids need to uphold the worth of their partners and themselves. The rest is not for us to dictate.

  • Christine Leigh


    Beyond that, we as parents need to communicate our personal values, such as keeping sexual activity within the confines of a committed relationship. This is especially important in the current climate in high schools and colleges, which encourages such things as “friends with benefits” and equates engaging in oral sex with “making out.”

    I read that as the author’s own values, which she is more than entitled to have. There are many people, informed by experience or informed by another source of personal truth who are uncomfortable with uncommitted intimacy. I am glad that you have made decisions that you are comfortable with and do not regret. I doubt that would be my experience is I had made the same choices. Uncommitted intimacy, for me, would not have reflected respecting myself. 

    I do take exception with this comment:
    Not all sexual expression has to be, to be worthwhile, or to have integrity.

    I am unaware of any domain of social life where it is acceptable or moral to behave without integrity. Hopefully I misunderstood your words.

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry if that sentence was a little tortured and hard to understand. What I said was “*My sexual love for my husband is about intimacy and partnership. Not all sexual expression has to be, to be worthwhile, or to have integrity.* ” What I meant was that not all sexual intimacy has to be about intimacy and partnership to be worthwhile, or to have integrity. I do think all sexual intimacy requires integrity and the rest of my remarks make that clear.

    My objection is not to the author’s values, which are fine. Of course they are! My objection is to her broad *assumption* that we UUs all feel this way, as in her statement ” *we as parents need to communicate our personal values, such as keeping sexual activity within the confines of a committed relationship*” and “*Stressing that individuals may decide to engage in sexual intimacy if they are mature enough, ready for the responsibility, and committed to one another is a powerful yet positive way of communicating that casual sexual activity can be harmful*.” These statements are full of assumed shared values.

    I am calling the questions as to whether we do share these values, or should. Once, in the relatively recent past, my grandfather declared from the pulpit of All Souls in D.C. that we UUs should not condone homosexuality. He was a great minister and this author is a great U.U. as well, whose articles I have frequently shared with enthusiasm. My grandfather’s remark, however, was full of the blind prejudice of his time.
    This article, although well-intended, sounds the same.

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry if that sentence was a little tortured and hard to understand. What I said was  ”My sexual love for my husband is about intimacy and partnership. Not all sexual expression has to be, to be worthwhile, or to have integrity. ” What I meant was that not all sexual intimacy has to be about intimacy and partnership to be worthwhile, or to have integrity. I do think all sexual intimacy requires integrity and the rest of my remarks make that clear.
    My objection is not to the author’s values, which are fine. Of course they are! My objection is to her broad assumption that we UUs all feel this way, as in her statement “ we as parents need to communicate our personal values, such as keeping sexual activity within the confines of a committed relationship” and  ”Stressing that individuals may decide to engage in sexual intimacy if they are mature enough, ready for the responsibility, and committed to one another is a powerful yet positive way of communicating that casual sexual activity can be harmful.” These statements are full of assumed shared values. 

    I am calling the questions as to whether we do share these values, or should. Once, in the relatively recent past, my grandfather declared from the pulpit of All Souls in D.C. that we UUs should not condone homosexuality. He was a great minister and this author is a great U.U. as well, whose articles I have frequently shared with enthusiasm. My grandfather’s remark, however, was full of the blind prejudice of his time. This article, although well-intended, sounds the same.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1092499077 Ursyl Kukura-Straw

    I didn’t take that as a statement that we all should have that particular value, but as ONE example of the values (some of which may well be different) that parents should be communicating to our children.

    Clearly you would be communicating a slightly different value to your offspring than the author is to hers.

    I have seen the value of OWL in our now adult son’s life and how he and his girlfriend deal with these issues.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry you took that to assume I meant all Unitarian Universalist parents should communicate this.  I used the word “personal” to describe values belonging to a particular parent.  Generally I would use “Unitarian Universalist Parents should” if I mean it is a Unitarian Universalist value.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BICED6LNYTY3RBHFCCHCWBEXTQ Mara

    Any chance we can get a link to that friend’s Rule of Dating site?  I’d like to see what he has to say.