Youth Sexuality Education

Adopted by the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees June 2004


Choices about sexual behavior are among the most complicated decisions teenagers are faced with making, and the potential negative consequences of sexual activity can be tragic for these young men and women. High rates of teenage pregnancy and the grave risk of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, mean that educating our youth about sexual health must become a national priority.

Reform Jewish youth are as sexually active as their peers. Every scientific study that breaks down participants by religion shows the same results. Just as importantly, at programs such as the L'Taken seminars and NFTY conventions, workshops dealing with topics of sexuality fill quickly. Our youth are asking questions, and they are looking to us for guidance.

In 1977, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) urged its Sisterhoods ""to include family planning and sex education"" in their programs. In 1987 and again in 2003, the CCAR adopted resolutions addressing the need for comprehensive, scientifically accurate sexuality education in the schools and youth programs of the Reform Movement and in the public schools of our nation.

Studies show that providing accurate information about reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception has a positive impact on curbing adolescent pregnancy and the incidence of sexually transmitted disease.1 Despite this evidence, our government has been appropriating millions of dollars for ""abstinence-only"" sexuality education programs. The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2005 would double funding for abstinence-only programs to $273 million. Allocating money in this way diverts funds from the more effective and broader-based programs such as ""abstinence-plus"" curricula, which encourage abstinence while teaching accurate information about sexuality, reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception. There is no evidence that abstinence-only programs are effective in convincing students to delay sexual activity until marriage, and students in these programs are less likely than their peers to use protection when they do become sexually active. Just as problematically, many abstinence-only curricula rely on shame, negative stereotypes about women, and inaccurate statistics to frighten students away from sexual activity. Many endanger at-risk youth by ignoring issues of sexual orientation and sexual abuse and by stigmatizing sexually active students; and many offend the diversity of religious perspectives on human sexuality by presenting a specific religiously-based view as universal.2

Sexuality is addressed seriously and candidly in Jewish texts and tradition. Ranging from the Song of Songs, the most sexually explicit writing in the Torah, to very specific discussions of the laws of family, our holy texts recognize and often celebrate sexuality as a crucial and sacred part of life. Furthermore, our modern practice of Judaism views sexuality, and its ultimate goal of a healthy and committed relationship, as a matter of religious concern. It is our responsibility as a movement to ensure that our youth approach decisions about sexual behavior equipped with both accurate information about sexual health and an understanding of and appreciation for Reform Jewish values regarding sexuality.

Therefore, the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

  1. Encourage the Union for Reform Judaism, its departments and affiliates to work with congregations, synagogue schools, day schools, camps, and youth groups of our movement to:
    1. Encourage parents to talk with their children about sexuality and sexual health, and assist families in these conversations by offering training and by providing tools and educational materials; and
    2. Offer to all our youth comprehensive sexuality education through courses and programs that are appropriate to each age level and built on Jewish values, emphasizing the role of sexuality in the context of healthy committed relationships, and including objective information about reproduction, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, sexual orientation, and other issues of sexuality;
    3. Offer to all our youth sexuality education courses and programs that address the potential for physical or emotional harm caused by harassment based upon real or perceived sexual orientation or other sexual issues and how to stop such harassment; and
  2. Support federal, state, provincial, and local efforts to:
    1. Provide for the inclusion of comprehensive, accurate, and age-appropriate sexuality education in the public schools from elementary school through high school;
    2. Oppose funding limited to abstinence-only programs,
    3. Assure that sexuality education curricula do not include emotionally charged or biased portrayals of sexual activity, sexual orientation, and sexual health.

[1] A 1997 United Nations report, entitled ""Impact of HIV and Sexual Health Education on the Sexual Behavior of Young People,"" examined 22 HIV/AIDS and abstinence-plus sexuality education programs and found that the programs delayed the onset of sexual activity, reduced the number of partners, and decreased the incidence of sexually transmitted disease and unplanned pregnancy.

[2] "Keeping Our Youth 'Scared Chaste': Common Characteristics of Fear-Based Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs." Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.