Growing up in a small-town public school in Mississippi, I didn’t take a health class until my 10th grade year of high school, and all we learned about was similar to the Mean Girls version of sex ed: abstinence. Luckily for me, though, I had already been taught some sex ed in my middle school years, but it wasn’t taught to me at school. It was taught at church.
One of the most embarrassing days of my 5th grade life was the day that I had to take my first class at church called “Created by God,” a name based off the textbook that the teacher would give us on the first day. My parents convinced me to take the class by saying I would get to take it with my cousin, but then when I sat down for the first day of class, I realized the catch: my uncle was the teacher, along with one of my friend’s moms.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that my uncle would be teaching the class; he was a strong member of our church as well as a high school science teacher, and funny yet hardcore enough to eventually make 5th graders not laugh every time he said “penis.” At the time, though, it was mortifying.
Over the next four weeks, my cousin and I endured what we thought were the most embarrassing and funny classes of our lives every hour after church on Sunday, giggling every time we would have to turn to a new page in the Created by God book and see a new diagram.
The class was separated into two groups: 5th graders and 6th graders. My cousin and I were in the 5th grade class, and it was an introduction to human body parts and basic definitions of various concepts, like the difference between sex versus gender and what fallopian tubes are and all that fun stuff. The 6th grade class, which I was also forced to take the next year, was more focused on learning about relationships and the actual process of sex, as well as what puberty is and the importance of strengthening the relationship with your own body. Both of the classes also centered around how your relationship with faith should tie into your relationship with human sexuality, which was one of the main reasons why so many people at church were okay with their kids taking sex ed in 5th grade.
Created by God reinforced that all of us in the class were indeed a creation of God, and you have the people around you and also God to guide you and help you deal with new experiences, like going through puberty. By teaching sex ed at church, the church was able to teach young people about sex from a Christian standpoint, which might not be the case when they learn about sex through real life experiences.
It took me till about 8th grade to finally have that aha moment about what sex actually was — while watching a movie with a sex scene I realized that THAT is what they meant by their noodle metaphor (you can easily put a spaghetti noodle through a penne noodle when it’s uncooked and hard, but it’s harder to fit a noodle through another noodle when it’s soft and cooked). Created by God was an extremely beneficial class to me, and although I didn’t appreciate it at the time — to me it was just an extra hour of school on the weekend — it laid a foundation for a lot of information about sex and relationships that I would remember throughout my young life.
Our church made it easy for both parents and children to talk more openly about sex, and it was one of the only real sex ed classes I took throughout my middle and high school years. It probably would’ve benefited me to take the class again in high school, but having the class in 5th grade was a great foundation. The church was a great place to learn and talk about everything, because religion plays such an important part in how sex ed is taught in Mississippi.
My uncle still teaches the class throughout the year with my aunt, who works as an ER doctor, and they continue to use the Created by God book as the foundation for the class. When I asked my uncle about it recently, he said that he loves teaching the class, and went on to say that the class is “important because it opens up the lines of communication between kids and parents about sex.”
I took my first sex ed class at church in 5th grade, and it focused on how your relationship with faith should tie into your relationship with human sexuality. With that experience, my church normalized sex ed, not only for kids but also for parents. Although it mortified me at the time, in the long run it benefitted me greatly and made me feel better about asking my parents questions about sex.