Thoughts on sexuality, religion, and age

Most religions have very strong opinions about sex and sexuality. Churches and other places of worship are a major contributor to sexuality education for American children and teenagers. I happen to very much like the Unitarian Universalist’s sex education program, Our Whole Lives (or OWL). The Reverend Debra Haffner writes a regular blog called Sexuality and Religion: What’s the Connection? And I wonder the same thing.

That so many religions speak so powerfully on sexuality suggests that sexuality is absolutely central to our being fully human.

But what does that mean for teenagers? What does it mean when we tell teenagers that something most religions and most adults consider to be central to being human (i.e., sexuality), is something that they should wait to begin taking part in until after high school, until after they turn 18 or 21, or until after they marry.

Robert Epstein, Ph.D., author of The Case Against Adolescence, would say (and, in fact, has said) that teenagers can make good, responsible decisions about their own sexual activities. Dr. Epstein goes to great lengths to point out that different teenagers have different decision-making abilities and different maturity levels. Almost in the same breath, he points out that adults are subject to the same levels of individual variation, and yet they still have complete responsibility for their own sexual activities.

So what do all of these (slightly jumbled) thoughts mean? Why do religions consider sexuality so critical, and why do they try to limit sexual behavior so stringently? How can adults legitimately restrict adolescents from taking part in sexuality, when it is so key to humanity? And is there legitimate support for these positions given Dr. Epstein’s assertion that
teenagers are able to make appropriate decisions about sexual behavior?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I just wanted to thank you for your blog and to point out that I explore these issues in detail in The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. It includes a foreword by the late psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who calls it “one of the most revolutionary books I have ever read.” Dr. Joyce Brothers says that it is “profoundly important,” and Deepak Chopra calls it “rigorous and persuasive.” For further information, see:

  2. I was listening to a tape this morning about religion and sexuality. The preacher/minister/priest (I’m not sure what his credentials were) talked about the bible as basing most of its beliefs on faulty premises (such as the one where the white stuff that comes out of the man is the entirety of what makes babies, so therefore anything that wastes sperm is killing babies – therefore masturbation and homosexuality is a heinious crime). He also spoke of all Christian religious history being a bad thing for girls, placing them as the bad one in the Garden of Eden and being visiting with “the curse” (pain in childbirth and bleeding monthly to remember their sins). I struggle with how adolescents can work through these difficulties and develop a healthy sense of their own sexuality. I am in agreement with Karen that the OWL program through the Unitarian-Universalist Church can be helpful. I’m in agreement with Dr Rayne and Dr Epstein that adolescents are sometimes able to make better decisions than some adults regarding their sexual activities and choices. I believe strongly that adolescents need thoughtful caring adults to talk to about these issues. I encourage each person reading to go out and be more in connection with adolescents (if you are an adult) or adults (if you are an adolescent). If the first person you reach is not someone you like and can connect with – don’t assume it is because of the age – keep looking for someone else!

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