Sex Education includes instruction in biological, psychological, sociological, and value concepts. It is a necessary aspect of every human life since humans, unlike animals, are without specific instincts to serve as a guide in reproduction and expression of sexuality.
Sex education remains a controversial topic which is often avoided in the Mennonite community both within the family as well as at the congregational level. Who should accept responsibility for instruction of the young on sexuality? Avoidance of the problem has often led to default. Churches may state that sex education is a private concern for parents and children; parents may feel uncomfortable with the subject and procrastinate.
Historically, sex education among Mennonites appears to have been largely a matter of self-education. Children would learn by observation of animals and adults, communication with peers and sympathetic adults, or by reading available, often inferior, literature. In solid village communities this form of self-education may have been reasonably effective, even if not comprehensive (Wiebe, Salvation).
While Mennonite churches did not concern themselves with sex education, they directly censured such irresponsible expressions of sexuality as extramarital sex and adultery. Emphasis on salvation of souls often led to downgrading of the mortal body, also a gift of God. Nevertheless, marriage was the almost universal adult condition among Mennonites, and children were considered evidence of divine blessing and obedience to His will.
Mennonite principles, including the stress on Christian discipleship and pacifism, with its emphasis on the sanctity of human life, can readily lead to the awareness that life, lived as male or female, should be equally good and satisfying. The Church as the custodian and teacher of values and absolutes, should affect lives within families, including the expressions of humanity and sexuality.
Good family values and attitudes are the essential formative forces for children. Families where parents feel free and happy to express affection and love for each other will have happy children, accepting themselves and their being, and their sexuality, with joy. In contrast, families affected by violence and anger will produce permanently scarred children (Behrends, Der Steppenhengst). The role of Mennonite parents in sex education of their children has varied, and often has been haphazard (Konrad, The blue jar).
The middle of the 20th century has brought increased interaction between Mennonites and the larger society, and this was reflected by changed attitudes regarding the family, children and values. While sex education is usually thought of in terms of children and young adults, it, like all learning, is really a lifetime process. Thus, in Western Canada, public health nurses taught Mennonite "immigrant" women about child spacing, with health and social benefits.
While the historic attitudes to sex education have continued among the most traditional Mennonite groups, the more progressive churches have taken more overt approaches to education about good family relationships. Premarital counseling, including sexual aspects, by ministers is widespread. Seminars, retreats, and Mennonite Marriage Encounters are available for improving the quality of relationships within families and strengthening feelings of self-worth and responsibility. There are groups receiving less attention: single adults, the elderly, and the people with special problems. It is hoped that the awareness and compassion developed in present efforts will lead to further extension.
Currently, Mennonite schools include sex education in their curricula, with special attention to the 12-15-year-old age group. Mennonite manuals, books, church policy statements, and specialists are widely available. Mennonite pastoral education includes stress on the pastoral role in counseling and sex education. Concerned Mennonite teachers and health professionals are often able to witness effectively to the wholeness of the person, including sexuality, far beyond their own congregations.
Mennonite sex educators of the 20th century cite the following goals: The first objective is the acquisition of accurate information. Sex education should provide individuals with basic facts about sexuality and clear up misconceptions.
A second objective is the development of greater self-awareness and understanding. When individuals acquire more information regarding sexuality, it enables them to develop a greater insight into their own sexuality. This can lead to a reduction in anxieties about their own sexual development and help young people better manage their own sexual problems.
A third objective is to help the Mennonite people clarify their own sexual values so they are less dependent on the standards of their peers and the society, and less likely to engage in promiscuous sexual relations.
A fourth objective is the improvement of communication skills. It is a myth that people are open in their discussions of sex. Most of the openness is carried out in a superficial way and sex education can provide the opportunity to discuss sex in a serious manner. However, it must he emphasized that many aspects of sex are personal and private. Open communication can only occur in a setting where the individual's opinions are valued and respected. Communication cannot take place if individuals are afraid to express their opinions because of being ridiculed by parents, sex educator, or peers. Given a supportive atmosphere, individuals will be able to discuss sexual topics in a serious manner.
Being more knowledgeable about sexual issues, having greater self-understanding and being able to communicate more effectively, can increase one's self-esteem. A very important objective of sex education is the fostering of positive feelings of self-worth which sex educators find lacking among Mennonites.
A fifth objective of sex education is the development of toleration for those whose opinions differ from our own. Mennonite history reveals persecution for conscience sake. During persecution the Mennonite people were tolerant of differences due to the universal persecution. As a respected denomination in North America the tolerance is less visible and hostility is often manifested in relation to sexual differences and education.
Finally, the sixth goal of sex education should be the increasing of communication and closeness between parents and their children. Sex education courses in private and public schools provide for an opportunity for parents to discuss openly with their children sexual matters, fostering a feeling of closeness to parents.
Given the conflicting values about sex among Mennonites, choosing a sexual standard is a serious and difficult matter. When it comes to values, Mennonite Christians look to the Bible and the Mennonite heritage for direction and guidance. Though sexuality is not a major theme of the Mennonite witness, the Bible and the Mennonite heritage do give attention to personal living. It can be seen how prone individuals are to miss the mark and how easily life can be distorted. Yet Jesus Christ offers a liberation from those powers that disfigure God's intent for his children.
Sexuality has within it those elements, both physical and spiritual, that can be used to fulfill God's will for individual lives.
Enns, Hilda, Sue Goerzen, Lois Paff Bergen. Teens and Sexuality. Newton, KS 1984.
Behrends, Ernst. Der Steppenhengst. Hohenstaufer Verlag, 1969.
Konrad, Anne. The Blue Jar. Winnipeg: Queenston House, 1985.
Goerzen, Sue, Wilmer Martin, and the Task Force on Sexuality (General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church). Human Sexuality in the Christian Life. 1986.
Wiebe, Armin. The Salvation of Yasch Siemens. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1984.
Derstine, C. F. Manual of Sex Education for Parents, Teachers, and Students. Kitchener, ON, 1942; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1943.
Derstine, C. F. The Path to Beautiful Womanhood. Kitchener, ON, 1942; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1944.
Derstine, C. F. The Path to Noble Manhood. Kitchener, ON, 1942; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1944.
Janzen, Jacob H. Das Sexuelle Problem. Waterloo, ON, 1941-46.
Eshleman, Merle W. and Noah K. Mack. Christian Manhood. Scottdale, PA, 1948.
Amstutz, H. Clai. Growing Up to Love: a Guide to Sex Education for Parents. Scottdale, PA, 1956.
Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940: a People's Struggle for Survival. Toronto: Macmillan, 1982: 476-78.
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MLA style: Goerzen, Sue. "Sex Education." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S49ME.html.
APA style: Goerzen, Sue. (1989). Sex Education. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S49ME.html.