Dear Readers: I wrote the following blog post last year, but I hope that the words and feelings expressed in it will still be fresh and meaningful to you. I know that the thoughts expressed in it are as strong and accurate as they were when I wrote them down this time last year.
The Thanksgiving I remember most vividly and with the most fondness occurred in November 1980, almost 30 years ago this week. Five families, including mine, who lived along a stretch of road in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, decided to share the holiday meal together. Each family brought certain foods to the feast. I think we numbered around 25, and “we gathered together,” as the old hymn goes, in our family’s house, because everyone could sit at round tables in our living room when it was cleared of furniture.
I remember standing in my kitchen while my neighbors walked in the door with their steaming contributions (no microwaves back then), thinking of the first Pilgrims who brought their heaping platters of wild turkeys, ducks, geese, venison, sweet potatoes, corn, onions, other fruits and vegetables, and possibly a suckling pig, into a common house on that first celebration of the holiday. I felt a true bond with those first celebrants.
I cannot remember who came up with the idea, but we decided on the spot, as we sipped our cider and wine, to write “A Community Thanksgiving Grace.” We asked each adult, teen, and child to write something special for which they were particularly thankful. All the children were old enough to write, so everyone from the oldest grandmothers to the youngest boys and girls contributed words to the common grace. One adult and one teen sorted the slips of paper and compiled them into a prose poem. When we had gathered around the tables decorated with fall leaves and what flowers remained in our gardens, one of us rose and read the Grace.
Much as I would love to list all the contributions, I will only list a few to give a flavor of the thanks that were expressed that day: my 13-year-old daughter was thankful “for horses and pomegranates,” a young adult said she was thankful “for those who play soccer and football with those who can’t,” and the one most moving to me came from a young woman still in high school who said she was thankful “for this blue-green earth that had room for elephants, flies, whales, and humankind.” We chorused the last line together: “We are thankful.”
In keeping with the spirit and precedence of “A Community Thanksgiving Grace,” I am offering a list below of what and for whom I am thankful in the field of sexuality education this Thanksgiving 2009. The list is certainly not nearly as poetic as the original, and it contains only my ideas rather than those of a group. It is as follows:
For the children, teens, and adults who seek information about sex and sexuality;
For the parents who answer their young children’s questions without flinching. Questions such as “how are babies made?”—which are often posed without warning in strange locations, like the back seat of the car;
For parents who go beyond “the big talk,” and talk early and often with their teens about sex and their personal values about respect and caring;
For the excellent books by Robie Harris, especially “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies,” “Growing Up,” “Sex and Sexual Health,” which celebrates its 15th year in print this year and makes it much easier for parents to talk to their 10 to 14-year-olds about sex;
For other adults-teachers, school nurses, social workers, nonprofit personnel, counselors, therapists, librarians, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, ministers, priests, friends, and others—who provide the answers to people’s questions and concerns in a variety of venues;
For members of state school boards who pass policies requiring K-12 family life education and sex education programs;
For state legislators and members of Congress who support funding comprehensive sexuality education and not funding abstinence-only programs;
For the school districts that provide K-12 sex education programs that are comprehensive and do not shy away from controversial topics;
For the professors who teach or administer sexuality education programs that prepare the educators of the future;
For the exceptional websites for teens, including Sexetc.org, Scarleteen, Teen Voices, and Teenwire, who give young people reliable, honest, and accurate information and answers to their questions about sex;
For teens and adults who use contraception faithfully to avoid unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV;
For teens who understand and practice “Double Dutch,” the use of both the Pill and a condom whenever they have sex;
For the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender teens who seek information that helps them feel more comfortable with their sexual orientation and gender identity and who have the courage to come out to their families and to classmates;
For the many teens who are abstinent during high school and for those who choose not to have sex until they marry or are in a long-term partnership;
For the national, state, and local organizations that promote sex education and work to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases;
For members of religious denominations and congregations that support sex education;
For those who work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and worldwide through programs that offer clean needle exchanges, condom distribution, and low-cost generic drugs, and support research to find a vaccine;
For those who are involved with organizations devoted to lessening the trauma of rape, incest, and sexual violence;
For those who see comprehensive sex education as the sensible common ground between those who oppose abortion and those who support the right to choose;
For all the leaders in the fight for sex education in America on whose shoulders I stand and for my colleagues in the field-past, present, and future;
For the opportunity to write about sexuality education on this website and for those who read this column; and
For the great gift of human sexuality, its never-ending story, and for the opportunity to help others, including myself, understand, appreciate, respect, and enjoy it,
I am truly thankful.