When I taught Human Sexual Issues for Counselors, the following comment was made from a student on a midterm evaluation: “If a fundamentalist religious person or couple come in, is it our right or are we allowed to try to [tone] down some of their strict religious teachings related to sex?” This got me thinking. I was a bit worried that I had inadvertently painted a biased picture about the role of religion in sexuality. Meaning, that religiosity plays a very negative role in sexuality. Otherwise, why would the student have asked this question?
So, I began to reflect upon my own attitudes toward religion and sexuality. As I struggled with this topic, I began thinking that my students may be struggling as well. I knew I had to address the topic, and planned to spend some time in the next class discussing the topic.
Fortunately, that day my T.A. (Teaching Assistant) was there. She is a very religious person, and I knew from previous conversations that she held a viewpoint different from mine. But this was a good thing, as it would spark more thought and deeper discussion.
And that’s exactly what happened. As my T.A. and I began to discuss the connection between religiosity and sexuality, the students became involved. A few students spoke up who believed that being religious actually enhances sexuality, not detracts from it. Others commented that most religions teach people to be shameful about sexuality. Then, the topic of gay and lesbian sexuality arose. We discussed if it were possible for a fundamentally religious counselor to address LGBT sexual issues.
Although no formal conclusions were drawn, as I reflect back on our discussion I think that we all walked away with a increased tolerance and appreciation for the complexity of the topic. Speaking for myself, I realized I did have some bias and was able to think more deeply about what my attitude really was. As for the students, they did not get agitated and stayed calm throughout the discussion. Many of the students participated in the conversation, and it was fairly lively, but respectful.
Then, after the discussion, the following comment was made on the same evaluation (it was open for several days) by another student: “Personally, I have been struggling with the negative connotation that I believe has been placed on Christianity within this class. Numerous times Christians have been put down due to their religious and often conservative beliefs by the textbook, professor, and even guest speakers. While I recognize that conservative attitudes may limit sexual exploration outside the realm of marriage (for some individuals, not all individuals who profess Christianity adhere to this) I do not believe in any way they should be looked down upon. I appreciated last night’s discussion to help bring these concerns to light.”