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Video: Religious sex education

TODAY
updated 3/21/2005 3:36:24 PM ET 2005-03-21T20:36:24

With more Americans attending religious services and saying they believe in God, NBC news examines this phenomenon as part of a special series called “Faith in America.” “Today” host Matt Lauer reports on a place you wouldn't normally expect to find religion — in a sex education class.

Nowadays, young people are still exploring their sexuality. But in contrast to years past, some of today's teens are getting a welcome reception for their questions about the facts of life from unexpected quarters — their place of worship.

In churches and synagogues all over the country, religious leaders are holding workshops for teens. The message varies with the denomination, but there's one common theme.

“We are, in fact, godly creatures. Our sexuality can be used to express a divinity that is part of who we are,” says Rabbi Jonathan Blake.

One night a week, teens go to a synagogue in a New York City suburb to learn about the birds and the bees. But this lesson is with a decidedly religious twist.

Several miles away, in Harlem, a similar group meets as part of a special curriculum developed by an organization called the Black Church Initiative. The name of the program is "Keepin' It Real."

“Statistics for teen pregnancy are going up. Statistics for transmission of HIV and AIDS amongst young people are increasing,” says the Rev. Melvin E. Wilson. “So the church has to take a position and at least open the dialogue with young people about issues of human sexuality.”

The teens say they enjoy these sessions for many different reasons.

“Bringing it into a synagogue puts a different perspective on it because there's the perspective of the rabbis and the text that has come before most of us were created,” says 15-year-old Abby Citrin.

“We are praising God, but at the same time, we're using the knowledge that he gave us to be wise. So if we're going to go out there and do the do, we're going to do it protected,” says 16-year-old Camiera Knight.

“Sometimes it's hard to make decisions. If you know that there are certain philosophies, like, guiding your way, it makes decisions easier,” says 16-year-old Rachel Ferber.

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Parents also think these classes are important.

“The subjects that are dealt with make them feel grown-up and important, and allows them to become young adults,” says Abby’s mom, Joanne Citrin.

“They need to see that it's OK to be able to talk about sex and sexuality in the perspective of religion, because they're not two separate things,” says Fatima Prioleau, mother of one of the teens in the sex-ed class.

Teaching practical life lessons, putting them in a religious context and giving support when needed may be what it's all about.

“Sex is, as one of our students pointed out, a mitzvah. It's a very good thing. It's a religious commandment,” says Rabbi Blake.

Seventeen-year-old Jaren David Fincher agrees. “Most people believe in church that everything should be hush-hush,” he says. “It's about time that more churches should be open to this.”

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