Like many young women away from home for the first time, Kate Ott received conflicting messages about sexuality from her fellow college students and the broader community in which she lived. Growing up Catholic in the Midwest, she had always turned to her family and church for answers. But this time, she didn’t find them.
“There was very little being said in faith communities at that time that was bringing a positive, Christian interpretation of sexuality,” says Ott, now in her 30s. “I just thought that is a place where I can fill a gap.”
That’s the goal of Sex + Faith: Talking with Your Child From Birth to Adolescence (Westminster John Knox Press, Sept.), Ott’s guide for Christian parents of all stripes to talk to their children about sexuality in the context of their faith and values. The book is Ott’s first as a solo author--she co-edited Faith, Feminism and Scholarship: The Next Generation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
An assistant professor of Christian social ethics at Drew Theological School and the mother of two pre-teens, Ott writes that sexuality is much more than what occurs in private between two adults. Sexuality encompasses gender, body image, hygiene, and clothing as well as personal relationships, both physical and emotional.
“When you think of sexuality as encompassing all those things, conversations about sexuality take place on a daily basis in a family’s life,” she says. Each of those conversations is an opportunity for parents to incorporate their faith and values into the exchange, she writes.
Ott wants parents to become intentional in approaching sexuality with their children. For example, Ott says, parents often tell a child, “You can’t wear that”--an expression of values, but not an explanation of them. She says her family discusses whether an outfit appropriately represents their belief that God made their bodies and they should therefore be treated with respect.
“My hope is every time a parent wants to make a statement about our bodies or our relationships, they try to state their values as part of it,” she says. The goal is to make families and faith communities places where sexuality is not taboo, she says, but foundational to living out the Bible’s charge that we love each other and ourselves.
Ott approaches sexuality from a progressive Christian framework; all family structures and sexual orientations are embraced in the book. “My hope is that parents reading this book see a way to connect to an interpretation of Christianity that is welcoming, with diverse sexualities and orientations, a diversity of families,” she says. “I hope they understand that the core values in relationships are more important than the kinds of people that are in them.”