Oregon high school sex ed class assignment asking students to write fantasy stirs controversy

An image of the National Sex Education Standards document
Photo: Greg Bishop/The Center Square

A sex ed class assignment at Churchill High School in Eugene, Oregon, stirred controversy after parents shared with local media that one assignment for class asked students to write a sexual fantasy using items like “flavored syrup,” a “feather boa” or “massage oil.” 

Parents expressed their concern on social media, while the district maintains that the assignment was part of a state-approved curriculum. The curriculum developers argue that it was an “unapproved adaptation” by a teacher who “was not certified” by trainers.

The school district did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but it said in a statement last week that the assignment originated from the curriculum.

“The assignment at issue is part of the Our Whole Lives, (OWL) curriculum that the Eugene School District 4J adopted in 2016 for grades 10–12. OWL is used by many districts across the state and is endorsed by the Oregon Department of Education,” the district said. 

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) said it does not endorse specific curricula and is not aware of how many districts in the state employ the curriculum.

“Because ODE does not track curriculum choices for every school district, we are unaware if other school districts use this curriculum for any grade,” said Peter J. Rudy, a public affairs specialist for the Department of Education. 

“The Oregon Department of Education provides school districts with state content standards and guidance to meet legal requirements, but does not require or endorse any specific sexuality education curriculum,” Rudy said in an email to Chalkboard Review. 

The curriculum was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) to teach “comprehensive sexuality education to build self-acceptance and self-esteem, foster healthy relationships and improve decision making,” according to a Wednesday news release from the UUA.

“A recent assignment in a 9th grade health class at Churchill High School in Eugene, OR, which has been reported on in the news as based on the Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum, was an unapproved adaptation that was taken out of context from an out-of-print version of the curriculum,” the release said. “According to our records, the teacher in question was not trained by certified OWL trainers.” 

The assignment asked students who were absent from class to write a short sexual fantasy. 

“This story is a sexual fantasy and will have NO penetration of any kind or oral sex (no way of passing an STI). You will choose 3 items (romantic music, candles, massage oil, feather, feather boa, flavored syrup, etc.) to use in your story,” the assignment reads according to a screenshot posted on social media and reported by local news. “Your story should show that you can show and receive loving physical affection without having sex.”

Local station KEZI News 9 reported that another assignment in February called “With Whom Would You Do It” involved a wheel with sex acts at the front of the classroom. When the wheel stopped moving on an act, students were asked to write the initials of both a male and female student in the class.

The parent of a student in the class told KEZI that their children were highly uncomfortable with the activity. 

Critics of comprehensive sexuality education say OWL contains elements that are inappropriate for children. An analysis of the curriculum by Family Watch International, which opposes comprehensive sexual health education, contains quotes reportedly from the curriculum. 

The quotes match some of the language from the Churchill High School assignments. 

“By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to demonstrate an understanding that sex is more than intercourse by describing, through written fantasies, sexually exciting and fulfilling behaviors that do not involve penetration,” reads a quote in the analysis attributed to the OWL curriculum.

According to the analysis’ excerpts, the fantasy workshop materials could include a number of props: “A large bag of items to be used in the fantasies, for example, a telephone, a feather boa, candles, music tapes, radio, massage oil, nightgown, scarf, honey, flowers, teddy bear, silk underwear, book of erotica, book of poetry, chocolate syrup. Just about anything will do.”

The quotes attributed to the curriculum from the Family Watch Internatonal analysis require more student cooperation than the Churchill assignment: 

Tell participants that you are going to have a contest to see which group can write the sexiest, hottest, most desirable fantasy. There are three rules they must follow when writing their fantasies: The fantasies may not involve penetration of any kind. The fantasies may only include activities that are completely safe, that is, pose no risk of sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. The fantasy must incorporate each of the items the group pulled from the grab bag.

When time is up, have a volunteer from each group read the fantasy. Let the participants vote for the fantasy they think is the best. 

One excerpt, according to the analysis, contained similar language to the “With Whom Would You Do It” assignment that was reportedly assigned in February.

Other excerpts purportedly pulled from the curriculum contain the same level of description and frank discussion of sexual acts in other classroom exercises.

The UUA’s website says that a new edition of the curriculum is in process and it is no longer accepting back orders for the old edition. But current offerings of the OWL program, such as one at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, in Morristown, New Jersey, involve a “sexy safe fantasy.” 

The UUA’s release said that OWL was intended for use in community and educational contexts and that the organization provides training to schools and other organizations that offer it. It’s not clear how many school districts in Oregon or around the country use the curriculum. 

The Eugene School District said that it had removed the assignment from the class syllabus and that it would not be part of students’ grades. The district is also “assessing the current health curriculum units and making appropriate adjustments as needed.” 

Brendan Clarey
Brendan Clarey is K-12 editor at Chalkboard Review. Reach him at bclarey@franklinnews.org.

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