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Challenges for Teens in a Sexualized Environment

rambam-mutual-desireWhile you may not have learned about it in Hebrew School, Jewish tradition has a positive view of sexuality.

All sexual relations should emerge from mutual desire and happiness.

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah De’ot 5:4)

If someone says that sexual relations are shameful, then they are accusing the sexual organs of being shameful. But God, the source of all blessings, created sexual organs to reflect the divine.

Iggeret Ha-kodesh

Unfortunately, teen girls and boys are growing up in a highly sexualized environment where popular culture and digital media offer competing and challenging views about sex and intimacy.

On one extreme is a hook up culture that beckons as teens enter high school where most teens’ understanding of sexuality is heavily informed by on-line pornography.  At the other extreme is the fantasy of the perfect romantic partner who rides in and solves every problem, such as the the relationships portrayed in movies like Beautiful Creatures and the Twilight series.  In the unchaperoned space of social media, teens judge each other, their friendships, and their romantic relationships. They often seek affirmation through anonymous websites like Ask.fm, which was a factor in 9 teen suicides in the past year.

Girls struggle:

Can I be desirable and still be fully myself? Will being a leader make me a target of objectification? Will standing out jeopardize my friendships?

Boys worry:

Am I supposed to share a kiss or take a kiss? If I express emotions or creativity will I be gay-bashed? How do I counter harassment and bullying among my peers?

Despite this dangerous and disturbing landscape, schools rarely foster a dialogue on healthy sexual ethics, and many parents feel anxious and unprepared to address the issues.

Moving Traditions helps teens navigate this threatening environment by drawing on a gender lens and Jewish values to create a healthy sexual ethics informed by a gender lens and Jewish values.

Moving Traditions takes on the challenges that teens face and creates educational resources for parents and educators. Through our programs, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! and Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood, girls and boys are able to talk freely with each other and adult mentors about issues that confront them in their day to day lives.  Our programs help teen girls and boys recognize – and resist – pressures to behave in ways that limit their emotional, intellectual, and physical agency, put boys and girls in touch with a positive sense of beauty and sexuality, and by exploring Jewish texts on healthy sexual ethics, give teens the chance to see how the wisdom of the past is relevant to their contemporary struggles.

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