I want to raise the topic of sex education on the Blog rather than in the CH, because I know much more about the questions than I do about the answers.
First, I should confess that I only have the most anecdotal knowledge of what material is currently being used by Catholic schools – and how it is taught. As a grandparent it has not been my duty to interrogate any schools, but any of you who have your own children at school should know what is being done in their case. And if you don’t know, I am inclined to ask you why you have not felt it your duty to find out. As we have discovered through the Blog some very strange approaches have been used in the past. This was the link
Equally I have seen highly orthodox material written in a way which shows no understanding of the Teflon coating of the adolescent mind, when it is being taught material which does not relate to their experience.
In broad terms I imagine that we want our children to have a good understanding of sexuality; to have taken aboard that its full expression is reserved to the sacrament of marriage; to have understood the relationship between sexual expression as a consummation of committed love, and formed around its purpose of procreation.
We will want them to know that sexuality is a gift from God, and so essentially good. Yet they must realise that there are many ways in which it is possible to misuse it. But this should not lead to an association of sexual expression with guilt or shame.
At a more practical level they must realise that a misuse of sexuality can lead to great emotional harm and also to the outcome of disease or pregnancy. Both or either of these can have long term consequences on their own life or on the lives of other people.
But we have to be realistic about this. The facts appear to be that many Catholic children pick up quite different ideas, or, if they accept them in principle, they fall away very quickly in practice. And this is not surprising. As my granddaughter, when aged 15, said to me: “Most women don’t get married until they’re twice my age. It’s a bit much to ask me to be celibate for 15 years.” I could see her point. And since I can’t be theoretical about my own granddaughter I find myself very concerned that she avoids the worst outcomes of “unsafe” sex, because there is a high probability that she, like most of us, will not live her Catholic life to perfection. How should this be handled without conveying the impression that I think it probable that she will transgress, and that I will understand, and so condone? (Of course it’s not my direct problem – she has perfectly good parents of her own; I use this as an illustration.)
This is by no means the first time I have considered the problem. Back in 1972 I wrote (with my wife) a 50 page pamphlet called Choices in Sex. Since young people, even at that time, appeared to ignore lectures in orthodoxy, we presented it in a way which was designed to get them thinking about the issues – partly through having correct information and partly through raising questions for them to consider and internalise.
The pamphlet received an Imprimatur, but this was withdrawn at the imprecation of a group of conservative clergy. And, perhaps not surprisingly, there was trouble with the Holy Office. Ironically one paragraph which they chose to castigate had in effect been dictated to us by an archbishop in good standing. We were styled as “corrupters of youth” in the Irish press which – given that this was the heyday in Ireland of clerical paedophilia, and institutionalised cruelty by Catholic nuns – seems to us in retrospect to be something of a sick joke.
So it would seem that straight, orthodox teaching makes no imprint on the youthful mind, or contaminates it with a sense of guilt. Accepting youth as it is, and not as perhaps it should be, and teaching them how to navigate the sexual jungle only encourages them towards sin. Giving the young the hard facts – psychological, biological, social and spiritual – and helping them to think about how they should best behave, while respecting their decisions, is corrupting.
So what are your children, or the children of your Catholic friends, getting from the Catholic school and their parents? How do you think sexual education should be done?