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Guidelines for Sex Education


The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, published by the Pontifical Council for the Family, is an extremely important document."Hard-hitting and eloquent and the result of 21 years of study and consultation, it states a powerful case for traditional Christian sexual morality.


Chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live self-giving, free from any form of self-centered slavery. This presupposes that the person has learned how to accept other people, to relate with them, while respecting their dignity in diversity. The chaste person is not self-centered, not involved in selfish relationships with other people. Chastity makes the personality harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace. This purity of mind and body helps develop true self-respect and at the same time makes one capable of respecting others, because it makes one see in them persons to reverence, in so far as they are created in the image of God and through grace are children of God, re-created by Christ who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (17)

The person is thus capable of a higher kind of love than concupiscence, which only sees objects as a means to satisfy one's appetites; the person is capable rather of friendship and self-giving, with the capacity to recognize and love persons for themselves. Like the love of God, this is a love capable of generosity. One desires the good of the other because he or she is recognized as worthy of being loved. This is a love which generates communion between persons, because each considers the good of the other as his or her own good. (9)


When the family is providing real educational support and encouraging the exercise of all the virtues, education for chastity is made easy and lacks inner conflicts, even if at certain times young people can experience particularly delicate situations. For some who find themselves in situations where chastity is offended against and not valued, living in a chaste way can demand a hard or even heroic struggle. None the less, with the grace of Christ, flowing from his spousal love for the Church, everyone can live chastely even if they find themselves in unfavorable circumstances. The very fact that all are called to holiness, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, makes it easier to understand that everyone can be in situations where heroic acts of virtue are indispensable, whether in celibate life or marriage, and that in fact, in one way or another, this happens to everyone for shorter or longer periods of time. Therefore married life also entails a joyous and demanding path to holiness. (19)


The objective of the parents' educational task is to pass on to their children the conviction that chastity in one's state in life is possible and that chastity brings joy. Joy springs from an awareness of maturation and harmony in one's emotional life, a gift of God and a gift of love that makes self-giving possible in the framework of one's vocation. (73)


So chastity is not to be understood as a repressive attitude. On the contrary, chastity should be understood rather as the purity and temporary stewardship of a precious and rich gift of love, in view of the self-giving realized in each person's specific vocation. (4)

The challenges raised today by the mentality and social environment should not discourage parents. In fact it is worth recalling that Christians have had to face up to similar challenges of materialistic hedonism from the time of the first evangelization. (6)


Unfortunately, even in Christian societies today, parents have reason to be concerned about the stability of their children's future marriages. Nevertheless, in spite of the rising number of divorces and the growing crisis of the family, they should respond with optimism, committing themselves to give their children a deep Christian formation to make them able to overcome various difficulties. Actually, the love for chastity which parents help to form, favors mutual respect between man and woman and provides a capacity for compassion, tolerance, generosity and above all, a spirit of sacrifice, without which love cannot endure. Children will thus come to marriage with that realistic wisdom about which Saint Paul speaks when he teaches: that husband and wife must continually give way to one another in love, cherishing one another with mutual patience and affection.(31)


A Christian education for chastity within the family cannot remain silent about the moral gravity involved in separating the unitive dimension from the procreative dimension within married life. This happens above all in contraception and artificial pro-creation. In the first case, one intends to seek sexual pleasure, intervening in the conjugal act to avoid conception; in the second case conception is sought by substituting the conjugal act with a technique. These are actions contrary to the truth of married love and contrary to full communion between husband and wife.

Forming young people for chastity should thus become a preparation for responsible fatherhood and motherhood, which directly concerns the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting themselves in one flesh, can become parents. . . It is also necessary to put before young people the consequences, which are always very serious, of separating sexuality from procreation when someone reaches the stage of practicing sterilization and abortion or pursuing sexual activity dissociated from married love, before and outside of marriage. (32)


No one can deny that the first example and the greatest help that parents can give their children is their generosity in accepting life, without forgetting that this is how parents help their children to have a simpler lifestyle. Moreover, . . . it is certainly less serious to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety. (61)


Christian revelation presents the two vocations to love: marriage and virginity. In some societies today, not only marriage and the family, but also vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, are often in a state of crisis. The two situations are inseparable: When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the kingdom of heaven loses its meaning. A lack of vocations follows from the breakdown of the family, yet where parents are generous in welcoming life, children will be more likely to be generous when it comes to the question of offering themselves to Cod. (34)

This necessary family context for maturing religious and priestly vocations brings to mind the serious situation of many families, especially in certain countries, families with an impoverished life because they have chosen to deprive themselves of children or where they have only one child, a situation in which it is very difficult for vocations to arise and even difficult to develop a full social education.(35)


It is extremely important for parents to be aware of their rights and duties, particularly in the face of a State or a school, that tends to take up the initiative in the area of sex education. The Holy Father John Paul II reaffirms this in Familiaris Consortio: The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others, except in the case, as mentioned at the beginning, of physical or psychological impossibility. (41)

This right also implies an educational duty. If in fact parents do not give adequate formation in chastity, they are failing in their precise duty. Likewise, they would also be guilty were they to tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children outside the home. (44)


Parents must find time to be with their children and take time to talk with them. As a gift and, a commitment, children are their most important task, although seemingly not always a very profitable one. Children are more important than work, entertainment and social position. In these conversations more and more as the years pass parents should learn how to listen carefully to their children, how to make the effort to understand them and how to recognize the fragment of truth that may be present in some forms of rebellion. . . Parents will succeed better if they are able to dedicate time to their children and really place themselves at their level with love (51).


The good example and leadership of parents is essential in strengthening the formation of young people in chastity. A mother who values her maternal vocation and her place in the home greatly helps develop the qualities of femininity and motherhood in her daughters, and sets a clear, strong and noble example of womanhood for her sons. A father, whose behavior is inspired by masculine dignity without machismo, will be an attractive model for his sons, and inspire respect, admiration and security in his daughters. (59)


God's help is never lacking if each person makes the necessary commitment to respond to his grace. In helping, forming and respecting their children's conscience, parents should see that they receive the sacraments with awareness, guiding them by their own example. If children and young people experience the effects of God's grace and mercy in the sacraments, they will be capable of living chastity well, as a gift of God, for his glory and in order to love him and other people. Necessary and supernaturally effective help is provided by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if a regular confessor is available. Although it does not necessarily coincide with the role of confessor, spiritual guidance or direction is a valuable aid in progressively enlightening the stages of growth and as moral support. Reading well-chosen and recommended books of formation is also of great help both in offering a wider and deeper formation and in providing examples and testimonies of virtue. (74)


Since boys and girls at puberty are particularly vulnerable to emotional influences, through dialogue and the way they live, parents have the duty to help their children resist negative outside influences that may lead them to have little regard for Christian formation in love and chastity. Especially in societies overwhelmed by consumer pressures, parents should sometimes watch out for their children's relations with young people of the opposite sex without making it too obvious. Even if they are socially acceptable, some habits of speech and conduct are not morally correct and represent a way of trivializing sexuality, reducing it to a consumer object. Parents should therefore teach their children the value of Christian modesty, moderate dress, and, when it comes to trends, the necessary autonomy characteristic of a man or woman with a mature personality.(97)


Only information proportionate to each phase of their individual development should be presented to children and young people (124). . . In the light of this principle, the relevance of timing in relation to specific problems can also be indicated. (a) In later adolescence, young people can first be introduced to the knowledge of the signs of fertility and then to the natural regulation of fertility, but only in the context of education for love, fidelity in marriage, God's plan for procreation and respect for human life. (b) Homosexuality should not be discussed before adolescence unless a specific serious problem has arisen in a particular situation. This subject must be presented only in terms of chastity, health and the truth about human sexuality in its relationship to the family as taught by the Church. (c) Sexual perversions that are relatively rare should not be dealt with except through individual counselling, as the parents' response to genuine problems. (125)

No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children or young people of any age, individually or in a group. This principle of decency must safeguard the virtue of Christian chastity, Therefore in passing on sexual information in the context of education for love, the instruction must always be positive and prudent and clear and delicate. These four words used by the Catholic Church exclude every form of unacceptable content in sexual education. Moreover, even if they are not erotic, graphic and realistic representations of child-birth, for example in a film, should be made known gradually, so as not to create fear and negative attitudes towards procreation in girls and young women. (126)

No one should ever be invited, let alone obliged, to act in any way that could objectively offend against modesty or which could subjectively offend against his or her own delicacy or sense of privacy. This principle of respect for the child excludes all improper forms of involving children and young people. In this regard, among other things, this can include the following methods that abuse sex education: (a) every dramatized representation, mime or role playing which depict genital or erotic matters, (b) making drawings, charts or models etc. of this nature, (c) seeking personal information about sexual questions or asking that family information be divulged, (d) oral or written exams about genital or erotic questions.(127)


The Church has been concerned about the question of sex education for many years. For example, in his encyclical On the Christian Education of Youth, December 1929, Pope Pius XI states: Another grave danger is that naturalism which nowadays invades the field of education in that most delicate matter of purity of morals. Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so called sex education, falsely imagining they can forearm youth against the dangers of sensuality by means purely natural, such as a foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public, worst still by exposing them at an early age to the occasions, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers.

Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognize the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the apostle speaks, fighting against the law of mind; and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace. In this extremely delicate matter, if, all things considered, some private instruction is found necessary and opportune from those who hold from God the commission to teach and who have the grace of state every precaution must be taken.

The Blessed Josemaria Escriva also had some advice on this subject, cited in the book How to Teach your Child the Facts of Life edited by Fr. Cesar Santos, Scepter Publishers, 1991.

Commenting on the topic of sex education, Msgr. Escriva stressed the importance of friendship between parents and children, together with the ability of parents to get down to the level of their little ones. This makes it easier for the latter to speak openly and frankly about their problems, and thus facilitates their instruction on the origin of life an obligation which, as a general rule, falls properly on the parents.

Parents, he wrote, ought to tell the children about the origin of life in a gradual manner, adjusting the information to the mentality of the child and to its capacity of understanding, slightly anticipating his or her natural curiosity. It is very important to keep malice out of this topic something liable to happen when they hear it improperly explained from the wrong informant. The child should be taught to look at sex as something noble and holy. This discovery of a child, obtained through the wise guidance of his parents, can be a very important phase in establishing a closer relationship between parents and children, and avoids creating a gap at the moment when the secret of moral life is to be revealed to them.

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Catholic Position Papers. Guidelines for Sex Education. The Seido Foundation for the Advancement of Education (12-6 Funado-Cho, Ashiya, Japan).

With general permission to reprint.

The Seido Foundation is a non-profit organization set up for educational purposes in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

The Author

Copyright © 1995 The Pontifical Council for the Family

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