The question of
sex education has certainly become a distinct and anxious problem for parents
today, more so, probably, than at any other time in the history of mankind.
But the chief, though not the only, reason why it has become such a problem,
is, surely, that for the first time in the history of mankind a widespread
culture has been developed with no integrated view of reality into which
the complex fact of "sex" might be fitted. Every other great culture has
had such a view, and, as a result, sex was not thought of as an isolated
phenomenon in human life, but in some way organically related to forces above
and below man himself--at the least to his flocks and fields below him, and
his gods above. But the great majority of people today have no way of
interpreting either the fact of sex itself, or its many-sided repercussions
in individual and social life. They see it in isolation, either as a rather
distasteful biological device for propagating the human race, or as a mere
means to pleasure, or as an end in itself that serves one's personal needs
for self-realization and self-development.
Or else, under the pressure of the obvious fact that sex does have echoes
and repercussions on all levels of human life, people come to accept the
idea that an understanding of the role of sex in human life is actually the
master key to understanding the make-up of human beings and the phenomena
of human behavior. In any case, it is no wonder that people find it embarrassing
to teach children the "facts of life," since the teachers themselves realize,
at least dimly, that they are in the presence of a mystery, but do not know
just where the mystery lies.
But we Catholics have no need to share in this embarrassment. Our faith teaches
us that God designed everything created to be in some way or another a means
of teaching us about Himself, and a means of leading us toward Himself. In
particular, we know that in His primal designing of man's body and soul,
God had in mind--to use human language--the final purpose for which He was
bringing mankind into existence, a supernatural union of life and love with
He therefore designed man and woman so that their physical union would at
once be the expression and the image of their spiritual union of life and
love in marriage; and so that this whole psycho-physical and spiritual union
of marriage would be the image, the foreshowing of our union with Christ.
And, in the marvelous ordering of His Wisdom, God designed the physical union
of man and woman as the means whereby human beings could cooperate with the
creative power of His own Love to bring new human beings into existence.
And He planned the whole of marriage and home life to be the first means
whereby human beings are completely formed, taught and trained to achieve
the purpose of their existence.
Thus God has wonderfully designed us so that the means whereby His creative
love brings all the generations of mankind into being for the purpose of
sharing His life and happiness in love for all eternity-- this means should
itself be the image of that final purpose of His love for us in Christ.24
Catholic doctrine also teaches us that, when our first parents turned away
from God's love in the disobedience of original sin, this wonderful power
of procreation at once showed the tragic and disastrous effects of sin's
disordering of man and nature. This great force in man and woman, designed
to give them the glory of cooperating freely and intelligently with the infinite
Force of God's own creative Love, now was no longer completely under their
own control; it became a blind and often uncontrollable power leading to
confusion and further sin.
The history of mankind shows in how many ways men have misunderstood and
misused and degraded and perverted this most wonderful of all man's natural
powers. But God's primal blessing was never taken away from human marriage;
this power of man's still served God's purpose, though blindly and unwillingly,
bringing into existence the generations of mankind down through the ages,
so that Christ should be born and redeem the race of which He made Himself
And now, in Christ our Lord, God has revealed His whole plan to us; in the
Church, Christ's Body, He gives us the grace to cooperate with that plan
according to our vocation; and, by the sacrament of marriage, each Christian
marriage is actually formed on the image of Christ's union with His Church,
and married people are given the graces to make their married lives develop
and grow through the years in conformity with this pattern, thus intelligently
and lovingly using the marriage act and marriage in free accord with God's
Catholic teaching, then, explicitly shows us that the facts of sex are most
intimately interwoven with God's whole plan for mankind (as every pagan culture
rightly suspected without knowing the plan). We parents surely owe our children
the truly integrated and integrating "sex education" which only Catholics
can give, that sees the facts about sex and the implications of these facts
in the whole context of human life and destiny, in the light of Christ's
truth and by the power of His grace.
The main thing is, surely, that we ourselves should take whatever means we
find necessary--study, prayer, thought--to relate all the various aspects
of sex to our knowledge of God's whole plan and of its working-out in history,
and to do so in such a thorough way, with the help of God, that in neither
our thoughts nor our actions or reactions will there remain any clammy wisps
of the fog of Manichaeism which, in one or more of its myriad forms, has
penetrated so much modern thinking and feeling.
Then we shall be in a position to give our children the facts of sex in their
proper context, and, as need arises during all the years of their development,
help them to understand and to deal with the repercussions of the facts in
their own lives and in the lives of others. If we ourselves are quite sure
of the place of sex in God's plans, then specific information about where
babies come from will fit naturally at the proper time into our day-by-day
training in knowledge and admiration of God's workmanship as shown in the
whole range of created things.
Right ideas about purity, modesty, chastity will fit naturally into our daily
training in respect for oneself and others as marvels of God's making and
re-making, children of God, members and co-workers of Christ, temples of
the Holy Spirit. The warnings which we shall need to give the children about
the possibilities of misusing sexual powers, and natural and supernatural
precautions against such misuse, will fit naturally into our whole teaching
about the consequences of the Fall and the Redemption in our own lives.
In the same way, all the other aspects of the whole training which we are
trying to give the children will contribute toward their gaining the true
sacramental appreciation of sex. The familiarity with nature which is a normal
part of children's education, the care of gardens and pets, the link-up of
all scientific information with admiration and praise for God's designs,
all this will give the children the background for an appreciation of God's
even more wonderful designing of themselves and of all their powers unto
The training we try to give them in acquiring skills of mind and body and
in striving for skillful and charitable workmanship in everything they do
will prepare the way for their instruction, if and when they come to be married,
in the art of married life and the art of the marriage act itself. Again,
all our training in ordering the whole of life to the loving service of Christ
in others should help them to distinguish true love and true affection from
counterfeits, both in themselves and others.
And, above all, our attempts to live the life of the Church, to give the
children true familiarity with the liturgy and Holy Scripture, should be
a most powerful means of truly Catholic education in sex, as in all the other
fundamentals of life.
Thus, with the help of God, we should be able to give the children by the
time they reach maturity, the essentials of Christian sex education, so that
they may be able to assimilate and deal with the manifold expressions and
repercussions of sex in human behavior as the vocation of each child may
require. They should have, first of all, the makings of a happy and humorous
appreciation of their own manhood or womanhood, of the special flavor it
gives to life and to all human relations, of its special possibilities for
full human and Christian living, of its special dangers and difficulties
whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, and of the special place
it enables one to take in the whole work of the Church of God.
They should have, also, a positive love of the virtue of purity as being
the splendor of the right, undeflected ordering of one's powers to the love
of God; and the correlative horror of impurity as the spoiling, misuse, violation
of what is God's and meant for God.
They should have, again, the growing realization that the vast possibilities
of holiness and horror, of happiness and tragedy, to be found in human love
and union are the effects of the mystery of sanctity--the mystery of marriage
as designed by God--which is the proper framework, fruit and ultimate purpose
of the love and union of man and woman.
In this light, they should also see that only in marriage and according to
God's laws for marriage, can our procreative powers be used as God meant
and designed them to be. And, therefore, the use of them outside of marriage,
or their abuse in marriage, cannot be expected to result in joy, happiness,
or, ultimately, even pleasure.
In the light of true appreciation for the mystery of Christian marriage,
the children should have a correlative appreciation of the even higher mystery
and vocation of consecrated virginity, the inspired dedication of the whole
and the best of oneself directly to Christ.
And, again, such a truly Christian sex education which is given as part of
a general sacramental outlook and training, should give our children the
ability to understand the reasons for the chief emotional and spiritual overtones
which inevitably accompany the idea of sex, and to attribute these overtones
to that aspect of sex to which they rightly belong and not to some other.
Every normal person feels a sense of mystery in connection with sex. But
there is nothing unusually mysterious about the anatomical and physiological
facts of human reproduction in themselves; the mystery lies in the wonder
of the effect of human reproduction, a new human being; in the intimate
interweaving of God's design of human pro- creation and marriage with His
highest and most sacred plans for His glory and our eternal happiness; in
the marvelous release, which follows on self-donation, of our powers of knowing
and loving and of self-realization; and in the horror of sin which can degrade
and pervert such a wonderful power to the services of evil.
Again, every normal person feels that there is something humorous about sex,
that both the marriage act and marriage have many funny aspects together
with their essential sacredness. The true basis for this feeling is, of course,
that here above all God does not want us to mistake the image for the Reality,
the temporal and human foreshadowing of eternal happiness in love for that
happiness itself. And so He made the image, the foreshadow as crude, as
humorously incongruous with the Reality which it signifies, as His Wisdom
deemed necessary to keep us from mistaking the means for the end. A
rightly-ordered sense of humor about sex and marriage is, therefore, a proper
reaction to the whole range of Reality. But because of the disorder wrought
by original sin, this sense of humor is all too easily turned into something
puerile or really perverted; it joins hands with the sense of disgust which
properly applies only to the misuse of sex; and leads to that degraded attitude
made up of giggles and feelings of guilt which is so common in our country
In all these matters, then, the whole form and spirit of the training we
are trying to give the children should provide them with the basis for rightly
interpreting their own and other people's emotions and feelings about sex,
and for continually rectifying their own by the help of God's grace in accordance
with the light of Christian wisdom.
The actual facts about sex--anatomical, biological, moral and theological--we
should be able to give simply and matter-of-factly as their age and circumstances
and general awareness of reality dictate, avoiding both the dangers of
overwhelming them with information which they do not yet need and cannot
digest, and of failing to have given them sufficient information for their
needs and circumstances. We surely need to pray for the guidance of the Holy
Spirit here, as everywhere else, and for the protection of our children from
danger that we could not foresee or forestall.
Otherwise the safest guide in most cases would seem to be what a child himself
really wants to know at any given moment. The arrival of new babies in the
family or neighborhood, the events of each season in nature and in the lives
of their pets, should generally be sufficient to promote a normal and healthy
curiosity about reproduction on the vegetable, animal and human levels, so
that there will be little need to make special occasions for imparting
information about sex to the children.25
And if a child, at any stage of his growth has, for one reason or another,
developed an abnormal interest in matters of sex, or picked up distorted
or inaccurate ideas from playmates and friends, the best means of restoring
the balance would seem to be, again, to give him as much accurate information
as he really wants, in practical terms of the immediate purpose of the marriage
act, the production of a new baby. There are various books on the market
written by doctors, in simple language, for mothers expecting their first
children. We parents might do well to keep such a book on hand, so that if
one of our children needs to study at least a part of such an impersonal,
sympathetic and accurate statement of all the stages by which a baby comes
into existence, we shall have it ready. And such a book is invaluable for
our own use also, to insure that our knowledge of the facts of sex is so
clear and correct that we can translate it at need into language that our
children can understand.
And beyond the actual physiological facts of sex, we should of course be
ready to help the children, during all the stages of their development, to
relate their increasing awareness of sex to the great Design of God for mankind.
In other ages, parents might have felt with some justice that their whole
duty in this matter consisted in imparting the "facts of life" to children
in early adolescence, and, perhaps, in giving some additional information
on the eve of marriage. We today, however, need to do a great deal more.
We need to equip our children, as future apostles and co-workers with Christ,
to evaluate and rectify the enormous amount of information and misinformation,
of truth intermingled with falsehood, of right attitudes tangled with wrong,
which are current in the world today.
It is not possible today for either adolescents or adults to avoid thinking
more about sex and its implications--whatever one's vocation-- than is, perhaps,
normal or ideal. But if our children have been trained to think about it,
pray about it, and act about it rightly, that is, in relation to the whole
of God's plan and their part in fulfilling that plan, then this modern
preoccupation with sex need not harm them. Let us then, do our part of this
training as well as we can, and ask God Himself to make up for our deficiencies,
so that our children will grow up and always deserve the Beatitude, "Blessed
are the clean of heart, for they shall see God."
1. What are the practical problems and difficulties of actually giving sex
instruction to the individual child? How can parents get over or get around
under reticence and other difficulties?
2. What are the sources from which children are most likely to get a false,
distorted and unhealthy attitude toward sex? What can be done to offset these
forces by a Christian approach to sex?
3. How does the Christian meaning of sex contrast with what the author calls
the "fog of Manichaeism," i.e., the idea that sex is shameful and not to
4. Discuss the customs of modern society which raise special problems about
sex. What are the wholesome Christian ways in which teenage boys and girls
should meet? At what age should "dating" be allowed for girls? boys? Should
there be a set hour for returning from a date or a party? Should parents
themselves be responsible for chaperoning teenage parties?
5. In what ways can the virtues of purity and modesty be positively developed?
What constitutes modesty of dress for girls? What if the styles in formals
and swimming suits are of questionable propriety? To what extent is maintaining
beauty and dignity and respect toward sex a job for group action by parents?
1. Why has sex become a particular problem in modern society?
2. What were the effects of original sin on God's design for marriage?
3. What positive suggestions does the author make for helping parents to
give sex instruction naturally and honestly to their children?
4. What is the true mystery and awe about sex and human reproduction?
5. What advice does the author give for handling cases in which children
have an abnormal interest or have picked up distorted ideas regarding sex?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals