Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Abstinence-Only Sex Education Fails

American Catholicism frustrates me. Regardless of whom is to blame (clergy, "Christmas & Easter" Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, overzealous Catholics - like me?), the result is a nation of lukewarm Catholics who do not follow Church teachings.

A hot-button issue for me is sexuality. The Church teaches that expressing our sexuality through intercourse happens only within the sacrament of marriage (which by definition is between one man and one woman) and is open to the conception of life (not constrained by contraception).

Unfortunately, that's about all it teaches: Don't have premarital sex. Don't engage in homosexual behavior. Don't use condoms. It's not surprising that as teenagers (and adults) hear, "No, no, no!" they want to say, "Yes, yes, yes!"

Somewhere, all the positive teaching got lost. [That link is also me, in my pre-Blogger life.]

I love moments of physical intimacy with my husband, even if it's not a stellar day for us. Sure, it feels good, but it's so much more than that. It's mutual surrender to the other, emotional communion, and a renewal of the covenant we made before God and our community 3+ years ago.

Our commitment to each other models God's faithfulness to his people. Time and again he calls Israel his beloved and the church his bride. In a very real way, our families are the first churches our children experience.

Making love is sacred.

Its sacredness comes from God. We were made in God's image and designed, male and female, to complement each other. He chose us above all creation to be stewards of the earth and to share in his creative power. We don't just have sex and produce a bundle of cells. We create a human being who, at the moment of conception, has an immortal soul.

Wow! Those who are called to marriage are called one to another to share the precious gift of nurturing this soul and leading it to know and love its Creator. As parents, we are poor reflections of the incredible love God has for us, but we are reflections all the same. We have a holy calling to raise our children.

The beauty, the glory of sexual intercourse is freedom. Freedom to be uniquely me, as I was created, without fear or shame, and then to offer my very self to the one I trust and love as I do no other. Freedom to accept his gift in return, a gift he has offered to no one but me. And then, the freedom of surrendering all that we are back to the One who is Love, confident that he will bless us with love, bless us abundantly.

This Love takes the gift that we offer and maybe, just maybe, uses it to shape a new person, one who will teach us even more about love. To withhold our love from Love itself is unthinkable.

Why isn't this taught in high school?


  1. Because, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on who you talk to), we live in a general society in which religion is technically not permitted because it could offend whomever. I am Catholic (possibly one of the "lukewarm" ones you speak of... not quite there yet, although outwardly one may think so) and spent 15 of my 17 years of formal education in Catholic establishments. We, of course, covered this that you have posted about - but not in health class. I think more appropriately, why isn't this being taught by parents to their children? Formal schooling is expected to impart knowledge; Parents, caregivers, and role models impart a moral foundation, moral soundness, and ethical discretion. I'm not a good example of anyone who hasn't had premarital sex. I've had lots. And I have a baby. With no father - no father on the birth certificate, has never met him, I haven't heard from him in over a year - not by my choice except in that I had premarital sex.

    Thankfully I come from a breed of Catholics that believe in God's undying forgiveness, so despite my indiscretions, I retain my rights to that which comes after mortal life and also to share in the possibilities of a more traditional family at another point in my life.

    I like reading your blog a lot but don't often comment. I enjoy reading about your faith and discovering how different our practices and beliefs are despite being held together under the same rites, traditions, and teachings. Maybe I am a lax Catholic, in a community of lax Catholics, but God loves us all no matter what, and I love being a part of a Church that is so accepting (I belong to one parish but frequent two different parishes; both are great!)

    Thank you for sharing all that you do and always giving me something to think about : )

  2. Great post Liana. As my husband and I celebrate our one year wedding anniversary this Sunday, I've really come to reflect on this topic in the past year.

    What really frustrates me is why this wasn't taught in our pre-cana class. Not only that, but why was NFP just a flyer they handed out? Not a topic at all, except that "contraception is wrong - Catholics use NFP." I honestly thought it was just another form of contraception that the Church had ok'd.

    But it's so much more than that.

    Good food for thought :)

  3. @panda: I am ridiculous sometimes. As I wrote this, I was thinking about MY high school, which was Catholic. And didn't ever teach this. I think it makes sense for public schools to teach a secular curriculum.
    You're right, parents should be teaching this to their kids, but most parents were never taught it, so how would they know? The Church seems to have failed spectacularly somewhere along the line. :-(
    I am right there with you praising God for his forgiveness. Without that, why bother even trying to be Christian? We'd never make it. His endless mercy is a beautiful gift. I am concerned sometimes that it is misrepresented -- "Do what feels good to you, God will forgive anything." -- but the message of forgiveness and acceptance is a powerful part of our faith.
    Thanks for your comments and support. Niko is lucky to have such a great mommy!

    @Rachel: Yeah, our pre-cana class was frustrating too. They spent a lot of time on budgeting and in-laws, then basically said "the spiritual part of marriage you already know" and "no one wants to talk about sex in a group like this!" So discouraging. Wish I knew how to fix it.

  4. If parents were honest with their kids and shared the stories about their conception I'm sure that would also promote abstinence. :-)