If you look around our landing page today, it might seem like we’ve got sex and abortion on the brain, here at PatheosCatholic.
It’s not true; we also talk about music and tv and baseball and gardening and books and politics, of course. But Calah Alexander, who is dealing with pneumonia, managed to write a barn-burner of a post yesterday about the ill-advised trend in abstinence-only education, that equates a teenage girl’s imperfect chastity with filth and worthlessness:
You can’t tell a girl that having sex is like being a chewed and regurgitated Oreo and then expect her to be totally excited when it comes time for her husband to chew her up and spit her back out. You can’t teach a girl that her sexuality is a prize for a man, that the whole purpose of her existence as a sexual being is to be used by someone else at the “right” time and in the “right” way, and then wonder where these silly girls get their “objectification” martyr complexes.
It’s time to have a serious conversation about abstinence-only sex ed, and how it is not only failing but damaging our youth. It is screwing up our cultural understanding of human sexuality just as thoroughly as the hedonistic effects of the sexual revolution are. There very well may be some good abstinence-only sex ed courses out there, but they are certainly not the norm. We need to create a new way of teaching children about human sexuality, a way that emphasizes their essential dignity as rational, spiritual, and sexual human beings. We should strive to teach them to grow in virtue, to gain temperance, to master their passions, and to love for love of the other, not out of desire for pleasure, power, or possession. We should be teaching human sexuality as a series of positive moral developments that boys and girls must attain before sex can be truly enjoyed. We shouldn’t be teaching our kids to white-knuckle it through puberty and then glut themselves as soon as they say “I do.”
The question is not whether or not abstinence-only education is working…There is no excuse for Christians to close their eyes and pretend that abstinence-only sex ed is even a tolerable thing, much less a good thing. This dehumanizing approach to sexuality is not an acceptable alternative to the Planned Parenthood-driven over-sexualization of our kids. I will not settle for my kids learning anything less than the full theology of the body, and neither should you.
It’s a long post well-worth reading and perhaps discussing with friends and family. The comments at Calah’s place and on Facebook have been mostly thoughtful.
Jumping off Calah’s piece, Sam Rocha writes:
Marc Barnes, who is not-yet 20 years-old himself, writes frequently on human sexuality and youth. He contributes to the 1flesh.org site and here at Patheos he has written three times this past week on issues of “female purity”, the “purity culture” and why virginity is sexual. Unsurprisingly, in none of these posts is he run-of-the-mill.
Augustine’s Confessions is among the first developmental accounts of the human person in the West. So on and so forth. This could go on and on for some time…I won’t bore you because there is more than thoroughness at stake: these theories have teeth. And they bite. The very notion of the human person has been manufactured and revised and toyed around with by any number of forces for as long as we’ve been able to record it, but the physical body is conservative in the classical sense. It resists innovation and change by being what it is and doing what it does.
I was raised in a Catholic culture that treated all-things-sexual as implicitly “dirty” and in a family where “purity” was held at such a premium that it fomented downright madness in some family members. When I was sexually abused, all of that messaging played into it, and I guess I’m still dealing with that, myself. I’m all for talking about sex with our kids in a healthy way that ties the body and mind to the spirit — so that even with raging hormones and a million media prompts urging kids to have sex, they have more to think about (or cling to) than, “I have urges but they’re all dirty.”
By all means, we must teach kids that virginity has value and that it is worth bringing into marriage. And yes, we must teach them why illicit sexual activity is sinful — they need to know. But “dirty” implies worthless and disposable, and if the ideal is not met, we don’t throw people away over it.
We don’t let them throw themselves away, either, because they feel awful because they’ve sinned.
We have to do better.
As I hoped she might, Elizabeth Duffy has also weighed in on the abstinence-only question:
Abstinence is not just “The absence of something” as I’ve seen it termed lately. It cannot be reduced simply to “not doing.” It’s the practice of self-mastery over one’s physical urges, the abnegation of the body for the good of the soul.
Regarding the fourth precept of the Catholic Church, “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church” the Catechism says:
“The fourth precept ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.”
Abstinence also protects the freedom of others.
Yeah, read it all.
In a follow-up post, Duffy closes out her thoughts with grace
Leah Libresco brings up the rear by addressing this subject of worth and identity via Game of Thrones and Much Ado about Nothing