With the school year now in full swing, students and teachers are settled into their fall routines.
Teachers are focused on lesson planning and test marking. Administrators are setting their attention on programs related to such matters as student safety, literacy, and numeracy scores. Parents are checking on kids’ homework completion and emotional well-being, while ensuring extra-curricular activities are all entered into the family calendar.
Students of all ages are doing a wide range of things, including signing up for clubs and teams, studying in the library, working part-time jobs after school and making sure their social calendar is not empty.
You can bet, however, that while kids are spending much time on addition and subtraction, memorizing national capitals or analyzing characters in a novel, they are also having plenty of fun hanging out with their friends.
Sure, they are discussing an upcoming science lab or quizzing each other for tomorrow’s big test in history class. Yet, they are likely also talking about the release of the latest video game or what happened on the recent episode of their favorite show they are binge watching online.
Students that are tweens or teens can also be talking about other stuff—far more sensitive and a whole lot more important.
Knowing the Landscape
Being tuned in to the thoughts and feelings of today’s youth is not at all easy, but given today’s complex climate in which we live, it is becoming more and more necessary.
In fact, for parents, one could say it is essential to have open and honest communication with students about a wide range of topics—especially the delicate ones.
As a high school religious education teacher, I cover a vast amount of material detailing a wide array of items that present where God is—and is not—celebrated in society today, as well as the effects of both.
A particular emphasis is placed on popular culture and how it shapes people’s thinking and living, as compared to how our faith background calls us to live.
With an increasingly secular attitude in our social environment, students and their families may or may not have a full knowledge of or appreciation for Church teachings and what we believe to be God’s plan for humanity when dealing with certain issues.
One such topic that can draw plenty of attention is sex.
With this in mind, below is direction you could follow when aiming to have a conversation with your tween or teen about that hard-to-talk-about subject.
Starting from Scratch
As awkward as it might seem, talking about sex with your youth can go much smoother if done with simplicity and care, rather than judgment or authority.
Before talking about the meaning of sex and official Catholic teachings outlined in the Catechism, I will usually step back and brainstorm with students what they know about chastity. Here are some tips I have found to be helpful:
- Establish with them how chastity is a wholesome lifestyle revealed through our thoughts, words, actions, clothing, and so much more.
- Emphasize how chastity applies to everyone regardless of gender, age, race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, or ability.
- Describe how God calls all of us to live chaste lives at all times, and how we are challenged to demonstrate self-control and discipline in so many ways.
- Express how we display chastity through respect, innocence, purity, and honesty toward others and ourselves.
Once this is done, students can better recognize the healthy nature and benefits of chastity, and delve into deeper discussion about how it relates to sex.
Scratching the Surface
When talking with youth about intercourse, it is important to underscore what it truly is—an act of love.
Sex is not just a physical practice, as pornography and one-night stands might suggest.
Instead, it is a powerful and meaningful sharing of one’s self with another that accomplishes union in its fullest form—not only physically, but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Truly, sex is to be a gift whereby an individual offers himself or herself both freely and completely.
Through this beautiful act, husband and wife enter into total intimacy, inviting one another to have a most profound experience of seeing into each other. Such a bond permits the mutual exchange of entirely personal hopes and dreams, fears and reservations, all blessed in the name of love.
For these reasons, our faith holds that sex is to be a most treasured present saved for that most special person—our spouse.
To Have and to Hold
Such a love is to be proclaimed and celebrated, then, through the act of sexual intercourse.
Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. (CCC 2361)
Appreciating sex as such a foundational encounter reserved for the lifelong covenant of marriage, we can then help youth better understand the two-fold purpose of the romantic endeavor.
Unitive and Pro-Creative
As marriage brings man and woman into trilateral union with God, sex is to serve as a path for them to declare and exhibit their complete love for and with one another. This act of love must be unconditional, thereby explaining the Catholic Church teaching that such practices as cohabitation and sex prior to marriage must not be accepted, since they do not align with the true identity of intercourse.
Some today claim a right to a trial marriage where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim. Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate trial marriages. It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another (CCC 2391).
While sex brings two people together, the Church also teaches this act of love is to encourage simultaneously the creation of life. This openness to children as fruit of spousal union can clarify to students, therefore, the Church’s unwillingness to accept same-sex marriage, artificial contraception, and abortion.
Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility (CCC 2367).
God’s Plan for Them
There is no denying today’s society often deems these ideals as anything from overly traditional to out-of-ouch. Nevertheless, it is important we share these teachings with our youth in order for them to fully understand the beauty and mystery of sexuality as God designed it.
In defending and promoting sex as a genuine, noble, and honorable display of mutual love with both unitive and procreative goals, we can inspire our youth in their orientation toward spiritual development and a holy vocation.
So the next time a discussion opportunity pops up where you can talk with your child about sex, do not be afraid of how embarrassing or awkward it might be. Instead, think of it as a perfect chance for you to grow together in familial love, while your child can venture forward in personal growth, more deeply appreciating God’s abundant plan of goodness for him or her.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.