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 Himself.
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 a member.
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 designs.
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
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
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
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 His glory.
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 today.
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
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 be mentioned?
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
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
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals