Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex : The Problem

So today I was scanning Facebook entries and noted my friend Ken talking about his fifth grade son getting a talk about the "naughty bits" in science class.

To which I replied, I had no idea they were presenting Chris Rock sketches to grade schoolers.  (A line I repeat here because I was so very pleased with it. Somebody give me a rimshot, please!)

At least Chris thought it was funny...

Anyway, that got me thinking about sex ed and Catholic sex ed.  Honestly, and with enormous respect for all those who work in Catholic education, it sort of terrifies me to think what kids might be getting in Catholic schools.  We're 50 years post Vatican II, but honestly, when it comes to sex, I'm just not that sure how far the Church has come. Catholics, many of them, very far; but the Church as an institution, not so much.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard anyone even remotely connected to the institution of the Church talk about what a great thing sex is.  Let alone talk in any depth about the dynamics of a sexual relationship in a way that seems a) actually aware of how such a relationship works; and b) not driven by other, unrelated ideas.

Consider even this: is it appropriate to show a picture like this? There's absolutely nothing lascivious in the models or the presentation. But still, do you feel along with me that twinge of discomfort? Like, this isn't something we should see?

The Catholic presentation on sexuality is not a problem unique to married life -- the priests of the archdiocese of New York were subjected 4 or 5 years ago to a disastrous session with a lay Catholic "expert" on intimacy whose sense of human sexuality was grounded in all sorts of rights and wrongs with almost no connection to human physical realities. (Also, his talk was littered with homoerotic images of men riding horses and rocket ships that made you wonder, does this guy have any concept of what he's saying?)

Still, I actually think the challenge is greater  for lay Catholics.  As much as society tends to brand clergy as sexually disconnected, in point of fact many of us have access to tremendous resources to help us appreciate human sexuality in a human, healthy, spiritual way.  In fact, to my mind sometimes it feels like clergy have a sort of inside track in which they privately acknowledge the failings of Church practices, without ever actually sharing that knowledge with the people of God themselves! Which is just plain nutty.

So, bringing this back to the original question, when we are being healthy, what are we as Church saying to fifth graders about their human sexuality? And how do we go about saying it? (As the great church historian John O'Malley, SJ writes, what made Vatican II important is not just what it said, but how it said it, the tone and style it took.  The way we educate our children about sexuality is no different.)

For today, I'm just going to leave the question hanging for now, because I think it's a great question for all of us. What do we want our children told (and how)? What would we like to see less of?

On Friday, I'll come back with a couple thoughts of my own.  (And eventually, we'll get back to Matthew! I promise!)

See you Friday for Sex Ed...


Michelle said...

The stance I've been taking here in the trenches (two now-teen-aged boys) is that sex is for making families. As they've gotten older it's become a bit more nuanced, the intimate sharing between parents is one way God builds a place that is open to the reception of life.

I've tried to move it off the individual acts and into the realm of an entire web of relationships: spouses, children, God, others.

Heaven only knows (and I mean that seriously) what message my kids are getting, the experiment has some years to run yet!

Shelly said...

Respect...perhaps all "sex-ed" should begin with this concept: Respect for self, others, our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit, God's plan and design, etc. (Anatomy, physiology, care for the body, how to treat each other....) I see so little of this taught here, and am often mortified at what is, and isn't, being taught.

Michelle, I thought your words were beautifully put - maybe we could correspond? As the mother of an almost teenage son, I often feel like the only person who feels the way you seem to, as "anything goes" appears to be the norm here! I am in a distinct minority in our small community, and have had to find my own resources (and often-times just "wing-it).

Fr. Jim-I look forward to your next installment on this topic.

Michelle said...


You're welcome to send me an email...mfdcst at

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

Michelle, I think you bring up a really important, which is that as kids get older, the way you talk about these things changes. 5th graders are so different than teenagers! And that's not to say you don't end up talking about the same topics, such as how sex is for making families. But the whole notion of having sex is a much different reality (a much more present issue) once the hormones start surging.

I love that you also try to connect things with the whole spectrum of relationships. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who struggle with this.

Thanks for the comment!

Michelle said...

Fifth graders are an entirely different species than high school juniors, as far as I can tell! For sure, even my older ones change so fast, the kind of conversation they want/need in September can be utterly different from November.

And I'm a solid Trinitarian when it comes to my theology. God exists in mystical relationship -- Father, Son and Spirit -- and if we are image and likeness of God, relationships need to ground us, too. No matter what our age or state of life.

Parenting is an exercise in many things, patience for one. For the most part you don't know how things will turn out until the decision you made is long in the past!

But I am with you, I wish there were more sophisticated resources for Catholics, parents and kids, both.

Haris said...

christinity a fake religion.