Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form am I undermining or denouncing the moral beliefs and values of the Catholic faith, I am simply voicing my concern in the way in which I have experienced sex education while growing up in the Catholic school system.
Growing up in the Catholic school system has been a blessing and a privilege. I have had the luxury of educating myself while simultaneously locating and strengthening my faith, my understanding of my faith, and my relationship with my spiritual identity. While there have been positive repercussions to such an upbringing, I have experienced some grave drawbacks.
One aspect of my experience in Catholic school education that I felt most conflicted with was the method in which I was informed of the notion, action, and concept of sex. In high school, during my Sophomore year, I was required to take a Health course and we briefly discussed sex.
This discussion of sex was juvenile in the sense that we never actually spoke of the act of having sex, we spoke solely about the results of sex. We began with a very juvenile game of “Penis & Vagina” where we were faced with the challenge of going around the room and saying, with great annunciation, “penis” and “vagina”.
At such a young age of fifteen, the concept of sex was still quite foreign to me. My parents never spoke a word to me about it and for the first time, I was hearing about this topic that remained so taboo to me.
I grew in excitement, based on my sheer ignorance and curiosity, of such a normal and biological concept. As I said the words “penis” and “vagina”, I thought nothing of it. If anything, I saw it as comedic; I didn’t necessarily understand how a penis and a vagina worked. After that, we went straight into learning and understanding the male and female reproductive systems, its functions, and the process through which procreation works.
You’re probably wondering: what is the problem here?
Well, I was being taught about the functions of the penis and the vagina, but I was never actually taught about the act of sex. Not once was I taught how it occurred and how to remain safe while doing so if I even chose to do so. I was taught that the only answer at my age with regards to sex was abstinence. Yes. Abstinence.
For some, they understood and accepted the idea of abstinence. I was one of the “some” who accepted abstinence because I believed that it was the answer to proper sex education. I no longer hold that belief.
I wholeheartedly understand abstinence, but teaching abstinence without teaching proper sex education is dangerous. The notion of abstinence is that abstaining from sexual practices: vaginal, oral, or anal sex, will inherently prevent all risks of pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
By teaching human beings that no sexual activity equates to no risks of diseases or unplanned pregnancies, we are not educating, we are scaring. Instead of solely teaching abstinence, we should also integrate methods of safe sex education into our schools: with discussions on condom use, different kinds of sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, birth control, etc…
The best way to prevent what many fear--unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases-- is to educate. Sex education is the key to understanding sex and if choosing to do so, engaging in safe sex. We shouldn’t limit students’ understanding of sex by only teaching them abstinence, we should always teach safe sex practices, procedures, and methods while providing students with the agency to choose whether or not they are comfortable with engaging in sexual activity of any sort.
I write this now, as a nineteen-year-old, who feels somewhat robbed of a vital aspect of humanity that I should have been taught about. It wasn’t until I grew well into my own identity at about sixteen, well into my seventeenth year, that I truly received some sort of sex education.
I didn’t learn sex education by learning within the bounds of my high school classrooms, I did what any other person would have done: I googled it all. I spent extensive hours researching sex, how to practice safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, etc…
I was never actually taught about the idea of having sex in general, specifically that of safe sex. I was never actually taught that the notion of sex at my age was acceptable; it was always strictly idealized as out of the norm, blasphemous, and unspoken of. I was uneducated on something that was so natural, something that I would eventually find some sort of an avert interest in; I was clueless. I could never wish such a period of ignorance, lack of knowledge, and sheltering from reality upon no one, especially upon the youth.
My hope for middle school and high school education is to adopt methods of teaching that produces the importance of proper sex education. I’m not necessarily urging Catholic schools to stop teaching abstinence, I am urging such schools, for the sake of sheer understanding, to bring knowledge of safe sex to the youth, especially during the teenage years, as the desire to explore one’s body becomes that of a reality.
Schools, please invest in sex education. Sex is a vital aspect of the human body and of human behavior. We need not shun and shelter, but to expose, teach, and empower.
Choosing to educate is choosing to encourage healthy discourse, knowledge, and overall health.
Choosing not to educate is choosing to encourage ignorance, and ignorance is not bliss.