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Archive for May, 2013

Where Abstinence-Only Education Falls Short

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Sloppy Seconds Sex Ed

(Family Honor Editor’s Note: Our re-posting of this blog is purely intended to help readers understand the rather substantial (yet often overlooked) distinction between “abstinence-only sex education” and “chastity education”.   While studies HAVE shown some value in the former for delaying sexual debut, as this blog states, this is a “shallow” approach.  At Family Honor, we contend that the fullness of the theology of the body should always be a part of such programs with a focus on the virtue of chastity, rather than a “just say no” approach.)

May 14, 2013 By Calah Alexander

Last week, the conservative circles of the internet were abuzz in disapproval over Elizabeth Smart’s recent criticism of abstinence-only sexual education. Speaking at a forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University, Elizabeth said that the abstinence-only education she received left her feeling “so dirty” and “so filthy” after being repeatedly raped.

The reactions to this were infuriatingly predictable. Good people, people who have proven to be thoughtful and compassionate, immediately shut down in the face of any criticism of abstinence-only sex ed. Their responses to Elizabeth Smart were irrational, ignorant, and stunningly condescending. From accusing her of “casting blame” to snarkily suggesting that we teach “bestiality (oral, anal, etc…) as an alternative to those worthless, dirty, filthy feelings”, there was a mob-like mentality on display. People stubbornly defended her religious parents and reminded each other how she had held on through her captivity so she could get back to them, without bothering to explain what that had to do with the point she was making. People insisted that the shame and unworthiness she felt was solely the result of the abuse she suffered, and by making her emotional trauma about abstinence-only education she was doing a disservice to other forms of abuse. People claimed that she was using her platform irresponsibly, and should have thought through the impact her words would have on the abstinence-only sex ed movement.

What almost no one did was hear what she said. No one was horrified at what she had been taught in her abstinence-only sexual education. No one acknowledged that the direct, logical result of such an education is a sense of shame and unworthiness after having been “used.” No one showed even a hint of sympathy for how she had suffered, not only at the hands of her captors, but at the hands of a degrading philosophy of human sexuality. Such a callous indifference to human suffering is appalling. It shows that too many Christians, too many proponents of abstinence-only education, have put their concern for the welfare of a quasi-political movement above their concern for the welfare of a human being, of human dignity itself.

For some time, I have thought that the reason more people aren’t speaking out against this “purity culture” is that they are unaware of it. After last week, I’m not so sure. The mainstream message of abstinence-only education got press far and wide with Elizabeth Smart’s denunciation of it, yet I saw no shock, horror, or disgust.
Let me be clear about the particular type of abstinence-only education Elizabeth Smart is referring to. I’m not entirely convinced that there is another type, but just in case, this is the abstinence-only message that Elizabeth Smart received as an adolescent:

“Smart said she grew up in a Mormon family and was taught through abstinence-only education that a person whose virginity was lost before marriage was considered worthless. She spoke to the crowd about a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum.

‘I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value’.”
(Read the rest here)

Perhaps there are some people out there who think this mindset is an aberration, who are not responding to this because they genuinely believe this is a rare exception to typical abstinence-only curricula.

It isn’t.

It is absolutely crucial that Catholics, Christians, and all proponents of abstinence-only education get their heads out of the sand on this. This is not some sort of freaky Mormon glitch in the abstinence-only train. This IS the abstinence-only train.

When I heard it, it was glasses of water. Women (and only women, mind you; the boys got a separate talk about cherishing each woman as if she were the prized treasure of another man) were like glasses of crystal-clear spring water. If you “fooled around” before marriage, it was like someone spit in your glass of water. If you had sex before marriage, it was like someone took a huge drink of your water, swished it around in their mouths, and then spat it back into the glass. The more sex you had, the dirtier your glass of water got. “So think of that before you have premarital sex,” we were admonished. “Think of the gift you’re going to give your husband on your wedding night. Do you want to give him a pure, untouched glass of delicious water, or a dirty cup of everyone else’s backwash?”

For one of my friends, it was an Oreo cookie that had been chewed up and spat back out. For another friend, it was a pair of custom-made shoes that had been stretched and warped from being worn by people they weren’t made to fit. Cups of spit. Plucked roses. It goes on and on. I’ve heard a million variations of it, but always the message is the same.

This does not teach anyone chastity or purity. “Abstinence-only” sex ed is a fundamentally flawed concept, beginning with its very name. It teaches children to negate an act, to deny a fundamental part of human nature until such a time as it’s permissible to indulge. It doesn’t teach children what sex is, what their sexuality means, how to understand it, or how to properly integrate it into a life of chastity both without and within a marriage. It doesn’t teach a boy that sex is primarily about the giving of himself, and that he can’t fully give himself to his wife unless he learns how to master himself first, how to wait, how to have patience, how to love her instead of using her as a vehicle for pleasure. Actually it teaches boys the exact opposite of that; that a woman is a trophy, a prize, that a good one (one worth keeping forever) will be untouched, but that there are plenty of dirty water-glasses walking around that have been ruined for any decent man anyway, and they might as well be used up since they’re not worth saving.

And what does abstinence-only sex ed teach girls? It doesn’t teach girls anything. It conditions girls into conforming with a sick, “religious-ized” chauvinism that masquerades as concern for moral purity but is really just plain old abhorrence of sloppy seconds. It says nothing to a girl about her inherent value as a human being, about her precious and vital role as life-giver, about her unique feminine genius that is inextricably linked to her sexuality. Like Pavlov’s dog, girls are told over and over in abstinence-only education that sex before marriage will make them dirty and worthless. The conditioning definitely works as intended on us pieces of chewed-up gum; our sexual relationships within marriage are usually fraught with psychological blocks, feelings of worthlessness, and fears of abandonment. It also does a number on girls who have been raped, like Elizabeth Smart. But here’s the thing: it totally screws up the “good” girls, too, the one who wait until their wedding night. 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. I’m not even sure what proponents of it mean by “working.” In the incarnation I’m familiar with, it certainly doesn’t seem intended to do much beyond shaming kids into not having sex using the crudest, most psychologically destructive means available. Research is pretty clear that it’s not even managing to accomplish that. The only thing abstinence-only education is accomplishing is entrenching misogynistic, licentious attitudes toward sex in a whole new generation of kids.

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. You don’t need to defend abstinence-only sex ed from attacks by girls like Elizabeth Smart; you need to defend girls like Elizabeth Smart from the psychological effects of abstinence-only sex ed. It is not “education” in any sense of the word. It is shallow, sickening cultural conditioning, and we owe our kids enough to admit it. There are two whole generations of young adults who have been psychologically and emotionally damaged by the widespread and complacent acceptance of abstinence-only sex ed. Let’s not make it three.

Here’s a link to the original article, as well:

A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education


by Bishop Samuel J. Aquila, D.D.

Document Information

  • Description:

    In an effort to provide assistance to parents who are struggling with the difficult task of teaching their children about human sexuality while retaining a focus on the virtue of chastity, the bishop of Fargo, Samuel J. Aquila, offers this pamphlet. In addition to being extremely practical, it is based on the teaching of the Church regarding the parent’s moral formation of the child. Bishop Aquila tells parents that sexuality is a gift from God, and chastity meets the needs of the human person. As a result, parents ought not to be afraid to teach their child about these things, as long as they introduce each topic at the proper age.

  • Publisher & Date:
    Diocese of Fargo, December 8, 2002

December 8, 2002
Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

One of the challenges facing parents in our culture today is to teach our children the truth and meaning of our human sexuality. This task has become all the more difficult in the presence of a culture that often openly defies God’s plan for the successful integration of sexuality into the life of each person. In response to this state of affairs, it is the responsibility of the Church not only to proclaim moral truths, but also to facilitate means of formation to understand and live out the moral life. To this end, the Diocese of Fargo offers A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education to all the faithful of the diocese.

The purpose of A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education is to provide assistance to parents who are faced with the responsibility of educating their children in the virtue of chastity. Catholic institutions of formation, such as schools and religious education programs, should also consultA Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education for guidance in planning programs. This pamphlet should be understood in this diocese as a source of authoritative guidelines for education in chastity.

God created us in His image. And everything that He created is good. God blessed the human person by saying: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Our Father’s plan for human sexuality is not only good, but also practical in that it fits the needs of the human person. Education in chastity, therefore, is of tremendous value to our culture and to each of us in our own lives. It is our hope that A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education can help the faithful as they carry out their responsibility to live the virtue of chastity and to teach it to our young.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, D.D.
Bishop of Fargo

Purpose of the Guide

Although designed primarily for parents, A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education will also be of interest to pastors, principles, teachers, catechists and other education professionals who are engaged in the important work of forming and educating the young. It is only natural that parents will seek assistance from these partners in education. Moreover, the goal of the school or parish is to encourage parents to carry out their responsibility to form their children in the area of chastity education. Any program that is initiated at the parish or school level should have this goal in mind.

A Parent’s Guide to Chastity Education is a starting point. It is not exhaustive in scope. Use it and the suggested resources as a beginning to your own formation. Talk with other parents and local school officials. Pray about what should be done in your own situation. Consult your local pastor or spiritual advisor. Be confident of the grace God has given you for your own children.

I. Foundations in God and Man

Called to True Love

Our God is a loving God. He made all of us out of love and for love. The human person is made in the image of this loving God. Our vocation as men and women is, therefore, to love as God loves us.

All of creation is good and reveals part of God’s plan for us. The sexuality of the human person is thus good and part of God’s plan of creation as well. God wants us to use our sexuality for the purpose of true love. We are created out of true love for the purpose of true love. “God created man in His image, in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.”1

This plan of God for us, however, was marred by the tragedy of original sin. It wounded our nature, and left us with an inclination to evil. Even though the original gift of human freedom was designed solely to enable us to choose the good, now we must struggle to avoid evil and embrace the good. Yet God did not abandon us in this struggle.

“Christ, the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”2 By His Passion, Death and Resurrection, Christ restores man to friendship with God and heals the wound of sin. This redemptive act gives us the graces necessary to love as God intended man to love.

The Church as Mother and Teacher

Love propelled Christ into history to found a Church that is at the service of human dignity and happiness. As Mother and Teacher of humanity, the Church carries out a solemn command of Christ to announce the truth of salvation.3 In obedience to this command, the Church rightfully proclaims moral principles that show the way to human happiness. The Church is in no way the author or arbitrator of moral norms. Rather, in obedience to truth and the dignity of the human person, the Church interprets moral norms regarding chastity and proposes them to all people of good will.4

The Universal Vocation of Chastity

The reality of sexuality can never be understood apart from the universal vocation of all men and women to holiness. Human sexuality is a marvelous gift from the Creator, an intrinsic part of our human vocation to love. Chastity is the right ordering of this gift from God. Chastity brings about the unity of body and soul within the person that is expressed through our feminine and masculine natures. Whether chastity is lived out in marriage, the priesthood, religious life, or the single lay state, it is a fundamental part of our struggle for sanctity. As such, the dignity of the human person requires that every person receive the proper formation in this aspect of our vocation to love.

Fathers and Mothers as First Educators in Chastity

Formation in chastity implies the work first and foremost of parents. In giving life, parents are also given the responsibility to nurture their children materially and spiritually. At the baptism of their children, parents of the child are reminded that they are the first teachers of their children. This responsibility comes from God. Each parent receives a unique and specific grace to form their children in the ways of God and man. “The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.”5 This means that no one can take a parent’s place in education, especially sex education, except by permission. The Magisterium of our Church has taught quite clearly about the importance of this parental right. The Second Vatican Council states, “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow men that will promote an integrated, personal, and social education of their children. The family is therefore the principle school of the social virtues that are necessary to every society.6

The Role of Educational Institutions

Aware of their own educational role, parents need to defend and carry out this primary right and duty. Any educational activity related to education for love which is carried out by persons outside the family must be subjected to the parents’ approval and must be seen not as a substitute, but as a support of their work.7

Other educators can assist in this task, but they can only take the place of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity. Thus, the school’s task is not to substitute for the family, rather it is to assist and complete the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with a complete evaluation of sexuality in light of God’s plan for each of us.

II. Principles for Chastity Education

Personal Dialogue. Experience shows that a parent of the same sex as the child is the best communicator of the biological, emotional, moral and spiritual information regarding human sexuality. Chaste love requires young people to learn self-mastery that respects the dignity of each human person and his or her body.9?

Morality. The moral dimension of the gift of sexuality must always be presented together with the biological information in the context of vocation and our call to holiness.10


  • Human sexuality must be presented according to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church. Respect must be maintained for the differences between man and woman that reflect the love and fruitfulness of God.11

Context. Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must be provided in the broadest context of education for love.


  • * In the light of the mystery of Christ and the Church, parents should illustrate the positive values of human sexuality in the context of the person’s original vocation to love and the universal call to holiness.12
  • Parents should teach their children to evaluate the environments they frequent with a critical sense and true autonomy, as well as to cultivate a detachment from mass media and other influences of our culture.13
  • Through their educational efforts parents should pass on to children the conviction that chastity is possible and indeed the means to true freedom and harmony in the human person.14
  • Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the child’s reading of appropriate materials, parents help in the formation of conscience that is necessary to the integration of chastity.

Development. Information should be presented with delicacy, but clearly, and at the appropriate time. In order to provide an individualized approach to development, special awareness should be given to the four stages of development: “the age of innocence”, puberty, adolescence, and young adulthood. Too many details too soon is counterproductive, but delaying the first information for too long is imprudent.15

Parents should always respond to questions a child may ask, even if they seem inappropriate to their age. Usually if a question is asked, it means a child has been exposed to information that the parents have a duty to clarify so the child is not misguided.

Catechesis. Formation of parents in the foundations of a mature faith is the cornerstone to educating children in chaste love.16 If parents do not understand the teachings of the Church, it is recommended that they study authentic resources of doctrine, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and seek programs that may be available to help them to understand the wisdom of the Church. Parents may also find it helpful to talk with other parents who desire to live and grow in their faith.

III. Guidelines for Parents

Dialogue. Parents should associate with other parents in order to fulfill their role as primary educators of their children and to guard against damaging forms of sex education.17 Schools must provide advanced parental notification for all in-school and out-of school programs that teach in the sensitive area of human sexuality.

Vigilance. Parents should keep themselves precisely informed on the content and methodology with which supplementary education is imparted.18

Access. Parents have the right to be informed about the structure of the program. In all cases, their right to be present during classes cannot be denied.19

Authority. Parents should follow every form of sex education that is given to their children, removing them whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles. Parents have the duty to provide their children with adequate information appropriate to each child’s stage of development.20


  • Respect should be given to the right of the child or young person to withdraw from any form of sexual instruction imparted outside the home. The child nor other members of their family should never be penalized or discriminated against for this decision.21

Collaboration. Parents who may not always be prepared to teach the intricate side of an education for love can take part in meetings with their children, guided by expert persons worthy of trust. The separation of boys from girls is preferable.22

Discretion. No material of an erotic nature should be presented at any age or in any setting;23 nor should children be invited or obliged to act in any way that objectively offends modesty, delicacy or their sense of privacy.24

IV. Safeguards Against Some Inappropriate Methods

Any catechesis on human sexuality that is contrary — even partially — to doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church should be avoided.25 Following are some methods that threaten the rights of parents and the moral life of their children:


  • Parents must reject secular approaches to sex education that put God at the margin of life and regard the birth of a child as a threat.26
  • Sterilization and contraception should not be discussed before adolescence.27
  • If contraception is discussed after the adolescent phase (perhaps in upper grades of high school), the substantial differences between natural and artificial methods should be shown with regard to respect for God’s plan for marriage.
  • Teaching the intimate details of genital relationships to children is an abuse of sex education.28 There is, on the other hand, a healthy curiosity in older adolescents (young adults) in the physical aspect of genital relationships which can be presented properly in the context of chaste love, provided parents have prior knowledge and approval of what is presented.
  • Parents must be on guard against inappropriate coed environments wherever human sexuality is taught. In general, young men and women should be instructed in such matters in separate classroom settings. Modesty dictates this common sense requirement. Most teenagers appreciate this bare minimum of respect that they deserve.
  • Parents must be on guard against any program that promotes pre-marital sex in any way, or that promotes a neutral view on the morality of homosexual acts.
  • Parents must also reject the promotion of so called “safe-sex” or “safer sex,” a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS and other venereal diseases.29
  • The approach of “values clarification” ignores the objective reality of the moral law in general and disregards the formation of consciences on specific Christian moral precepts as affirmed by the Magisterium of the Church. It gives young people the idea that a moral code is something they can create themselves, as if man were the source and norm of morality.30


Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter, On Christian Marriage (Casti connubii), December 31, 1930.

Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, (Lumen gentium), November 21, 1964.

Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissmum educationis), October 28, 1965.

Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter, On the Regulation of Birth, (Humanae vitae), July 25, 1968.

Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions Regarding Sexual Ethics (Persona humana), December 29, 1975.

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, The Christian Family in the Modern World, (Familiaris consortio), December 15, 1981.

The Holy See, The Charter of Rights of the Family, October 22, 1983.

Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, November 1, 1983.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,October 1, 1986.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life and the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae), February 22, 1987.

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful (Christifidelis laici), December 30, 1988.

United States Catholic Conference, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991.

North Dakota Catholic Conference, A Catholic Perspective in Lifelong Learning in Human Sexuality, October 22, 1991.

Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Splendor of Truth (Veritatis splendor), August 6, 1993.

Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, February 2, 1994.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs #2331-2394, 1994.

Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), March 25, 1995.

Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family, December 8, 1995.

Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, Pauline Books and Media, 1997.

For practical help in the teaching of chastity, parents may consult the following books:

Arnold, Christoph Arnold, Purity, Plough Publishing House, 1998.

Bonacci, Mary Beth, Real Love, Ignatius Press, 1996.

Evert, Jason, Pure Love, Catholic Answers, 2000.

Hogan, Fr. Richard & Fr. John LeVoir, Covenant of Love, Ignatius Press.

Lickona, Tom and Judy, Sex, Love and You, Ave Maria Press, 1994.

West, Christopher, Good News About Sex & Marriage, Servant Publications, 2000.

Wilson, Mercedes Arzu, Love and Family, Ignatius Press, 1996.

Closing Note: The Diocese of Fargo Pro-Life Office has available a practical application text for parents and parish educators for the education of young people on human sexuality. An Education for Chastity contains: Outlines for Parent/Educator workshop, Mother/Daughter & Father/Son programs, and educational resources recommended by the Diocese of Fargo. For further catechesis of adults the article Educating our Young People to Chastity by Rev. Kris Stubna, and the text The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, A Symposium,published by Benzinger is also available upon request. Contact Rachelle, 701-235-6429, ext. 15 for more information.



  1. Genesis 1: 27
  2. Pope John Paul II, The Redeemer of Man, (Redemptor hominis), 8.
  3. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, (Lumen gentium), 17.
  4. Pope John Paul II, The Christian Family in the Modern World, (Familiaris consortio),33.
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2221.
  6. Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education, (Gravissimum educationis), 3.
  7. Pontifical Council on the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, 113.
  8. Ibid., 120.
  9. Cf., Pontifical Council for the Family, Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, 67.
  10. Cf. Ibid., 68.
  11. Ibid., 122.
  12. Ibid., 70.
  13. Ibid., 72.
  14. Ibid., 73.
  15. Ibid., 75. 77-111 deals in detail with the four principle stages of development.
  16. Ibid., 134.
  17. Ibid., 114.
  18. Ibid., 115.
  19. Ibid., 116.
  20. Ibid., 117.
  21. Ibid., 120.
  22. Ibid., 131.
  23. Ibid. 126.
  24. Ibid., 127. This principle excludes all improper forms of involving children and young people. In this regard, among other things, this can include the following methods that abuse sex education: (a) every “dramatization” representation, mime or “role playing” which depict genital or erotic matters, (b) making drawings, charts or models etc. of this nature, (c) seeking personal information about sexual questions or asking that family information be divulged, (d) oral or written exams about genital or erotic questions, ibid.
  25. Ibid., 122.
  26. Ibid., 136.
  27. Ibid., 137.
  28. Ibid., 139.
  29. Ibid., 139.
  30. Ibid., 140.

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