|When the Council Fathers asserted, at Vatican II, that children should
be given prudent sex education and that this education ought to be given
in the heart of the family, they said nothing new, but reaffirmed the
consistent teaching of the Church. Pope Pius XI has said the same thing
in the encyclical, The Education of the Redeemed Man, in
December, 1921; and a decree of the Holy Office on March 21, 1931, said
that "no approbation whatever can be given" to group sex
education, and that precautions must be taken to see that young people
avoid all occasions of sin.
Pope Pius XII, in an address on September 23, 1951, insisted that
only parents should give sex education, and on April 13, 1953, he
reaffirmed the decree of 1931. In an encyclical, Sacra Virginitas,
he condemned immodest sex education, and again in an address to families
he urged them to fight the writings which were even then flooding the
world concerning "sex initiation," and exaggerating the
importance of sex.
Pope Paul VI, in an address on September 13, 1972, classed sex
education along with erotic literature and pornography as one of the
evils of the day.
Despite this wise stand on the part of the Church, some Catholic
schools have followed the example of public schools or have bowed to
liberal pressure and have put in sex education programs; and some
Bishops have been persuaded to permit, and even to recommend, sex
education in classrooms.
This is probably due, on the part of the Bishops, to a
misunderstanding of what is meant by sex education. The Bishops probably
envision instruction in morals as pertaining to sexual matters. This is
of course badly needed — but it is not at all what is
encompassed in the sex education programs which proliferate today under
various names, e.g., family life education, hygiene, personality
development. These programs are based on a philosophy of humanism. Their
proponents frankly state that they are not intended to teach morals.
Many psychologists and psychiatrists have spoken out vigorously
against sex education in schools, pointing out its deleterious effect on
children. A few of those who have opposed it are Dr. Rhoda Lorand,
psychotherapist; Dr. John Meeks, Director of Child and Adolescent
Services at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington; Dr. Myre Sim,
Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa; Dr. Charles Sarnoff,
Chief of Child Psychiatry at the Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn; Dr.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist; Dr. Louise Eickoff, psychiatrist; Dr. Val
Davajan, professor at U.C.L.A. Medical School. They have declared that
sex instruction of children in the classroom or in groups is
dehumanizing and leads to neurosis. Dr. Eickhoff notes a correlation
between emotionally disturbed children and those who have been exposed
to sex education, and Dr. Davajan states; "I am convinced that
those who have planned and are presently promoting this national sex
education program have a very definite goal ... to degrade and denigrate
the mentality of an entire generation of American children."
Bishops who countenance sex education in schools quite probably tell
themselves that if the instruction is given under Catholic auspices, it
will be given "the right way." But there is no right way to
give explicit sex instruction to children who are mentally and
emotionally unready for it. There is no right way to give information in
groups that should be given privately. There is no right way for an
outsider to assume a role which belongs particularly to the parents.
The Bishops, in all probability, would be embarrassed if they
themselves were exposed to the type of sex education that is given
children in many classrooms today, and would dislike reading some of the
material. Much of the material in use is explicit and sensual, and in
some cases borders on pornography. These sex education programs which
run from the first grade through high school certainly foster
preoccupation with sex.
The things that have followed the introduction of sex education in
schools should dismay any thoughtful person. Sweden was a pioneer in
this field. The programs were followed by what was termed "sexual
hysteria," with a catastrophic increase in venereal disease, a
great increase in promiscuity and an increase in the number of teenage
pregnancies. Precisely the same pattern has been observed in the United
States in areas where sex education has been introduced in schools.
The reason for this should be very easy to see. When students learn,
for example, arithmetic, it is taken for granted that they can put what
they learn into practice and can do simple things with their knowledge
like handling a small allowance or going to the store and bringing back
the right change. It cannot but appear to the students, when they are
given detailed and exact information about sex, that they are regarded
as ready to make use of this information. Add to this the fact that the
teaching is, of its very nature, emotionally stirring and provocative,
and you have an explosive situation.
Modesty and reticence are guardians of chastity. When these are
broken down, through casual discussion in groups of what should be
intimate, personal matters, the child loses his strongest defense
When bishops have countenanced sex education in schools, it is clear
that they intended an education based on morality, and aimed at forming,
in the young, the virtues of modesty and chastity. In the Basic
Teachings, the bishops said: "In a sex saturated society, the
follower of Christ must be different. For the Christian, there can be no
premarital sex, fornication, adultery, or other acts of impurity or
scandal to others. He must remain chaste, repelling lustful desires and
temptations, self-abuse, pornography, and indecent entertainment of
every description... The follower of Christ must be pure in words and
actions even in the midst of corruption."
These things should be taught to young people in every Catholic
school. But what we have in many schools is something altogether
different. We have courses which reflect the obsession with sex that has
permeated secular society.
We have learned that some sex education courses, some of them in the
name of religion or theology, are given to young people with the
admonition that they are not to take any of the printed material home
with them, or even to discuss the subject matter with their parents. In
programs we have seen which were given with this admonition, nothing at
all is left to the imagination. Intimate parts of the body and their
sexual functions are described in minute detail. Every aspect of sex is
explored, and the most explicit descriptions of deviant and aberrant
behavior are included. All types of contraceptives are described and
their use explained in detail. One course we have seen provides students
with the vulgar words for sexual functions or parts of the body, and
gives a full explanation of each one.
It would be difficult to claim that the purpose of these programs is
to teach morality, in view of their explicitness, their amoral manner of
representation, and their use of crude language. In fact, in the
programs of which we speak, there is no mention of the morality or
immorality of any particular action. In at least one of them, Humanae
Vitae is described as presenting a papal position which "is not
of the faith nor is it infallible," and the student is told that
"after much thought and responsible consideration each person must
follow his/her own educated conscience in this matter."
It is apparently assumed, by those who prepare these programs, that
young people are going to engage in premarital sexual activity. This
attitude, in itself, is psychologically devastating. A Christian society
should expect its young people to be moral, and a Catholic school
should be particularly positive in expecting this, and positive in its
teaching of virtue. These programs are quite the opposite. They give the
young person an ugly and not at all Christian view of sex, the material,
by its very nature, will inevitably produce unchaste thoughts, and this
may readily lead to immoral actions. While they are particularly bad for
the young, these programs would not be good for people of any age, for
they include information that no moral person needs. St. Paul tells us
that immorality, obscenity, and uncleanness should "not even be
mentioned" among Christians.
Proponents of sex education presumably believe in frankness and in
factuality. But these are important facts we have not found in any of
the sex education programs we have read:
1. that fornication and adultery are serious sins; that indeed any
use of one's sexual powers outside marriage is seriously sinful;
2. that unchastity inevitably has sad emotional and psychological
repercussions which are unknown to the person who lives a chaste life;
3. that illicit sexual activity can result in incurable diseases
which will torment the victim for all the rest of his life;
4. that there is NO certain way of avoiding venereal disease and
unwanted pregnancy other than the practice of continence.
Some of the courses we have seen are worse than others, but they are
all destructive of reticence and modesty. Some of them are prone to
vulgarity and all of them infringe on the student's privacy.
None of the programs we have seen teach young people the most
essential facts — e.g. that fornication and adultery are
mortal sins; that committing these sins just once may result in
acquiring an incurable disease that will be with the person for life, or
in an unwanted pregnancy. There is hardly anything a teenager could need
to know that would be of more importance to his present and future life.
One omission is all reference to life-long celibacy and continence.
The authors seem to assume that the unmarried priesthood is due to end,
or they would refer to the fact that some people, if they have vocations
to the priesthood or to religious life, will never marry and are
therefore bound to continence. Or, if they have vocations to single life
in the world.
These sex education programs disregard Pope Paul's call, In Humanae
Vitae, for the fostering of an atmosphere favorable to chastity.
None of these we have seen are favorable to chastity. The preoccupation
with sex that they foster is neither normal nor desirable. The increase
in teenage promiscuity, pregnancy, and venereal disease since the
introduction of sex education in schools bears testimony to that fact.
Pope John Paul II has recently issued an Apostolic Exhortation on the
Role of the Christian Family (in 1981). He insists that the right
and duty of parents to give education is essential, original and
primary, "and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore
incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by
others." Sex education, Pope John Paul says, is "a basic right
and duty of parents" and must always be carried out under their
guidance, whether at home or in education centers controlled by them.
Education for chastity, he says, is absolutely essential.
We urge all parents to investigate their children's religion
programs, as well as any sex education programs or "family life
programs" that may be used in their schools. Know precisely what
your children are being taught in every area. Insist on your right to
know. Explain to your children that when anyone tells them not to tell
their parents about something, this is a clear sign that something is
wrong, and they should tell their parents at once.
If, upon investigation, you find objectionable programs in your
schools, talk with other parents and go in groups to protest to the
school authorities, and if necessary, to your Bishop. Be prepared for
"put-downs" from those who are defenders of the programs, such
as: "You are not qualified to judge the appropriateness of the
material because you are not professionals." Or, to quote another
statement that has actually been made: "Children need this
information so desperately that it must be given in spite of parental
disapproval and even without parental knowledge or consent."
Do not be put off by these or similar answers. Parents are the first
educators of their children. This is a principle that the Church has
always upheld, and it is reaffirmed very clearly and firmly by Vatican
II. Parents must insist on respect for their rights and authority.
The above is chapter XI of
On Teaching the Faith,
by Thomas P. Dolan, 1984.
This book is available from
The Institute on Religious Life
P.O. Box 41007
Chicago, IL 60641.