Where Logic Meets Love

New & Improved Sex Ed -- Yes, with Condoms

Sunday, February 6, 2011

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New & Improved Sex Ed -- Yes, with Condoms | Faith Permeating Life
If you haven't already read about how to raise ignorant children who fear sex, go check it out.

I wanted to delve a little deeper into what I think good (and bad) sex education looks like.

First of all, it starts at home with honestly answering your kids' questions. Most 5-year-olds are not going to ask you for a step-by-step explanation of how they came to be. As I read once, a kid who asks, "Where did I come from?" may be looking for the answer "Seattle, Washington" more often than they mean "from my womb." It means teaching your kids the proper names for the parts of their bodies and not treating certain parts as embarrassing or dirty. Their whole body is holy and beautiful. It doesn't mean they have to run around naked everywhere -- there are rules about wearing clothes just like there are rules about saying "Please" and not making loud comments about other people. That's how things are done in this country, but it doesn't mean that kids have to be taught that their bodies are shameful.

I first had sex ed in school in 5th grade because that was right before most kids hit puberty. I think nowadays it may have to be a little younger than that, what with kids maturing faster. But for goodness' sake, if you are trying to prepare kids for puberty, give them some practical tips. The only thing I remember them doing was showing where a tampon went, on a big plastic model of the female anatomy, and then putting it in a glass of water to show us how it absorbs fluid. The first time I ever put a tampon in, I didn't know you had to pull the second cardboard applicator out of your body. And so I left it there. And it hurt. I also didn't know how to properly dispose of a menstrual pad. My mom, embarrassed, had to explain it to me after I did it wrong. And I never even heard of a menstrual cup (which I use now and love) until I was in college.

Teaching about menstruation doesn't necessarily mean you have to teach about intercourse at the same time, but at that age I think kids can handle the basic facts. For us, they bused us to a special center (because sex is so secretive it can't be taught by normal teachers) where they had two life-sized plastic figures, male and female, built into the wall on either side of a chalkboard or screen or something. I still remember the speaker pointing to show how semen came down the man's penis, and then walking to the other side of the board to point to it traveling up the woman's vagina into her uterus. No mention of how it got there -- did he squirt it across the room at her? Seriously, even at the "special sex center" they didn't tell us how intercourse actually happened. I only knew because my mom gave me a book on it. Leaving out so much just kind of adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the whole thing. In my opinion, you're better off teaching it like it's no big deal, it's just how you make a baby, so why do it unless you want to make a baby?

In the comments of this post someone suggested teaching NFP in 8th grade, and I think that's brilliant. I started charting several years before Mike and I got married so I could learn the process before I needed to actually put it into practice. It amazes me how so many women have no idea what their bodies are doing, especially once they go on birth control. NFP, or the Fertility Awareness Method, is an easy way to gain an understanding -- for both guys and girls -- of how women's bodies go through period of fertility and infertility. It also encourages conversation around sexual activity (rather than just doing it) and places a responsibility on both partners to understand where a woman is at in her cycle. And it makes conception a natural result of intercourse during a fertile phase rather than this crapshoot of whether or not your artificial contraception will work. And for those who, no matter what, are not going to wait for marriage to have sex, then at least they would either pick an infertile phase in which to have sex, or would understand that they were taking a risk of pregnancy regardless of artificial contraception.

Do I think artificial contraception should be taught? Yes, but I think it should be taught realistically, with discussions of pros and cons, of the effectiveness and of what the Pill does to your body. In other words, I think that all sexual decisions -- whether to be abstinent, to practice NFP, or to have sex with artificial protection -- should be informed decisions, with an understanding of how your body works and of how your decisions may affect your body. And without embarrassment or shame about how God made you.

(On a sidenote, as much as I think high schoolers should have an accurate knowledge of both sexes' body parts, some guys might not handle seeing a plastic dismembered penis so well, so maybe you should stick to using bananas. My 7th grade health teacher used Wiffle balls to represent testicles because the previous models had been a little too realistic-looking for some guys.)

Now, how we can get middle schoolers to stop having oral sex and spreading STDs around... I have no idea. I really don't think the scare technique of showing pictures of STDs does much good because people always believe things like that won't happen to them. I think maybe having an adult who got an STD as a teenager and is still dealing with it might be a more effective scare tactic -- put a face and a story to it -- but I'm not sure how many people you'd have eager to be those guest speakers. Unfortunately I think this kind of thing is just like smoking and drinking -- if your peer group does it, it's normalized, and so far we haven't discovered a really effective way to stop kids from smoking or drinking, either. Any thoughts?


  1. Another great article! Have you seen the documentary "The Education of Shelby Knox"? It's the story of a conservative Christian high school girl in Lubbock, Texas, who realized how much her classmates needed sex ed and advocated for it, with interesting results.

    My most recent sex ed opportunity with my 6-year-old was brought on by reading the Bible! He wanted to hear the story of Joseph. Turns out there is a tangent about some of Joseph's relatives, including his nephew Onan, who was supposed to impregnate his brother's widow but "spilled his semen on the ground" according to the translation we were reading.
    KID: What's semen?
    ME: It's the liquid that comes out of a grownup man's penis with the sperm cells in it. Remember I told you how a sperm from the father goes into the mother to meet the egg cell to start a baby?
    KID: Yes, but why did he spill it?
    ME: He didn't want to make a baby and not get to be the father to it. Everyone was going to act like Tamar's baby's father was Onan's dead brother. Onan didn't like his brother, so he didn't want to make a baby for him.
    KID: Okay. Go on.

    He seemed pretty calm about the whole thing, whereas I've read men's memories of ejaculating for the first time and thinking they had hurt themselves horribly--and in a way too embarrassing to ask for help!

    I love your description of the far-apart models at the sex ed center! Reminds me of my school, where the 11th grade film about STDs was selected by the school board because it used no "dirty" words. A possible symptom was described with the single word, "Dripping." The kid with a runny nose therefore got teased about having an STD, and I think everyone knew that was a joke, but I'm not sure how many understood what kind of dripping from what part of the body might indicate an STD!

    I think the most important way to prevent irresponsible oral sex is to teach kids about oral sex and that it is a form of sex with real risks. If they're only warned off intercourse, they may think oral sex is something they've discovered themselves, a handy work-around to get the fun without the risks. The same goes for anal sex, which I've read is becoming a major disease vector for "purity pledge" teens who think it's not sex.

  2. @'Becca
    You are a role model for the kind of parent I want to be. Seriously. I really admire how you calmly and honestly answer your son's questions in a way that doesn't imply that what he's asking about is weird or uncomfortable. You rock!

    I will have to check out "The Education of Shelby Knox." It sounds like something Mike would find interesting to watch with me. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Your comment about oral sex made me realize that I was assuming kids took the risk of pregnancy more seriously than the risk of getting an STD. I guess I was thinking that way because there seem to be more teen STD epidemics than, well, teen pregnancy epidemics? Haha. But that may be more a result of the likelihood of getting pregnant per one time of intercourse vs. the likelihood of getting an STD per one time of oral sex. Or something. I'll have to give that some more thought (and maybe some more research). But you make a good point, that if nothing is said about oral or anal sex, kids may not realize that it has many of the same risks as intercourse.

  3. Jessica...Thank you for the invitation you left on my blog to come and comment here. However, I'm not sure you really want me to comment. I've read this post and several others on your blog and think that we would disagree on a majority of the issues you write about. You seem to have quite a few people that enjoy your POV and so my posts would likely only draw intense fire from them. I'm not afraid of that, but I don't know if you want that happening on your blog. I don't use hate speech, something you seem to take great issue with (and you should) but the views I express on my blog and believe to be true are faithful to the Roman Catholic Church. I'm the type of guy that quotes from the Catechism, Vatican II documents, and the Church Fathers. I doubt that would be well received here.

    Yes, yes, I can see that you are Catholic, that you go to Church and that you practice NFP. However, much of what I'm seeing on your blog is not in line with Catholic theology. What I seek to do when blogging about issues such as these is to present the Church's teaching, not my own views. It is Church, not me, that has the guarantee of the Holy Spirit to be infallible on issues pertaining to faith and morals. If I presented views contrary to the Church's, I would be offering people less than the very best. Another way I look at it is, if I believe what the Church is true (in this case regarding sexuality) and offered people less than that (like condoms), then I would not be acting in love.

    I cannot in good conscience know the truth, the beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality and offer less so I can be called "realistic." We are called to conform ourselves to truth, not attempt to change the truth to our "modern" perspectives.

  4. @Christopher
    I'm surprised you would think I didn't want your opinion. The reason I blog is to be challenged--to put my views out there and have them thoughtfully responded to by people who think about the same issues. I'm disappointed to hear that you give no personal thought to these issues and instead believe only what the Church tells you to. As I've mentioned on here before, I connect with Catholicism as a mode of worshipping God and not as a way to find out what to believe. I don't believe the Church is infallible--the Church doesn't even call itself infallible, except in very specific cases of specific pronouncements made by the Pope. And I definitely don't pretend to speak on behalf of Church teaching. I believe that in a world of problems, we all have to struggle to find the most effective and loving ways to solve those problems. And that's why I enjoy when people bring their own opinions from their own life experiences to challenge things I believe about the world. I commend you for following what you believe in your heart to be the truth. I am doing the same. Jesus taught us to seek the spirit behind the law, and that is what I try to do.

  5. 1/2
    @ Jessica...I think you may be reading a bit too much into what I said. I didn't say that I didn't give any personal thought to these issues; I just said that my views are faithful to the Church. Big difference! I went to college for seven years to earn a BA and an MA in theology; I've given PLENTY of thought to a variety of issues and been challenged to see things from many different perspectives. Ultimately, what I've concluded after attending thousands of hours of classes, readings thousands of books, and writing thousands of pages worth of papers is that my [well informed] opinion doesn't matter! I could show off degrees and 4.0 GPA and say, "Hey, listen to me! I've got a couple of theology degrees and I'm really smart; let me tell you how Catholicism should look in 2011!" You know what? I bet I could get a whole lot of people to listen to me. They would listen because the soft version of the message is a lot easier to take. But, if I have been blessed with anything from my experience in academia and in ministry is the grace to recognize that the best, and I mean the VERY BEST, I could ever offer any one is the truths expressed in Catholicism. So please, don't say that I haven't thought about things; it's basically all I think about. I've just come to a point in my life, thankfully while I'm still relatively young (39 y/o) to realize that I don't have all the answers and that's okay. But, I know where I can go to find them.

    However, I don't want to come off as too enlightened; I still have plenty of issues to work out. One of them is the feelings I have towards people that think they know better than the Church. A lot of times my presentation doesn't come out too nice. I will try to present a few of my views now and not come off as a complete jerk. Let's see how I do.

    The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the Western World, tracing its roots back 2000 years and it has the promise of infallibility in matters of faith and morals given by Christ himself (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17) and yet arm chair theologians, with no training, think they know better (I considered myself an arm chair theologian too btw). That really bothers me! However, if you try to explain the amount of arrogance that takes, to think an individual's opinion is more correct than the Church, they don't get it. I ask them if they would ignore medical advice from a doctor, they say, "Of course not." Then I ask, "Well, what about listening to the Church?" They typically say, "That's different." Frankly, I don't see how. Expertise is expertise; the Church’s expertise comes with a divine promise (bonus!). It is also not helpful when professional theologians muddy up the waters with their "professional" POV that attacks the Church. Attacks from outside enemies are expected, but people subverting the Church from inside, wounding the Body of Christ, is especially egregious in my opinion.

    The other angle I've seen taken quite a bit, if people don't want to adopt a "I’m more superior than Rome" attitude, is one dressed up as humility and piety. It typically comes across as relativism and sounds something like this: "You know, we are all just on this journey through life together, trying to figure out what it all means, so get to the end by any means necessary." I reject that sort of thinking because it tends to deny any kind of objective truth and our possibility to know it. Yes, the Church teaches us to follow the dictates of our conscience (CCC 1782) but our conscience is to be informed by reason and natural law (CCC 1783-1794), not personal opinions or fads of times.
    For example, the fad right now is gay marriage (you talk about this a lot on your blog). I think there will likely be a federal law that supports that soon, but then what? What will be the next group that comes along and demands a right be created for them?


  6. 2/2

    Right now, homosexuals are decrying the injustice of "sexism," but what happens when polygamists decry the injustice of "twoism?" Will we have to change the laws again? I'm not saying it will absolutely happen that way (i.e. slippery slope) but there will be no reason to deny polygamists once we have proven that we can redefine marriage into anything we want.
    Sadly, Christianity provides the best example of this happening. Once Martin Luther showed that breaking away from Rome was possible, with no apparent ill effect (no fire fell from heaven), then others began to do it as well. They even broke away from Luther. The result? We have 20,000+ Protestant denominations now. It didn't have to happen that way, but it did. Mankind is always interested in pursuing their own way in the face of divine instructions to the contrary.

    I know you don't speak on behalf of the Church's teaching; that was obvious to me after reading a few posts. So you publish a blog that is filled with your opinions. In one sense that is great because that is what blogging is all about. On the other hand, you appear (at least this is my take) to mix in enough Catholicism to confuse the issues. Ultimately, I think that that is more harmful than helpful. It is kind of like recommending condoms after articulating the benefits of abstinence; the two messages are not consistent with one another and a person just ends up confused. I'm not saying you are mean spirited; I certainly don't think that at all. I just think your blog comes off as just another thumb in the eye of the Church. That basically, you think you know better. You say as much in one of your posts when you write, "I believe the Catholic Church will get its act together on the gay marriage issue eventually, even if it takes 100 years or so." So according to you, you know that Church needs to “get its act together,” they just haven't realized it yet. Of course, you may think my blog is just another mouth piece for an archaic institution that is losing relevance every minute by not modernizing its teachings on birth control, abortion, gay marriage, etc. I'll accept that. I'd rather like to be on the side of something that didn't feel the need to cave in to popular opinion. It feels more like I’m standing for something.

    Finally, infallibility in the Church is not limited to "very specific cases of specific pronouncements made by the Pope." While your statement is not totally incorrect, the definition and understanding of infallibility is much broader and has different levels (referred to as "organs of infallibility" in theological writings). The first organ is the Pope speaking along (ex cathedra) and the second are Ecumenical Councils; these two things combined are referred to as magisterium solemne. The third organ through which infallibility is exercised is through the bishops throughout the world in union with the Bishop of Rome (i.e. Pope). They exercise what is known as ordinarium magisterium (i.e. everyday teaching authority).

    A final word...I'm not here to pick fights. You asked my opinion; I gave it (a small bit of it at least on a variety of topics). The written word lacks the ability to convey voice inflection and facial features that are crucial in true communication. My written words are often interpreted as an attack by people when they are not. It happens a lot actually because, as I said earlier, I quote a lot of Church documents and hold them up in contrast to other people's words or to refine their understanding of an important theological point. I also write a lot so people feel like they have been hit with a ton of bricks because I just tossed 1,400 words at them. Their reaction is exactly what mine would be, retreat a bit, adopt a defensive posture, and prepare for counter-attack. I may likely disagree with you on many things, but I am not attacking you.

  7. @Christopher
    I appreciate your willingness to engage in respectful disagreement--exactly the reason I invited you to comment on my blog :) It seems that, while you have given a lot of thought to things, you have ultimately decided that the Church knows best on all things and so it doesn't seem, unfortunately, that I'll find too many novel perspectives from your corner. I respect you very much for being able to hand yourself over so completely to one human (albeit God-given) authority; I clearly have not made that choice, but can respect it nonetheless.

    I don't think that the Church needs to "modernize its teachings." When Church teaching changes, it's generally not because Church leaders decided, "Oh, we need to be more modern." It's because they said, "Oh crap, we're really wrong about this." I mean, even Jesus changed his mind (Matthew 15:21-28) when he realized that his culture's teachings about Gentiles were prejudiced and wrong. The Pope changed his view on condoms--not completely, but in a way that made sense given the realities of our world when he realized that there were real, detrimental effects to forbidding them in all circumstances everywhere. The Church was actually ahead of the curve on denouncing slavery, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of debate among Church leaders before that happened. And yes, I believe that the Church will eventually change its position on gay marriage, not to be "modern," but because it will become evident through a changed culture that being against it is simply discriminatory. (For what it's worth, here's an in-depth look at what the Bible says about homosexuality: http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-gay-christian. I'm guessing it won't affect your thoughts on the matter, though, since you won't change your mind until the Church does.)

    I have to say, I don't think you're giving my readers (or my writing) an awful lot of credit to say people are going to be confused if my opinion is partially informed by my Catholic background but doesn't agree 100% with all of Catholic teaching. What bothers and confuses me is when people claim that their beliefs are all in line with the Catholic Church, and then they vote against all the things that are in line with Catholic social justice teaching. Or people who say they're pro-life but champion the death penalty. I try to make it clear up front that I'm not a mouthpiece of the Church, but that I do take a lot of inspiration from those teachings that make sense to me given what I know about (1) what the Bible says and (2) how the world works. And then I invite challenge from people who have a better understanding of the Bible than I do and/or who have different life experiences that challenge my beliefs.

    I, too, realize I don't have the answers. Unlike you, I blog not to share the truth but to seek it through rational conversation. I don't think that the Church has all the answers. It never has, although Church leadership likes to pretend to, which is why they can be really slow to change their minds. (To use a really blatant example: Galileo.)

    I am following the dictates of my conscience not because of fads but because of reason, and I blog because I don't want my beliefs to be informed by my opinion alone.

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by and share your beliefs. I always enjoy gaining new perspectives, and yours is no exception.

  8. Well, if you enjoy my perspective, hopefully you won't mind if I comment just a bit more on your most recent response to me as well as seek clarification from you on a few points. I promise it will be much shorter. ;)

    I respect you very much for being able to hand yourself over so completely to one human (albeit God-given) authority

    So what is the source of the Church's authority: human or God-given? I'm confused by your application of both. If we agree that it is God-given, then why would anyone want to go against that? Seems like a losing proposition.

    When Church teaching changes, it's generally not because Church leaders decided, "Oh, we need to be more modern." It's because they said, "Oh crap, we're really wrong about this."

    Have you ever heard of aggiornamento? It means "bringing things up to date;" it was the reason behind the Vatican II Council. It is not translated, "Oh crap, we're really wrong."

    The Pope changed his view on condoms--not completely, but in a way that made sense given the realities of our world...

    The Pope didn't change anything! Man, why is that idea still floating around? Oh, I know why. Blogs! The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement to clear this up for everyone; it states: "The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. In reality, the words of the Pope – which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behaviour, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119) – do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church." This is what I meant earlier by spreading misinformation. Even if your decision is to blog contra the Church's position on things, at least know what the Church's position is. To do that, you must read Church documents, not people's opinions about Church documents - not even mine :)

    Thanks for the link on the bible and homosexuality; I just have one question: Why should I think that Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce, is an authority? Why would I pick that guy's opinion over the 2000 year old Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ? Am I supposed to say, borrowing some of your lingo, "Oh crap! Mel White said so? The Mel White? Well, that's good enough for me!" The only reason I would do that is if his teachings confirmed what I already believed. In theology, that is called "proof-texting:" finding the scripture or theologian that best matches your POV. Unfortunately this process does not leave a person open to being changed by the Word because POV's are established and then scripture "found" to support it. Conveniently, people always think scripture supports their position. This all seems rather strange to me given your obvious concern for "change."

    Unlike you, I blog not to share the truth but to seek it through rational conversation.

    Huh? You seek through rational conversation that which you do not want to blog about?!? I'm sorry, you lost me there. And why would you not want to share truth? What a gift you could be giving to people that are in such need of it.

  9. @Christopher

    So what is the source of the Church's authority: human or God-given?

    The authority to lead is God-given. The leaders themselves are human, and thus, fallible. To me, it's the same as how Catholics don't view the Bible the same way fundamentalists do--I was always taught that the Bible was inspired by God, but written by man, and thus has to be considered in its historical context. Same thing with the Church--it's not like it's fake, but it's not perfect either.

    Now I'm confused--you seem to disagree with anyone who thinks the Church should be more "modern" (which I don't--I think it should be less stubborn when it's wrong), and yet you agree with the Church when it wants to "bring things up to date"? So admitting that their defense of the geocentric model as the only Biblical truth was not admitting they were wrong, it was just "bringing things up to date"?

    Even if your decision is to blog contra the Church's position on things, at least know what the Church's position is. To do that, you must read Church documents, not people's opinions about Church documents - not even mine :)

    I'm guessing you didn't see that in the post where I talk about this, I link directly to the Church document in question. And nowhere did I say that the pope said "it is somehow legitimate...to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy." The Church clearly teaches that all sexual acts should be oriented toward procreation. And yet the Church previously said that condoms should not be part of the fight against AIDS, and now Pope Benedict has said that using them to prevent the spread of AIDS is a lesser evil than spreading AIDS. How is that not a change in position? My point is simply that the Church does change its position sometimes, when there is a good, logical reason for doing so. And so there's no reason to think it's impossible that it will change again in the future.

    Why should I think that Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce, is an authority?

    I think this pretty much encapsulates the difference between our opinions. I don't look to "authority" as my sole source of truth. I don't really care who Mel White is, I just care that someone took the time to do a very in-depth study of the Bible in historical context and explain it in a clear and rational way. That is what I mean by seeking truth through rational conversation. As you said yourself, "Conveniently, people always think scripture supports their position." There are so many Christians who don't know any gay people, who think homosexuality is weird or gross because it's unfamiliar to them, and so they go around quoting Leviticus and have no interest in investigating that verse or others in its root language or discussing it in a historical context. So I share that link not so much to bolster my own views, but to challenge those who have been told, "This is what the Bible says" and have no interest in investigating it for themselves.

    As I said when I posted the link, I didn't expect it to change your mind, for that reason--you decide what is truth based on what the authority that you've chosen tells you is truth.

    why would you not want to share truth?

    Because I don't pretend to have all the answers or know anyone who does. I blog not from the perspective of knowing everything and sharing it with the world, but of seeking God. Everywhere and always, in the big and small parts of life. I seek truth in that I seek God, and I don't put my complete and absolute trust in what any human says, no matter what. It is possible to find "seeds of truth" in many different places, and that is what I'm looking for.

  10. A few follow-up comments:
    I went back and checked and I didn't actually link to Pope Benedict's book, which probably would have been the most accurate thing to do. And I do appreciate being corrected if I misinterpret things. Another reason that a) I invite feedback and b) that I don't pretend to have all the answers. I ask a lot of questions.

    Also, I thought maybe a better example of a human with God-given authority would be David. Clearly chosen by God to be king, clearly not perfect.

    I should clarify as well that when I said "I share this link..." I wasn't referring to posting it in these comments, but to when I've posted it on my blog previously and when I've shared it with the abovementioned people who like to throw Bible verses at me because it conveniently supports their views. I have yet to have someone do an equally in-depth explanation to Mel White's about how the Bible doesn't say what he says it does.

    Just wanted to clear that up. I will probably leave off here, so feel free to have the final word.


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