Beauty Should a Catholic be afraid of sex education?

Should a Catholic be afraid of sex education?

Attitudes towards sex education are not part of the canon of things that believers should be completely united about. Therefore, there are many differences among Catholics in this regard, partly due to their own experiences. They also exist among priests.

This question should be answered briefly and decisively: no. However, it is no longer so obvious, given that the discussions on the aims of sexual education that have been taking place since the beginning of the 1990s have not contributed to finding solutions that meet the needs of children and young people and at the same time are acceptable to all significant circles interested in this issue.

This is probably partly due to the fact that we cannot talk about sexuality. The reason for this can be found in the times of the People's Republic of Poland, when this topic was reduced to the issue of sex, talking about it rubbishly, primitively or with shame. We missed the moral revolution which in the 1960s overwhelmed Western Europe and the United States and which to some extent broke this social taboo. Its echo reached the Vistula only in the late 1970s thanks to Michalina Wisłocka and her Art of Loving. For the generation of parents of today's 30- and 40-year-olds it is far too late for them to learn to talk to their own children about their sexuality. Very often we are now dealing with the duplication of patterns taken from our own homes: the topic usually comes up when it is too late to do so. Our language does not make things any easier either. There are few nice and handy terms referring to genitals or sexual behaviour. The numerous guides, workshops and educational programmes for parents are only a small part of the situation today.

Also in the Church this topic did not exist for a long time. This has changed to a small extent mainly in the sphere of reflection due to the the theology of John Paul II's body, which allowed us to look at human sexuality as an area of relations with someone close, and not as a sinful compulsion. Although it is still a virtually absent topic, a lot is said in Poland about issues related to procreation: abortion, in vitro, contraception. For many years, these topics have been at the forefront of the problems raised in social-political debates. This is not only due to politicians and public opinion circles. The key role is also played by believers: both priests and laymen. Although the latter quite often differ in their approach to the sexual sphere from the official teaching of bishops, as shown by the results of research carried out by secular and ecclesiastical institutions, they usually speak with the same voice as priests when it comes to education. They also stress that this sensitive subject should be addressed with caution, for fear that knowledge could encourage young people to have intimate contacts.

Probably most parents try to protect their children from unsuccessful relationships, and especially from starting life too early. However, it is difficult to imagine that a young person will understand the advantages of restraint and, despite pressure from colleagues, will consciously give up early sexual initiation if he or she does not have the knowledge to understand his or her emotions, sensations and sexual nature and to look at his or her own experiences from a wider developmental perspective. The question must also be asked whether it is right to deprive young people of access to reliable information at a time when more and more of them, regardless of their parents' beliefs, decide to have some form of sexual relations, without having any elementary knowledge on the subject or drawing it from sources that are unreliable and even harmful to their development.

Sex education or sex education?

Sexual education or education to live according to certain values? This is the shortest way to characterize the dispute that has been going on in Poland for almost a quarter of a century. Looking at it from the side one can have an impression that - if we take into account only its substantive layer - it is largely apparent. Very often, education is identified with permissiveness, opposing its upbringing, which is fed primarily by values. However, even if we identify the former with passing on certain knowledge about human sexuality, and treat the latter as a process of introducing man into the world of values, such areas will not only not be mutually exclusive, but will even complement each other. Even if we agree with the already mentioned fears that information may not always be used properly, it will still be better than ignorance. In the long run, this necessarily leads to an immeasurably greater loss: it does not give people a chance to make decisions for which they can take responsibility.
Sex education is a complex field, covering at least several dimensions, and it is a great simplification to bring it down to the level of technical instruction on how to properly put a condom on a banana to refer to the favourite example of its opponents. This is primarily due to the nature of the object itself, which is human sexuality, and not - as some people misrepresent - sex. In many of the comments that appear on Catholic parents' websites, the same argument is still repeated: "I don't want anyone to teach my child about sex."

Indeed, this way of understanding education can be a legitimate concern for adults, especially if they find out that supporters of education postulate starting it at the preschool stage. In front of the eyes of the concerned guardians there are images of preschoolers to whom some instructor tells about the penis, or - children in junior high school who are initiated into the details of love positions.
However, the word "sexuality" is not the same as the word sex. The sexual act is only one, not the only, or even not always the most important of its manifestations. We are sexual beings to the same extent that we are carnal, mortal and capable of doing evil and good. Even the holy virgins or celibates, who have been chaste until the last days of their lives, were similar to us in this respect. It seems, therefore, that without understanding how this trait affects our lives, determines our desires, determines our choices, and finally, how it sometimes limits us, it is difficult to reach true maturity. Being a free and conscious person is not, I believe, an ideal that only Catholics aspire to. Therefore, it seems that in the most fundamental sense, the assumptions of sex education are acceptable to people representing very different world views.

Of course, one has to be aware that it is precisely this difference of views that often becomes an object of dispute about the shape of this type of teaching, the status of the subject, its form, the concrete content conveyed in it. However, looking at the matter from this point of view, we face a bigger problem than the issue of sex education itself. For we are faced with the question of the educational role of schools, the extent to which they should undertake tasks that are naturally the responsibility of parents, and the extent to which the curriculum should take into account the fact that students, like their closest ones, represent different world views, profess different religions, and have an individual attitude to the importance of physical love in human life. For today it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that the social consensus about the concept of the family, the vision of sexual relationships, and even gender, is crumbling and even (at least in some areas) no longer exists. How can we talk about this at school? How to present the knowledge about hormonal contraception when we can often encounter contradictory information about its advantages and disadvantages? What experiences should we refer to when talking about the family, if more and more children are brought up in an incomplete model, in which Mom or Dad creates another, often impermanent relationship?

Educational institutions should, I think, support the upbringing of young people, especially in those areas where parents for some reason do not do their job well, or do not do it at all. Catholics who want to integrate their knowledge of sexuality from school into the context of an interpretation in the light of faith should be aware that this task is primarily for them. They certainly should not expect the school to do this for them. Of course, nothing stands in the way of religious lessons. Perhaps it is worth considering the extent to which the core curriculum of these two subjects could be related.

The problems that we face when trying to determine the specific shape of the content provided within the framework of sex education are often the same as those that we are undertaking today in the Polish social debate. These include family definition, contraception, abortion, homosexuality. However, even if we take these problems very seriously, reducing teaching only to them is a big simplification. Its scope and importance is much broader. Sexuality is expressed both in the dimension of individual life, relations with another person, as well as in the broader social, political and, for some, religious aspect. Therefore, this subject includes both biological education (including knowledge of anatomy, fertility of women and men, pregnancy, the course of human biological development), pro-health education (concerning, for example, today's important prophylaxis or knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases) or equality education (related, among others, to the issue of sexuality and sexuality).The most difficult topics are: sexual violence, pornography, prostitution and pimping. However, the most important issue which shows the complexity of this subject is the fact that intimate relationships are one of the dimensions of building closeness with another person. As such, they have an axiological dimension. More:

What does the Church say about it?

It is worth mentioning here what Catholics in Poland are often unaware of. The declaration on Christian education Gravissimum educationis announced during the Second Vatican Council clearly emphasizes that: "They [i.e. children and young people - editorial note] should also receive a positive and prudent sexual education adapted to their age". Since the people of the Church have already seen the need to make efforts in this regard fifty years ago, today, when sexuality is playing an immeasurably greater role in modern culture than it used to be and when it has become much more problematic, appropriate teaching is particularly important and urgent. The aim of the educational process, as the same declaration states, is to help "to acquire progressively an increasingly perfect sense of responsibility for the proper shaping of one's life through constant effort and in achieving true freedom". However, free and responsible decisions can only be made by a person who understands himself, the world around him and the complexity of interpersonal and sexual relationships.

Therefore, the fears of those who stress that narrowing such an extensive topic to sex, and this to the level of love positions, leads to trivialization and flattening of the depth of the issue, are justified. On the other hand, these simplifications seem to be a consequence of a much deeper crisis in the understanding of the foundations of our existence. Pathologies affecting the intimate sphere: violence, vulgarization, superficiality and instability of feelings are unfortunately one of the manifestations of the crisis in interpersonal relations, and especially in close relationships. In this sense, those who stress that education should primarily focus on showing the world of values without which it is impossible to understand the meaning of human life are right. It seems, however, that although sex education also refers to this world in its fundamental foundations, its main aim is not to talk about values but to convey knowledge about the various dimensions of sexuality. Yes, the use that people make of this information depends to a large extent on their attitude to life and how they are rooted in the world of values. More:

Attitude to sex education is not a canon of things that believers need to be completely united about. Therefore, there are many differences among Catholics in this regard, partly due to their own experiences. They also exist among priests. Some of them speak directly about the need to introduce education in schools in a broader sense, including the provision of information on contraception. Others consider that the only right answer to the problems of young people is to promote sexual abstinence among them. It is certainly worthwhile to calmly bend over the arguments of both, taking into account, as far as possible, the fact that they are sometimes formulated in an extremely emotional way. Certainly any form of education which is not based on moral permissiveness and takes into account the fact that the sphere of sexual relations is built on the same values on which human relations are built, that is, freedom, responsibility, respect for the dignity of another human being, tolerance and, above all, when they concern people close to one another, love, is better than the absence of love. Even the one that is most far removed from the ideal encourages the extraction of sensitive and, for this reason, often sensitive subjects from the darkness of the shameful, immature, and ultimately contributes to ridiculing the subconscious and allows them to be looked at in a serious and dignified way already in the area of conscious reflection.