Within the past two weeks the bishop of Nashville has come under fire for supporting his diocesan-wide high school sex education curriculum.
He apparently has taken the position that parents who wish to opt their high school children out of the program may need to opt them out of the school altogether.
According to one source, Bishop David Choby wrote to parents, “Thus, in choosing Father Ryan High School as the place to engage your son in formal education, you have agreed to observe its legitimate requirements relating to the ultimate goal of your son receiving a diploma from the school.”
The most inflammatory complaint against the sex education program I have read focuses on some of the graphics. One is a spread-eagle line drawing of a woman’s nether regions. The students are supposed to label the various parts. There is a similar “activity” which requires labeling the parts of a drawing of the male sexual organ.
This seems wrong to me. I suspect this kind of explicit material is inappropriate and scandalous.
It seems to me that the fundamental interest of a Catholic school when it comes to “sex education” is not that its students become experts in sex. Rather, it is that its students practice the virtue of chastity.
Chastity is part of the virtue of temperance. Chastity is the prudent moderation of the desire for sexual pleasure. Its aim is that a person lives the God-given gift of human sexuality according to rightly understood human nature and divine revelation.
To put education for chastity in perspective, we could look at it in the context of the usual understanding of temperance—the moderation of our desire for the pleasures of food and drink. When it comes to food, temperance is primarily aimed at us staying healthy. When it comes to alcohol, temperance aims to keep us in control of our rational faculties. Failure in either regard would be the vice of gluttony.
Now when it comes to the virtue of temperance and the vice of gluttony, our moral theology high school classes don’t have the students learning all about the digestive system. They don’t make the students label its various parts. It just teaches students what gluttony is, that we should avoid overeating and getting drunk, and when these acts become sinful. And if the school is doing a really good job, it will teach the students that self-denial is an ascetical practice that will help them now and later to avoid intemperance.
Yet, evidently this Nashville and many other “sex-ed” programs assume students need explicit exposure to the details of human reproduction.
I think this next point is well worth noting.
When a school teaches about temperance in regard to food and drink, the students are not tempted to gluttony. If the school for some strange reason demanded students learn about the digestive system and made them stare at line drawing of it and label the parts, the students would still feel no desire to go out and eat three pizzas or drink a gallon of beer.
However, when we—young person and older ones—have to look at drawings of human genitalia, many of us do have temptations to sin against the virtue of chastity. This is why I think forcing teenagers to view such explicit images and descriptions is scandalous, that is, can lead them to sin.
Knowing what things look like down there, what each thing is called, and how they respond to touch add nothing to one’s understanding of the moral law in regard to the sixth and ninth commandments.
The Church’s prime interest in the moral formation of the faithful in human sexuality is that we know what the proper acts are, when they may and should not be done, what the improper acts are, and that they should not be done.
It is Planned Parenthood that pioneered what they call comprehensive sex education. This is the approach that tries to make children and high school students veritable sexologists. I’m curious to know why we have to adopt this strategy.