Despite seemingly endless debates and legislation on sex education, teenage pregnancy rates and the spread of STDs doesn’t seem to be getting any better. As a society, this is causing us to completely freak out about the future of the individual lives of these students as well as the future of our society as a whole – something must be done and it must be done now.
Now, I’m not going to argue that the problem isn’t urgent. It is. However, essentially panicking in a way not dissimilar to if our child was running out into traffic isn’t helping us to adequately address this problem. We have to stop and really consider how we need to talk about this topic. What we’re doing now isn’t working, and for good reason.
We grossly underestimate teenagers. We underestimate their capacity to understand what love is and to act on it. If you’re wondering why this has anything to do with sex education, then you’ve touched on the very disconnect that is feeding our society’s understanding of sex. And that’s the same disconnect being handed to adolescents.
We are all made in the image and likeness of God. We see this in part through our capacity to reason and our free will. Both of these aspects are essential to a life of chastity. And yes, teenagers also have this ability. Are we helping them to form it?
Having been made in the image and likeness of God means that we have been made by Love for love. Is there any deeper desire of the human heart? How are we helping teenagers to cultivate this desire, to learn to love the way that God loves, passionately and selflessly?
Sex is a gift from God, an extraordinary expression of passionate, self-giving love. I think that we inherently know its greatness. So much so that we fear we will never be able to love in such an all-encompassing way, so instead we debase sex to only its biological function and pleasure, rather than elevate it to the total expression of love that it is meant to be. And then we encourage teenagers to do the same.
But what do we really want for teenagers? Blessed John Paul II said that, “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love” (Love and Responsibility). Who are we to deny anyone the chance at true love? I believe this is exactly what we do when we offer nothing but the statistical data on STDs and then implore students to either be abstinent or practice “safe” sex. It is far better to prepare teenagers for the most extraordinary adventure of their lives, that begins with a radical, complete, nothing held back gift of self through marriage or celibacy for the Kingdom.
Thrive!, a new ministry of the Diocese of Austin and partnering organization, aims to do exactly that, and we’re starting with those who have the greatest impact on the formation of teenagers, their parents and other adults who work with them every day. To learn more, visit www.thrivetexas.org, www.facebook.com/thrivetexas and join us for our Adult Education Nights on September 4 and 5. See you there!