The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality

This pamphlet is a summary of the material presented in the Church's document on teaching about love and sexuality to children as they grow toward adulthood. Reading the entire document is strongly recommended, and will enable parents to guide their children in the ways of love and chastity.

Thesis: Parents have the right and duty to teach, in the light of Gospel truth, the nature, the demands and the responsibilities of human sexuality to their children, in accord with the age and personal development of their children.

The Situation and the Problem

Of all the tasks that parents face in their role as educators, one that stands out is the obligation to teach their children the true meaning of human sexuality. Parents have need of guidance from the Church since it is their obligation and right to teach in this delicate area of chastity which is the "spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it toward its full realization." Parents must have confidence that they are not only the cooperators of God's creative power in bringing their children to life. They are also the best equipped to share in His care of their children in their growth, both natural and in the faith.

Called to True Love

As the image of God, man is created for love. Love, the ability to give of self, is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being, persons made and redeemed by God, Whose love was made known in Christ. Love is incarnated in the body, and expressed by one's sexuality. Sexuality, which characterizes man and woman physically, psychologically, and spiritually, is the human persons way of relating and being open to others. It has love as its intrinsic end. This love is a gift from God, for the married and for those called to consecrated life. Such love in marriage includes and surpasses friendship, especially in the couple's openness to life. Every new life is "a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother."

True Love and Chastity

Chastity, required for the proper development of the vocation to love, frees the person from selfishness, enables him to master himself, and thus makes him capable of the self-giving necessary in true love. It matures the person, gives inner peace, and helps develop true self-respect, while making one capable of respecting others. Sometimes, heroic acts of virtue are necessary, for the married and the celibate, but God's grace is never lacking.

The most valid premise for educating children in chastity is the living of conjugal chastity by the parents, who must base their chastity on their love for God. "[A]ny attack on the virtue and chastity of their children [is] an offense against the life of faith itself that threatens and impoverishes [the parents'] own communion of life and grace."

There are three goals to be sought in the education of one's children in love and chastity: (a) to maintain in the family a positive atmosphere of love, virtue and respect for the gifts of God; (b) to help children understand the value of sexuality and chastity in stages; (c) to help them understand and discover their own vocation to marriage or to consecrated virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The Principle of Subsidiarity, which allows situations to be dealt with at the lowest possible level, must govern the education of children. Parents are primary and must never be replaced as the first teachers of their children. Other bodies or organiza-tions may only assist parents, and never take their place, especially in the area of education in sexuality.

In the Light of Vocation

All are called to holiness, through a vocation to marriage or to virginity or celibacy. The vocation to marriage is a call to love; in marriage, this love is fully human, total, faithful and fruitful. Parents will educate their children in the truth about sexuality by themselves living and teaching the unity of the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act. Love cannot be separated from life, and true self-giving. Where chastity is fostered, as the proper living out of one's sexuality, vocations to consecrated virginity or celibacy will grow and mature.

Father and Mother As Educators

"The right and duty of parents to give education is essential,. . .original and primary,. . . irreplaceable and inalienable." This right to teach their children is especially true of education in matters of sexuality. "No one is capable of giving moral education in this delicate area better than duly prepared parents." Parents would fail in their duty if they did nothing or if they tolerated immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children. Their task is difficult in the contemporary climate, yet the Church encourages parents to have confidence in their capabilities.

Paths of Formation Within the Family

"The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of charity, temperance, fortitude and chastity." Parents should demand support from the state, which is at the service of families. Parents are to see to their children's growth in virtue. Basic virtues are learned at home: decency and modesty, legitimate privacy, and self-control. Parents are to be models for their children, and are to foster their family as a sanctuary of life and faith.

Learning Stages

There are four principles to be followed regarding information about sexuality: 1.) Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individual formation. 2.) The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Information about sexuality without moral guidance is an offense against the child's dignity. 3.) Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must be provided in the broadest context of education for love, and not consist merely in teaching about biological factors. 4.) Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time. In teaching their children, parents must take into consideration the stages of development: the years of innocence, when questions of a sexual nature are not of interest to such children; puberty, as children become more aware of their own sexuality; adolescence in one's plan of life, as the maturing process rapidly leads to adulthood; and toward adulthood, when children begin to consider more seriously their choice of a state in life.Each stage of growth has its own appropriate information and moral guidance associated with it.

Practical guidelines

Parents, aware of their right and duty in this area, should associate with other parents; be informed on the content and methodology of supplementary education; be allowed to attend classes; be free to remove their children from improper instruction. Educators must not interfere with these principles. The sacred mystery of human sexuality must be presented according to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church. Only information proportionate to a child's phase of development should be presented. No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children of any age. No one should ever be pressured into acting against modesty.

The best method is the personal dialogue between parents and their children. Parents must communicate with their children. Others may assist in the moral education of children, but always with the awareness and consent of the parents. Secularist, anti-natalist methods must be avoided. Methods that introduce graphic material to the young must be rejected.

Above all, parents are to be made aware both of their right, their duty, and their competence to teach their children the truth about human sexuality, in a spirit of faith, and with reliance on the grace of God and the support of the Church. To all parents, as they seek to lead their children along the path of true love, the Church pledges her support and encouragement. Know that God is with you as you seek to fulfill the role He has lovingly entrusted to you, for your own growth in love, and for the sake of the children He has created to share in His life forever.

Rev. Lawrence M. Violette Diocese of Arlington

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