No matter what sort of school your children are in, it’s primarily the parents’ responsibility to shape and guide a child’s attitude toward sex.
Here are the basic ideas which should be included in sexuality education. There is so much here that one thing is clear: there is no such thing as The Talk, singular. There must be many, many talks! Also please note, I have not covered all of these things sufficiently with my own children — but I’m trying.
We are made to love and to be loved. This is what we are for. We are designed with a desire to show love for other people and to seek love for ourselves. This is not dirty; we are not dirty. Our desire for sex is a desire for love. God designed marriage as a safe and fruitful framework in which that love can play out. Outside of marriage, sexual expression is neither safe nor fruitful. It is a sin.
Love is a gift of self. Affection and desire go along with love, but love itself means caring for another person’s well-being. If you love someone, you will not involve them in anything that will be bad for them (and you will not do anything to harm your own bodily or spiritual dignity, either). The way you show love to your boyfriend or girlfriend is not the same way as you show love to your spouse.
We speak with our bodies. This means it is also possible to tell lies with our bodies. Being sexually intimate with someone says that you have exchanged binding vows of fidelity with them. If you haven’t made these vows, you must not act as if you have. You must learn to show love in other ways.
Sex is very, very much about babies, among other things. Learn and internalize the phrase “unitive and procreative.” Teens should learn enough about a woman’s cycle to make the clear connection that the reproductive system really is geared toward procreation.
The world lies to you. It’s your job to have the courage to resist these lies. Children are responsible for turning away from the lies that books, music, movies, the internet, the abortion and contraception industries, and porn want to offer. Tell them what to do: be brave enough to say no, walk out, avert their eyes, or change the topic of conversation. Make sure they know that they are in charge, and that it takes guts to go against the stream. Discuss the chemical effects porn and masturbation have on the brain, and educate them on how it destroys the ability to enjoy normal sex.
Sex forms bonds, whether the people engaged in it acknowledge this or not — emotional, psychological, spiritual, and scientifically proven chemical bonds. You do not want to form that bond before you’re married, because it will hurt like hell to break that bond once it’s formed.
Even if every last person you know is having sex (and they’re not), you don’t have to do it. Being chaste doesn’t make you a prude or a tease or a weirdo. It may make you different. There are worse things than being different.
Abstinence is a negative; chastity is a positive. Have many discussions about how all people (single, married, religious, heterosexual and homosexual) are called to chastity, and everyone is called to abstinence at least occasionally, for various reasons. There are always boundaries in every state of life; and there are always rewards. Licentiousness, however, never leads to happiness, no matter what your state in life.
Sex is beautiful and mysterious. No, really. Have you instead found that whatever sexual experience you have had is weird and embarrassing and leaves you feeling crummy and bruised? This is because (a) sex without love is horrible; and (b) sex is a skill that needs to be learned like anything else. So if you’ve had sex and didn’t like it, that doesn’t mean that “sex is beautiful” is hogwash (and that abstinence is therefore pointless) — it means that you’ve been singing the right words to the wrong tune.
Premarital sex hurts you both, even if you marry the person you had it with. If you never learn self-control before marriage, it will be very difficult to learn it afterward. Moreover, sex that comes before commitment makes the entire relationship muddy and messy. One parent describes a good sex as: “One analogy included a pyramid of building blocks, with the top block in the relationship being sex. When built correctly, it works well and is great, but when you build the relationship on sex (demonstrator flips pyramid over, it falls apart) it doesn’t work because there is no good strong foundation.”
But all is not lost if you’ve gone too far. All is never lost as long as you’re still alive. Remind your children that they can make amends (and make it easy for them to do so, without them having to explain why). Remind them frequently that they can talk to you or someone you both trust, and that you will never abandon them, even if they disappoint you — and that neither will God abandon them. It’s never too late. If they’ve fallen, they’re in good company. Don’t despair. You can still be a true gift to your spouse. Your past doesn’t define you — but your current behaviour will affect your future.
If you’ve been raped or abused, it’s not your fault. Time heals. You are still chaste, beautiful, and whole.
HOW TO TALK TO THEM
Fear has its place! Fear of single motherhood, or being a dad soon, fear of STDs, fear of disappointing parents, or of having an unpleasant experience — these are all acceptable things to mention, as long as they are by no means the entire discussion you have about sex.
Be frank and honest, but not crude or confrontational. There’s no use in using only lovely or abstract or antiquated terms — children will either disregard you or literally not know what you’re talking about. You don’t have to ruin their sense of modesty, but you do have to make yourself clear. You can just admit, “Look, I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about this stuff, but it’s really important.” You don’t have to make eye contact. To ease the tension, have these talks while you’re doing some hands-on work like dishes or other chores.
The big picture isn’t enough; practical advice is a must. Some children may appreciate having actual lines to say if they find themselves in a bad situation, even one of their own making. They should understand that they always, always have the right to back out of a situation — that there’s nothing noble or fair about going all the way because they’ve gone a certain amount.
Remind them to look at the world and use their brains. One parent says, “Starting around the age of 13 or 14–I told my children to watch what happened to their friends and people that they knew who were having sex. Did they think it was the best decision ever? Were those people truly happy? How did having sex too soon effect their friends?”
Don’t be so gentle and encouraging and positive that you forget to talk about sin. One parent says, “it should be mentioned clearly and concisely exactly what kind of things are sinful (for informational purposes), [fear of sin] shouldn’t be counted upon as a primary motivating factor for young people today.”
Appeal to their sense of justice and compassion. Remind them that premarital sex not only injures the other party, it may create another human being who will, by definition, be at huge risk for all sorts of suffering and trials. Premarital sex is actually unjust behaviour (assuming that the children fully understand that abortion is an even worse injustice!).
This education has to begin at an early age, in an age-appropriate way. A parent sums it up this way: “5-year-olds need to understand what modesty is, and why our bodies need to be given an appropriate amount of respect. 7-year-olds need to be able to ask questions (and get answers) when they see “weird” magazine covers at the malls or supermarkets. 10-year-olds need to have some understanding of their biology. And so on. I don’t think there is an age that is too early to plant the seeds of modesty, purity, and chastity because it involves so much more than [sexual intercourse]. It is ultimately ordered to charity and the basic understanding that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.”
When possible, girls should learn about sex from their mothers, and boys should learn about it from their fathers.
The best lesson is the good example of the parents. “Children are learning about sex from a very early age, as they watch their parents interact …We can preach, sequester them, wear our faith like it’s a costume, pray our rosary on our knees every day…[ The best way to teach your child about sex? LOVE your wife/husband with an undivided heart.”