Let’s talk about the birds and the bees
As students develop and mature, the community questions the most appropriate way to discuss safe sex while following the Catholic Church’s policies
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Sex has become a part of mainstream media and finds its way into almost every aspect of life. It’s a common theme throughout marketing campaigns because “sex sells.” It makes its way into our news cycle with the coverage of sex scandals. Sexually graphic images and ideas are more common in our television shows and music than ever.
This exposure to sexualized content leaves students with questions about sexual intimacy and their bodies. Fifty-five percent of high schoolers have looked up information online in order to learn more about health issues related to sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization.
While students’ desire for a sexual education is evident, according to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of schools offering sexual education has steadily declined since 2000.
JC offers a semester-long Health class for freshmen, but only 68.5 percent of freshmen currently take Health. The remaining 31.5 percent of students are exempt because they are enrolled in either Band, Orchestra, or the STEM program. “Freshmen in STEM and freshmen in band get excused from Health because of scheduling matters. They have required courses to take, and to support them, we waive the Health and phys. ed. requirements,” Vice Principal of Academics Gary Scholl said.
The sexual education component of the class includes discussion about chastity and the negative consequences of premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
While students learn about STDs, as well as the emotional, spiritual, and mental consequences of premarital sex, the sexual education program focuses on using sexual abstinence as a way to combat these issues. “We mostly talk about STDs and how it can affect your future, but because we are a Catholic school, we focus on chastity. We also talk about the mental, social, and emotional consequences of sex outside of marriage,” Health teacher Tess Gauthier said.
JC’s sexual education curriculum falls in line with that of the Catechism and the Catholic Church. “Every Catholic school is required to follow the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s framework,” Director of the Department of Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Edward Herrera said.
According to the sexual education materials distributed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican, sexual education is “none other than an education in the virtue of chastity” and condemns premarital sex or the use of contraceptives.
This educational program is rooted in a comprehensive study of the dignity of the human person and of love. Dr. Jamie Arthur, a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society, which is a group devoted to promoting and defending faithful Catholic education, said, “We make a mistake when we think that a sex ed course is a class that talks about the actual act of intercourse. It’s really so much more. It’s about protecting the dignity of life and of love.”
Arthur agrees with the Church that sexual education should focus on chastity and sexual abstinence. She believes that a comprehensive Catholic sexual education program extends beyond these issues and includes discussion on modesty and the ways abortion and contraception violate human dignity. “Sex ed classes should not be a one semester course. It has to encompass the whole person,” Arthur said.
Overall, she believes that sexual education classes are not the place to discuss the specific details of the act of intercourse and should not serve as a form of preparation to become sexually active.
Specific details about sexual activity, as well as the promotion of contraception, can not be included in a Health class in a Catholic school, as they violate the beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Some students believe that there isn’t a need for high schoolers to be prepared to have sex because sexual intimacy should be saved for marriage.
“I really don’t think [Health] should prepare you for sex. It should show you the negative outcomes of sex before marriage because students shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage anyway. They don’t need to be prepared,” senior Caleb Olsen said.
Health class is not supposed to serve as a form of preparation for sexual activity, according to Religion Department Chair Dr. Joseph Gallen. “It’s not going to be a ‘how-to’ class. It’s not going to prepare you for sex. The idea needs to be conveyed that our sexuality is a gift,” Gallen said.
While students may receive an education on the effects of STDs, some feel that this lack of information regarding practicing safe sex exposes them to greater risks.
“I don’t think Health prepares students to actually be sexually active. And I think that by not teaching them how to be safe, they can get hurt, they could get STDs, they could even get pregnant,” one student said.
If the sexual education program at JC was more “realistic,” some students believe that their classmates would be safer. “Instead of saying ‘practice abstinence,’ teach us about other options that we can use,” sophomore Zach Haskell said.
These other options include reliable forms of birth control and methods to prevent the spread of STDs while still engaging in sexual interaction.
However, Arthur says that agreeing to attend a Catholic school means sacrificing a sexual education program that includes more details.
“Students must know that first and foremost, we are Catholic. Catholic schools aren’t like a cafeteria: you can’t pick and choose what you want. They have to be exposed to and respect these teachings,” she said.
Overall, the freshman Health curriculum has one focus: protecting the mental, social, physical, and emotional health of students.
Regardless of the parameters of the Catholic teaching, students believe that administrators and Health teachers want to keep them safe.
“At the end of the day, I know they can’t teach us any more about sex, it’d be nice if they could, but I think the little bit they do teach us is to help us because they don’t even really need to teach us anything about sex at all,” one student said.
Grace Mottley is the Assignment Chief for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.