Words by Sofia Arlotta
Catholic schools are notorious for giving sexual education a red hot go through preaching (usually ineffectively) principles like ‘abstinence is key’ or ‘no sex until marriage,’ leaving many children attending Catholic schools lacking adequate sexual education. If the Catholic Archdiocese had its way, this is all that would be taught. However, a more holistic and modern approach to sex education is vital for students.
Currently, many Catholic schools substitute secular sex education for their ‘Made in the image of the god’ (MITIOG), if they even have one in the first place. MITIOG is a “Human Sexuality Program” that details that sex ed should be taught in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In reference to Genesis 1: 26–27, sexual morality in MITIOG is “based on the fundamental belief that humans are made in God’s image” and are therefore deserving “of the utmost dignity and respect.” It is also taught that “sexuality, integral to the human person, is a gift from God through which we can live out our vocation to love.” Sexuality and sex are a focal point for Christian morality, heavily scrutinised for the sake of reinforcing the patriarchal family unit, which mirrors the church’s teachings on ordained male authority and control over female sexuality.
The fact that Catholic schools are permitted to adopt their own sex ed curriculum, moulded by their archaic ethos, has many negative consequences when considering what the Catholic church believes about sex. MITIOG is intended to compliment the teachings of parents and caregivers as a child’s primary educators with regards to their sexual education. While this appears to be a kind of permissive leniency, the perspectives offered by Catholic parents would differ little from their schooling, leading to a moral echo chamber where Christian dictates go unchallenged.
The central dogma of the Catholic virtue is that sex is only righteous between a man and a woman within marriage. To respect this teaching, Catholic schools use MITIOG to instill that premarital sex is wrong. This is a major flaw in this curriculum as, regardless of what you teach children in sex ed, a lot of the children will have sex, will continue to and maybe even already have. Leaving sexually active young adults who have little perspective on potential consequences of unsafe sex and failure to utilise contraception ignorant endangers the lives, futures, and emotional integrity of students receiving a Catholic education — wherein abortion is condemned and attitudes towards sex are informed by guilt, shame, and secrecy. There is also no talk of identifying when you are ready for sex, just the parameters of nuptial consummation and absolute monogamy.
The Catholic perspective offered through programs like MITIOG fosters an unhealthy relationship between students and their sexuality by labelling any sex outside of this rigid and puritanical definition as sinful — demonising perfectly normal things like sexual thoughts, urges, and masturbation. Ill-informed sex would most likely lead to unprotected sex and the lack of knowledge of potential health and emotional risks and costs involved makes it unsafe. STI is contracted they’re less likely to seek out medical attention in the first place and in the event of pregnancy due to unprotected sex abortion and other plan B methods are not available options. The prevalence of STIs is increasing and unwanted teen pregnancies are still more common than they should be. Because of these risks and the constantly evolving social pressures and ideals being placed on young people, it is too much responsibility to be left to the parents who probably will not do much better than schools. Also, who wants to hear their dad say the word clitoris anyway?
Enforcing a standardised sex ed program in all schools would not encourage children to have more sex. It is about equipping children with knowledge so they can decide when they feel ready to have sex, and how to safely to mitigate potential risks when they do so. Many Catholic school students do not share the beliefs of their teachers and parents, who are entitled to receive the sex education they deserve, which is non-exclusionary and offers broader perspectives on sex which challenge the Christian narrative of sex as shameful, and any potential negative consequences as punitive.
MITIOG is generally homophobic and transphobic, either by outright condemnation or implicitly by omission of LGBT inclusive content. It is the responsibility of all educational institutions to foster a safe environment for all students, and to not isolate or incite prejudice against LGBT individuals. Justifying homophobia through religious reasoning, and actively teaching children that sex should be between a man and a woman, contributes to a homophobic environment which is hostile towards students because of their sexual orientation. We can either let catholic schools create their own sex education programs and create a culture where consensual sexual acts are considered perverse, or we can provide momentum towards a society built on acceptance and embracing sexual diversity. Not only this, but it is important that LGBT students are able to learn sex education from their point of view rather than just learning it through a heterosexual lens which does not tailor education around protected sex to the community.
In our sex-obsessed world, effective and complete education is increasingly relevant to children who are exposed to sex through advertising, entertainment, internet algorithms, and day-to-day conversation. We are becoming a world where sex and sexuality are no longer taboo, and so developing a healthier relationship with our own and others’ sexuality is paramount. All schools have a responsibility to educate, and sex is no exception. Sex is a complex issue and despite the school’s best efforts to preaching abstinence has not dissuaded kids to engage sex so it’s time to accept that be realistic, to reject anachronistic prejudices and hang-ups, and do what is best for young people.