Sex Ed: Parents, It’s Your Job and You Can Do It

sex-education“I just don’t even want to talk about it.” A mom confided she’d buried her head in the sand.  Yes, her daughter could reasonably expect her period sometime in the next few years.  But Mom just wasn’t ready yet.

Moms and Dads: We have to get ready.  It is our job to teach our children what they need to know about their sexuality – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And it’s a job we’re perfectly qualified to do.

Parenthood as Preparation

This summer I’ve been taking Family Honor’s online course. One of the early discussion topics was, “Can parents really do this?  Is this really their job?” Like many of us, I was raised on “leave it to the experts” thinking. Parents can’t be trusted to do it right.  It was a hard attitude to shake off, despite the pile of Church documents telling me otherwise.  Saying the responsibility for sex education belongs to parents is very different from believing it.

But let’s think about this: If you knew someone who’d been driving a bus, or waiting tables, for ten years, wouldn’t you assume that person knew a thing or two about their line of work?  It doesn’t take advanced certifications in Waitressing Management to be a skilled server, just a lot of persistence and experience, and perhaps a few pointers from someone who’s worked out the most important details.  Yes, it’s ideal to attend a good driver-training course before operating a piece of giant machinery . . . but you can also learn on the job.

Our sexuality isn’t rocket science.  It’s the ordinary work of living in a mature human body – something we all do, and no amount of advanced degrees has any bearing on it.  You wake up, you go about your day . . . you’re a sexual person and you’re practicing the right use of that sexuality day in and day out.  By the time your children are old enough to need to know a thing or two about menstrual periods or nocturnal emissions, you’ve got a decade or more of grown-up living experience under your belt.

What to do with an imperfect past?

The thing about kids is that they learn our values.  They learn from their parents.  If chastity is important to you, your kids are going to pick up on that.  They are going to learn it from your life – the way you dress, the places you go, the friends you make – and they are going to learn it from the world you set before them.

If you are genuinely committed to chastity, you aren’t going to watch the same shows or listen to the same music as someone who sees nothing wrong with our license-mad culture.  You’ll take steps to offer your children an education and a community that supports chastity.  You won’t settle for an “I’d rather you didn’t, but . . .” attitude, any more than you’d give your kids tips on safer bank-robbing, or the right way to become a mafia boss. You will teach your children, by example and discussion, how to respond to the negative influences that will invariably come their way.

What does that mean for the imperfect parent?  No matter what your past, you can use your experience to help your children learn how to live chastely.  If you waited decades for Mr. or Mrs. Right, and managed to live chastely all that time, of course you’ve got some good information to share.  But say you’ve got a long list of “What not to do” bad experiences?  Things you’ve done – perhaps even not so long ago — but now know better? You can pass on to your children the important lessons you learned the hard way, so they don’t have to.  If you have only recently come around to accepting the reality of marital chastity – perhaps after years of using birth control, or only after being sterilized — you’ll have a compassion for how difficult it is to go against the grain of the wider culture.

If you’re a married couple, you have ample experience in the mechanical processes of human reproduction. And even if you’ve never had sex before – let’s say you’re the unmarried guardian raising a family member’s orphaned child – you still have long experience with chaste living in a mature body.

No One Loves Your Child Like You Do

The public health expert who just wants to reduce disease rates does not love your child like you do.  Even the most perfect chastity-education program is just that . . . a program.  You’re the parent.  You care deeply about the messages your child receives.  Of all the adults in the entire world, you are the one who can best gauge your child’s maturity, and most accurately predict the best way to teach chastity and human sexuality to your child.

So what do you if this whole topic makes you want to lock yourself in the closet for ten years?  Well, what did you do last time you cared about something important to your child?

Whether it was researching soccer teams, or installing car seats, or deciding what to serve for dinner . . . you have experience with getting the information you need in order to make good parenting decisions.  Maybe you’re an ask-the-friends person.  Maybe you’re a “go get a book” or “search online” person.  Maybe you’re a “We’ll try it and see” person.  Whatever your style, you’ve got a way you like to go about tackling parenting problems.

So use that.  Chastity is a parenting problem.  Menstrual periods and nocturnal emissions, deodorant and face-washing, bras and jock straps, modesty and self-control – these are your territory. You can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, and learn how to parent your children through adolescence.

Next month I’ll do a round-up of a few resources I’ve found helpful.  In the meantime, what are a few of your favorites?

Jennifer Fitz is a homeschooling mom of four, catechist, writer, and accountant. She manages the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and writes on her personal blog, jenniferfitz.wordpress.com. Her latest project is a book of practical, encouraging support for parents struggling with the decision to homeschool.
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