Condom Distribution Shown to Increase Teen Pregnancy Rates




A new study finds that schools with condom distribution programs in the 1990s seem to have actually increased the rate of teenage pregnancies. “We find that access to condoms in schools increases teen fertility by about 10 percent,” the researchers concluded.

According to National Review, the study by two Notre Dame economists fills a gap in research on school contraceptive programs since there was little previous work on condom distribution programs in high schools.

Researchers Kasey Buckles and Daniel Hungerman used 22 school districts in 12 states, districts that began using condom distribution programs in the ‘90s. The study spanned 19 years and studied teen fertility data from 396 high-population counties.  READ MORE

For more information on how you can raise teens to joyfully live out the Catholic vision of love in their life and relationships check out Beyond the Birds and Bees: Raising Whole and Holy Kids.

Dirty Sex, Accidental Heretics, and the Cult of Purity

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people”  (Psalm 22:6).

In the Catholic Patheos community, we’re having a continuing conversation on the nature of healthy vs. unhealthy perspectives on sex ed.  Calah Alexander offers a terrific post contradicting the false notion that sex outside of marriage makes one “dirty.”   She writes,

“Contemporary American culture, a culture that has so influenced other first-world cultures, is profoundly shaped by the heavily Calvinist-influenced Puritanism at its roots. Sex is dirty, according to common Puritan tradition, a dirty (but lamentably necessary) function of a dirty and depraved body. In Calvinist theology, the whole body is dirty, corrupt, depraved, and sin can never be removed. Forgiveness only means that Christ moves to stand between us and God, so that we look clean, although we never really will be. Snow covered dung-hills, that’s what we are. So sexual sins just make us even dirtier, even filthier, even more irreversibly ruined. This is the antithesis of Catholic teaching; even so, the mentality has shaped and molded our culture, which has shaped and molded us, to the point that professed Catholics will say, “Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)?”


Calah is absolutely correct and her comments cut to the heart of why Catholics need to avoid the unfortunate language that personal sin, in general, and sexual sin in particular “makes” us dirty.   I can hear the objections, and I appreciate the intention behind such comments, but the spiritual and psychological problems of this approach  significantly outweigh the hoped-for benefits.

The Accidental Heretic

One thing I have not read, so far, in the wider conversation on this issue, is that the idea that “we must keep ourselves pure” is actually not a Christian notion at all but quasi-Pelagian.   Essentially, Pelagius taught that Original Sin did not affect all of mankind and that man could save himself through his good works.  Pelagius lived a life of harsh asceticism in an effort to protect his purity.  His efforts were rewarded by his being denounced as a heretic.  Why?  Because our purity, our justification, is rooted in Christ’s saving work, not in our actions.  It’s true that sin separates us from God’s love and it is likewise true that that separation can make us feel dirty.  But because of Christ’s incarnation and his subsequent passion, death and resurrection we are not dirty, we are divinized.    Through God’s saving work, we are made, “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Ptr 1:4).    As Calah observed, Puritanism and Calvinism lack the courage to stand upon the promises of Scripture that proclaim us to be new creations and not merely piles of snow covered dung.  As 2 Cor 5:17 tells us, “So, whoever is in Christ is a new creation:  the old things have passed away.  Behold!  All things are made new!”

Purity:  You Can’t Lose What Isn’t Yours

What does all this have to do with sex?  The short version is that sin, in general, and sexual sin, in particular, cannot take away our purity because we cannot give away what does not belong to us in the first place.  As the psalm that began this reflection points out, on our own, we are nothing.  Without God, we are nothing.  But with God, we are everything.  Our purity is not dependent upon our actions.  Nothing we could do or not do could make us pure.  “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…”   Rather, our purity is received as a free and unmerited gift from God, “…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Purity: An Unmerited Gift

Personal sin does not make me more impure than  I already am in my fallen state.  Committing sin simply impedes my ongoing process of purification.  It delays my healing. Without God, I cannot be pure.  With God, my basic purity cannot be lost.  If I sin my full purification (i.e., “theosis”  or “deification”) can be delayed, but my essential purity–which rests in the saving work of Jesus Christ and has already divinized all humankind, believers and unbelievers alike–cannot be denied by anything I could ever do or have done to me.

Fear Leads to Perfect Love?

The whole negative emphasis many abstinence education programs take is, in my mind, completely wrongheaded.  They want to say that it is important to avoid sex before marriage because if you don’t you will be dirty, you will get diseases, you may die.  This entirely misses the point.  Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:8).  Sex ought to be about a celebration of a more perfect love.  It makes no sense to me to encourage people’s pursuit of a more perfect love by attempting to terrify them.

The Christian View of Sex:  A Positive Option

I think that we need to send a much more positive message.  I think the message needs to be that God has made each and every one of us to be so beautiful, so precious, so special, that we deserve the best, and sex in marriage is what’s best.  Sex outside marriage can feel good (and sometimes very bad), but regardless of how it feels in the moment, sex outside of marriage always, ultimately,  brings heartache, and pain, and a sense–in fact, an illusion–that somehow our value has been diminished.  By contrast, in the context of marriage–a relationship founded on public promises to live out a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful–we are empowered to celebrate all the good feelings that sex can bring in the context of a life that encourages health, wholeness, and happiness.

Sex is not bad.  In fact, sex outside marriage is not bad, per se.  It is simply less good than sex inside marriage.  Sin represents our tendency to settle for less than what God wants to give us (or, in more classic terms, sin represents “a privation of the good”).  It is a failure to believe that we are worth so much more than what we are settling for. Sin does not make us less pure than we are.  It convinces us that we should settle for less than what God wants to give.  Rather than trying to tell young people that sex outside of marriage takes away our purity, we need to be sending the message that the purity we receive as a gift from God empowers us to expect the best from ourselves, our life, and sex.

By no means is this post complete, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging more on it as the conversation continues, but if you are interested in discovering the positive vision of Christian sexuality, I’d invite you to check out Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Mind Blowing, Toe-Curling, Infallible Loving  and if you’d like to communicate this positive vision of Christian sexuality to your children, I’d invite you to pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.


What Does a “True” Sex Education Look Like?

Last week, while I was on vacation, several of my Catholic Patheosi colleagues were engaged in vigorous discussions on abstinence education that were precipitated by Elizabeth Smart’s negative comments on the, frankly, unhealthy approaches some abstinence programs take to promote their message.

The conversation is continuing among Catholic Patheos bloggers, and earlier today, it was proposed that we all reflect a bit on what a “true” sex education would entail giving lists on what we think that should look like.   My book,  Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids addresses that exact question in depth, so I thought I’d briefly throw in my .02.

Sex Ed:  What Does the Church Say?

First, I would encourage every parent to read the Pontifical Council for the Family’s document, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.  I think any reflection on this subject that doesn’t take the Council’s recommendations into account would be seriously lacking.   It is very accessible.  It contains a lot of practical wisdom on what the Church actually expects of parents when it comes to the sexual and characterological formation of our children.   That text forms the framework of a lot of what my wife and I included in Beyond the Birds and the Bees.

I’ll probably end up doing several posts on this so I want to keep this short.  I’ll save citations to Church docs and studies for future posts if necessary.   That said, I need to begin by defining what sexuality is.  Here is how the Catechism defines it.

“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others”    (For more, go here.)

In other words, sex, and sex education, has to be about more than doing the deed, as it were.  It has to be about the formation of the whole person.  That’s why I would argue that a proper, healthy and comprehensive sexual education actually has very little to do with the sex act itself.  Obviously, at some point, information about the sexual act and its physical and spiritual significance has to be addressed, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.  As you know 90% of the proverbial iceberg is actually below the water.  THAT’s the part that really counts, especially when it comes to the sexual education of persons.  If you don’t have that element (what the Church calls “remote preparation” i.e., character/relationship /spiritual formation) then nothing you say to a person about the dignity of sex and the importance of saving sex for marriage will make a hill of beans worth of difference.  They might learn some interesting concepts, but they’ll end up doing what their gonads tell them to do–or they’ll end up  hopelessly repressed trying to run away from what their gonads are telling them.

Sex Ed Requires Forming the Person First and Most

The most important part of sexual education is training in what it means to be a loving, prayerful, joyful, healthy person.  When parents model and teach their children how to live as loving and prayerful people, they are engaging in the sexual education of their children.  The Church teaches that sex is the one person communicates the intimate core of their personhood to another person.  In other words, to have healthy sexual attitudes, I have to be a healthy, virtuous person capable of intimacy with both God and the people he has placed in my life.   To that end, in Beyond the Birds and the Bees, my wife/co-author and I describe 8 virtues that impact our ability to have healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors.  The more parents help their children cultivate these virtues in family life from birth through young adulthood, in all the interaction with brothers, sisters, parents, friends, authority figures, etc.  the more complete, comprehensive, and healthy their children’s sexual formation will be.

8 Virtues that Constitute a Healthy Sexuality (and a healthy person)

Here are the virtues with a brief description of how they relate to sex (I have an entire chapter dedicated to this in Beyond the Birds and the Bees so please realize this is the briefest of summaries).   As you read these virtues, don’t just think of them in the abstract or as they relate to sex alone.  My point in listing these virtues is to show that when parents actively work to teach the behaviors associated with these virtues in any context in their day to day interactions as a family they are actually, albeit unknowingly, engaging in the sexual education of their children.

1.  A capacity for Self-Donative love– i.e., the ability to look for opportunities to work for the good of the people in my life and to actively seek out ways to use my time, treasure, talent, and physical abilities (i.e., body) to make the lives of those around me easier, better, and more enjoyable.  Relates to sex in that it helps me see sex as another way to work for the good of another person as opposed to viewing sex as mere recreation.

2. A capacity for Responsibility–i.e.  the ability to delay gratification, to set worthy goals and meet them, and to understand how to set priorities so that everything I have and do asserts the value of people and relationship over things.   Relates to sex in that I must be able to see that sex is a good that deserves to be saved for marriage, and that the things I have–including my body–are not ends in themselves, but given to me as a gift from God to be used to work for my well-being and the good of others.

3.  A personal and prayerful Faith life–i.e., the ability to see that there is more to life than meets the eye.  That God loves me and has a plan for my life and relationships and that I know how to understand that plan through intimate communication with God in prayer.  Relates to sex in that it is impossible to see that sex is about more than pleasure if I cannot see the spiritual significance of every day life and that God has a plan for every part of me including my sexuality.

4.  A healthy sense of Respect for myself and others–i.e., the ability to know what I and others are worth in the eyes of God.  The ability to demonstrate respect for myself and others communicates a gut-level sense of my awareness of my dignity and yours.  Relates to sex in that in order to have a healthy sexual relationship with my spouse, I must be able to see myself and my partner as a son and daughter of God.  I practice this attitude by being respectful in all my interactions with others.

5. A capacity for Intimacy— i.e., intimacy is the deepest call of the Christian life which is ultimately about spousal union with God and participation in the communion of saints.  My ability to make myself vulnerable in a healthy way to another person, to share my needs, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams  AND to receive the gift of the other’s needs, feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams will largely decide whether I am capable of living out the Christian vision of sex or if I will be tempted to compulsively engage in a series of pleasurable acts of friction that may or may not have anything to do with relationship.

6.  A capacity for Cooperation–i.e, the ability to work for the common good.  To know how to meet my needs in a way that is considerate of the other person’s needs as well.  Relates to sex in that a healthy sexual relationship largely depends upon my ability to know how to express my needs honestly and receive other’s needs willingly so that we can work together to create something beautiful, intimate, and fulfilling.

7.  A capacity for Joy–i.e., the ability to celebrate life to the full.  To be–in a healthy way–playful, fun, spontaneous and open to new experiences.  Relates to sex in that sex should be a joyful, celebratory experience.  Not a duty or chore.

8. A healthy sense of Personhood–i.e., a sense of the goodness of the body combined with a healthy sense what it means to be a godly man or woman.   Relates to sex in that to have a healthy sexuality a person can’t hate, or be disgusted, or be cavalier about his or her body.  Likewise, a person needs to be secure in his or her identity as a man or woman.

Beyond the Birds and the Bees offers  hundreds of practical suggestions for teaching these virtues in the daily interactions of family life from birth through young adulthood.

Giving Kids a Healthy Moral Mindset

Teaching these virtues in family life produces children who have a moral ethos as opposed to a moral ethic.  What’s the difference?   If I have a moral ethic, I always want to know how far I can push the limit before its sinful.  I’m concerned with “where’s the line?”  With a moral ethos,  I want to do what’s right because it is good for me and for you.  The man with a moral ethic doesn’t cheat on his wife because he doesn’t want the hassle.  The man with a moral ethos doesn’t cheat on his wife because he loves his wife.   The teen with a moral ethic doesn’t have sex before marriage because it’s “wrong” in some vague way or “dirty” or “dangerous.”  The teen with a moral ethos doesn’t have sex before marriage because he doesn’t want to degrade himself or use someone else that way.  Sound pie in the sky?  It’s not.  When you raise kids according to the points I’m laying out here, this is the exactly kind of kid you are more likely to see.    A “True” sexual education needs to communicate a moral ethos as opposed to a moral ethic.  Anything less will fail given enough pressure and time.

And Finally, “The Talk.”

Finally, of course, at some point, parents will need to convey information about the sexual act.  We talk about how to do that in Beyond the Birds and the Bees as well, but as I’ve already said, this is the least important part of the process.  It’s important, but if it doesn’t stand on everything else I’ve put forward above, you’re wasting your breath.  When it comes to conveying information about body parts and intercourse, be straightforward, honest, and simple.  Ask questions to assess what your son or daughter knows and help them fill in blanks.  Be a mentor not a scold.   Assume that you will have multiple conversations about these topics over the course of many years, not just one conversation and then done.

Well, 1800 words is too much already.  Obviously I could say a lot more.  Feel free to ask questions.  Or, just read the book.  The bottom line is that, as far as my reading of the Church is concerned, a “true” sexual education has much less to do with talking about body parts and intercourse, and everything to do with the formation of a whole, faithful, respectful, virtuous person who knows how to properly share him or herself with another whole, faithful, respectful, virtuous person.  The better we do that as parents, the more likely our kids will be sexually whole and holy as well.