So, let’s about sex (I apologize if that song is now stuck in your head- I couldn’t resist). So, let’s see, sex is a topic my parents never really approached. Sure, they explained the biology of it, and they told me not to do it-end of story. So, I concluded that sex was bad. The Baptist church where I grew up preached a lot about purity. It was wrong to have sex outside of marriage, so don’t do it. Naturally, I concluded that sex makes one impure. Meanwhile, in health class, we learned about all STDs and how hard it is to remain in high school if you have a baby at 16. And if you must have sex, then use a condom. Therefore, I concluded that sex is dirty and leads to trouble. At the lunch table, I learned that sex was something you did when you really, really loved someone(and I mean REALLY). However, the girls that did it were immediately labeled as slutty and dirty, probably due to all the wonderful knowledge we gained in health class. Through the media, I learned that sex was a healthy expression of one’s self and, if you are not having sex, then you are somehow not healthy or normal, especially if you were still a virgin in college. Naturally, I concluded that the rules for sex change in college. So, in my 20s, I spend a lot of time sorting out all this conflicting information. By then, I was married, but I still didn’t understand sex. I knew it was something more than what I was living out in my marriage, but I could not put my finger on it. Imagine my delight when I finally stumbled upon John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Oh, how I wish I had this information as a teen! I wish I knew that the family was a reflection of the trinity. I wish I knew that physical love is actually a shadow of heavenly love. I wish I knew that sex was about giving, not getting. I wish I knew because then maybe I would have made better choices and not wasted all that time in my 20s living a life I thought was right but oddly unfulfilling.
And that is why I am teaching a Theology of the Body course to the middle school youth in our parish. When I first embraced this idea, I thought I was going to give them information about how God sees sex and what sex is in light of God’s love and plan for humanity. But, I didn’t realize that Theology of the Body has other nuggets of wisdom beyond sex that are REALLY helpful to teens. One in particular has left me awestruck all over again.
We are all seeking three things in life: love, happiness and purpose. These innate desires are given to us by God. Before the fall in the garden, Adam and Eve experienced life with these desires fully and completely fulfilled. They knew their purpose– to love and to be loved. By knowing their purpose and uniting their hearts to each other and God, they experienced perfect happiness and love. After they sinned, these desires remained but were impossible to fulfill. By disobeying God in the garden, they damaged their relationships with nature, with each other, with their souls, and, most importantly, with God. These damaged relationships are the inheritance passed onto humanity in original sin. We desire love, happiness and purpose but struggle to find them. We look to wealth, power and glory to meet these desires only to be left empty and lost. But when we turn to Christ, the one who defeated original sin, we find these desires fulfilled. They are met in the one who denied himself glory, wealth, and power when he won our salvation on the cross in a grand display of true love.
When youth are in their teen years, they are discovering these innate desires and trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into this world. Unfortunately, we live in a very materialistic, “me” centered and goal-driven society. It is easy for our young people to conclude that wealth, power and glory will satisfy our most innate desires for happiness, purpose and love. Then, they go down a path that leads to an empty, lacking life. We have to help them open their eyes to the beauty of God’s purpose for humanity. God made humans for love and to love. He imprinted that love on our bodies when he made us male and female. Love is giving one’s self to another(marriage, charity, service etc..). We need to help these teens figure out how God is asking them to live out their vocation to love. The contrary message the world sends is loud and full of full false promises. We need to show them what love is and how it’s our purpose and path to true happiness.
So, how do we get them on the path that leads to true happiness? First, we must constantly point them to God as they seek purpose and identity. They need to know that God loves them. They are in that stage when they are skeptical of God and especially skeptical of his love. This message cannot be delivered too many times. Then, we must show them the love of Christ in how we treat them and others. We can talk until we are blue in the face, but what we model will speak so much louder than our words. We must allow Christ to love them through us. We need to show them Christ’s love in how we live our lives. Finally and most importantly, we must model the true life of happiness, purpose and love by putting our relationships with God and our families above our careers and financial goals. The priorities and values we model will be the priorities and values we pass to our children.
So, what does all this have to do with sex? Well, if teens understand love, feel loved by God and their families, and find their purpose in living a life of love, then they are better equipped to understand God’s great plan for humanity. They will be able to see what their purpose is here, on Earth in the year 2012. They will be able to wrap their minds around the sacred nature of sex, the beautiful fruit it bears, and its awesome glimpse into the nature of God. This life is a great adventure where God hopes we will find him. He has given us many clues along the way. The beauty of sex is one of them. Let’s be sure our teens see sex in this light and give them greater hope for finding their heart’s desires of purpose, happiness and love.
Middle school is a great time to start talking to your kids about sex because, trust me, they are already talking about it amongst themselves. Read up on Theology of the Body. Arm yourself with some good resources like Theology of the Body for Teens published by Ascension Press. But, most of all, be sure your kids know you love them. Say it out loud. Show them in all the little things you do. Allow Christ to reach through you to touch their hearts. A teen that experiences REAL love will be less likely to go searching for love in all the wrong places (Ha! Another song to get stuck in your head).