Faith and Sexuality in High School Today

On Monday, I gave a talk to an assembly/conference of a couple hundred high school students from Catholic schools in San Francisco, with my assigned topic being "sexuality and spirituality today." With all the caveats about the potential minefields assumed, it was also an exciting opportunity to try to reach the level of the real with them (and to try to consider what that might even mean). Despite coming from Catholic high schools, one cannot of course assume any common Catholic knowledge or identity, whether Christian or otherwise, among these students, which frames the pedagogical task most challengingly from the start. I focused my talk on three points for their personal consideration about faith and sexuality, which were my attempts to render a Catholic approach in ’nonreligious’ language: [1] Know your culture; [2] Know your power; [3] Know your community. Under the first, I discussed recent scholarship on high school and college ’hookup culture’ as it might pertain to them, and the challenges it poses. Under the second, I discussed discernment about acting on one’s own ’authority,’ which in Christian terms is a participation in God’s ’authority’, God’s power, understood not as commands but as freedom for love. And under the third, I encouraged them to consider their practices as caught up in the practices and values of their own ’beloved communities’, from which they can get good formation - or malformation. After an elocutionarily chaste 25 minutes of talking on my part, what followed was 45 minutes of good conversation with them about the above and more. As privileged as I left feeling to have this time with them, I am left with two doubts about my thinking: First, several students, including women, indicated that they thought the ’hookup culture’ did represent some progress, however ambiguous, for young women’s freedom, and that that needed more attention. I think that this response cannot simply be categorized as immature or false consciousness. Second, despite my attempt to try to start and stay as much as possible in real questions and discernments, I had the impression that we were still not touching down enough in the nitty-gritty of their reality, that my own thinking in particular, and maybe even ’the Church’s’ thinking in general, has much further to go to inhabit these questions at the level of practice--whatever that level is. I am thinking about what seriousness and courage in this realm demands. And above all I am grateful to those who teach in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, who are the vessels of the everyday miraculous in the lives of students for whom Catholic schools are among the greatest hopes in their lives. Tom Beaudoin Santa Clara, California
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10 years 5 months ago
As a college student, I have seen firsthand the seduction of the "hookup culture." For feminist women (of which I am one), "hooking up" can be a way of rejecting the misogynistic double standard that emphasizes female chastity while paying scant attention to male sexual adventuring. If "boys will be boys," then why shouldn't "girls be girls" and engage in the same behavior? Equality through hedonism is better than the sexist standards of old, so the theory goes. The problem with the "hookup culture" is that it reinforces a false dichotomy in which the only options are to "liberate" oneself through empty sexual liasons or to seek out a husband and become a submissive hausfrau with no will or independence of one's own. Both "choices" in such a dichotomy are anathema to a free soul. St. Francis instructed his followers to preach the Gospel - and to use words only if necessary. A similar approach should be taken when speaking to youth about sexuality. Merely denouncing the "hookup culture" as sinful will not alleviate their concerns. These young people must be shown that there is an alternative to loveless "hookups" and rigid gender roles - one which preserves their autonomy and dignity of spirit and which engages their mind, body, and soul. Love is the essential ingredient; without love, sex is meaningless and will never bring them the happiness or liberation they seek. As Pope Benedict wrote in his first encyclical, erotic love can only be fully realized if selfless, sacrificial love is also present - the kind of deep and abiding love in which a lover would lay down his life for the sake of his beloved. It is only through such complete and self-giving love that we can truly feel affirmed as human beings. Sex alone cannot bring us that kind of freedom; nor can cold devotion to dogma. Love, truly felt and truly acted upon, lifts up both man and woman into a duality of equality before the grace of God. There is nothing more truly feminist than that.


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