Sexuality in Religious Education

All that the Catholic Church teaches about human love and sexuality comes from this truth: that God, who is love, created all people in his image — male and female he created them — to share his love and therefore to reflect his love in the world and in their lives (USCCB).

Continuing in my crusade to inform people about the teachings of the Catholic Church in response to growing fundamentalist and conservative abuse towards those with modern approaches to Religious Education, I’m going to discuss the unit I am currently teaching to my Year 10s in the the Diocese of Parramatta.

As I have mentioned in a different article, the Bishop and leaders of Catholic Education in the Diocese are currently being persecuted and abused by those who think that the new Religious Education curriculum does not teach the Catholic faith. The unit I am currently teaching to my Year 10 students called ‘Sexuality and Human Flourishing’ is a unit from the new curriculum. Judging from the comments of the conservatives harassing this Diocese, I wonder if they know what the Church’s teachings are about sexuality…

Definition: Human sexuality is woven into the fabric of each man and woman. It carries within it the powers of love and life and is the human source of our most basic relationships as members of a family. Human sexuality indicates the capacity of persons to love one another and be united with others in friendship and community (USCCB).

This week I am teaching my students about the complementarity of the masculine and feminine, a teaching of the Church which is informed by the creation of humanity in Genesis 1:27. The purpose of this complementarity is that the masculine and feminine come together and bring out the strengths of one another.

These lessons follow my introduction to the topic in which I asked students to complete psychological tests to help them identify their Virtue Strengths (from positive psychology) and their personality traits (through the Myer-Briggs test), allowing students to make a more personal connection to the Catholic Church’s teachings about human sexuality. This approach has helped students understand that:

Sexuality is a force that permeates and influences every human act, thought and feeling. It is through their identity that people encounter, engage with and love others. Sexuality refers to a fundamental component of personality in and through which we experience our relatedness to self, others, the world, and God. It is the enrichment of the whole person — body and soul — and manifests its innermost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self love.

The next topic for my students is understanding what love is. Too often so many of us equate sexual intercourse as the only way to express love in a relationship with another person. Discussing the question ‘What is love?’ is one of my favourite conversations to have when learning about sexuality. From examining the classic words of 1 Corinthians 13, we learn more about what love looks like before exploring how and why love is fundamental to human sexuality. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:7) and we have been made in God’s image; humanity had been made from love and for love. If love is limited to just sexual intercourse, then we are limiting ourselves and who we have been created to be.

“To love is to will the good of the other.” — St Thomas Aquinas

The other focus of this Year 10 unit is human flourishing: the process of continual growth that supports humanity’s ability to live life to its fullest potential. Following the development of student knowledge of their sexuality and its value, we proceed to applying our understanding of who we are and what love is to our interactions with others and human flourishing. To explore this relationship between sexuality, love and human flourishing, I like to explore common forms of student self-expression, like their use of social media.

Most of the students in my Year 10 class have social media accounts, mostly SnapChat and TikTok. These have become platforms through which students engage with one another and the wider world. They are also places where students express and form their identities. It is also a highly relevant example for exploring the changing nature of relationships. There is a focus on followers rather than friendships; a focus on being ‘liked’ — but what about love? Following this exploration of current human interactions, we will move onto how the natural desire to be loved is occasionally misplaced into this desire to be ‘liked’ on social media and how young people, like my students, can be exploited and abused by not knowing or understanding the truth about who they are and what love is.

Rather than hate as the opposite to love, students are encouraged to explore how exploitation and use are the actions that stop us from loving others. With increasing levels of domestic violence, this is an opportunity for us to talk about some reasons why abusive relationships occur, and provide students with information that could protect them in the future. Another way that we could explore these concepts of exploitation and use is through the impacts of pornography on individuals and relationships — discussing the impact from individual to a global scale, including the exploitation of people who are trafficked into the porn industry.

Finally, we will talk about the gift of love in our friendships and relationships. This means moving onto the Church’s teaching about sexual intercourse. My approach for this is teaching about chastity, the virtue that all of humanity is called to practice. It applies to us when we are single or in a relationship; whether we are called to be a priest or to the Sacrament of marriage; whether we are homosexual or heterosexual. Chastity is a virtue that upholds our dignity as human beings, that supports authentic expressions of love, and that allows us to flourish and live life to the full. It is a virtue to practice for a lifetime and is a part of humanity’s universal call to holiness.

Chastity is the holy and habitual self-control of sexual impulses. Chastity derives from the virtue of temperance. Temperance controls our desire for sensual pleasures. By the light of faith, we discover chastity as a supernatural virtue. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”(1 Cor. 6:19–20). A chaste life is a life of purity. (Catholic Culture)

I hope that this has helped you learn more about the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality. As always, the fundamental teaching of Christianity is to love one another. The teachings of sexuality allow us to learn what love actually looks like; to learn what self-love is and what love looks like in all our interactions, friendships and relationships. This topic, this unit, is one of my favourites in this new curriculum in the Diocese of Parramatta, NSW, because it has the potential to engage students authentically in the Church’s teachings on sexuality, a teaching that has the power to increase the practice of love that Jesus wants in humanity through the reduction (hopefully, one day, the elimination) of human exploitation.

A high school teacher challenging the system and fighting injustices.