A curriculum for youth sex education has been released by the Vatican, and while it provides a more holistic approach to sexuality, some glaring omissions make it dangerous material for LGBT young people.
For heterosexual cisgender* young people, the Vatican’s new sex education curriculum, entitled “The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People,” offers healthy approaches and guidelines for personal integration and development. Absent from this document, however, is any mention of similar guidelines that will help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth understand their own unique and holy experiences of sexuality and gender. [*Editor’s note: “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.]
If this program is used in schools and parishes, it will send a damaging message of silence and invisibility to LGBT youth at very vulnerable points in their lives. The material sends the message that they are not considered by the church, not welcome, and, worst of all, that they do not even exist.
Because the curriculum assumes heterosexuality as the only valid form of love, and because it assumes that gender is definitively binary and assigned to individuals based on sex (male/female), this material will instill shame, fear, and self-hatred in LGBT young people who are taught from it. Such negative feelings lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, and, tragically, even suicide.
Some examples of the deficiencies in the document include:
In suggestions to the religious education teacher, the document includes the following statements:
- “The step before falling in love is feeling attracted to a person of the opposite sex.”
- “Choosing our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is another step in which they have to mature, opening themselves up to what is most difficult – to that which is different -, discovering reciprocity and heterosexuality.”
- ‘Two ways of existing as a person: The body and soul constitute the unified corporeal-spiritual totality that is the human person. But this totality necessarily exists in the form of a man or of a woman. There is no other possibility than this for the existence of the human person. . . .Our very anatomical traits, as an objective expression of this masculinity or femininity, are endowed with an objectively transcendent significance: they are called to be a visible manifestation of the person.”
- “The duality of the sexes affirms the axiological meaning of sexuality: man is for woman, woman is for man, and parents are for their children . The sexual difference indicates this reciprocal complementarity, and is oriented toward communication: toward feeling, expressing and living out human love, opening oneself to a greater fulfillment.”
Additionally, the document incorrectly refers to “pansexualism” as occurring when “happiness becomes confused with the greatest amount and duration of pleasures.” In the scientific community, the word refers to “the belief that a sexual instinct drives all human behavior.” With regard to an identity, “pansexual” describes “the sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.”
What makes this curriculum even more disappointing is that there are actually some good, broad approaches to other aspects of sexuality which would be good for LGBT young people to apply to their lives. The document discusses areas including the idea that sexuality is far more than sexual activity, the various dimensions of human relationships, the importance of respecting the human dignity of others and of self, the ways to integrate emotions into one’s life, the proper exercise of freedom, the importance of developing healthy relationships, the place of morality in making decisions about relationships, and many others. These are lessons important to all young people. However, since the material has a bias for heterosexuality and the gender binary, it is likely that these valuable messages will not get through to LGBT youth, who will likely feel themselves excluded from this conversation.
Likewise heterosexual and cisgender youth also lose if LGBT issues are not included, as they are deprived of a wealth of information about human development. Such information could most readily be of use to this group if students if they have an LGBT friend or relative.
The fact that several secular sex education experts have praised it, and that a number of ultra-conservative Catholics have condemned it, may be the best evidence that there are some good ideas in this new approach. For instance, Cleveland.com reported:
Seattle’s Tina Schermer Sellers, author of an upcoming book titled “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy,” praised the new curriculum’s departure from teachings that were “ineffective and often hurtful,” including scare tactics, and presentation of God as unforgiving, unloving and damning.
Sellers said programs that couple sex education with a framework of values – as the new Vatican program does – help young people “make better sexual choices, get involved sexually later and have more satisfying sexual lives later in life.”
Indeed, it is commendable that there are no explicit condemnations of LGBT people in this curriculum. Such would not have been the case even five years ago. This development shows that the Church is changing. But, LGBT Catholics and their allies cannot be satisfied simply with the absence of condemnations. And our church’s leaders need to recognize the damage done by avoiding LGBT people in discussions of gender and sexuality. In many places around the globe, these issues are discussed daily in mass media and ordinary conversation. Young people, in particular, are acutely aware of these realities. The silence about LGBT issues in this curriculum will speak loudly–and negatively–to young people.
If the Vatican wants to truly be comprehensive in their approach to sexuality, which this curriculum is one step towards being, Church leaders need to be pro-active in humanely addressing the experiences, lives, and relationships of LGBT people, and to affirm their holiness.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Global Pulse: “Vatican launches sex ed website”
Cruxnow.com: “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines”