I used to communicate the Church's teaching on human sexuality to teenagers from a position of fear. I find that most adults do this when talking about sex to teens. They don't do this with any other Church teaching. They don't use scare tactics when talking about the Eucharist, or even Hell for that matter (if it is ever taught). When sexuality is involved, though, the fear comes out in full force.
The fear that I am talking about is not nervousness while dealing with a sensitive subject. My dad had that kind of fear when he told me and my older brother about the birds and the bees. He was terrified. He used the technical terms for things that were completely over my head. I would just stare at my brother's face and when his smile turned to utter disgust, I would just mimic the same expressions. "Ewww that's gross!" my brother would say. "Yeah, umm, gross!" I would quickly second. The best part? He gave us the talk by putting us in the back seat of the car as he addressed us through the rear view mirror.
The fear that I'm speaking about is the same fear parents get when holding their infant children for the first time. It is the fear of making sure you don't make the same mistakes that I made. It is the fear of failing someone you love, and like all fears, it can lead us into bad places.
As lovingly fearful adults we proclaim: Life taught us some harsh lessons, and if you just sit there and listen I will tell you the answers to those lessons so you don't make the same mistakes I made. Not good enough for you? Well, then… have you heard of HVP? Have you ever seen warts in all the wrong places? Do you think you're ready to star on MTV's 16 and Pregnant? 'Cuz you're gonna if you don't stop with the sexting!
We adults are afraid of young people ruining their lives because life hasn't taught them the power and meaning of sex yet. Sure, young people know it all, but no matter how smart a kid might think he or she is, life experience requires two things: time and reflection, and they just do not have enough of that first one yet to get the wisdom experience brings.
My first batch of chastity talks, mostly to my own youth group, came from this position of fear. I told them of dignity and purity, to be sure, but I rushed to the STDs, abstinence, the pregnancies, and the broken hearts that come with promiscuity. There was a positive message in there somewhere, but I am sure that a lot of my teens heard what many Christian teens have heard over the years in America: Sex is dirty and disgusting and dangerous, so you should save it for someone you love.
In the midst of a culture that is selling sex as the cure-all, end-all and be-all of human existence, such a sorry, muddled message from us cannot compete. We're losing the battle. And the most frustrating thing to me is that certain adults think we just need to say it more, louder, and scarier. They think we will win back a youth culture saturated in thrilling pornography through scare tactics about diseases. They are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and have made themselves oblivious to the true danger.
What we must do is outsell the competition. We have to paint a better picture of sex that showcases the fulfillment, the gift, the union, the beauty, and the depth of connection that no other ideology or DVD can compare.
We have to stop preaching from that place of fear and starting speaking from the powerful, positive perspective on human love in the divine plan. God invented sex, nerve endings, and human nature. Sure, we added the corruption, lust and sin, but the bedrock desire for happiness and the innate power of human sexuality still belongs to God. All we have to do is be fearless enough to preach the fullness of the Church's teaching about sex and sexuality to teens and adults alike.
And the one preaching it has to be the one living it as well.
More than anything else, this is what the Theology of the Body has taught me. A positive vision that unifies and inspires is worth a thousand negative scare tactics, especially when it comes to love and intimacy.
When a boy is alone with his girlfriend in the basement of her house and things are getting a little hot and heavy, a PowerPoint slide on the dangers of STDs is not going to matter in that moment. When sensuality all but overrides rationality, the only thing calling that boy and girl back to virtue will be an effectively communicated vision of true love that they ought to be showing one another. Inspiration and vision beats fear every time, for without vision a people perish.