On May 18, I began a 7-part series, offering some thougts about how to teach the Catholic faith to “Generation Me” (those born in the 70s through the 90s; Generation Me, Jean Twenge, M.D.).
Click on the following to read:
Part One: The Decline of Social Rules
Part Two: Excessive Individualism
Part Three: You Can Be Anything You Want
Part Four: The Age of Anxiety
Part Five: The Attitude of “Yeah, Right…No Point in Trying”
Today, we address another unique characteristic of Generation Me: “Generation Crude” – the author’s (Jean Twenge) description of Gen Me’s attitude toward sex compared to earlier generations.
Sex: Generation Crude – Because Gen Me is putting off marriage, they are seeking ways to avoid painful breakups that come with relationships while not “missing out” on the experience of sex. The result is “hooking up” which is having sex with someone you have no expectation of seeing or talking to again. Another is “friends with benefits” in which friends engage in sex strictly for the physical enjoyment. Gen Me-ers believe that sex takes practice and their attitude toward sex is very casual and relaxed. They have been exposed to extra-marital sex on TV for their entire lives and find it perfectly acceptable.
How Catechists Should Respond: What Gen Me will NOT listen to is a blanket condemnation of their sexual attitudes. They will simply dismiss this as being “out of step” and “out of touch” with reality. Gen Me does not need to hear the Church preaching about how sex is wrong, but about what a marvelous, wonderful gift it is and how that gift must be respected and protected. Gen Me needs to hear the Church talking about how God does not “look the other way” when his creatures have sex. God is not embarrassed about sex. God “invented” sex! God gave it to us as a gift. Gen Me needs to hear that Catholics consider sex between a husband and wife to be an encounter with divinity…it is a sacrament through which the divine is encountered in the same way that we encounter God in all the sacraments. We encourage frequent reception of the Eucharist. Gen Me should hear the Church encouraging married couples to have frequent sex!
Gen Me is not shy when it comes to talking about sex. They need to see and hear from married Catholic couples talking with ease and comfort about sex. They need to hear us teach that sexual expression involves the whole person: mind, body, spirit, and soul, and that we only fool ourselves when we approach it as something purely physical. A good place to look for language to talk about the Catholic understanding of sexuality is the writings of Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body.
Bottom Line: We have our work cut out for us on this one. Because of the Priest sex abuse crisis, the Church has lost a great deal of credibility when it comes to speaking about sex. That’s why I believe firmly that we married lay people need to talk more about this wonderful gift in our lives. Sex is a part of our vocation…it is part of our calling. It is our encounter with the divine. We need to help Gen Me hear God calling them to this vocation and to this wonderful gift.
Thank you for this wonderful advice about Catechesis and our youth. I made a bold attempt to teach about the Church and sex in reference to the sacrament of Matrimony and Holy Orders in my course in Church History and Sacraments for sophomores this year. It is an issue that is very polarizing throughout the entire Church, but especially in today’s youth. They certainly were not shy about dealing with the issue and the questions that they had were actually very appropriate.
The biggest finding that I made was that so little is known about what the Church actually teaches about sex and marriage. Many of the cradle Catholics could quote the “procreative” and “unitive” purposes of sex, but as one student put it, “but what does that mean!”
Some reflection on my experience:
1) JPII’s Theology of the Body is incredible. Some excellent sources that I used were Christopher West’s “Good News about Sex and Marriage”, which provides excellent answers to many questions that students asked and West’s “Theology of the Body for Beginners”.
2) The Church’s teaching on sexuality opens a doorway to a whole number of very important topics: Divorce vs. Annulment, Contraception, Gay Marriage, Celibacy and the Priesthood, Women and the Priesthood. They want to talk about these things!
3) If you tell a kid they can’t have something, they will want it even more. The Church does not teach that abstinence (avioding sex – “you can’t have it”) is a virtue. The Church teaches that chastity (integrating our sexuality) is a virtue. I found this to be the most important message for high school sophomores. Here is a run down of what I did (taken for the most part from “Good News about Sex and Marriage”):
Chastity is NOT
Jared, thanks for your excellent reflections and suggestions! I like your very positive approach.