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Dale's Web Pages

The American experience in sexuality education



Dale O'Leary

Ireland May 15-17, 1997

I have been involved in one way or another in the battle over sex education in the schools for the last fifteen years. In the United States we have had 20 years of experience with these programs and have seen their negative effects. Before I came to Ireland I received by post the plan for Relationships and Sexuality Education program (RSE) for primary schools in Ireland, which I was asked to evaluate it in light of the American experience.

In January of 1996 I was honored to be present at a seminar in Rome where the Pontifical Council for the Family introduced its document of sex education: The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family. I have been informed that, unlike the American situation, most children in Ireland attend schools which are affiliated with the Catholic church and therefore, this document should be considered the definitive guide for parents evaluating school programs like RSE.

The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality was carefully researched and based on work of experts in psychology and theology. Every Catholic parent, educator, and pastor should have a copy of this document. We in America petitioned Rome for such a document and are thrilled with the result. It was more than we hoped for. I promised Cardinal Trujillo that I would do everything in my power to promote the document and therefore I am thrilled to be here to speak about it and I hope that, even if you do nothing else, each of you will purchase and read The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality for yourself.

I do not think that its relevance is limited to Catholics. In the United States the battle against destructive school based sex education is fought by a coalition of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews and I find that my Evangelical friends are impressed by the measured wisdom of this text.

This document is for parents, because as Pope John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio, "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them." The right carries a responsibility according to the document: "If in fact parents do not give adequate formation in chastity, they are failing in their precise duty. Likewise, they would also be guilty were they to tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children outside the home."

Parents have a duty to evaluate programs and to remove their children from programs which do not meet the high standards set down by the church. While the document does not condemn all classroom sex education as some hoped it might, it does place severe limitations on what can be taught in group situations and makes it clear that parents have the right to reserve to themselves all education in intimate matters. This means that it is inappropriate for schools to integrate sexually explicit material into the curriculum in such a way that a child cannot be easily removed

While we were in Rome, there was some controversy about the appropriateness of any classroom sex education. During this discussion it became apparent that sex education means different things in different languages. In America sex education refers to instruction in the human biology of reproduction and sexual activity. In Rome sexuality education is defined more broadly and refers to the education that prepares a child to be a man or a woman. Therefore, when the Americans and Canadians pushed for elimination of all classroom sex education, the Romans understanding the words differently said, and quite rightly from their point of view, that this was impossible. Luckily, an American priest who had been 20 years in Rome was able to translate and resolve the conflict. It would, of course be impossible, to conduct a class on the commandments without touching on sexuality. You could not teach creation or the sacrament of marriage without dealing with masculinity and femininity.

The question is not then one of absolute prohibition of all discussion of sexuality, but of what is appropriate and when.

Does the program Responsibility and sexuality: an aspect of social, personal, and health education. Interim curriculum and guidelines for primary schools (RSE) meet the guidelines laid out by the Church?


The course material is divided into two sections at each level: "Myself" and "Myself and others", which is reason for concern. In the United States we have seen the disastrous effects of self-centered curricula. The first strand unit at each level is "self-esteem." In the US we have been bombarded with the mantra: "Everyone should feel good about themselves." I beg to differ - immoral, selfish, lazy, arrogant children who are not working up to their potential should not feel good about themselves. They should feel guilty and ashamed for wasting the education which their parents are sacrificing to pay for through their taxes. If they do not naturally feel guilt and shame, it is the duty of their parents and teachers to instill in them a healthy sense of their own ignorance and incompetence. Parents and teachers should, of course, do this in a positive way. You don't tell the child that he is stupid, but that he is wasting the intelligence God gave him. Children must be given the hope that with perseverance they can leave their current state of ignorance and overcome their moral weaknesses.

I taught school for one year in a private Catholic school. Unfortunately, the message of self-esteem had infected these students. Rather than feel ashamed that in the 10th grade they did not know the basics of English grammar and could not spell, they regarded the demand that they speak and write proper English an unjust imposition of someone else's values on their freedom of expression. When I told them that my husband, who is the president of a small company, would not hire people who had not mastered the English language, their response was "Mrs. O'Leary, that's discrimination." They expected society to tolerate their incompetence.

One of the strategies for raising "self-esteem" in the RSE program is similar to what has been tried in the US: teaching children to tolerate differences and diversity. You may have heard of the latest effort to raise the self-esteem of Black children in the US by teaching them Ebonics. Ebonics is the nothing more than the poor grammar used by inner city Blacks. Ebonics speakers do not bother with irregular verbs, for example the verb to be is conjugated: "I be, you be, he bes." Affirming Ebonic speakers will only further handicap these children.

Why should we be promoting self-esteem? Is there any evidence that children with more of this I-feel-good-about-myself brand of "self-esteem" do better in school? A few years ago a study done by the American Association of University Women purported to show that girls suffered a terrible drop in self-esteem when they entered adolescence. Supporters of funding for gender equity and self esteem programs pointed to the study as proof that girls were being short changed. They demanded programs to raise girls' self esteem. Companies and schools were encouraged to institute "Take our Daughters to Work Day." Boys were explicitly excluded.

Christine Hoff Sommers, a professor and critic of gender equity, challenged the study. When she analyzed the actual questions and responses, she saw that what the survey actually found was that adolescent girls are more mature than boys. The boys were graded higher on self-esteem because they were more likely to express unrealistic career ambitions, unrealistically evaluate their own abilities, and were less honest, responding more often that they "always felt good about themselves." Girls were more likely to more realistically evaluate their talents and to admit that they did not feel good about themselves all the time. Most importantly, the higher the self-esteem, the lower the achievement. Black boys - the lowest in achievement - scored highest on self-esteem.

My son, who worked in a program to raise the academic achievement of inner city Black boys, found this to be a serious problem. His students thought they knew it all. The first thing he had to do was to convince them that they were ignorant.

Too often in American schools what is being promoted as self-esteem is what used to be considered sinful pride. What children really need is training which will help them become virtuous and competent. When they have mastered these skills, they will have a right to feel a certain degree of self-satisfaction.


At each level, the RSE also has a unit on decision making. This is a modification of the Values Clarification decision making training which has not only proved a disaster in America, but has also been explicitly condemned by the Pontifical Council on the Family. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality condemned the values clarification approach because: "Young people are given the idea that a moral code is something which they create themselves, as if man were the source and norm of morality."

The values clarification technique offers students a one-size-fits-all method for making decision. According to the values clarification handbook "young people brought up by moralizing adults are not prepared to make their own responsible choice. They have not learned a process for selecting the best and rejecting the worst elements contained in the various value systems which others have been urging them to follow."

The entire RSE program follows the values clarification model. In the first and second classes, the children are taught to:

recognize the choices that are made every day

discuss the factors which may influence personal decisions and choices (namely) personal beliefs or desires, what is right, the wishes or actions of parents, teachers or others peer pressure, television.

According to the RSE manual in the infancy classes "The child should be enabled to develop some awareness of factors which may influence choices made or decisions taken: my own feelings or wants; the decisions of friends or others; my personal mood at a particular time; what I see on television; the decision of a parent, teacher or other adult."

The RSE guidelines state that in the fifth and sixth classes the student should be enabled to: "explore and learn to examine critically the factors which influence personal decisions and choices" namely "moral values, social constraints and peer and media influences." The child is then lead through a decision making process where he "considers the possible solutions and consequences and weighs up the advantages and disadvantages."

According to The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, values clarification is an "unacceptable method [which] tends to be closely linked with moral relativism, and thus encourages indifference to moral law and permissiveness." The supporters of the values clarification approach to decision making argue that they have included discussion of moral and spiritual values. And that is just it, they have included them as though they were just one part of the process. They have put the revealed word of God on the same level as media influences. Moral truth is hereby reduced to someone else's "value system" which can be rejected or accepted. Truth, virtue, the search for the good are replaced by talk of "values" and "choices".

This kind of moral relativism and consequentialism produces children, who decide that what they value is sexual pleasure and that abortion has less serious consequences than carrying a pregnancy to term. I went to a Catholic religious education program to talk about abortion and first had to convince the children that murder was wrong, because if you use this process, if the advantages outweighed the disadvantages, then giving grandma an overdose because she doesn't want to go to a nursing home or not feeding a handicapped child are decisions which fulfill the criteria.

This decision making unit is at the core of the program. Allow this to be taught and you will raise a generation of children who are inoculated against truth, faith and virtue and this will be no accident. The men who developed the values clarification technique: Sidney Simon, Leland Howe and Howard Kirschenbaum were openly hostile to religion and what they call "moralizing." When values clarification was introduced into my children's school, the teachers in charge of the program did not even try to hide their anti-Catholicism. They made it clear that the goal of the program was to encourage children to challenge the religious beliefs they had received from their parents.

The process taught in the RSE program is quite simply the antithesis on Christian decision making. A Christian does not begin with "Myself", but with God. The Christian child should be taught to do God's will, and given a process for discerning the will of God. The RSE method of decision making is particularly dangerous because it is extremely subtle and extremely attractive to the child. Once a child has been trained in this method, they will be able to justify their disobedience to parents and rejection of Christian virtue and not feel guilty or ashamed in doing so.

Even non-Christian children will be harmed since basic virtue, truth, and a search for the good are not promoted as a common human heritage. Morality is reduced to a matter of personal preference. Every day on American television we are subjected to talk shows where young men and women arrogantly parade their immorality justifying their decisions to sleep with their sisters' husbands, their best friend's mother, three different people at the same, 13-year-old girls and boys go on TV and brag about how they have prostituted themselves, while their mothers sit beside them and cry. What is the most frightening is that those who have committed the most horrible acts aren't ashamed to reveal their actions to a nationwide television audience.


In countries torn by racial or religious differences the call for tolerance of diversity and pluralism can resonate among those who truly desire peace. Unfortunately, tolerance, diversity and pluralism are being cynically used to cover an attack on morality. The values clarification approach undermines morality but lumping together differences that should be treated different.

The first kind of difference I would call Catholic diversity. We today live in a world of different races, different cultures, different languages. While other cultures may be strange to us, as Catholics we respect the rights and equal dignity of all human beings. The Catholic church has defended from the beginning the essential humanity of every member of the human family. When the Spanish conquistadors tried to argue that the American natives lacked souls, the Church defended their humanity. From a secular point of view, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the essential equality of all human beings. Children should certain be taught this.

The second kind of difference involves religious differences. The Second Vatican Council spent a great deal of time on this issue, explaining very clearly that while the Catholic Church cannot deny that it is the guardian of the revealed divine truth, it respects the rights of people whose religious believes differ from its own. In this case what is required is tolerance without compromise.

The third kind of differences involves moral differences. Some people do things which are contrary to the moral law. In the past people hid their sins, but today, at least in the United States, they parade them on television and demand tolerance and acceptance. This kind of tolerance of sin is being promoted as no different than tolerance of different races or tolerance of different religions, but it is substantially different and children need to be taught the difference. In this case the old rule applies, we must love the sinner, but hate the sin.

Adulterers, fornicators, prostitutes, those who engage in sexual acts with people of the same sex, even pedophiles insist that we have no right to judge them. It appears that the only scripture they know is "judge not least ye be judge." But what does it mean to judge? A judge hears the evidence, renders the verdict, and pronounces the sentence. Every citizen is not a judge, but every citizen is required to know the law. We are not judging a person when we say adultery is wrong. If a person admits publicly that he has committed adultery, then he has condemned himself out of his own mouth.

God will judge them. And that really is the problem. Because it is not simply that these people want the freedom to commit various forms of sexual sin, they already have that. They want to avoid the consequences. They want to be respected even if people know what they are doing. And most of all they don't want to feel guilt. They don't want to be reminded of the possibility that God might have a different opinion. When they say "judge not" to us, what they are really saying is that they don't think that God has the right to disagree with their judgment.

In this area I do think it is important to remember that sometimes there are mitigating circumstances. Some of those involved in serious sexual sin are victims of childhood sexual abuse. Children repeatedly sexually abused before they are seven years old often grow up with a distorted sense of sexuality and fall into sexual addiction, prostitution, or homosexuality. We need to be compassionate, but compassion does not require us to pretend that sexual addiction, prostitution or homosexuality are natural or acceptable for these men and women. Those who have been harmed need to be called to repentance and to be supported as they struggle to find healing and freedom.

In the United States we are facing a frontal attack on all our institutions, but most particularly on our schools, by militant homosexuals and their allies who demand that children be taught tolerance of homosexuality. Children are being taught that homosexuality is determined at birth, that 10% of the population is unchangeably homosexual, that homosexuality is just another lifestyle, that condoms will stop the spread of AIDS, and that anyone who doesn't accept this is an intolerant, bigoted homophobe which is as bad as being a racist.

None of this is true. Same-sex attraction is a preventable and treatable condition. Unfortunately, this good news is being suppressed. Children are being labeled in school as homosexual and counseled even in the primary grades to accept this identification as unchangeable. I have talked to mothers whose children were turned over to homosexual groups without their knowledge or permission. This will have tragic consequences, particularly for the boys, since it is now estimated that over 30% of those men who self-identify as homosexual before the are 20 will be HIV positive before they are 30. Children need to understand the difference between superficial and real compassion. If I come upon a man chained to a tree, what does compassion require? That I bring him food and blanket, or that I go and find a hacksaw. Real compassion is a hacksaw.

Will any of this be taught in the RSE course? Or will the students be taught a blanket tolerance of all diversity designed to undermine morality?


According to the RSE guidelines in the infancy level the children study "My body." The objective is "to name and identify external private parts of the male and female body."

"The teacher shows a large poster to the class of two happy babies playing on the sand with no clothes on them. The teacher encourages the children to talk about the scene by asking a number of questions;" for example: "Can you name all the parts of the body you can see." Then according to the guidelines, "the words penis and vagina can now be taught."

I ask a prominent American psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons who has extensive experience in dealing with sexual problem what he thought of this exercise, and he felt that it was not only unnecessary, but potentially traumatic. Fr. Tony Anatrella, a French Jesuit psychiatrist, was the main speaker at the meeting he Rome. He told of how a teacher in France had sought to educate 5 year old children in sexuality by asking one of the boys and one of the girls to strip. The other children were horrified and covered their eyes. The children in this case were wiser than the adults.

Every mother knows that modesty is not something that she imposes on her children. As they enter the latency period, the children insist upon it. One day without prompting most children make it clear that they want their privacy. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality stress the importance of "the years of innocence" defined as "from about five years of age until puberty." During the latency period which is by the way the entire period covered by this text, "prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect."


In the fifth and sixth classes, one of the objectives of RSE is: to enable the child to understand how sexual intercourse takes place,

Now I let me read from The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: "... the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotion, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue. . . .Experience shows that this dialogue works out better when the parent who communicates the biological, emotional, moral and spiritual information is of the same sex as the child or young person. . . .Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time. . . Another abuse occurs whenever sex education is given to children by teaching them all the intimate details of intimate relationships."

I cannot see how the material described from the RSE program meets these guidelines. Parents who believe this material is inappropriate for their children have a moral duty to remove their children from the program. The Holy See defends that right as does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality makes it clear that "such a decision of the parents must not becomes ground for discrimination against their children." Any discrimination should be protested by a formal, but polite letter to the parish priest, with a copy to the bishop of the diocese, and to the Pontifical Council for the Family in Rome.

This material was not, however, designed for Catholic children, but meant for religious and non-religious schools alike. Religious schools, of course, are allowed to tack religious or moral principles onto this basically secular approach. .But religion is not something to can tacked on to fundamentally secular and non-Christian material. It doesn't work. Truth is a whole. If you want to understand how to teach Christian morality, read John Paul II, read the Catechism, read the scripture. Why should Catholics who have a access to the fountain of the Holy Spirit, drink from polluted rivers of secularism?

I also must question whether this material would be appropriate for non-Catholic or even non-Christian children. Where does the idea that children must have all this explicit information and be able to use the right words for everything before they leave primary school come from?

In the United States this kind of explicit instruction is the product of educators trained in the Kinsey model. In the 1940s Alfred Kinsey set out to compile statistics on the sexual behavior of human beings. He interviewed thousands of men and women and published the results of these studies. On the basis of these studies he concluded that children were sexual from the birth and that the latency period was a myth. Dr. Judith Reisman reviewed his studies and published several books on the subject. She asked a simple question: How did Kinsey determine that children were sexual from birth? She was shocked to discover that he reached this conclusion by interviewing pedophiles who molested hundred of children, including babies as young as 5 months old, sometimes using a stop watch to time the children's reactions. One charts records the molestation of 317 boys, 77 of them under 5. What Kinsey actually uncovered was that children were capable of being sexually molested. The Kinsey Institute not only interviewed these child molesters, it protected them. When the police came looking for a suspected child murderer, the Institute refused to cooperate.

Kinsey's associates went on to found SIECUS, Sex Information and Education Council of the US, and to set up programs to train and accredit sex educators.The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality warns: "In some societies professional associations of sex-educators, sex-counselors, and sex-therapists are operating. Because their work is often based on unsound theories... parents should regard such associations with great caution, no matter what official recognition they may have received."

For Kinsey all sexual outlets were equal, but he was particularly interested in solitary sexual acts. Fr. Anatrella pointed out that what we have seen in the last 50 years is the "idealization of juvenile sexuality" - Masturbation replacing marriage as the paradigm for the sex act. If solitary sexual activity is the paradigm, sexuality to reduced to something that is essentially immature and totally self-centered. There is no need for a gift of self. If it doesn't matter whether or not another person is present, then it doesn't matter if the other person is male or female or if three or four people involved. Age is irrelevant, marital status of no consequence, indeed so long as there is consent by both parties any perversion no matter how extreme is only a matter of preference. The only risks are pregnancy and disease.

Therefore, for those who follow the Kinsey model children must be taught to use protection. And now we get the reason why these programs attack modesty. The sex educators discovered that modesty prevented children, particularly girls from discussing and using barrier methods. Therefore, one of the goals of Kinsey-based sex education is to break down modesty particularly in girls, so that they would not be embarrassed. This followed the general Kinsey belief and all sexuality was equal and that there was no reason for guilt or shame.

I had for a long time recognized that the sex educators were promoting sex for children, but I hadn't been able to figure out why. They would say: "Abstinence won't work. You have to give them condoms." But the fact is that they never wanted abstinence to work, they want children to have sex. I had been involved in a public exchange of letters with the president of SIECUS Debra Hafner. When I wrote to the New York Times that children should not have sex, she wrote back that engaging in sexual activity was a normative function of adolescence.

The gap between the two points of view is unbridgeable. If the sexual union of man and woman in marriage is a sign of Christ's love for the Church and the means by which the couple find themselves through a sincere and complete gift of self, then children are not able to experience sexuality in its fullness. If the sexual behavior is nothing but a self-comforting physical act, then why shouldn't children comfort themselves.

The problem is not that our opposition is for sex and we are against it, but that they don't know what sex is for. They want to addict children to sexual stimulation. We want to prepare children for the joy that God has for those who follow in his ways. There is no middle ground.

The parents pamphlet for the RSE program says: "we should distinguish between innocence and ignorance." That is not the question. The question is where and by whom should the intimate details of sexuality be presented. Parents are the primary educators of their children, parents know their children best. Besides this, parents are the model for the activity being discussed. Teachers may be models in other areas, but not in the area of sexuality. What must be protected is modesty and what destroys modesty is coeducational classroom descriptions and discussions.

No one wants ignorant children. Children who are ignorant of the basic facts of life would not be able understand the Christian faith because it is rooted in the mystery of the incarnation - the word made flesh in the womb of a virgin. If children don't have a basic understanding of human biology, they cannot understand the annunciation, the immaculate conception or the virgin birth, The Blessed Virgin surely understood these things, because she responded to the angel, "How can this be since I know not man?" In her purity and innocence she understood what was required on a natural level to conceive a child. It is the duty of parents to impart this to their children with delicacy in an age-appropriate manner.

Parents should not, however, feel intimidated if they aren't able to provide a science course in human reproduction. Detailed biological information -- human plumbing -- while interesting is not particularly essential. Men and women married and had children for centuries without any knowledge of the vas deferens or the fallopian tube. Just as in a house you don't need to know how the plumbing works until something malfunctions, so with our bodies, and if there is a malfunction, the physician can explain the mechanical details.

What children and adolescents really want to know is how to avoid temptation. Today, given the hypersexualized culture and the various temptations, simply telling them it is wrong is not enough. They need continual gentle support and they want this support from their parents.


As to the rest of the program, I also have some concerns about the gender equity component. I gave an speech on the subject in Dublin on Tuesday and I have brought some copies of it. I just finished a book The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality where I explain why things like gender equity, which sound so good are actually dangerous for women and girls. True equality for women must be founded on the truth and lying to children about the differences between men and women will not help girls achieve their dreams and ambitions.

I have not seen the HIV and AIDS sections and the sexual orientation chapter. In the United States these are used to promote homosexuality and are usually full of false and dangerous information.

In the United States Values Clarification style decision making, self-esteem education, Kinsey model sex education, and HIV/AIDS prevention education have combined to create a nightmare situation: Soaring teen pregnancy and epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, young adults with serious psychological problems and a lack of basic skills. What are those who oppose this slide into anarchy doing to remedy this?

First, they recognized that children can be taught virtue through traditional literature. Former Secretary of Education William Bennet compiled a book of classic stories - The Book of Virtues and it has been amazingly popular. A charter school near me has instituted a curriculum which focuses on character and virtue. When the official Catholic schools followed secular models, parents have started their own schools. There is also a growing movement of homeschooling. For many of these parents this has meant a return to classic curriculum and strong religious training.

Second, Evangelical Christians have instituted a program called True Love Waits, in which teenagers make a public commitment to remain chaste until marriage. The movement is spreading and we are seeing an increase in the number of adolescents who are not engaging sexual activity.

Third, there is a nationwide grassroots movement for educational choice, which would allow parents to create more alternative schools and a movement for parents rights.

Fourth, parents are increasingly accepting their responsibility as primary educators of their children. They recognized that if they don't want classroom sex education they must provide the essential material themselves. Many publishers are already preparing texts for parents based on The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

Little by little we are making a difference.

Should Catholic parents allow their children to participate in the RSE program? Based on the material I have seen, my experience in the United States, and the Church's official teaching, it is my opinion that the program is fatally flawed. The flaws are not peripheral but central.

Parents have a right to remove their children. Some may be afraid that their children will be harassed. When I pulled my children from the sex education program in their school, many people worried that they would suffer psychologically. Personally, I have always believed that we are strengthened by suffering, but in fact they suffered very little. They did in the process learn how to stand up for what they believed in and how to resist peer pressure - valuable lessons.

Five years after my daughter graduated from high school she went to a reunion of classmates. Her best friends had suffered the consequences of values clarification style sex education. One of the girls was sterile because of a botched abortion, another lost an ovary because of an ectopic pregnancy out of wedlock, a third had surrendered a baby for adoption, another was experiencing post-abortion depression, and the others had been involved in numerous sexual relationships. One of the girls said to my daughter. "You know your mother tried to warn us and she was right."

There is no joy in being able to say I told you so.

Thank you.

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From Dale's Disk, rse.rtf - Nov. 1999
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