Volume > Issue > Teaching Sexual Morality to Teens

Teaching Sexual Morality to Teens


By W. Patrick Cunningham | April 2024
Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham has written for national Catholic publications and peer-reviewed journals since 1975. He is a retired secondary and college teacher with nine years of tenure as principal of a Catholic high school. He is currently Research Scientist in Residence at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. He was ordained in 2002 in the Archdiocese of San Antonio but is retired from the diaconate. He and his wife, Carolyn, are grateful for their three daughters and ten grandchildren.

Ed. Note: This article addresses the sensitive themes of sexual morality and sexual perversion. Caution is advised when reading it.

I was very likely conceived in rape. I never knew my father. My birth mother was a 16- or 17-year-old-girl from Chicago. Her family sent her 1,250 miles from her home to South Texas, where she gave birth to me and consented to my adoption by a childless couple in their early 40s. That was in 1947. The lusty habits of servicemen returning from World War II yielded a large number of us adoptees.

My education in sexual matters and mores began when I was 12, as a student in a Catholic boys’ school. My dad gave me a pamphlet that was fairly discreet in explaining the technical parts. My religion teacher, a nun, encouraged us to think of our genitals as sacred, like the liturgical vessels used at Mass. But, of course, the older guys at school, by illicit conversations and what is now considered harassment, tried to undo everything Sister taught. “There’s a lot more the adults are hiding,” they said.

The juvenile opinion that sticks most grievously in my mind was that the height of sexual pleasure a man could attain would be “screwing a girl who had never been screwed before.” In that view, sex at its best was violating a virgin. These older guys were, in effect, promoting rape.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that by the time we left for high school, the only sexual experience any boy from my class of early Boomers had was what Dr. Ruth would later call “self-pleasuring,” which Catholic moral manuals rightly called “self-abuse.” It’s an old wives’ tale that masturbation causes blindness, but in my experience teaching adolescent males and counseling young men, the practice does indeed cause blindness: spiritual blindness.

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