Sexual Education: The Limits of Conscience Formation by Mark Levand

Think back to the sexual education you received—or did not receive.  Think of all of the topics you covered in school or at home and how positively and confidently you talk about it today.  Many people will say that this sentiment does not resonate with them.  Much of the population receives subpar sexual education in the current public school curriculum and often times even worse sexual education in faith-based programs.  The sexual “taboo” that people feel when it comes to sex education—the fact that parents will leave it up to schools and the schools rely on parents to cover the “important stuff”—is a bigger injustice than many people care to realize.

The structure of sexual education in our society today is extremely inadequate.  Let us focus on sexual education in parochial schools for instance.  Many graduates of the elementary parochial curriculum that I have met have had a very miniscule sexual education.  When I ask them if they felt adequately prepared on the topic of sex the answer is often “no” commonly followed by an even more unsettling “what sexual education?”

This lack of knowledge in the sexual department is harmful to all relationships: the student’s relationship with the self, relationships with other people (sexual and non sexual relationships alike), and the student’s relationship with God.

Put plainly, the content of the sexual education curriculum in faith-based educational programs needs to have much more substance.  The basic knowledge of sexuality, sexual identities, and sexual relations needs to enter the academic dialogue more than once in order to be considered “adequate” knowledge.  One does not learn about the solar system once and never return to the idea; much less, be asked to make moral decisions based on the minimal exposure to this knowledge.

The fact that faith-based sexual education includes such little information can be (and often is) seen by many as an injustice.  In moral theology, the correct formation of conscience is a crucial factor in making good moral choices.  When we are making moral decisions, large and small, seeking out knowledge and understanding is of the utmost importance.  With this understanding of morality, how can we expect people to make adequate choices regarding sexuality with such little knowledge?  Not educating people to have a healthy sexual dialogue with oneself—being able to talk to oneself about sexuality, where one stands, how one feels, etc.—is irresponsible.  People cannot make good choices when they have had such little exposure to a topic; a topic with which we live everyday nonetheless!

I realize that many factors go into making moral decisions.  It is also important to note that people are quick to relinquish responsibility when it comes to helping educate others.  Many parents may try and pawn the “sex talk” that they need to have with their kids off on other people or simply not talk with their kids about sex at all.  Is it the student’s choice to seek out information to make good moral choices? Yes.  Is it our responsibility as a human community to make that happen? Absolutely.

Choices are best made in good conscience when people have gained enough knowledge.  This does not currently happen in many of our sexual education programming.  With the massive impact that our sexualities have on ourselves in a holistic sense, it is amazing that there has been such little focus on it in our current curriculum.  In Christianity, for example, very few people know that the Christian Church has a very sex-positive attitude.  Instead, people focus on the “sin” one could fall into or how “bad” or “perverted” sexual things can be.  If people feel fear and guilt around sexuality, it is almost inevitable that uneducated choices will be made.

We are all empowered as sexual beings.  We are empowered to have a sexual dialogue with ourselves and others.  Very few people relish in the joy of others making poor or harmful moral choices. With the understanding that sexuality is not a negative thing to talk about, we can help others become more aware of their own sexuality in hopes that we all make better, more life-giving choices in the time that we have with one another.

Mark Levand is a doctoral student in Human Sexuality Education at Widener University.  After having obtained a M.A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carrol University and working in Campus Ministry at Washington University in St. Louis, he became passionate about sexual dialogue and raising diversity awareness.  Areas of interest include sexual diversity dialogue, sexual education on the collegiate level, and sexual theology.  

2 thoughts on “Sexual Education: The Limits of Conscience Formation by Mark Levand”

  1. This sounds like a seemingly good liberal argument, but actually, as a lesbian growing up in the 60s and 70s I was very happy to have no sex education whatsoever. I didn’t want to know anything about male sexuality, I was indifferent at best to hetero conformity, and I had my studies to attend to.

    Sex education will not work as long as the heterosexual majority is in charge of it, and teaches it, and I don’t see any time soon when they will not have all the power over it. Except in an insipid tokenistic liberal way naturally, if the school system is liberal.

    A much better alternative would be to have clear information, and a peer group process, perhaps with adults that are NOT teachers, or maybe even NOT parents.

    The culture is saturated with sex, and young girls are getting deluged with the message of having sex with boys. It is a biased male centric idea of what health is, and what sex is. As it exists now, it is so filled with toxic male centric ideas of the sex act itself, that it is not even true to the bodies of women.

    And then there is the industry that believes that drugs are the answer for teenage girls naturally— guardasill, birth control pills, every kind of drug pumped into the bodies of girls and women to “prepare” them for yet more of male centric damaging sex. Would an educational sex education program administered by schools ever even be honest about all this? And we know the answer to that one.


    1. Thank you so much for the comments, Turtle Woman. Thanks for sharing your experience as well. I believe you have a very good point; sex education would be least effective from a heteronormative standpoint. A very important movement in the world of sexuality studies is from a heteronormative scope into a much more diverse academic field.

      The peer processing group is a fantastic idea and is currently being explored in many different sexual education programs. However, to exclude adults that are NOT teachers, we may lose a very valuable resource in the educational and facilitative structure (though would it would be important to have these teachers educated in sexual education in the first place).

      I also agree that sex in our current American culture is quite androcentric. Once again, and important movement is to teach sex from many view points. The industry is extremely saturated with harmful ideas of what needs to happen to the female body to have a “good” sexual experience. Would any school program actually include any of these details? If they were run by a responsible, well educated sex ed teacher, they most certainly would.


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