The Holy See
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Outlines for sex education 



1. The harmonious development of the human person progressively reveals in each of us the image of a child of God. " True education aims at the formation of the human person with respect to his ultimate goal ".(1) Treating christian education, Vatican Council II drew attention to the necessity of offering " a positive and prudent sex education " to children and youth.(2) 

The Congregation for Catholic Education, within the sphere of its competence, considers it proper to make its contribution for the application of the Conciliar Declarations, as some Episcopal Conferences have done already. 

2. This document, drawn up with the help of educational experts and submitted to wide consultation, sets itself a precise objective: to examine the pedagogic aspect of sex education, indicating appropriate guidelines for the integral formation of a christian, according to the vocation of each.

Also, though it does not make explicit citations at every turn, it always presupposes the doctrinal principles and moral norms pertaining to the matter as proposed by the Magisterium.

3. The Congregation for Catholic Education is aware of the cultural and social differences existing in different countries. These guidelines, therefore, should be adapted by the respective Episcopates to the pastoral necessities of each local Church. 


4. Sexuality is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love. Therefore it is an integral part of the development of the personality and of its educative process: " It is, in fact, from sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society ".(3)

5. Sexuality characterises man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions. Such diversity, linked to the complementarity of the two sexes, allows thorough response to the design of God according to the vocation to which each one is called. 

Sexual intercourse, ordained towards procreation, is the maximum expression on the physical level of the communion of love of the married. Divorced from this context of reciprocal gift - a reality which the christian enjoys, sustained and enriched in a particular way by the grace of God it loses its significance, exposes the selfishness of the individual, and is a moral disorder.(4) 

6. Sexuality, oriented, elevated and integrated by love acquires truly human quality. Prepared by biological and psychological development, it grows harmoniously and is achieved in the full sense only with the realisation of affective maturity, which manifests itself in unselfish love and in the total gift of self. 


7. One can see - among christians, too - that there are notable differences with regard to sex education. In today's climate of moral disorientation a danger arises, whether of a harmful conformism or prejudice which falsifies the intimate nature of being human, ushered whole from the hands of the Creator.

8. In order to respond to such a situation one looks for a suitable sex education from every source. But if the conviction of its necessity is fairly widely held in theory, in practice there remain uncertainties and significant differences, either with regard to the persons and institutions who must assume the educational responsibility, or in connection with , the contents and methodologies.

9. Educators and parents are often aware of not being sufficiently prepared to impart adequate sex education. The school is not always in a position to offer that integral vision of the matter which would remain incomplete with the scientific information alone. 

10. Particular difficulties are found in those countries where the urgency of the problem is not recognised, or where perhaps it is thought that it resolves itself without specific education. 

11. In general, there is need to recognise that one treats of a difficult undertaking by reason of the complexity of the diverse elements (physical, psychological, pedagogic, socio-cultural, juridical, moral and religious) which come together in educational action. 

12. Some catholic organisations in different parts - with the approval and encouragement of the local Episcopate - have begun to carry out a positive work of sex education; it is directed not only to help children and adolescents on the way to psychological and spiritual maturity, but also and above all to protect them from the dangers of ignorance and widespread degradation. 

13. Also praiseworthy are the efforts of many who, with scientific seriousness, dedicate themselves to study the problem, moving from the human sciences and integrating the results of such research in a project which conforms with human dignity, a project by the light of the Gospel. 


14. The Magisterium's declarations on sex education mark out a course which satisfies the just requirements of history on the one hand and fidelity to tradition on the other.(5)

Vatican Council II in the " Declaration on Christian Education " presents the perspective in which sex education must be set,(6) affirming the right of young people to receive an education adequate to their personal requirements. 

The Council states: " With the help of advances in psychology and in the art and science of teaching, children and young people should be assisted in the harmonious development of their physical, moral and intellectual endowments. Surmounting hardships with a gallant and steady heart, they should be helped to acquire gradually a more mature sense of responsibility towards ennobling their own lives through constant effort, and toward pursuing authentic freedom. As they advance in years they should be given positive and prudent sex education ".(7) 

15. The Pastoral Constitution " Gaudium et spes ", in speaking of the dignity of marriage and the family presents the latter as the preferential place for the education of young people in chastity.(8) But since this is an aspect of education as a whole, the co-operation of teachers with parents is needed in the accomplishment of their mission.(9) Such education, therefore, must be offered within the family to children and adolescents in a gradual manner, always considering the total formation of the person (10)

16. In the Apostolic Exhortation on the mission of the christian family in the world as it is, John Paul II reserves an important place to sex education as valuable to the person. " Education to love as self giving, says the Holy Father, also constitutes the indispensable premise for parents called to offer their children a clear and delicate sex education. Faced with a culture which largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something commonplace, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure, the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person - body, emotions and soul - and manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love ".(11)

17. The Holy Father immediately goes on to speak of the school, which is responsible for this education in service of and in harmony with parents. " Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents ".(12)

In order for the value of sexuality to reach its full realisation, " education for chastity is absolutely essential, for it is a virtue that develops a person's authentic maturity and makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the "nuptial meaning " of the body ".(13) It consists in self control, in the capacity of guiding the sexual instinct to the service of love and of integrating it in the development of the person. Fruit of the grace of God and of our cooperation, chastity tends to harmonise the different components of the human person, and to overcome the frailty of human nature, marked by sin, so that each person can follow the vocation to which God has called. 

In the commitment to an enlightened education in chastity, "Christian parents, discerning the signs of God's call, will devote special attention and care to education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of that self giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality " (14)

19. In the teaching of John Paul II, the positive consideration of values, which one ought to discover and appreciate, precedes the norm which one must not violate. This norm, nevertheless, interprets and formulates the values for which people must strive. 

" In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality. For this reason the Church is firmly opposed to an often widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles. That would merely be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity - while still in the years of innocence - by opening the way to vice ".(15)

20. This document, therefore, starting from the christian vision of man and woman and appealing to the principles enunciated recently by the Magisterium, desires to present to educators some fundamental guidelines for sex education and for the conditions and mode of presenting it at the operative level. 


21. Every type of education is inspired by a specific conception of man and woman. Christian education aims to promote the realisation of man and woman through the development of all their being, incarnate spirits, and of the gifts of nature and of grace by which they are enriched by God. Christian education is rooted in the faith which " throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal which God has set for man ".(16)


22. In the christian vision of man and woman, a particular function of the body is recognised, because it contributes to the revealing of the meaning of life and of the human vocation. Corporeality is, in fact, a specific mode of existing and operating proper to the human spirit: This significance is first of all of an anthropological nature: the body reveals man,(17) " expresses the person " (18) and is therefore the first message of God to the same man and woman, almost a species of " primordial sacrament, understood as a sign which efficaciously transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from all eternity " .(19)

23. There is a second significance of a theological nature: the body contributes to revealing God and his creative love, in as much as it manifests the creatureliness of man and woman, whose dependence bestows a fundamental gift, which is the gift of love. " This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and so a witness to love as the source from which this same giving springs ".(20)

24. The body, in as much as it is sexual, expresses the vocation of man and woman to reciprocity, which is to love and to the mutual gift of self.(21) The body, in short, calls man and woman to the constitutive vocation to fecundity as one of the fundamental meanings of their being sexual.(22)

25. The sexual distinction, which appears as a determination of human being, is diversity, but in equality of nature and dignity.(23) 

The human person, through his or her intimate nature, exists in relation to others, implying a reciprocity of love. The sexes are complementary: similar and dissimilar at the same time; not identical, the same, though, in dignity of person; they are peers so that they may mutually understand each other, diverse in their reciprocal completion. 

26. Man and woman constitute two modes of realising, on the part of the human creature, a determined participation in the Divine Being: they are created in the " image and likeness of God " and they fully accomplish such vocation not only as single persons, but also as couples, which are communities of love.(25) Oriented to unity and fecundity, the married man and woman participate in the creative love of God, living in communion with Him through the other.(26)

27 The presence of sin obscures original innocence, rendering less easy to man and woman the perception of these truths: their decipherment has become an ethical task, the object of a difficult engagement entrusted to man and woman: " After original sin the man and the woman will lose the grace of original innocence. The discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body will cease to be for them a simple reality of revelation and of grace. This meaning will remain as a commitment given to man by the ethos of the gift, inscribed in the depths of the human heart, as a distant echo of original innocence "(27)

Faced with this capacity of the body to be at the same time sign and instrument of ethical vocation, one can establish an analogy between the body itself and sacramental economy, which is the concrete means through which grace and salvation reach us. 

28. Since men and women in their time have been inclined to reduce sexuality to genital experience alone, there have been reactions tending to devalue sex, as though by its nature men and women were defiled by it. These present guidelines intend to oppose such devaluation. 

29. " It is only in the Mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear",(28) and human existence acquires its full meaning in the vocation to the divine life. Only by following Christ does man respond to this vocation and become so fully man, growing finally to reach the perfect man in the measure approaching the full maturity of Christ.(29)

30. In the light of the Mystery of Christ, sexuality appears to us as a vocation to realise that love which the Holy Spirit instills in the hearts of the redeemed. Jesus Christ has enriched such vocation with the Sacrament of Marriage. 

31. Furthermore, Jesus has pointed out by word and example the vocation to virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.(30) Virginity is a vocation to love: it renders the heart more free to love God.(31) Free of the duties of conjugal love, the virgin heart can feel, therefore, more disposed to the gratuitous love of one's brothers and sisters. 

In consequence, virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven better expresses the gift of Christ to the Father on behalf of us and prefigures with greater precision the reality of eternal life, all substantiated in charity.(32)

Virginity, certainly is a renunciation of the form of love which typifies marriage, but committed to undertaking in greater profundity the dynamism, inherent in sexuality, of self-giving openness to others. It seeks to obtain its strengthening and transfiguring by the presence of the Spirit, who teaches us to love the Father and the brethren, after the example of the Lord Jesus. 

32. In synthesis, sexuality is called to express different values to which specific moral exigencies correspond. Oriented towards interpersonal dialogue, it contributes to the integral maturation of people, opening them to the gift of self in love; furthermore, tied to the order of creation, to fecundity and to the transmission of life, it is called to be faithful to this inner purpose also. Love and fecundity are meanings and values of sexuality which include and summons each other in turn, and cannot therefore be considered as either alternatives or opposites. 

33. The affective life, proper to each sex, expresses itself in a characteristic mode in the different states of life: conjugal union, consecrated celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom, the condition of the christian who has not yet reached marriage, or who remains celibate, or who has chosen to remain such. In all these cases the affective life must be gathered and integrated in the human person.


34. A fundamental objective of this education is an adequate knowledge of the nature and importance of sexuality and of the harmonious and integral development of the person towards psychological maturity, with full spiritual maturity in view, to which all believers are called.(33)

To this end, the christian educator will remember the principles of faith and the different methods of educational aid, taking account of the positive evaluation which actual pedagogy makes of sexuality. 

35. In the christian anthropological perspective, affective-sex education must consider the totality of the person and insist therefore on the integration of the biological, psycho-affective, social and spiritual elements. This integration has become more difficult because the believer also bears the consequences of sin from the beginning. 

A true " formation ", is not limited to the informing of the intellect, but must pay particular attention to the will, to feelings and emotions. In fact, in order to move to maturation in affective-sexual life, self control is necessary, which presupposes such virtues as modesty, temperance, respect for self and for others, openness to one's neighbour. 

All this is not possible if not in the power of the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ. 

36. Also, if the modes are diverse which sexuality assumes in single people, education must first of all promote that mafiurity which " entails not only accepting sex as part of the totality of human values, but also seeing it as giving a possibility for " offering ", that is, a capacity for giving pure love, altruistic love. When such a capacity is sufficiently acquired, an individual becomes capable of spontaneous contacts, emotional self control and commitment of his free will ".(34)

37. Contemporary pedagogy of christian inspiration sees in the person being educated, considered in all his or her totality and complexity, the principle subject of education. He or she must be helped to develop capacities for good, above all in a trustworthy relationship. This is very easily forgotten when excessive weight is given to simple information, at the expense of other dimensions of sex education. In education, in fact, a knowledge of new notions is of utmost importance, but enlivened by the assimilation of corresponding values and by a lively grasp of understanding of the personal responsibilities associated with entry into adulthood. 

38. Given the repercussions which sexuality has in the whole person, it is necessary that multiple aspects be kept in mind: conditions of health, the influence of the family and the social environment, impressions received and the reactions, of the pupil, education of the will, and the degree of development of spiritual life sustained with the help of grace. 

39. All that has been stated so far serves educators in helping and guiding the formation of personality in the young. They must stimulate them to a critical reflection on received impressions, and, while they propose values, must give testimony of an authentic spiritual life, both personal and communal. 

40. Having seen the close links existing between morality and sexuality, it is necessary that the knowledge of moral norms be accompained by clear motivation, so as to bring a sincere personal adherence to maturity. 

41. Contemporary pedagogy has full consciousness of the fact that human life is characterised by a constant evolution and that personal formation is a permanent process. This is also according to age true for sexuality, which expresses itself with particular characteristics in the different phases of life. It evidently brings riches and notable difficulties at every stage of maturation. 

42. Educators will have to bear in mind the fundamental stages of such evolution: the primitive instinct, which in the beginning is manifested in a rudimentary state, meets in its turn the ambivalence of good and evil. Then with the help of education, the feelings are stabilised and at the same time augment the sense of responsibility. Gradually selfishness is eliminated, a certain asceticism is stabilised, others are accepted and loved for themselves, the elements of sexuality are integrated: genitality, eroticism, love and charity. Also if the result is not always fully attained, they are more numerous than may be thought who come near the goal to which they aspire. 

43. Christian educators are persuaded that sex education is realised in full in the context of faith. Incorporated by Baptism into the Risen Christ, the christian knows that his or her body, too, has been vivified and purified by the Spirit which Jesus communicates.(35)

Faith in the mystery of the Risen Christ, which through his Spirit actualises and prolongs in the faithful the paschal mystery, uncovers in the believer the vocation to the resurrection of the flesh, already begun thanks to the Spirit who dwells in the just as pledge and seed of the total and definitive resurrection. 

44. The disorder provoked by sin, present and operating in the individual as well as in the culture which characterises society, exercises a strong pressure to conceive and live sexuality in a manner opposed to the law of Christ, according to that which St. Paul called the law of sin.(36) At times, economic structures, state laws, mass media and systems of life in the great metropoloi are factors which negatively impinge on people. Christian education takes note of this and indicates guidelines for responsibly opposing such influences. 

45. This constant endeavour is sustained and rendered possible by divine grace through the Word of God received in faith, through prayer and through participation in the sacraments. In first place is the Eucharist, communion with Christ in the same act as his sacrifice, where effectively the young believer finds the bread of life as viaticum in order to face and overcome the obstacles on his or her earthly pilgrimage. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, through the grace that is proper to it and with the help of spiritual direction, not only reinforces the capacity for resistance to evil but also gives the courage to pick oneself up after a fall. 

These sacraments are offered and celebrated in the ecclesial community. Those who are vitally involved in such community draw from the sacraments the strength to realise a chaste life, according to their state. 

46 Personal and community prayer is the indispensable means for obtaining from God the necessary strength to keep faith with one's baptismal obligations, for resisting the impulses of human nature wounded by sin, and for balancing the emotions provoked by negative influences in the environment. 

The spirit of prayer helps us to live coherently the practice of the evangelical virtues of faithfulness and sincerity of heart, of poverty and humility in the daily effort of work and of commitment to one's neighbour. The interior life gives rise to christian joy which wins the battle against evil, beyond every moralism and pyschological aid. 

From frequent and intimate contact with the Lord, everyone, especially the young, will derive the strength and enthusiasm for a pure life and they will realise their human and christian vocation in peaceful self control and in generous giving to others. 

The importance of these considerations can escape noone. Today, in fact, many people, implicitly or explicitly, hold a pessimistic interpretation of the capacity of human nature to accomplish a life-long commitment, especially in marriage. Christian education should raise the confidence of the young so that their understanding of and preparation for life-long commitment be secured with the certainty that God will help them with His grace to accomplish His purposes. 

47. Imitation of and union with Christ, lived and handed on by the saints, are the most profound motivation for our hope of realising the highest ideal of a chaste life, unattainable by human effort alone. 

The Virgin Mary is the eminent example of christian life. The Church, through centuries of experience is convinced that the faithful, especially the young, by devotion to her, have known how to realise this ideal.



48. Education, in the first place, is the duty of the family, which " is the school of richest humanity".(37) It is, in fact, the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making acceptable without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrating them harmoniously, in a balanced and rich personality. 

49. The affection and reciprocal trust which exist in the family are necessary for the harmonious and balanced development of the child right from birth. So that the affective natural bonds which unite parents to children be positive in the highest degree, parents are in pride of place in realising a peaceful sexual balance, and in establishing a relationship of trust and of dialogue with their, children in a manner appropriate to their age and development. 

50. In order to be able to give efficacious guidance, which is necessary for resolving the problems which arise, prior to any theoretical knowledge, adults are to be exemplary in their conduct. Christian parents must know that their example represents the most valid contribution in the education of their children. These, in their turn, can come to certainty that the christian ideal is a reality experienced within the family itself. 

51. Openness and collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation, will positively influence the maturation of young people. The theoretical preparation and the experience of parents will help their children to understand the value and specific role of the reality of man and woman. 

52 The full realisation of conjugal life and, in consequence, the sanctity and stability of the family, depend on the formation of conscience and on values assimilated during the whole formative cycle of the parents themselves. Moral values seen in the family are transmitted to the children more easily.(38) Among these moral values, respect for life in the womb and, in general, respect for people of every age and condition have great importance. The young must be helped to understand, appreciate and respect these fundamental values of existence. 

In view of the importance of these elements for christian life, and also in the perspective of a divine call to the children to the priesthood or consecrated life, sex education acquires an ecclesial dimension. 


53. The Church, mother of the faithful born of her to the faith in Baptism, has an educative mission entrusted by Christ, which is realised especially through proclamation, full communion with God and one's fellows, conscientious and active participation in the eucharistic liturgy and through apostolic activity.(39) By being open to life the ecclesial community constitutes an environment adequate to the assimilation of the christian ethic in which the faithful learn to witness to the Good News. 

54. The difficulties which sex education often encounters within the bosom of the family solicit a major commitment on the part of the christian community and, in particular, of priests to collaborate in the education of the baptised. In this field, the catholic school, the parish and other ecclesial institutions are called to collaborate with the family. 

55. From the ecclesial character of the faith derives the co-responsibility of the christian community in helping the baptised to live coherently and knowledgeably the obligations taken on with baptism. It is the responsibility of the Bishops to establish norms and guidelines adapted to the necessities of the individual churches. 


56. Catechesis is called to be the fertile field for the renewal of all the ecclesial community. Therefore, in order to lead the faithful to maturity of faith, it must illustrate the positive values of sexuality, integrating them with those of virginity and marriage, in the light of the mystery of Christ and of the Church. 

This catechesis should bring into relief that the first vocation of the christian is to love, and that the vocation to love is realised in two diverse ways: in marriage, or in a life of celibacy for love of the kingdom.(40) "Marriage and virginity are the two modes of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with His people".(41) 

57. So that families may be certain that catechesis is by no means apart from the Magisterium, pastors are to be involved both in the selection and preparation of responsible Magisterium personnel and in the determination of content and method. 

58. From what has been said above in n. 48, the fact remains ever valid that with regard to the more intimate aspects, whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family. 

59. It being understood that catechesis realised in the family constitutes a privileged form, if parents do not feel able to perform this duty, they may have recourse to others who enjoy their confidence. A wise initiative, prudent and adapted to age and environment, can avoid traumas for children and render to them more easy the solution of sexual problems. 


60. A fundamental aspect of the preparation of the young for marriage consists in giving them an exact vision of the christian ethic regarding sexuality. Catechesis offers the advantage of facing sexuality in the immediate prospect of marriage. But for its full success, this catechesis must be conveniently continued by developing a true and proper catechumenate. It aspires therefore to sustain and strengthen the chastity proper to the engaged in preparation for conjugal life viewed in a christian manner, and to the specific mission which the married have amongst the People of God. , 

61. Future spouses must know the profound significance of marriage, understood as a union of love for the realisation of the couple and for procreation. The stability of marriage and of conjugal love requires as indispensable conditions: chastity and self control, the formation of character and the spirit of sacrifice. With regard to certain difficulties of married life, rendered more acute by the conditions of our time, chastity during one's youth as an adequate preparation for marital chastity will be a decisive help to the married. They will need therefore to be informed about the divine law, declared by the ecclesiastical Magisterium, necessary for the formation of their consciences.(42)

62 Instructed in the value and greatness of the Sacrament of Matrimony, which specifies for them the grace and vocation of baptism, christian spouses will know how to live conscienciously the values and specific obligations of their moral lives as requirement and fruit of the grace and action of the Spirit, " fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament ".(43)

Therefore, in order to live their sexuality and to carry out their responsibilities in accord with God's plan,(44) it is important that spouses have knowledge of the natural methods of regulating their fertility. As John Paul II has said, "every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts ".(45) Evidently, contraception, insistently propagated today, constrasts with these christian ideals and these moral norms of which the Church is teacher. This fact renders still more urgent the necessity of transmitting to the young at an appropriate age the teaching of the Church on artificial means of contraception, and the reasons for such teaching, so that the young may be prepared for responsible marriage, full of love and open to life. 


63. A solid catechetical preparation of adults on human love establishes the foundations for the sex education of children. Thus the possession of human maturity illumined by faith in secured, which will be decisive in the dialogue which adults are called to establish with the new generations. Further to indications concerning methods to be used, such catechesis will favour an appropriate exchange of ideas on particular problems, will make the teaching aids for use better known, and will permit eventual encounters with experts, whose collaboration could be particularly useful in difficult cases. 


64. The person should find in society existing expressions and experiences of values which exercise an influence not secondary on the formative process. Therefore, it will be the task of civil society, in as much as it treats the common good,(46) to be watchful so that a wise physical and moral environment be secured in schools, and conditions which respond to the positive requests of parents, or receive their free support, be promoted. 

65. It is the task of the State to safeguard its citizens against injustices and moral disorders, such as the abuse of minors and every form of sexual violence, degrading dress, permissiveness and pornography, and the improper use of demographic information. 


66. In the actual world, the instruments of social communication, by their intrusiveness and suggestion, display to youth and the very young - also and above all in the field of sex education - a continuous and conditioning stream of information and training, which is very much more trenchant than that of one's own family. 

John Paul II has indicated the situation in which children find themselves confronted by the instruments of social communication: " Fascinated and devoid of defence before the world and adults, children are naturally ready to accept whatever is offered to them, whether good or bad... They are attracted by the " small screen ", they follow each gesture which is portrayed and they perceive, before and better than every other person, the emotions and feelings which result ".(47)

67. It is therefore to be noted that by the same technological evolution, the necessary control is rendered less easy and opportune. There is an urgency - for proper sex education, too - that " those who are at the receiving end of the media, and especially the young, should learn moderation and discipline in their use of them. They should aim to understand fully what they see, hear and read. They should discuss them with their teachers and with experts in such matters and should learn to reach correct judgements ".(48)

68 In defence of the rights of the child in this area, John Paul II stimulates the consciences of all responsible christians, especially parents and operators of the instruments of social communication, so that they do not hide behind the pretext of neutrality and respect for the spontaneous development of the child, since in reality this is behaviour of preoccupying indifference.(49)

Particular duties " in this matter are incumbent on civil authority in view of the common good ",(50) which requires the juridical regulation of the instruments of social communication to protect public morality, in particular the world of youth, especially with regard to magazines, films, radio and television programmes, exhibitions, shows and publicity. 


69. It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the rôle of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of " sexuality as value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God ".(51)

70. Interpersonal dialogue required by sex education, tends to kindle in the pupil an interior disposition suited to motivating and guiding personal behaviour. Such a point of view is strictly connected to the values inspired by the concept of life. Sex education is not reducible to simple teaching material, nor to theoretical knowledge alone, nor does it consist of a programme to be carried out progressively, but it has a specific objective in view: that affective maturation of the pupil, of self control, and of correct behaviour in social relationships. 

71. The school can contribute to the realisation of this objective in various ways. All matters can offer an opportunity to treat themes in their relation to sexuality; the teacher will do so always in a positive key and with great delicacy, concretely evaluating the opportunity and the methods. Individual sex education always retains prior value and can not be entrusted indiscrimately to just any member of the school community. In fact, as will be specified in what follows, as well as right judgement, sense of responsibility, professional competence, affective and decent maturity, this education requires from the teacher outstanding sensitivity in initiating the child and adolescent in the problems of love and life without disturbing their psychological development. 

72 Also, though the teacher possess the necessary qualities for sex education in groups, it is necessary always to consider the concrete situation of such groups. This applies above all in mixed groups, since these require special precautions. In each case, the responsible authorities must examine with parents the propriety of proceeding in such a manner. Given the complexity of the problem, it is good to reserve for the pupil a time for personal dialogue in order to accomodate the seeking of advice or clarification - which a natural sense of decency would not allow to arise in front of others. Only a strict collaboration between the school and the family will be able to guarantee an advantageous exchange of experience between parents and teachers for the good of the pupils.(52) It is the responsibility of Bishops, taking account of school legislation and local circumstances, to establish guidelines for sex education in groups, above all if they are mixed. 

73 It can sometimes happen that particular events in the life of the school render a timely intervention necessary. In such cases, the school authorities, in accordance with the principle of collaboration, will contact parents interested in agreeing on an appropriate solution. 

74 Persons particularly suited by competence and balance, and who enjoy the trust of parents, can be invited to hold private conversations with pupils to help them to develop their affective maturity and to give the right balance in their social relationships. Such interventions in personal guidance belong in particular to the more difficult cases, at least when the gravity of the situation makes necessary recourse to a specialist in the matter. 

75 The formation and development of an harmonious personality require a peaceful atmostphere, fruitful understanding, reciprocal trust and collaboration between persons in charge. It is obtained with mutual respect for the specific competence of the various members of the educational staff, their responsibilities and the choice of the differentiated means at their disposal. 


76. In order to offer correct sex education, appropriate teaching materials can be of assistance. The elaboration of such materials requires the contribution of specialists in moral and pastoral theology, of catechists, of educationists and catholic psychologists. Particular attention is to be paid to the materials to be used by the pupils themselves. 

Some school text-books on sexuality, by reason of their naturalist character, are harmful to the child and the adolescent. Graphic and audio-visual materials are more harmful when they crudely present sexual realities for which the pupil is not prepared, and thus create traumatic impressions or raise an unhealthy curiosity which leads to evil. Let teachers think seriously of the grave harm that an irresponsible attitude in such delicate matters can cause in pupils. 


77. There exists in education a not negligible factor which goes side by side with the action of the family and the school and which frequently has an even greater influence in the formation of the person: these are youth groups, constituted in leisure time, which impinge intensely on the life of the adolescent and young adult. The human sciences hold that " groups " are a positive condition for formation, because the maturation of the personality is not possible without efficacious personal relationships. 


78. The complexity and delicacy of the task requires accurate preparation of teachers, specific qualities in the way the matter is treated and particular attention to precise objectives.


79. The mature personality of the teachers, their training and psychological balance strongly influence their pupils. An exact and complete vision of the meaning and value of sexuality and a peaceful integration within the personality itself are indispensable for teachers in constructive education. Their training takes shape according to environment. Their ability is not so much the fruit of theoretical knowledge but rather the result of their affective maturity. This does not dispense with the acquisition of scientific knowledge suited to their educational work, which is particularly arduous these days. Meetings with parents can be of great help. 

80. The dispositions which must characterise the teacher are the result of a general formation, founded on a positive and professional constructive concept of life, and of constant effort in realising it. Such a formation goes beyond the purely necessary professional training and addresses the more intimate aspects of the personality, including the religious and the spiritual. This last will be the guarantee of a recourse to christian principles, which, by supernatural means, must sustain the educational enterprise. 

81. The teacher who carries out his or her task outside the family context needs a suitable and serious psychopedagogic training which allows the seizing of particular situations which require a special solicitude. A high degree of this is needed when, in consultation with the parents, a boy or girl needs a psychologist. 

82. Beyond the normal topics and pathological cases, there is a whole range of individuals with problems more or less acute and persistent, which risk being little cured, yet are truly in need of help. In these cases, in addition to therapy at the medical level, constant support and guidance on the part of teachers is needed. 


83. A clear vision of the situation is required because the method adopted not only gradually conditions the success of this delicate education, but also conditions cooperation between the various people in responsibility. In reality, the criticisms normally raised refer more to the methods used by some teachers than to the enterprise itself. These methods must have definite qualities, both in the same teachers and in the end to which such education is proposed. 


84. Affective-sex education, being more conditioned than others by the degree of physical and psychological development of the pupil, must always be adapted to the individual. In certain cases it is necessary to advise the pupil in preparation for particularly difficult situations, when it is foreseen that the pupil will have to encounter them, or forewarn him or her of imminent or permanent dangers.

85. It is necessary therefore to respect the progressive character of this education. A proper gradual progress of initiatives must be attentive to the stages of physical and psychological growth, which require a more careful preparation and a prolonged period of maturation. One needs to be assured that the pupil has assimilated the values, the knowledge and the motivation which has been proposed, or the changes and the evolution which he or she could observe in him or herself and of which the teacher opportunely indicates the causes, the connections and the purpose. 


86. In order to make a valid contribution to the harmonious and balanced development of the young, teachers must regulate their teaching according to the particular rôle which falls to them. The pupil neither perceives nor receives in the same manner from different teachers the information and motivation which they give, because different teachers affect his or her intimacy in a different way. Objectivity and prudence must characterise such teaching. 

87. Progressive information requires a partial explanation, but always according to truth. Explanations must not be distorted by reticence or by lack of frankness. Prudence therefore requires of the teacher not only an appropriate adaption of the matter to the expectations of the pupil, but also a choice of language, mode and time in which the teaching is carried out. This requires that the child's sense of decency be taken into account. The teacher, moreover, remembers the influence of parents: their preoccupation with this dimension of education, the particular character of family education, their concept of life, and their degree of openness to other educational spheres. 

88. One must insist first of all on the human and christian values of sexuality, so that pupils can appreciate them, and so that the desire to realise them in one's personal life and relationships may be roused. Without disregarding the difficulties which sexual development involves, but without creating an obsessive state, the teacher may have confidence in the educational enterprise: it can rely on the resonance which true values strike in the young, when they are presented with conviction and are confirmed by testimony of life. 

89. Given the importance of sex education in the integral formation of the person, teachers, taking account of the various aspects of sexuality and of their incidence in the global personality, are urged in particular not to separate knowledge from corresponding values, which give a sense and orientation to biological, psychological and social information. Consequently, when they present moral norms, it is necessary , that they show how find their raison d'etre and value. 


90. Modesty, a fundamental component of the personality, may be considered - on the ethical level - as the vigilant knowledge which defends the dignity of man, woman and authentic love. It tends to react to certain attitudes and to curb behaviour which stains the dignity of the person. It is a necessary and effective means of controlling the instincts, making authentic love flower, integrating the affective-sexual life in the harmonions picture of the person. Modesty has great pedagogic weight and must therefore be respected. Children and young people will thus learn to respect the body itself as a gift from God, member of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit; they will learn to resist the evil which surrounds them and to have a vision and clear imagination to seek to express a truly human love with all its spiritual components when they meet people in friendship. 

91. To such an end, concrete and attractive models of virtue are to be presented, the aesthetic sense be developed, inspiring a taste for the beauty present in nature, in art and in moral life; the young are to be educated to assimilate a system of sensible and spiritual values in an unselfish impetus of faith and love. 

92. Friendship is the height of affective maturation and differs from mere cameraderie by its interior dimension, by communication which allows and fosters true communion, by its reciprocal generosity and its stability. Education for friendship can become a factor of extraordinary importance in the making of the personality in its individual and social dimensions. 

93. The bonds of friendship which unite the young of both sexes contribute both to understanding and to reciprocal respect when they are maintained within the limits of normal affective expression. If however they become or tend to become manifestations of a genital character, they lose the authentic meaning of mature friendship, prejudice the relationships involved and the future prospects with regard to an eventual marriage, and render the individuals concerned less attentive to a possible call to the consecrated life. 


The teacher may find that in carrying out his or her mission, he or she may be confronted by several particular problems, which we treat here. 

94. Sex education must lead the young to take cognisance of the different expressions and dynamisms of sexuality and of the human values which must be respected. True love is the capacity to open oneself to one's neighbour in generosity, and in devotion to the other for the other's good; it knows how to respect the personality and the freedom of the other,(53) it is self giving, not possessive. The sex instinct, on the other hand, if abandoned to itself, is reduced to the merely genital, and tends to take possession of the other, immediately seeking personal gratification.

95. Relationships of sexual intimacy are reserved to marriage, because only then is the inseparable connection secured - which God wants - between the unitive and the procreative meaning of such matters, which are ordained to maintain, confirm and express a definitive communion of life - " one flesh "(54) - mediating the realisation of a love that is " human " " total " " faithful " " creative "(55) which is marital love. Therefore, sexual relations outside the context of marriage constitute a grave disorder, because they are reserved to a reality which does not yet exist;(56) they are a language which is not found in the objective reality of the life of the two persons, not yet constituted in definitive community with the necessary recognition and guarantee of civil and, for catholic spouses, religious society. 

96. It seems that there is a spread amongst adolescents and young adults of certain manifestations of a sexual kind which of themselves tend to complete encounter, though without reaching its realisation: manifestations of the merely genital which are a moral disorder because they are outside the matrimonial context of authentic love.

97. Sex education will help adolescents to discover the profound values of love, and to understand the harm which such manifestations do to their affective maturation, in as much as they lead to an encounter which is not personal, but instinctive, often weakened by reservations and egoistic calculations, without therefore the character of true personal relationship and so much less definitive. An authentic education will lead the young towards maturity and self-control, the fruit of conscientious choice and personal effort. 

98. It is the task of sex education to promote a continuous progress in the control of the impulses to effect an opening, in due course, to true and self giving love. A particularly complex and delicate problem which can be present is that of masturbation and of its repercussions on the integral growth of the person. Masturbation, according to catholic doctrine constitutes a grave moral disorder,(57) principally because it is the use of the sexual faculty in a way which essentially contradicts its finality, not being at the service of love and life according to the design of God.(58)

99. A teacher and perspicacious counsellor must endeavour to identify the causes of the deviation in order to help the adolescent to overcome the immaturity underlying this habit. From an educative point of view, it is necessary to consider masturbation and other forms of autoeroticism as symptoms of problems much more profound, which provoke sexual tension which the individual seeks to resolve by recourse to such behaviour. Pedagogic action, therefore, should be directed more to the causes than to the direct repression of the phenomenon.(59)

Whilst taking account of the objective gravity of masturbation, it is necessary to be cautious in evaluating the subjective responsibility of the person.(60)

100. In order that the adolescent be helped to feel accepted in a communion of charity and freed from self enclosure, the teacher "should undramatise masturbation and not reduce his or her esteem and benevolence for the pupil".(61) The teacher will help the pupil towards social integration, to be open and interested in others; to be able to be free from this form of autoeroticism, advancing towards self giving love, proper to mature affectivity; at the same time, the teacher will encourage the pupil to have recourse to the recommended means of christian asceticism, such as prayer and the sacraments, and to be involved in works of justice and charity. 

101. Homosexuality, which impedes the person's acquisition of sexual maturity, whether from the individual point of view, or the inter-personal, is a problem which must be faced in all objectivity by the pupil and the educator when the case presents itself. 

" Pastorally, these homosexuals must be received with understanding and supported in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their social mal-adaption, their culpability will be judged with prudence; but no pastoral method can be used which, holding that these acts conform to the condition of these persons, accord them a moral justification. 

" According to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts deprived of their essential and indispensable rule ".(62)

102. It will be the duty of the family and the teacher to seek first of all to identify the factors which drive towards homosexuality: to see if it is a question of physiological or psycho logical factors; if it be the result of a false education or of the lack of normal sexual evolution; if it comes from a contracted habit or from bad example;(63) or from other factors. More particularly, in seeking the causes of this disorder, the family and the teacher will have to take account of the elements of judgement proposed by the ecclesiastical 

Magisterium, and be served by the contribution which various disciplines can offer. One must, in fact, investigate elements of diverse order: lack of affection, immaturity, obsessive impulses, seduction, social isolation and other types of frustration, depravation in dress, license in shows and publications. In greater profundity lies the innate frailty of man and woman, the consequence of original sin; it can run to the loss of the sense of God and of man and woman, and have its repercussions in the sphere of sexuality.(64)

103. The causes having been sought and understood, the family and the teacher will offer an efficacious help in the process of integral growth: welcoming with understanding, creating a climate of hope, encouraging the emancipation of the individual and his or her growth in self control, promoting an authentic moral force towards conversion to the love of God and neighbour, suggesting - if necessary - medical-psychological assistance from persons attentive to and respectful of the teaching of the Church. 

104. A permissive society which does not offer valid values on which to found one's life promotes alienating escapism, to which the young are subject in a particular way. Their idealism encounters the harshness of life, causing a tension which can provoke, because of the frailty of the will, a destructive escape in drugs. 

This is one of the problems which is getting worse and which assumes dramatic tones for the teacher. Some psychotropic substances raise the sensibility for sexual pleasure and in general diminish the capacity for self control and thereby for defense. The prolonged abuse of drugs leads to physical and psychological destruction. Drugs, mistaken autonomy and sexual disorders are often found together. The psychological situation and the human context of isolation being such, many people give up, addicts living in rebellion, creating conditions which easily lead into sexual abuses. 

105. Remedial intervention, which calls for a profound transformation of the individual from within and without, is laborious and long, because it must help to reconstruct the personality and relationships with the world of people and values. Preventative action is more efficacious. It secures the avoidance of deep, affective decline. It is love and care which educate towards value, dignity, respect for life, for the body, for sex, for health. The civil and christian community must know how to timely welcome the young who are abandoned, alone, insecure, helping them to be included in study and in work, to occupy their free time, offering them healthy places for meeting, happiness, activity, furnishing them with occasions for affective relationships and for solidarity. 

In particular, sport, which is at the service of man and woman, possesses a great educative value, not only as bodily discipline, but also as a healthy relaxation in which young people are encouraged to renounce their egotism and to meet other people. Only a freedom which is authentic, educated, aided and promoted offers protection from the quest for illusory liberty of drugs and sex. 


106. From these reflections one can conclude that in the actual socio-cultural situation there is urgent need to give positive and gradual affective-sex education to children, adolescents and young adults, paying attention to the dispositions of Vatican Council II. Silence is not a valid norm of conduct in this matter, above all when one thinks of the " hidden persuaders " which use insinuating language. Their influence today is undeniable: it is up to parents, therefore, to be alert not only to repair the harm caused by inappropriate and injurious interventions, but above all to opportunely inform their own children, offering them a positive and convincing education. 

107. The defense of the fundamental rights of the child and the adolescent for the harmonious and complete development of the personality conforms to the dignity of the children of God, and belongs in first place to parents. Personal maturation requires, in fact, a continuity in the educative process, protected by love and trust, proper to the family environment. 

108. In accomplishing her mission the Church has the duty and the right to take care of the moral education of the baptised. 

The contribution of the school in all education, and particularly in these matters which are so delicate, must be carried out in agreement with the family. 

This presupposes in teachers and in others involved, whether implicitly or explicitly, a correct criterion for the purpose of their contribution, and training in order to be able to treat these matters with delicacy and in a climate of serene trust. 

109. So that information and affective-sex education may be efficacious, it must be carried out with timely prudence, with adequate expression, and preferably in an individual form. The outcome of this education will depend largely on the human and christian vision in which the educator presents the values of life and love. 

110. The christian educator, whether father or mother of the family, teacher, priest or whoever bears responsibility in this regard, can be tempted, today above all, to demand , from others this task which needs such delicacy, principle, patience and courage, and which requires committed generosity in the pupil. It is necessary, therefore, before concluding, to reaffirm that this aspect of education is firstly a work of faith for the christian, and of faithful recourse to grace: each aspect of sex education, in fact, is inspired by faith, and draws indispensable strength from it and from grace. The Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians puts self-control and temperance within the ambit which the Holy Spirit, and He alone, can establish in the believer. It is God who bestows light, it is God who grants sufficient strength.(65)

111. The Congregation for Catholic Education turns to Episcopal Conferences so that they promote the union of parents, of christian communities, and of educators for convergent action in such an important sector for the future of young people and the good of society. The Congregation makes this invitation to assume this educational commitment in reciprocal trust and with the highest regard for rights and specific competences, with a complete christian formation in view. 

Rome, November 1st, Feast of All Saints 


Antonio M. Javierre, Secretary 
Titular Archbishop of Meta 



(1) Vatican Council II: Decl. Gravissimum educationis, n. 1 .

(2) Ibid.

(3) S. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, The Human Person, 29th. December, 1975, AAS 68 (1976) p. 77, n.1 .

(4) Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, 22nd. November, 1981, AAS 74 (1982) p. 128, n. 37: cf. infra n. 16.

(5) Pius XI, in his Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, of 31st. December, 1929, declared erroneous the sex education which was presented at that time, which was information of a naturalist character, precociously and indiscriminately imparted. (AAS 22 (1930) pp. 49-86). The Decree of the Holy Office of 21st. March, 1931 (AAS 23 (1931 ) pp. 118-119) must be read in this perspective. However, Pius XI considered the possibility of an individual, positive sex education " on the part of those who have received from God the educational mission and the grace of state ". (AAS 22 (1930) p. 71) . This positive value of sex education indicated by Pius XI has been gradually developed by successive Pontiffs. Pius XII, in his discourse to the Vth. International Congress of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, 13th. April, 1953 (AAS 45 (1953) pp. 278-286) and in his allocution to Italian Women of " Azione Cattolica ", 26th. October, 1941 (AAS 33 (1941) pp. 450-458) defines how sex education should be conducted within the ambit of the family. (Cf. also, Pius XII; to the Carmelites: AAS 43 (1951) pp. 734-738; to French Parents: AAS 43 (1951) pp. 730-734) The Teaching of Pius XII prepared the way to the Conciliar Declaration Gravissimum educationis.

(6) Cf. Gravissimum educationis, n. 1.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Cf. Vat. II: Const. Gaudium et spes, n. 49.

(9) Cf. Gravissimum educationis, n. 5.

(10) Ibid., n. 3; cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 52.

(11) Familiaris consortio, n. 37.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Familiaris consortio, n. 37.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Gaudium et spes, n. 11.

(17) John Paul II: General Audience, 14th. November, 1979, Teaching of John Paul II, II-2, 1979, p. 1156, n. 4.

(18) John Paul II : General Audience, 9th. January, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III- I , 1980, p. 90, n. 4.

(19) John Paul II: General Audience, 20th. February, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-I, 1980, p. 430, n. 4.

(20) John Paul II : General Audience, 9th. January, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-I, 1980, p. 90, n. 4. 

(21) " Precisely by traversing the depth of that original solitude, man now emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift, the expression of which - and for that very reason the expression of his existence as a person - is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity. The body, which expresses masculinity 'for' femininity and, viceversa, femininity 'for' masculinity, manifests the reciprocity and communion of persons. It expresses it by means of the gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence ". Ibid. 

(22) Cf. John Paul II : General Audience, 26th. March, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-I, 1980, pp. 737-74I 

(23) Gaudium et spes, n. 49. 

(24) Ibid. n. 12. 

(25) Ibid., in which comment is made on the social sense of Gen. 1, 27. 

(26) Ibid., nn. 47-52.

(27) John Paul I I : General Audience, 20th. February, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-I, 1980, p. 429, n. 2. 

(28) Gaudium et spes, n. 22. 

(29) Cf Eph. 4, 13. 

(30) Cf. Mt. 19, 3-12. 

(31) Cf. I Cor. 7, 32-34.

(32) Cf. I Cor. 13, 4-8; cf. Familiaris consortio, n. 16. 

(33) Cf. Vat. II : Const. Lumen gentium, n. 39. 

(34) S. Congregation for Catholic Education: A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, 11th. April, 1974, n. 22. 

(35) Cf. I Cor. 6, 15, 19-20.

(36) Cf. Rom. 7, 18-23.

(37) Gaudium et spes, n. 52; cf. Familiaris consortio, n. 37.

(38) Cf. Familiaris consortio, n. 37.

(39) Cf. Gravissimum educationis, n. 3-4; cf. Pius XI, Divini illius Magistri, l.c., pp. 53f., 56f.

(40) Cf. Familiaris consortio, n. II.

(41) Ibid., n. 16.

(42) Cf. Paul VI, Encyc. Letter, Humanae vitae, 25th. July, 1968, AAS 60 (1968) p. 493 ff., n.17 ff.

(43) Gaudium et spes, n. 48.

(44) Cf. Humanae vitae, n. 10.

(45) Familiaris consortio, n. 33. On actual contraceptive propaganda widely diffused cf. Humanae vitae, nn. 14-17.

(46) Cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 26; cf. Humanae vitae, n. 23.

(47) John Paul II, Message for the XIII World Communications Day, 23rd. May, 1979, AAS 71, (1979-II) p. 930. 

(48)Vat. II: Dec. Inter mirifica, n. 10; cf. Pontifical Commission for Social Communications : Past. Inst. Communio et Progressio, AAS 63 (1971) p. 619, n. 68. 

(49) Cf. John Paul II: Message for the XIII World Communications Day, 23rd. May, (1979) AAS 71 (1979-II) pp. 930-933.

(50) Inter mirifica, n. 12. 

(51) Familiaris consortio, n. 32. 

(52) Cf above n. 58.

(53) Cf. 1 Cor. 13, 5. 

(54) Mt. 19, 5.

(55) Humanae vitae, n. 9. 

(56) Cf. The Human Person, n. 7.

(57) Cf. The Human Person, n. 9.

(58) Ibid.

(59) Ibid.

(60) Ibid.

(61) A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, n. 63. 

(62) The Human Person, n. 8. 

(63) Ibid.

(64) Cf. Rom. 1, 26-28; cf., per analogia, The Human Person, n. 9. 

(65) Cf. Gal. 5, 22-24.