Practical Guidelines from the Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality

Concerned about the way in which explicit sex education had become pervasive, and that it was excluding parents from this most important formation of their children and young people, the Pontifical Council for the Family published The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality – Guidelines for Education within the Family.

Although the document was released in 1995, under the Pontificate of Saint John Paul II, the tome provides practical guidelines that still serves parents well today. 

Being almost three decades old, the document does not deal with the gender ideology that has taken such a hold in a terribly alarming rate.  Never-the-less, the same principles can be applied, along with common sense about protecting young people from harm through the taking of hormones and the mutilation of gender-reassignment surgery at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

The purpose of this article is to lay out in an easily accessible form the principles and guidelines contained within the document.  Parents, educators, and all those interested in ensuring young people are formed should take the time to study well The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.  There is much to be discovered in its pages, including a discussion on the principal stages of development of children and young people, which will assist greatly.

If we have erred as parents or educators, we must have the humility to acknowledge our failings in forming the young people in our care, and have the courage to turn the current situation around.

The role of parents

In any discussion about sexuality education, it is important to stress that the responsibility for the formation of children and young people belongs to their parents.  This is particularly so when it comes to discussing what the Church calls, education for love.

“The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of charity, temperance, fortitude, and chastity.  As the domestic church, the family is the school of the richest humanity.  This is particularly true for the moral and spiritual education on such a delicate matter as chastity.”

Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality n. 48

Parents often feel unsure of how to impart this knowledge to their children.  They seek guidance to know what to teach and when.  What is the best way to discuss the topic?  The so-called experts have played on parent fears and led them to believe that somehow their knowledge of their child and of sex itself is somehow grossly inadequate.

Parents, know their children best. 

Much of this education in love comes naturally, especially if the parents are striving to live chastity themselves.  However, in order to be confident in this role, it is important for parents to arm themselves with knowledge so they are equipped to teach their children in education for love and chastity, and help them navigate the turbulent years of puberty and adolescence.

The Catholic Church does allow for others to assist parents in this important task.  However, parents’ ought to always know what is being taught and when, and it should always conform to Christian principles.

When assistance is sought by parents, programmes that facilitate knowledge building and discussion between parent and child are best.

Guidelines for Education Within the Family

The following Guidelines are taken directly from The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality as a quick reference for parents and educators.  The document itself provides further discussion under each point.

Parents, Grandparents, and educators should all take the time to familiarise themselves with these basic principles and guidelines.  It is important that particular programmes and situations are evaluated against them in order that areas for improvement and change may be highlighted.  Such an action will be a positive step in assisting those in their charge to truly become all that they were created to be.

Four Principles Regarding Information About Sexuality

There are four principles that the document lays out as foundational. Note that the presumption is that the parents will be the ones forming their children. See numbers 65-75 in the document for explanations for each point.

  1. Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation.
  2. The moral dimension must always be part of the their explanations.
  3. Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must be provided in the broadest context of education for love.
  4. Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time.

Recommendations for Parents and Educators

It is recommended that parents be aware of their own educational role and defend and carry out this primary right and duty.  It follows that any educative activity, related to education for love and carried out by persons outside the family, must be subject to the parents’ acceptance of it and must be seen not as a substitute but as a support for their work.  In fact, “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.”  Frequently, parents are not lacking in awareness and effort, but they are quite alone, defenseless, and often made to feel they are wrong.  They need understanding, but also support and help by groups, associations, and institutions. (# 113)

1. Recommendations for parents

It is recommended that parents associate with other parents, not only in order to protect, maintain, or fill out their own role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the area of education for love, but also to fight against damaging forms of sex education and to ensure that their children will be educated according to Christian principles and in a way that is consonant with their personal development.

In the case where parents are helped by others in educating their own children for love, it is recommended that they keep themselves precisely informed on the content and methodology with which such supplementary education is imparted.  No one can bind children or young people to secrecy about the content and method of instruction provided outside the family.  

We are aware of the difficulty and often the impossibility for parents to participate fully in all supplementary instruction provided outside the home.  Nevertheless, they have the right to be informed about the structure and content of the program.  In all cases, their right to be present during classes cannot be denied.

It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles.  However, such a decision of the parents must not become grounds for discrimination against their children.  On the other hand, parents who remove their children from such instruction have the duty to give them an adequate formation, appropriate to each child’s or young person’s stage of development.  

See #114-117

2.  Recommendations for all educators

Since each child or young person must be able to live his or her own sexuality in conformity with Christian principles, and hence be able to exercise the virtue of chastity, no educator – not even parents – can interfere with this right to chastity (cf. Matthew 18:4-7).

It is recommended that respect be given to the right of the child and the young person to be adequately informed by their own parents on moral and sexual questions in a way that complies with his or her desire to be chaste and to be formed in chastity.  This right is further qualified by a child’s stage of development, his or her capacity to integrate moral truth with sexual information, and by respect for his or her innocence and tranquillity.  

It is recommended that respect be given to the right of the child or young person to withdraw from any form of sexual instruction imparted outside the home.  Neither the children nor other members of their family should ever be penalized or discriminated against for this decision.  

See #118-120

Four Working Principles and Their Particular Norms

1.  Human sexuality is a sacred mystery and must be presented according to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church, always bearing in mind the effects of original sin.

2.  Only information proportionate to each phase of their individual development should be presented to children and young people.

3.  No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children or young people of any age, individually or in a group.

4.  No one should ever be invited, let alone obliged, to act in any way that could objectively offend against modesty or which could subjectively offend against his or her own delicacy or sense of privacy.

See #121-127


Parents are the first educators of their children.  They have a right and a duty to form their children and young adults in authentic love so that they may truly flourish.  If necessary, parents may ask others, including educators, to assist them in this duty.  Those who assist are always at the service of parents, and must never usurp the parent’s role.

No parent should ever feel like they have to fight their child’s school on these matters, least of all Catholic schools.

With the principles and guidelines provided within the Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality parents and educators may easily evaluate particular programmes and situations.  Such an evaluation, carried out in humility, can be a catalyst for positive change.  When sexuality is taught within a solid moral framework, with modesty, respect, and a love of chastity, young people are given an opportunity to appreciate their true dignity, respecting themselves and others.

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