Discussing Gender and Sexuality in the Catholic School

4 keys to teaching the truth of God’s plan for sexuality

By Rachel Gleeson Padilla

More and more, our culture presents ideas about sexuality and gender that are far from the truth and beauty of God’s plan. Here in Colorado a bill was recently put forward which would provide “comprehensive” sexual education in the state’s public and publicly-funded schools. The bill would demand that schools present homosexual relationships and avoid “gender norms.” The same is happening in other states. Our society is inundated with this kind of language and thought. The reality that God made humans male and female is being clouded by a twisted view of freedom. The beauty of the divine plan for marriage and family life is being distorted by a false inclusivity. Unfortunately, this is the culture in which our students live. These are the messages they hear.

If these questions and ideas have not made their way into your classroom yet, they probably will soon. As we work to not only educate the minds of our students but form their souls, we must not neglect to teach them the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality. We must help them sort through the messages they hear and discover truth. Only when students know the truth can they choose to embrace it.

These topics are sometimes difficult to discuss, let alone teach. As educators we should speak the truth with charity and invite our students to discover truth for themselves. When teaching on gender and sexuality, here are a few key principles that can guide you:

  1. Teach in an Age-Appropriate Way

Be aware of where your students are in their understanding of love, sexuality, and gender. Unfortunately, there is not a standard measure of what children know at different ages. It is often different from individual to individual and from school to school. In general, younger students can be taught that boys and girls were created different and can grow up to be moms and dads if God is calling them to marriage. With older students, you may be able to address some of the lies of our culture head on, explaining that homosexual marriages and gender reassignment surgeries are not part of God’s plan. In most cases, talking about Theology of the Body does not include a discussion of anatomy or function. What is ultimately important is helping students to see the beauty of God’s design for human beings.

  1. Do Not Shy Away from the Topic

While you certainly do not want to scandalize your students, it is also important to realize you do not want to pretend that they know nothing. Our concern for their innocence must be balanced with an understanding that there is, sadly, much they are already exposed to. If we want to counter what our society says, we cannot be afraid to speak the same language. There is no need to be detailed or grotesque. Gender and sexuality are, by nature, sensitive and personal topics and should be treated as such. However, avoiding the topic means our students are likely to only hear the message of the world. 

  1. Be Person-Centered

Gender, identity, and sexuality are not just abstract concepts. They are unique aspects of who we are and how we see ourselves, especially for today’s youth. We cannot teach about these things outside of the context of the child in front of us. Though they are young, our students may have experiences that have already shaped their views of sexuality and gender. They may have attended a wedding for a relative and their same-sex partner. They may be struggling with attractions they do not understand. There may be students in your classroom who wish to be addressed by gender neutral pronouns or a name usually given to those of the opposite gender. Discussing such sensitive topics must be done carefully and with compassion. It’s not always possible to know what students have experienced or what topic might be especially delicate for them. Acknowledging that these things could be part of their experience can help them and you.

  1. Teach with Conviction

Our students live in a culture of relativism and contradiction. They need truth. If we intend to give them the truth, we cannot waffle or compromise. We must have conviction that there is objective truth and it is found in the Catholic Church. God’s design for humans, male and female, and for human sexuality is beautiful. To help our students see this we need to not only believe that but teach it directly and demonstrate it with what we say and how we say it.

It is important that we are aware of the messages our students hear from the world and work to combat false ideas with truth, beauty, and goodness. Our students need many skills for the modern world. They also need a deep understanding of how God has created them and what He calls them to. As Catholic educators, we are called to share the truth with our students, including God’s design for gender and sexuality.


Rachel Gleeson Padilla is a campus minister in Colorado.

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