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June 19, 2024
Thursday June 20th: God is our Father
June 20, 2024

Continuing that sex talk…with your teens

Portrait of smiling attractive African American couple wearing colorful clothes, communicating with sign language, gesturing while sitting in room at home. Communication concept

Q: Archbishop J, how do we communicate sexuality with our teens?

After a Theology of the Body discussion, I have often met with young people for a question-and-answer session. Teens are open, honest, and direct, while young adults, on hearing the questions, seem ashamed and want to hide. The questions make clear to me that our young people are stuck on the technical.

Our job is to open their eyes to see the beauty of all of God’s creation and to marvel at the wonder of their bodies in the rapid transformation they experience. Even more important is for them to recognise that God created us.

The Psalmist says:

For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well. (Ps 139:13–14)

It is vital for our young teens to know, understand, and rejoice in the God who created them, who knit them together in their mother’s womb, and who is taking them through the most turbulent adventure that we call puberty.

They need to understand what is happening in their bodies from two perspectives –the technical: why and how, and, more importantly, the spiritual: who and what.


Open and honest conversations

I believe this generation needs to know the technical: the science of their bodies and the specifics of what is happening. These are some of the questions they will likely have: Why does my sweat smell so bad? Why am I breaking out with acne? Why are my friends’ breasts growing and mine are not? Why do I have erections? Why do I bleed every month? Why are my moods a roller-coaster ride? Why am I getting hair in all these strange places? Why is my voice changing? Why am I growing so quickly? Why are my friends growing and I am not? Is my penis big enough? Why am I feeling strange attractions?

Teens are curious and need good, solid answers concerning what is happening in their bodies. Parents, you should have developed a relationship with your child to respond to their questions openly and honestly.

Prepare yourself for this with good science: an understanding of the teen’s body and the monumental changes they experience. We cannot share our ignorance. Join the Beyond the Birds and Bees virtual reading club, which begins on July 2 and continues for five consecutive Tuesdays, 6 to 8 p.m.

Parents, encourage your teens to ask questions. Assure them that no question is too shameful and that you prefer them to ask you so you can discover answers to the important questions together.

You do not want them to arrive at bad answers or be left guessing. Moms need to mentor the girls, and dads or grandfathers, uncles, or safe male adults need to mentor the boys.

Of course, they need new apparel: bras for the girls and underpants that hold the boys in place are important. These are great occasions for conversations about what is happening, about their questions, about how to care for their bodies better, and for guidance about proper hygiene.

Parents, this is just the first level. Grace builds on nature. We need to get nature right while we build on it with grace at the second level. We must move seamlessly from the why and how to the who and what.


The mystery of my body

The second level of conversation is at the core of the Catholic understanding of human sexuality. It focuses on God and what He wants with us. We were created out of love and for love. We were created for union with God and union with others. To love is to give yourself away to another. The whole direction of one’s life now has to be towards giving oneself away in love. Your body was not created for your pleasure. It was created for love.

The letter to the Ephesians says, “We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning God had meant us to live it” (Eph 2:10). Everything about our bodies was intentionally created by God for His good purpose. This is the central matter for contemplation you must introduce to your teen.

God created you, male or female. He did not make a mistake in creation. He has a purpose for your life. It is important that your teen feels the awe and wonder of God, directly involved in all the wonder and awkwardness of the transformations of their bodies and personalities.

Even more vital is for your teen to have a living, honest relationship with God. As you model for them openness and honesty in relationship, invite them to an even more profound relationship with God who knows them through and through.

If God created us and knows us through and through, He has a purpose for us and our bodies (cf. Ps 139:7–10). Part of that purpose is for us to grow in trust, faith and love with Him and others.

We have such a negative view of puberty, and many children receive a blow to their ego because of the changes and awkwardness. To understand God’s presence in all this is vital.

When your girl is having a tough time with her menstruation, she needs to be taught to find God in this experience and to give her whole body to God. Culture and peers may portray a woman’s menstrual cycle, especially her period, as disgusting, problematic and something that can be stopped with birth control pills.

It’s important to explain to your daughter that her period is actually a beautiful, natural process. Her monthly period is part of her body’s cycle of preparing for the gift of bearing children one day.

Each month, hormones rise to get her body ready to nurture a baby. If no pregnancy occurs, hormone levels lower to cleanse and reset her body for the next cycle.

This monthly cycle is her body ‘practising’ and preparing for the call of potential motherhood in the future. It allows her to experience the physical and emotional changes that the hormonal fluctuations bring with each phase.

Teaching your daughter the basic facts about her fertility cycle helps her discover, respect, and marvel at the miracle happening inside her body each month by God’s design. The key is helping her understand and appreciate this natural cycle as an amazing part of her feminine fertility and bodily wisdom.

When your boy is experiencing unwanted erections and strange feelings in his body associated with it, he needs to understand that God made his male body that way, and he needs to learn to offer this up to God, consciously and deliberately. Several times a day, he will have feelings, attractions, and temptations. These are the occasions for him to raise his mind to God and choose God’s purpose for his life and body.

St Paul says in Gal 5:16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” If God created us and has a purpose for us, then we need to live through our teens in a way that fulfils this purpose. This is vital.

We were not given bodies to gratify ourselves. It was given to us to become a husband or a wife, a religious or a priest, a single, consecrated, or married person. Your teen has a vocation, and it is your responsibility as a parent to begin the process of nurturing your teen to discern his or her vocation, to deepen the practice of prayer, the discipline of chastity, to live fully God’s intention.

It is important that you communicate to your teen God’s expectation of chastity—delaying sexual gratification till marriage. Not just sex but thoughts, pornography, masturbation, erotic books, movies, etc. Our bodies belong to God and are for love—giving yourself away.


Key Message:

Your teen needs to know the beauty and wonder of their body, which was created for love of God and others.

Action Step:

Reflect on your early teen experience. What life lessons did you learn? What are your regrets? What were its graces? Join the Beyond the Birds and Bees virtual reading club. Contact the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission at or 299-1047 for more information.

Scripture Reading:

Ephesians 2:1–10


Catholic sites

Waterloo Catholics: Catholic Parents’ Guide to Formation in Human Sexuality

Female Reproductive System: The menstrual cycle and your body’s natural signal of fertility – cervical mucus (

How the Woman’s Body Works Revision

Male Anatomy