Friday, November 30, 2012

Teens and sexual morality

[The  question  below was sent to me by a reader. I  have tried to answer it in the post ]:

“As we all know physical needs vary according to individuals and age and it
is not fair to judge all equally with uniform codes relating to sexual morality.
Moreover though ,  in an individual the totality of the person with  spiritual ,
mental and physical dimensions are to be considered ,  the priorities
differ according to stages in growth.Sexual fantasies and  yearnings naturally  get a
predominant place in teens and adolescents and youth.Repressing them leads to
mental perversions and affects the total person , especially when there are safe methods of
relieving/satisfying them.”

Whether there should be  a uniform code regarding  sexual morality , applying to all humanity irrespective of  gender, age-group, economic, social, geographical, cultural conditions and religions etc.  is a perennial question debated by moralists around the world. 

The sexual instinct  is  hormonal , it is Natural and a gift of God to humans . The attraction to a person of the opposite sex, is a Natural law imprinted in humans for their own good and for procreation. It is Universal. However God has also given Reason to  humans  and this is what differentiates between  a man and a beast.  The Natural law is regulated by society through Human law based on Reason for the common good depending on the context of every society.

e.g.  In  some parts of India, it is considered  immoral  for a man to even hold the hands of his wife in public . In  cities the public expression of affection  between spouses is more accepted  but still limited , compared to what the cultures and practices in Europe and America  permit.  There  it is common  for men and women who are strangers to  greet with a kiss. The same  is unacceptable between man and wife in  most parts of India. Every society has its own customs and Human laws. It would not be fair to judge everyone equally with uniform norms around the world. And yet , human laws can be challenged by Natural law from which they is derived.

In some parts of the world , it is  considered normal  for adolescents to indulge in sex without marriage , both in the advanced /contemporary societies and the primitive tribes. 

Human  law varies according to  country, cultural group, situation etc.  Yet there is something broadly common to it [based on Natural law imprinted by the Creator].  Since time immemorial  and all over the world,  Marriage as an institution  has been practiced only between men and women . Today of course  there are debates and struggles for same sex marriages etc.

I’m sure as a Jew  Jesus Himself was influenced by  Human law in His society [based on Reason]  which had got refined  into Jewish law  made explicit through the Ten Commandments revealed by God to Moses, from the natural law written on the heart to be written on tablets of stone  . Jesus’ own teachings have refined  them further.  His life and teachings are  THE reference point for decisions on morality because He  revealed Himself as the Way the Truth and the Life. 

Imagine a situation of a young boy  in whose culture it is common practice for adolescents to  give free expression to  the sexual urges by having sex with any girl  he wants to.  He  moves to a place where it is  considered immoral for a girl to even talk to an unknown boy before marriage.  If the boy   rapes  her ,  would his act be justified because it is an acceptable  practice in his own community ? Here we see a conflict between the Human laws of two different societies. In one society he would be declared innocent according to  law of his own people and in another  he would be declared guilty.

How does Jesus look at this situation?

Would His judgment  be based on whether  the accused  was a Jew , a Gentile, a Samaritan, an adolescent , a married man  etc ? 

Would His judgment be different  towards His own followers / disciples ? Would He be lenient with some and strict with others ?

Did Jesus define morality from person to person on Individual basis or according to the Common good of the community , or  equitably by being Fair to all involved ? 

We cannot deal with all these questions in one post but lets try to understand  the Mind of Jesus Christ in this matter. When God created man and woman, He had a Plan which was thwarted  due to Original sin, [humankind’s  deviation from God ]. He had to send  His Son Jesus into the world  to reconcile all to Himself , to bring that Plan to fulfilment. So it was necessary  for Jesus to show us  that we are different from beasts , not only we have Reason as human beings, but  we are created in God’s image and likeness , destined  to a refined , beautiful  life   which  promotes the possible reality of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus did not preach against  natural or human law or Jewish law . He fulfilled it in Himself  , making it advanced in quality. Christian Discipleship is   easy to recognize through  its Quality. 

To  an adolescent boy in whose society it was normal to give free expression to his sexual urges by sleeping with any girl  , Jesus would be understanding  but  teach him  the dignity of  every boy and girl created in God’s image and likeness ,  He would  teach him the need and value of marriage lived in faithfulness , to promote  the Kingdom of God. He would  gift him the Spirit   to enable him to exercise  Self-control . He would teach him the  value of Agape  ,  the importance of the common good  and the rightful place of Eros  in  marriage.  He would teach that a Disciple  is enabled to take up his cross and follow Him .   

In context of   catholic adolescents in today’s  world , the same could be said.  Being a Christian is demanding . It is a  choice to follow the values of the Kingdom and not  those of the world. 

The phase of adolescence with its sudden surge of hormones  is a  phase of transition . How  pastors , parents , teachers help them to  mature thru  the phase is important.   They can help them understand that  sexual fantasies and yearnings are normal and a gift from God .  But to  act on them, to relish them   would become sinful.   Repressing them  is not the answer .  Relief  and satisfaction thru masturbation ,  sexual activity with another  will  also  not prevent mental  perversion or deviation  but may  lead to  burden  of guilt feelings and complexes in the mind. So how should they deal with this phase ?

Let me share a concrete example of a  family that came to me for therapy. 

The parents  are devout  Catholics . As their  son entered  adolescence  , he had a sudden  growth spurt  and  became a man physically  , but  emotionally and mentally he  was  still making transition from childhood to adolescence.  This boy  became guilt ridden due to  sexual fantasies  involving  his own  little sister and  mother.  His  guilt  reached such proportions that  he fell sick ,  would not get out of his room and  stopped attending school .  He  asked to go for Confession everyday and   was told by the priest to  ‘kill’ his  fantasies  which he couldn’t.  The situation worsened  and the entire family was  distressed. The boy would spend much time praying  and said he wanted to become a priest because he thought sex is dirty.

When  they came to me for help ,  I  explained to the boy  exactly what was happening in his body.  I told him  that his fantasies  were a normal part of growing up  and given by God at his young age  to help him learn to be in control. So he should not fight against  the thoughts  and feelings .It would  be sinful only if he acted on them or relished them. His sudden  growth spurt had made  him physically weak , anaemic and hence unable to cope with  other stress like  studies , his sexual fantasies etc.  We  put him on  nutritional supplements  to take care of his malnourishment.  Gave him some  bach-flower remedies  to  assist him to deal with  his feelings of  depression ,  guilt  etc.  The family was asked to pray the rosary together with him.  He was asked to return to school  instead of sitting at home  and to have  physical activity like walking , sports. He was also asked to volunteer for some charitable activity.

This Holistic approach taking care of the body, mind, spirit, social life etc.   helped the boy tremendously and  very soon he  became normal. It was the Safest method  to deal with the situation , without any repression. It could not be managed alone by the boy. It meant involvement and support by the entire family  which was possible because  they  had trained their child to share all his feelings with them  and he was loved unconditionally.

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