The C-Word In Sex-Ed

The name Ryan Dunn gave to his blog?

“Let’s Talk About Sex.”

Only, Dunn’s original plan wasn’t to talk about sex via a personal blog but through his high school’s newspaper, The Miter, in the form of an article.

Ryan Dunn is a student and member of The Miter’s editorial team at Bishop Blanchet High School, a Catholic school in Seattle. According to an article in The Stranger, “Onward Christian Censors,” he spent four months researching his article; a stunningly well-written examination of the Catholic Church’s official stance on contraception, the students’ need and desire for comprehensive sexual health education and the clash between age-old doctrine and the realities of a contemporary age:

What it boils down to, however, is a debate of practicality. The Vatican devises its doctrine in a Catholic world, but educates its students in a secular one.

But when he submitted it to school administrators for review he was told first to re-write it placing more emphasis on the “religious aspect” of the issue. When he resubmitted it, he was told not to run it. Principal Tom Lord did not expressly forbid the publication, it seems. Ryan was more benignly “asked not to run it”, says his blog, “out of concern for any repercussions from the Archdiocese of Seattle, the religious organization that runs the school.”

The Stranger reported that:

“…the principal said some of his favorite teachers might lose their jobs because publishing it could offend church officials.”

That’s certainly a lot of pressure to put on an enterprising, young journalist who seems to be doing a stellar job on behalf of the school’s newspaper, no?

“I’m in an awkward position because I teach journalism and I believe in the freedom of the press and yet we write articles with our hands tied,” Blanchet journalism teacher Chris Grasseschi says. “There are things we don’t touch.” Among those things: Planned Parenthood, which Grasseschi says “doesn’t exist” as far as the Miter is concerned.

As a Seattle resident, I will say that I have heard of Bishop Blanchet’s more progressive teachings. The school seems, from the outside, hardly to be a bastion of extreme conservative, religious principle.  But fear of rocking the religious hierarchy should not be a reason for withholding health education and important information from students. Especially when you read this (from a recent survey of Blanchet students):

 Perhaps most shockingly, the survey indicates that 58% of Blanchet students have had sex, and 39% of those students have had unprotected sex. Sadly, 42% of all students describe their sex education as abstinence-only, and 16% say they have received no sex education at all.

It is true, as well, that to be a high school student in Seattle, without a school-based health center is to be at a disadvantage in general. Fourteen public middle and high-schools in Seattle are home to on-campus health centers run by a unique and progressive partnership between the city and county public health departments and various community health organizations including major hospital and research centers like Group Health and Swedish Medical Center. These centers are staffed by qualifed health care providers and offer “a comprehensive scope of services including asthma care, immunizations, family planning, and mental health counseling.” This includes referrals to other community health centers or specialists.

Students at Bishop Blanchet are no different than those at neighboring public high schools in the city. Because they are not recipients of these services may mean they need comprehensive sex-ed all the more. The sex-ed classes at Blanchet, according to one student, is “a joke” and, notes Dunn’s piece:

“Equally disparaging to some is the fact that Blanchet’s clinic offers nothing in the way of sexual health resources that can be found in any public school, such as birth control, STD screenings, emergency contraception, referrals, and counseling services about sexual matters.  “There are no resources available for birth control, or any type of sexual health information available to students, not even Planned Parenthood brochures,” said an anonymous student. 

Dunn’s article notes not only the plethora of evidence that supports how important comprehensive sex-ed is if we are to help young people protect their health but also how important it is to trust young people to use knowledge and information for good. But, perhaps, his strongest arguments take into consideration the history of Catholic dogma on sexuality, reproduction and contraception:

Throughout all the redactions and shifts that have changed the teachings and positions of the Church over the years, the foundation Gospel values of love, mercy, peace, righteousness, and purity of heart have not wavered an inch. Maybe it is time for the Church to re-examine its position, and find ways to provide students with the vital information they need to protect themselves in this sex-centered society while still finding ways to instill in them the Gospel values of love and charity that are the foundation of Christianity.

At the time of this writing the Superintendent of Catholic schools in Seattle has not released a statement on this story.

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  • offred

    If I paid the big bucks to send my kids to a Catholic high school, I would expect their education to be according to the belief system of Catholicism.


    I would expect the school staff to adhere to dogma. If I didn’t want that, I would send them to a public school, or to a secular private school.


    Given that, I would understand it’s my responsibility as a parent to give my kids any information that doesn’t perfectly square with dogma.

  • faultroy

    How sad for the budding Shakespeare.  But the funny thing about this article is that somehow the author”s furitive concerns did not only prevent him from not running the article, but it brought the valiant young journalist and his prescient article to the attention of the national media.  Now how did that happen?  I mean here are all these poor little people concerned about their jobs and hoping and crying about the horrible possibility of becoming fired by the big mean nasty ogre Catholic Church but it still manages to hit the national media?  Kind of reminds me of Tiger Wood’s situation in which one “lady” after another presents her indignation and disappointment and demands an apology with her lawyer present to orchestrate the dog and pony show and count the money–doesn’t it? …Sometimes reading between the lines is more interesting than the story itself–NO?  LOL

  • amie-newman

    First of all, this young man wrote this after surveying his classmates and spending four months on research. He found that his fellow classmates, the young people at this school, and young people around the country, are at risk for contracting STIs (and do contract them at higher rates than those in other age groups) because of an incomplete sexual health education. This was not about self-promotion and how sad that is what you took from his hard work and the responses of his classmates.

    Secondly, the issue is not that somehow this wound up at RH Reality Check and so, well, there you go -the Catholic Church isn’t trying to censor anything. The issue is that the Archdiocese has school administrators sufficiently scared that anything that challenges the Catholic Church, publicly, might get them fired. They were willing to wipe under the rug public health concerns, student concerns, an honest academic and intellectual exercise by a student, all because it challenged some long-held notions of the Catholic Church. If church docrtrine is that fragile, that’s frightening.

  • zjr78xva

    Catholic families entrust their children to a Catholic institution with the expectation that the institution is committed to the truths of the Catholic faith. It would be a grave injustice for the leadership or employees of an institution to betray that trust.

    A school committed to truth affirms the authentic meaning and purpose of human sexuality within marriage. To teach otherwise, i.e., that violations of the sixth commandment are acceptable, would contradict the school’s reason for being.

    You are right that school administrators have a duty to respond directly and charitably to this poor young man’s questions and obvious confusion. The place to do that, however, is in the classroom. The young man’s misguided opinions certainly should not have been published in an official publication except alongside an authoritative response correcting his errors and confusion.

    Perhaps you could explain how this incident ended up on your web site. (And then butt out.)

    P.S. Your description of the commandments as “long-held notions” is adorable.

  • mechashiva

    Most of the kids I knew who went to Catholic schools were not Catholic, and neither were their families. Anecdotal, sure, but interesting nonetheless. Catholic schools are often the only private schools around, and offer better education than public schools. This is the primary reason parents send their kids there, not religion. The Catholicism is something most students and parents simply tolerate because they have to, not something they really believe in. The most important thing to them is getting into a good university.


    Also, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Catholic school students are just as sexually active as public school students. For that reason, it would be prudent to offer comprehensive sex education and health services. To do otherwise would be neglectful. And yes, Catholic doctrine can remain at the core of the messages being sent, but it is important for the Church to be more realistic about the actions of its students and its congregants. You can’t care for the flock if you blindfold yourself, stick your fingers in your ears, and sing, “LALALALA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”


    A school committed to truth would affirm that teenagers have sexual interests, will want to (and probably will) act on them, and deserve the knowledge of how to protect themselves, while also teaching what the “right” or “wrong” choices might be according to their religion. The last time I checked, the Church teaches that humans have free will. Giving students resources and information does not take away their power to make informed decisions as to when and why they will have sex, but rather bolsters their decision-making ability. In fact, being more open about the topic of sexuality would make it easier to have discussions about how to say no (and yes) to sex, how to manage lustful thoughts, and other issues regarding sexuality that students may feel uncomfortable asking about in the current repressive environment.


    I know I did not want to talk with either of my parents about anything related to my body when I was in high school, and that is very common. Conversations about sex need to happen earlier than most parents realize, as they need to take place before kids hit the awkward-body/rebellious phase. If this doesn’t happen and kids aren’t receptive to talking with their parents about sex (for whatever reason), where else are they going to learn? At school, from hearsay… unless there is comprehensive sex ed at school.


    If the Church wants to decrease the numbers of students having pre-marital sex, they should follow the evidence showing that comprehensive sex ed results in lower percentages of sexually active students. It results in fewer teen pregnancies. It results in lower numbers of STIs among the students. There simply is no good argument against comprehensive sex ed.