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Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci | November
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks
and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken
to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at
World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and
television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications.
She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series,
also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award
for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage
and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was
also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women
of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real
Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's
teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
Carl Olson, editor of IgnatiusInsight.com, recently spoke with Mary Beth
about her work and her thoughts on teenagers and the challenge of sharing
the truth about sex, dating, and marriage.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the inspiration and story behind Real Love?
Please tell us about your vocation.
Mary Beth Bonacci: When I was a senior at the St. Ignatius Institute
of the University of San Francisco, the Institute sponsored a four-part
speaker series on chastity. Those talksall based in the Theology of
the Bodyblew me away. I saw for the first time that chastity isn't
just about avoiding disease and pregnancyit's about finding and living
real love. That one insight changed my life. I was driven to share it with
I didn't, however, have any kind of overarching plan for how I was going
to share this message. I just read a lot about it and talked a lot about
it. The Lord took over from there. A local pregnancy center called me about
a year later and asked me to speak on chastity for their new speakers' bureau.
The rest is history . . .
IgnatiusInsight.com: You've been speaking to youth about love, sexuality,
and related issues for nearly twenty years. What changes have you seen in
the popular culture in these areas? How have high school and college aged
Bonacci: Youth today are both better and worse than they were twenty
years ago. I see the gulf between the two getting wider. Teens definitely
face much more pressure than we did when I was in high schoolthanks
in part to a certain former President who will remain unnamed. There is
much more sexual activityand many more types of sexual activity, engaged
in at younger and younger ages.
But there is also a lot more support. The chastity movement has made a big
difference. I give talks and kids come up to me afterward to show me the
pledge cards they signed at their churches, or to tell me about the "chastity
clubs" they're forming to support each other.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are the greatest challenges and obstacles the
Church faces in reaching young people with the truth of the Gospel?
Bonacci: The popular culture. The messages bombarding teens every hour
of every day from music, television, movies and the Internet all glamorize
values that are absolutely antithetical to the Christian message. We can't
respond to that simply by trying to out-glamorize the glamorizerswe'll
never win at that. We have to appeal to that deeper place that the popular
culture can't touchthe "God-shaped hole" in their hearts that the
sexiness of Hollywood can never fill.
They're hungrythey just don't always know what they're hungry for.
We need to show them.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What differences exist between the average non-Christian
teenager and the average Catholic teenager?
Bonacci: The average Catholic teen is more likely to have goals and
a vision that go beyond the here and now. They have support, they have adults
in their lives who are showing them the "bigger picture" of life in Christ,
and that makes it a lot easier for them to resist the temptations they face
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are the most common questions you hear? What are
the most common errors or falsehoods that kids embrace, both consciously
Bonacci: The questions never really change. "How far can I go?" "How
do I explain chastity to a friend who isn't living it?" "Why can't gay people
get married?" "Is (whatever sexual sin they're hearing about in school)
The errors run along the lines of thinking that the only real sexual sin
is intercourse outside of marriage, and that anything short of that (thanks
again, Mr. Former President) isn't really a problem.
The other, eternal error is that girls still believe that giving boys sexual
favors will make the boys love them. Of course, the exact opposite is truewhich
is why the message of chastity as love is so important.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What should Catholic parents be doing to keep their
children not only in the Faith, but helping them to become devout, vibrant
Catholics? What are the most common mistakes that parents make with their
Bonacci: The most common mistake parents make is waiting until their
children are teenagers to begin to address these issues. They need to start
when they're younginculcating their children with the understanding
that sex is sacred, that it's beautiful, that it's powerful, and that it
belongs in marriage.
Parents also need to help their children understand their own dignity as
image and likeness of God, and their bodies as temples of that image and
likeness. That makes the children less likely to "trade" on their bodies
to gain popularity or acceptance.
And, of course, parents need to foster in their children a strong spiritual
life. The power to live chastity doesn't come from usit comes from
IgnatiusInsight.com: What advice do you give families who are worried about
sending their children to public schools? Overall, what is your opinion
of the public school system when it comes to the moral character and development
It all depends on the public school system. There are certainly a lot of
scary ones out there, and a lot of philosophies of public education that
run counter to the Christian message and the good of our children. But then
again, I see public schools that bring me in to speak, that teach character
curriculum, and that do a really good job overall. These, of course, are
the exception and not the rule. But parents of kids in public schools need
to keep close tabs on what their kids are learning, and be ready to pull
them out if the school is doing things that are objectionable.
IgnatiusInsight.com: We often hear negative stories about today's youth,
from the rate of pregnancy outside of wedlock to a seemingly uncaring attitude
towards religion. What are the positive stories that we might not hear as
Bonacci: Oh, there are so many wonderful teens out there! Really, they're
far more impressive than I, or anyone I knew, was at that age. They stand
up against the culture. They organize pro-life groups, pro-chastity groups.
They stand together and they exhibit tremendous courage. It is most definitely
a mistake to write off today's teens!
IgnatiusInsight.com Articles by Mary Beth Bonacci:
There's More to Prayer
Than "Saying Our Prayers"
Was Pope John
Paul II Anti-Woman?
JPII, Why Did We
A Hero Goes
to His Reward
are Worse than Others
Love the Chastity Girl
Ignatius Press books by Mary Beth Bonacci:
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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