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Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci | November 22, 2005

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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 talks–all based in the Theology of the Body–blew me away. I saw for the first time that chastity isn't just about avoiding disease and pregnancy–it's about finding and living real love. That one insight changed my life. I was driven to share it with teens.

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 youth changed?

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 school–thanks in part to a certain former President who will remain unnamed. There is much more sexual activity–and 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?

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 glamorizers–we'll never win at that. We have to appeal to that deeper place that the popular culture can't touch–the "God-shaped hole" in their hearts that the sexiness of Hollywood can never fill.

They're hungry–they 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?

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 every day.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What are the most common questions you hear? What are the most common errors or falsehoods that kids embrace, both consciously or subconsciously?

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) a sin?"

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 true–which 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 teenagers?

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 young–inculcating 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 us–it comes from God!

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 of children?

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 often?

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 Love You?
A Hero Goes to His Reward
Some Atrocities are Worse than Others
Parents Love the Chastity Girl
The Attack on Abstinence

Ignatius Press books by Mary Beth Bonacci:

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