The topic we are about to address is one of the most volatile of our day. Please pay close attention: this post is not to intended protect sexual predators; it is not to accuse victims of sexual assault; it is not to give license to young men; it is not to empower or to protect those who engage in involuntary and violent sexual activity; and it is not an accommodation for any form of illicit sexual activity, whatsoever.

Likewise, by writing this post, we are not working under the assumption that a young man cannot achieve self-mastery or enjoy the freedom of chastity. I am, however, acknowledging that sex is powerful and mistakes can be made and that a father’s intervention can be of inestimable value to a young man today.

Having worked with men for years, I can say with all confidence that if you want get a group of men laughing and joking about their fathers, ask them about the time his father explained the “birds and the bees” to him. Chances are strong that that conversation never happened. And, if it did, the experience was unnecessarily awkward and even painful for both father and son. (Yes! There are exceptions.) What ought to be one of the most sacred and memorable experiences between father and son, very rarely ever happens. The world has changed, brothers, and this must change as well. Consider the perilous directive of consent before sexual intimacy.

When a young man arrives on a college campus, he is often made to attend consent workshops in which he will be taught that he is, if even subliminally, a bigot and a misogynist; after all, the premise of these compulsory workshops is that men must be taught not to rape others. Even the United States Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery warned navy personnel of “male privilege” and is currently teaching men how this is to be avoided. Does this sound like a just and fair environment that will protect the rights of all?

Here is an ugly alternative: either have a private conversation around a campfire, in your den, or in a church, or have the conversation after the fact in an interrogation room at a local police department. A campus police officer recently told me, “Parents must have this conversation about consent, otherwise, their son (or daughter) operates in the blind often relying on peer advice.” He went on to say, “The best protection for young people is the conversation that parents must have with their children.”

Statistics are numerous and readily available, but many warn that statistics and studies are often exaggerated or inaccurate, so they are not included here. Yet, if you harbor any doubt that this is a problem, review a mother’s nightmare here that will substantiate our anxiety. These stories are more and more common today.

Consent is the issue. Two people -whether they dating, cohabitating, engaged and ready to be married is irrelevant- are often told by university personnel that they must give consent (in the eyes of the law) before engaging in sexual intimacy. Herein lies the problem: circumstances can quickly and easily change the validity of legal consent. For example, as is often the case, if alcohol is involved in a “hook up,” a participant can simply claim “incapacitation” and hold that he or she was unable to give consent. Even new phone apps have been marketed that are designed to record a person’s consent before sex (yes, they exist), but mean nothing if the person giving consent is impaired by alcohol or verbally revokes consent, even during the sexual act itself. Illegal drugs, prescription medication, emotional well-being, and “spontaneous dating” can all render a person incapable of legal consent.

As you are very aware, we live in a “politically correct” era, where logic and reason are often omitted from public deliberation. The consequences can be horrifying. In a criminal case that might formally come before a Judge in our country, a man charged with a crime was once presumed “innocent until proven guilty.” This is no longer the case. Today, a man accused of sexual assault is “guilty until proven innocent.”

That is not the end of it. Criminal prosecutors must prove the accusation, “beyond a reasonable doubt;” however, most universities base assault on a “preponderance of evidence”. In other words, even if an accused man is acquitted by a court of law, he may still be forced to leave his university, college, or the military in disgrace and… with the internet and social media to follow him for the rest of his life, it is an accusation he may never see lifted.

Law enforcement or university personnel on campuses (the same university that considers most men to be rapists today) often recommend two people should only engage in sexual relations only if they have been in a “long term” relationship. But is this even reasonable when consent can be withdrawn in the middle of the act? Remember, we are discussing young people. Nearly all accusations are the result of “one night stands” or “hook ups” involving alcohol. Another campus police officer reported that if a young woman expresses “regret” about a sexual encounter the “day after,” then an accusation of rape can validly be made.

If this has not worried you enough, consider that proof must be provided for consent, as well as the capacity for consent, for each and every instance of sexual intimacy; AND the statute of limitations dictates an accusation can be made up to seven years after the encounter. Consider also, that this is not just about rape: forcible fondling without consent is considered sexual assault.

Keep in mind that pornography (rampant on campuses) contributes to the problem as it destroys a man’s sense of reality and decency.

This is not to protect predators… that is another story all together. Fathers are not failures whose sons may have fallen while in the throes of passion. A young man may fall in love for the first time while away at school, he may be surrounded by imprudent and immoral peers of both genders who encourage the casual violation of women, or he may be overwhelmed by the challenge of chastity. I have had “spiritual sons” who have returned to me in shame and self-condemnation because of a sexual encounter(s) that he subsequently regretted.

Men, we owe our sons the truth. We must share with them, no matter our own personal history, the wisdom of the Church. If fathers do not have this conversation about proper sexual intimacy as it is reserved to marriage, he leaves his son to the wisdom (i.e. folly) of his peers and a wicked and depraved and confusing culture. The old adage is as relevant today as ever: the world tolerates much, but forgives nothing. The best protection for both son and daughter is a frank and appropriate conversation with his/her father about the beautiful nature of chaste human sexuality and its natural and spiritual purpose within the context of marriage.

Our young people will be returning home for Christmas break. We are well-advised to reserve an hour or two for a frank and worthwhile conversation. I have never had a conversation with a man who did not woefully regret the illicit sexual activity in which he engaged prior to his marriage. We should encourage our sons to consider their wedding night and the pure and holy intimacy he will experience with the one he loves. No, it will not be easy; yes, the current cultural environment is stacked against him. Pray fervently before you have the conversation. You must convince your son that you believe in him and acknowledge his goodness and remind him that he can even be heroic. If there is one thing more powerful than a broken culture awash in lies, it is a son’s real and undying fear of disappointing his father. Use this – to the benefit of your son.

  • Jack

    Good Father,

    You say many good things in this blog post. But it just seems like you miss the point in so many different ways. Part of the reason for the situation we are is due to the fact that young men have often taken advantage of young women on college campuses. I have counseled women who were given a date rape drug, others who were physically overpowered, others who had one drink and then blacked out only to find that they had been raped. When they complained or reported it to the police, they were stonewalled, patronized, dismissed. Recently it emerged that most of the rape kits with DNA evidence simply have been left on the shelves by police to rot, rather than being sent to the lab. So, the current backlash has been well earned by the young men of today. The girls aren’t always innocent either and can sometimes be seductive. But for the most part the boys initiated the problem. And now there is a severe over-reaction.
    But for a priest to rail against the over-reaction is misplaced. You need to be better than that. You need to be going to the root of the problem. Your solution of advising fathers to speak to their sons about sex being only for marriage is good, but naive. This is because statistics show that when they return home from school their dad is going to be watching the pornographic Game of Thrones or some other such soft-core porn. He may even invite his son to do so. Most of our Catholic fathers have HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Movie Channel, etc. They are as immersed in the culture of porn as their sons are. There may be a small percentage who are not, but even those guys are surrounded by a sea of filth. They allow their daughters to dress immodestly. And often their wives do not dress properly, even at church.
    In addition, there is a major problem with drunkenness and drugging on our college campuses. There is no way you will remain chaste if you are getting drunk at college parties. Our Catholic young men have to be taught that getting drunk deliberately is a mortal sin. Our Catholic colleges, including Mount St. Marys, tolerate and even create an environment for getting drunk. You failed to address this in you essay. It is a glaring omission.
    Isn’t it good that young men face terrible consequences now for fornicating? Won’t this deter them? Isn’t it better that they get expelled from school and have a false allegation of rape follow them through life, rather then them ending up in hell because they never encountered any bad consequence for their sins? Can it not be seen as providential that the secular world is taking a bull whip to sinners in this current situation where bishops and priests say nothing against the culture of lust and drunkenness, fathers are immersed in porn, college campuses are dens of sin?
    I urge you to reflect on these truths and to try to read the signs of the times. You really missed the point in your blog.

    • CJK

      I think your points are good ones, but I don’t think Fr. Doerr “really missed the point.” His point was that men who know about the sanctity of marriage can have a big impact on their sons if they have a real conversation about it. And the reason for the article was to encourage fathers to have this conversation even though it might be difficult. Everything else he said were sub-points.

      Something left unsaid in the post is that when a person chooses to teach another person about virtue, it forces them to reconsider how they are living their own lives. Fr. Doerr is probably hoping the challenge he sets before the Catholic men who read this post will lead them to reconsidering how they are living their own lives. In effect, he is dealing with all the problems you bring up about the root of the problem without directly addressing them. And by doing it this way, he is trying to encourage without being too “preachy” – something that often turns people off.

      In conclusion, Jack, I think we are all on pretty much the same page, but no 1000 word blog post can deal with the entirety of an issue.

      Peace, and Merry Christmas,