By Bill Brewer
St. John Paul II was either ecstatic or mortified by being a part of Sex Week at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT). Maybe both.
The Holy Father’s renowned work, Theology of the Body, was on full display April 2 as a young disciple studying for her Ph.D. in theology from Ave Maria University lectured on the saint’s insight into God’s true meaning for the body, the union of man and woman, and the sacrament of marriage.
Catholic doctoral student Kara Logan highlighted Theology of the Body as an alternative to the prevailing themes of Sex Week.
To FOCUS missionaries on the UT campus, there was never a more appropriate time for a public discussion on Theology of the Body than during the university’s controversial week of sex education activities.
The six Catholic missionaries, who minister to college students through St. John XXIII University Parish and Catholic Center, brought in Ms. Logan — a FOCUS alumna — to deliver the talk and answer questions about St. John Paul’s groundbreaking work and its impact on human sexuality.
The FOCUS leaders felt strongly about offering an alternative to Sex Week activities led by students with the group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee during the first week of April. Sex Week has made national headlines since its 2013 launch for its unabashed, atypical approach to sex education, offering how-to seminars on sexual practices that run counter to Catholic teaching and social mores.
Sex Week activities have included a condom scavenger hunt, a drag show, seminars by sex workers, and free HIV testing. There also have been discussions on gender, transgender, LGBT, and abortion topics. Sex Week organizers promote it as a week of free, comprehensive sex-education events.
Sex Week has drawn the ire of Fox News. Fox’s Todd Starnes in a 2018 opinion piece called it “six days of XXX-rated debauchery that make Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street look like a Sunday school picnic.” And the event also drew a protest from Protestant evangelist Franklin Graham, who said he was “saddened, disappointed — and yes, shocked — to see that the University of Tennessee-Knoxville is promoting Sex Week for its students.”
Missionaries with Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) assigned to UT’s campus have in the past staffed booths or kiosks during Sex Week to provide UT students with appropriate sex-ed information based on Catholic teaching to counter the Sex Week agenda.
UT FOCUS missionary Savanna Shurman said publicity surrounding Sex Week wasn’t as animated this year as it has been, and she was surprised that some students she spoke to weren’t even aware of it.
Ms. Shurman was relieved by that out of concern the annual event could lead to shaming “because students may think they aren’t participating in the activities of sex that Sex Week exposes them to.”
“They are vulnerable to falsities,” Ms. Shurman said. “People are susceptible to being made fun of.”
Ms. Logan based her seminar, titled “How to Have Worthwhile Sex: An Alternative View,” on the pope’s addresses on human sexuality that became Theology of the Body. She highlighted his papacy and the special connection he had with young people around the world.
In her talk inside the Memorial Alumni Building on the UT campus, Ms. Logan described to the more than 50 students in attendance the current “sex recession” that society is facing, partly because of the “hook-up culture” and the rise of “hook-up apps” that promote casual relationships based on sex.
“More and more men and women are discontented in their relationships,” she said, describing a culture of “one-night-stand regrets” where men regret taking advantage of women and women regret being taken advantage of.
She also described relationship problems stemming from pornography use by men and oral contraceptive use by women.
“We, as a culture, have lost the meaning of sex. We’ve forgotten what the purpose of sex is,” Ms. Logan said, referring the students to Theology of the Body and its impact on loving relationships based on teachings from the Bible.
In her discussion, which took place on the 14th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s death, Ms. Logan said because of the pope and Theology of the Body, she can more fully understand human love.
“Theology of the Body is a creation story. Eve was welcomed by Adam, and she was fulfilled by giving herself to him. There was a level of emotional intimacy. She gave herself to him emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And as with Adam and Eve, there is personal communion in marriage. Pope St. John Paul II pointed out that they had freedom to do good before the fall,” Ms. Logan told the students.
“Jesus is the new Adam, who fulfills what Adam failed to do. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave his life. We should die to self, die to our bad desires to remove the temptation to use another,” she added.
During a question-and-answer session, Ms. Logan was asked what sex looks like during dating for faithful couples. She responded that men and women need to see each other as a gift and make themselves a gift to the other person within the sacrament of marriage.
She pointed out that the era of the sexual revolution has not been freeing to women. Rather than being treasured, they’ve been objectified and used by men. She noted that sex without full commitment is not true love; it’s using another person for full pleasure.
After her discussion, Ms. Logan said she gleaned from the audience reaction that they are looking for more in relationships than what current society is promoting.
“We’re giving them something better. We’re giving them the Gospel. It’s like marketing a product. It’s like this product changed my life. This is what makes me joyful and happy. We have something better,” she said, noting that the subject matter of her talk and her answers to questions weren’t awkward for her. “I’m not ashamed by giving this talk or telling them these things. This works. It’s a lot better; your life will be a lot better and worthwhile, more meaningful.”
Ms. Logan said she also shares with her Ave Maria University students parts of Theology of the Body that relate to living a celibate life and the fact they may never get married.
She tells them that marriage is a gift from God, and she believes it’s just as important to instruct about the vocation of a single life as it is for married life.
Ms. Logan acknowledged being taken aback by the themes of Sex Week and concerned about how she would be received at UT. But she described the experience as overwhelmingly positive.
“The approach I wanted to take is maybe this (current culture) isn’t fulfilling, maybe it isn’t making people happy. … I just wanted them to look at the sexual revolution as a whole, are these things that promised to make us free and more happy actually making us more free and more happy. Let’s see if there’s an alternative way,” she said.
Ms. Logan said she’s finding that young people are “thirsting” for the truth, for what God teaches through Scripture and works like Theology of the Body.
“I tell them these are hard things, but they can do hard things, do good things. These young men and women want to be challenged. They want a good life. This is the New Evangelization. It is here, and young people really are searching for faith. There is a new springtime even though it’s really dark. I see it among young people that they really do want this truth, they want the Gospel.
“People say when the culture is really dark, really bad, the stars shine the brightest. In the darkest night, the stars shine the most. I think that’s what we’re going to start seeing, young people really living the Gospel life. I think it’s partially due to St. John Paul II. He loved young people, and he saw their desire for the Gospel. He saw their energy, and he knew that’s where the Church was going,” she said.