Theater Reflection: Spring Awakening

A few weeks ago, my partner and I went to see the Tony-Award winning musical, Spring Awakening, on Broadway. Based on the controversial, German play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind, the musical is about teenagers discovering their sexuality. Through its exhilarating alt-rock score, Spring Awakening deals with the topics of individuality, education, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, rape, sexual abuse, and suicide. Click here for a full synopsis without too many spoilers.

I left the musical physically and emotionally shaken with the resonance I felt. Discovering my sexuality in utter ignorance was all too familiar. Not that my mom did not give me the books – I shudder as I remember the day she handed me Where Did I Come From? . However, even with the books, I still felt as if sex was something bad and puberty was a dirty word and homosexuality was a sin akin to murder.

Now, I don’t want to put the blame 100% on Catholicism– maybe just 98%. Sexuality education in the Catholic tradition focuses solely on abstinence, neglecting to teach young adults how to make informed and responsible decisions about their bodies. Catholic teaching condemns contraception, denounces sexual pleasure, and rules out masturbation and homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” – even though decades of research prove the opposite. Spring Awakening eloquently depicts how this miseducation adversely affects young adults.

I find that even among progressive Catholics, we still have trouble talking about our sexuality. I attribute this mostly to years of this miseducation on sexuality which Catholicism provides us – it is hard to erase those misnomers from our heads! Not that all Catholic teaching on sexuality is awful. If you can get past the antiquated, hetero-normative language of the teachings, there is some good stuff on what it means to be in relationship.

Comprehensive sexuality education, on the other hand, gives young people the tools they need to make responsible, value-based decisions. It provides young adults with accurate information about sexuality and helps them to develop their values and beliefs about sexuality. Had the characters in Spring Awakening had comp. sex ed. at school or church, the plot would certainly have ended differently.

To wrap this all up: Spring Awakening was fantastic – the best and most honest musical I have seen in years! It is going on tour starting in August. I encourage everyone to go and see it! Here is a music video of one the hit songs in the production, The Bitch of Living. Enjoy!

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About Kate Childs Graham

Kate Braggs has recently completed her graduate studies in Gender and Peacebuilding at the University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. In her graduate studies, she focused on the intersection of gender, sexuality, and religion in a human rights context. Currently, Kate is working as Justice Advocate for a community of women religious. She is also member of the Call to Action Next Generation Leadership Team, the Women's Ordination Conference Board, and a small faithsharing community in the Washington DC metro area.

2 thoughts on “Theater Reflection: Spring Awakening

  1. Thanks, Kate, for this. I love Spring Awakening! I just read The Erotic Mind and the author says something along the lines of your post — that those who grew up in religious environments have a lot of sorting out to do of their sexuality. I think, though, that we have to figure out what part of our sexual identity springs from shame — and what part from moral values. I think that traditional moral values (such as abstinence before marriage, etc.) can co-exist with a healthy sexuality. Blaming the church is half the battle — the other half is to figure out how we’re going to integrate that information into our lives.

    As someone who promotes comprehensive sexuality education, I like your post. I would like to add that morality — not necessarily traditional moral values, but personal morals — should play a big part of any comprehensive curriculum. And that comprehensive sexuality education, which includes abstinence, can exist alongside traditional moral values. What I like about comprehensive sexuality education is that even though there are personal choices I have made and things I condemn in my own life, this curriculum presents options for people.

    But — but — I also think there’s a trend among progressive Catholics (including myself, even though I don’t identify as a progressive Catholic) to condemn Catholic sexuality (going by what the church teaches). I think there’s something inherently special and gorgeous about Catholic sexuality, that is expressed in the spaces between the teachings. Think of Mapplethorpe or Ofili — or Margery Kempe, Hildegard, Teresa of Avila, Nancy Mairs. Maybe Catholic sexuality is not repressed, but confessed and expressed in unique ways.

  2. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m 27 and I know where I stand on most issues and I’m not afraid to tell people where I stand; but when it comes to sex, I feel as confused as an adolescent. I made an unofficial vow of abstinence when I was a teenager, but I think part of that was that it provided an easy way to keep sex away, to not have to make any choices about the expression of my sexuality. But in my 16-year-old heart, I definitely believed that the choice I was making was the right one morally, even the only moral choice.

    I think I could still have faith in the Church’s teaching about sexuality if I trusted that all its teachings come from a place of love. But years of being dismissed as an inconsequential “angry woman” and then both seeing and feeling how spiritually crippling the Church’s teachings on birth control and homosexuality are, I’ve lost the ability to believe that all the Church’s teachings are truly for my good; I’ve seen too many of them that are more about maintaining the status quo, making sure those who have power keep power. I still can’t decide which place the Church’s teachings on sex, virginity, and abstinence come from — that place that acts out of love, or that place that acts out of a need to control.

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