Last night, I got an email from one of my readers.* She sent me the link to this mind-bogglingly awful blog post by Matt “Stay-at-Home-Moms-Are-Awesome” Walsh. I’m not sure that we should have expected anything different from his guy, given the chipper and vaguely misogynistic tone of the post about motherhood. Please be sure to read Matt’s post, or none of this will make any sense.
Let’s start with the “email” Matt received from “Jeremy.” Aside from the fact that it doesn’t sound like anything a teenage boy would write, I had to laugh at this:
One of my teachers actually mentioned it in class once after you wrote something (she didn’t mention it in a good way lol)
Oh, really, letter-writer? I suppose it’s possible that one of Matt’s previous posts could have been popular enough to be read by an apparently non-Christian high school health teacher. It’s not anywhere near likely that the teacher would have mentioned it in class, and almost certainly not including the name of the blogger.
“Jeremy” goes on to say that his teacher does the following things that I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a teacher do and still keep his or her job:
- Calling abstinence “out-dated” and “unrealistic”
- Encouraging students to have casual sex
- Asking students to raise hands in a show of sexual history
This is a classic argument against sex education in high schools. It doesn’t actually happen this way–in fact, more often than not, teachers hands are tied in regard to giving students proper information because some parents throw a fit every time the teacher tries. The conservative families who don’t want comprehensive sex education come up with strange arguments about how teachers are going to start telling kids to just go ahead and do it.
The sad reality is that there isn’t nearly enough good education about sex. I grew up in a non-religious household, but I knew people whose parents wouldn’t even allow them to go to school during fifth grade puberty lessons. I remember those classes being embarrassing but halfway decent; my sex education steadily declined thereafter. It ranged from having to diagram a penis for an exam (but not a uterus, because dicks are more complicated, ya know) to a teacher putting in a filmstrip about STDs. The one teacher I had who might have done a better job never got the chance. My grade 10 biology teacher had us submit 3 questions we wanted answered, and he was going to spend one double (lab) period answering them. That was the year we had a huge ice storm, lost a week of school, and that lab got slashed as “unnecessary.” Unfortunately, my teacher gave us the list of questions (ranging from “I think this whole thing is a joke” to good questions about relationships) without giving us any of the answers.
Anyway, if I were a teen in need of support, Matt Walsh is probably the last blogger I would write to. His response to this “kid” is full of the same self-righteous crap spouted by most conservatives. It’s condescending, it’s shaming, and it won’t help anyone make good decisions.
Believe it or not, I tend to agree with Matt that it’s not a great idea for teenagers to be having sex. I’m not unrealistic enough to think they won’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t teach my kids that it’s not a decision they need to make in high school. I absolutely agree that the vast majority of adolescents are not equipped to make adult decisions about relationships. We don’t expect our teens to know how to navigate the adult world in other ways; why should sex be different? But the way Matt approaches it–including referring to teens as “emotionally immature juveniles” (that’s not at all condescending)–isn’t helpful.
I think this may be my favorite part of the post:
There’s plenty of ignorance on the subject. Plenty of confusion. But it’s the lies I hate. The lies that come from people who know better. The people who have made mistakes and now encourage others to make them, too.
I hate the lies, too, Matt. I hate when people use their religious convictions to make up fake emails (whether this was Matt or a “concerned parent” posing as a kid, we may never know). I hate when kids are given misinformation or none at all because of fear that telling them something will make them go try it. I hate that kids are growing into adults who also don’t navigate sex and relationships well. I hate that people are shamed for what they chose (or were forced) to do. I hate the heteronormativity inherent in these conversations.
Casual sex proponents are the ones who have turned sex into something trivial, banal, utilitarian, pointless, joyless, one-dimensional, lifeless, lonely, and disappointing. How could the ones who hold it as sacred also be the ones who make it “boring”? No, it’s mainstream culture that’s made sex boring. It’s mainstream culture that is, in fact, afraid of sex. That’s why we spend so much energy shielding ourselves from every natural aspect of it, other than the physical sensation itself.
I’m so glad that Matt thinks he knows the minds of every person and how they feel about their sexual experiences. Plus, he cleared it up for us–there are only two ways of thinking about sex! We can have “meaningless” casual encounters, or we can have holy married sex. Whew! Good to know. Now when I talk to my kids, we don’t need to have a conversation about sex in a long-term, non-married relationship. Great!
This is exactly my problem with having conversations about sex with a certain brand of conservative-minded people. They set up these straw-man arguments about how “the world” is teaching us that we should (Matt’s words here) “throw ourselves at strangers.” Not even one word about the damage done by purity culture and how shame plays a big part of it–especially for girls and anyone who isn’t straight.
My second degree is in health education. One of the first things we learned is that statistically speaking, abstinence-only education does not make any difference in rates of STDs and pregnancy among teens. On average, teens who pledge abstinence wait 6 months to a year longer than their peers. What is different is that with abstinence-only programs, students don’t learn how to be responsible. Would you like to know what does make a difference–regardless of religion–in keeping kids safer and healthier? Parent involvement.
Yep, that’s right. It’s not about what the teacher says or doesn’t say. It’s not about abstinence-only or standard sex ed or even some teacher spouting off about the perks of casual sex (not that the last one ever happens outside the made-up world of certain conservative Christian bloggers). It’s about parents who are willing to have open communication with kids–not just a one-time “birds and bees” lecture but a lifetime of teaching them to respect themselves and others.
Believe it or not, this is the line that disturbs me most:
And, when the time comes, you’ll express love. Then, you’ll be able to say that you only ever expressed this sort of love to the one person who deserves it.
“Deserves it”? That phrase haunts me. Was I more deserving because when I got married, nothing other than a tampon had ever been in my vagina? Is someone who has had casual sex–and enjoyed it–less deserving? Or is this just a reference to how awesome married sex is? I can’t tell. I would like to hope that Matt didn’t mean it to sound so shaming, but I’m not convinced.
If “Jeremy” is real, here’s what I would like to say to him (and any other “Jeremys” our there): If you want to wait, that’s cool. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re not ready for just because someone else said you should. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you must have sex in order to know for sure if that’s the person you want to marry. But also? Don’t listen to Matt Walsh or anyone else who tries to tell you that there are only two options–hook up with strangers or marry your one true love. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you should feel ashamed of your choices. And don’t feel like you need to figure this out on your own. Find people you trust who are open to talking about it. In the end, the decision is yours and yours alone who you choose to have sex with. You have the right to live your life without shame.
*Dave Barry always said those letters were from Alert Readers. Stephanie Drury (of Stuff Christian Culture Likes) calls them “email of the day” or “comment of the day.” I suck at naming things, so if anyone wants to suggest a clever name, feel free.