Tag Archive | sex education

The birds and the bees and…the bees?

By Artist not credited (Argument in an Off Key.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a busy day and I don’t have time for my usual overthinking things.  Instead, I’m going to share a story from the summer that I can’t believe I’ve never posted.  It was the worst (best?) combination of MomFail and Proud Mommy Moment.  Warning: sex stuff.  And gay sex stuff.  Careful of your gag reflex.

When my son turned ten this summer, I did as I do every year and took him to the doctor for his well visit.  This story is not about that, though it factors in peripherally.  While dude was sitting there in his underwear waiting for the doctor to come in, he said,

“Mom, when are you going to tell me how babies get made?”

I gave a nervous glance at the door, sure the doctor would open it literally the moment I started to speak.  I took a deep breath and said, “After your appointment.  I want to have this conversation with you, but not right now because there won’t be time for us to really talk.”

Whew.  Not that I didn’t want to explain it to him, I just didn’t want to be interrupted in the middle.  Turns out that was a Very Good Thing Indeed.

After his appointment, we got back in the car and I asked if he was ready to talk.  He said he was.  I carefully and matter-of-factly explained the mechanics of straight sex to him.  He already knew about sperm and eggs, so there wasn’t much more to say other than how the parts fit together.  He understood it about as well as any ten-year-old, I suppose.

And then I learned that I should never, ever have these conversations while driving.

As soon as I’d finished explaining and he indicated he understood, he said, “So, when a boy has sex with another boy, he puts his penis in the other boy’s butt.”

We nearly got in an accident.

Once I had regained control of the car, I did what any good mother would do.  I calmly answered my kid, right?  Guess again.

I will admit this was not my finest parenting moment.  I said the first thing that came to mind: “Where did you learn that?!”  I was honest to god having visions of my kid clicking on a pop-up window while surfing the Internet and learning far too much about the naked human body.  For about ten heart-stopping seconds, I was in a full-on panic.

Then my son, who is nothing if not logical, said, “No one.  I just guessed.  Boys don’t have vaginas, so that was the only hole I could think of.”

I decided that a discussion about how some men do, in fact, have vaginas could wait.*  I replied, “Well, yes.  Some men have sex that way.”

And that was that.

We moved on.  I told him that the most important thing for him to know is that his body is his and no one has the right to touch it without his permission.  I told him the same thing applies to others, and that he should never, ever touch anyone without making sure it’s okay first.

His response?  “That makes sense, Mom.”

My work here is done.

______________________________

*We have since had that conversation, in case anyone was wondering.

 

Health class and hook-ups

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:

  1. Calling abstinence “out-dated” and “unrealistic”
  2. Encouraging students to have casual sex
  3. 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.

Sign Here

When Charlotte signed the petition, she figured that was the end of it. Students were forever seeking signatures to change school policies, most of which would never see the light of day. The principal was fond of issuing a “Thank you very much” and sealing the offending document in the bottom drawer of his file cabinet. It was a mere seven weeks into tenth grade, and Charlotte had already signed half a dozen petitions on everything from improved cafeteria food to allowing students to roam the halls without passes (after all, what student would bother staying out in the open when cutting class?). It didn’t matter whether or not she believed in the cause; she was doing her duty to her fellow students.

Of course, in this case, she actually did support the petition. Which was why it came as a complete shock that Mr. Vanderburgh planned to hold a forum for the students to present their arguments.

Morton Ponds wasn’t known for its high-quality health education. In the previous ten years, there had been six different teachers. Students had complained, parents had complained (not usually about the same things), and even Mr. Vanderburgh had grown weary of the debates. The student petition was merely the last straw. Everyone needed to actually talk to each other about the problem rather than calling him once a year to complain about the new hire. It helped that both Regina Crossly, the latest health teacher, and Nan Molomo, the assistant principal, were on board with making a few changes. Mr. Vanderburgh knew an opportunity when he saw one.

That, of course, was how Charlotte became involved. Mr. Vanderburgh had the good sense to see a local minister’s daughter’s name on the petition and take advantage of that. After all, if a man of the cloth was endorsing improvements in the “health” (read: sex) education curriculum, surely others would follow. No one had ever accused Mr. Vanderburgh of being courageous; he wasn’t above pressing any and all advantages.

The problem with that reasoning was that Charlotte’s father had no idea she’d signed the petition, nor did he have any investment in the cause.

Meanwhile, word was spreading rapidly through the school. The students who had fronted the whole operation were advocating for not only an improved curriculum but the availability of certain services within the school—chiefly pregnancy tests and free condoms. Naturally, Charlotte somehow became associated with all of it, guaranteeing herself a spot at the center of the upcoming presentation. She took a good amount of teasing for that; her classmates sensed the irony in the pastor’s kid advocating free birth control for teenagers. Unfortunately, that extended to unwanted suggestions regarding her vagina. When the third person made a rude comment to her, Charlotte returned it with her best right hook.

Ten minutes later, she was sitting in Ms Molomo’s office with the offending boy. Charlotte didn’t even know his name. He had an ice pack over his eye.

“I’m surprised at your behavior, Charlotte. What would possess you to punch someone?”

“He offered to let me give him a blow job behind the field house and told me he’d bring the condoms.” Charlotte glared at him. “Said they come in cherry flavor now.”

Ms Molomo raised an eyebrow at him. The boy scowled and slouched in his seat. “It was just a joke.”

“It wasn’t funny!” Charlotte snapped.

Ms Molomo massaged her forehead. “Charlotte, I really can’t condone violence—”

“But—”

Ms Molomo put up her hand. “I understand why you felt threatened, but there are consequences for your actions. In place of suspension, you are on probation for the foreseeable future. As for you,” she addressed the boy, “you will be enjoying a week of in-school suspension, during which you will be spending a lot of time researching misogyny and sexualized violence against women.”

Charlotte stalked out of Ms Molomo’s office. The probation meant very little; Charlotte wasn’t much for making trouble, and she was an excellent student. All of her extracurricular activities were outside of school, so there was nothing to be suspended from. The only problem was that Ms Molomo would be calling her parents. Charlotte dreaded the end of the school day.

____________________

There was no one home when Charlotte entered the house. Tyler was probably at practice, and Colby had classes; she didn’t know—and didn’t care—where Helen was. She dropped her bag and headed to the bathroom. It had been just her luck that she’d also started her period that afternoon because there was nothing better to add to a lousy day than cramps.

And a distinct lack of pads in the bathroom.

Remembering that her mother kept some in the bedroom for emergencies, Charlotte went upstairs. She rummaged in her mother’s dresser, searching. She didn’t come up with so much as a lone tampon, but right underneath the neatly folded nightgowns were a variety of. . .objects, all labeled with a company name. The only thing Charlotte could identify were the vibrators. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

She heard a noise behind her and turned around, shoving the drawer with her foot. “I was just looking for pads,” she said before her mother could speak.

Joy sighed and shook her head. “Just don’t tell your father, okay?”

“Uh. . .okay. What is all that stuff for, anyway?”

Flushing, Joy muttered, “I sell it.”

“Mom!” Then, “To whom?”

Joy shrugged. “Women at church.”

Charlotte giggled. “I promise not to tell Dad about the vibrators if you promise not to tell him I decked a boy for asking me to suck him off.”

“Fair enough.” Joy extended her hand, and they shook on it.

She snagged a package of pads from a shelf in the closet and handed it to Charlotte.  “Want to help me make dinner? We need to eat early because of that meeting at the school tonight.”

“Sure.” Charlotte decided not to mention that Mr. Vanderburgh thought her father endorsed the sex ed campaign; she decided it would be better just to let her parents handle that one themselves.

What our boys learn

Yesterday, Emily Wierenga apologized.  I’m glad, because she owed it to those who were hurt by her original post about relationships and submission.  There were several reasons why I didn’t respond to the first post.  First, I was late to the game.  I’d been on vacation when it appeared, so I missed it–all I saw was the fallout.  Second, plenty of others had already written what needed to be said.  Third, I already didn’t care much for her theology or her title of “Everyday Radical” (she’s not particularly radical); I really couldn’t figure out why everyone was so surprised by her words.

I don’t want to go around and around about the original post.  I will say that no matter how “heartfelt” or sincere-sounding her apology, she still has problematic theology that she refuses to acknowledge.  I’m glad she understands how hurtful her words were, but she also needs to examine her beliefs a lot more closely.  Her original post was addressed to people like me–Christian feminists.  It was not a rallying cry for people who share her views but something written to those of us she feels are outside that theology.  Therefore, I see no need to extend some kind of olive branch in her direction.  I don’t stand with Emily or people who share her beliefs, despite the fact that we may all call ourselves Christians.  As a woman, as a feminist, and as a Christian, I have a responsibility to address things that contribute to the way women are seen in the church.  That includes speaking out against the patriarchal leanings of other writers–whether those people are men or women.  The fact that we both have vaginas in no way obligates me to some kind of womanly solidarity.

When I saw that Emily was offering an apology, I was glad; I believed she was doing the right thing–until I read a couple of paragraphs down.  These words made my blood boil:

I didn’t know the way I would cry at night for fear of sending my boys to school, for all of the school shootings and drugs but not only that: for the way they wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders, but rather, would be questioned about their gender, made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past, and told that they could be attracted to either males or females because there was no male or female: there just was.

I’m not going to waste time on the rest of her apology; it wasn’t bad, though I think she still needs to consider the implications of her original post beyond its triggering effect.  No, I want to address what I quoted above.  I am the mother of a nine-year-old boy who attends public school; there has never once been a time when I have been afraid that he would be taught any of those things Emily mentions:

1. They wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders

First of all, that’s not the job of the school.  The job of the school is to teach our children how to read and write and do sums.  If we want any of our children–sons or daughters–to be “strong leaders,” then we must take responsibility as their parents.  Not only that, this desire to have (in particular boys) become strong leaders ignores the fact that not everyone has a personality suited to “leadership” (at least, not the way it’s defined in conservative evangelical circles).  As for what I think Emily might actually mean–that boys need to learn to be strong leaders so they can lead their wives–that is most definitely not something I want my son learning at school.  If that’s your religious belief, you’re welcome to it, but don’t impose it on my kid.

2. They . . . would be questioned about their gender

As far as I know, this is a made-up concern.  I have yet to meet a teacher or school employee who questions my child’s gender.  I’m not entirely sure how Emily means this, but if she means that girls are given unfair advantage because there’s a sudden backlash against boys, she needs a pretty serious reality check.  Boys are still more frequently called on in class, and boys are more often encouraged to explore math and science.  What gets questioned is when boys fail to live up to that expectation.

If Emily means that suddenly boys won’t be boys and girls won’t be girls, that’s also pretty ridiculous.  Is she assuming some mass takeover of our schools by an imaginary army of transgender people and their allies?  Or is she just lamenting that now it’s okay for boys to like pink and take ballet?  (I doubt she’s having the same questions about whether girls can climb trees and play with trucks.)

3. . . . made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past

My son hasn’t yet come home telling me that girls are good and boys are bad for hurting them.  Again, this is not a thing that happens in schools.  I just don’t understand where Emily’s deep fear of feminists is coming from.  We’re not staging protests on the high school campuses or storming the gates of district offices.  We’re not making impassioned pleas at school board meetings.  No one is telling our boys that “their kind” are heinous beasts that have perpetrated evil on womankind.  This smacks of feminist stereotypes.  What I hope my son is learning (and I believe he is, if his behavior is an indication) is that girls are equally intelligent, interesting, strong, brave, and fun.  Through his friendships with girls, my son is learning things that will eventually make him a better man.  The adults around him are encouraging this–and that’s a very good thing.

Also, let’s be clear on this: Men being assholes to women? Not so much a thing of the past.

4. . . . told that they could be attracted to either males or females

Damn skippy, though I doubt this happens at age nine.  I certainly hope that my son is aware that whatever sexual attractions he feels are normal.  I learned at church that sexual attraction was bad unless it was within marriage between a man and a woman.  Because I live in a conservative city, the most “sex ed” I got there was a very brief, embarrassed, “Um…uh…use some birth control so you don’t get a nebulous disease we’re not actually going to describe for you.  Now, watch this video of a woman giving birth so you’re too disgusted to get pregnant.”

Anyway, Emily is wrong about this one too–is she not aware that kids are still being bullied for their sexuality?  Even if schools are teaching an inclusive sex education (which they’re not in most places), the horror of having your kid know gay people exist is a lot less scary than being the gay kid who gets threatened or beaten.  Priorities, people.  Sort them.

5. . . . because there was no male or female: there just was.

This is also foolish.  No one teaches or believes this.  It’s fear-mongering.  I do not know any person–cis or trans–who believes or teaches this.  For the love of God, please go look things up before you start spouting off on them.

Oh, wait.  She probably means proper gender roles, not actual genders.  Er…I hope.  What she seems to possibly mean here (?)–though I honestly can’t tell; I’m still confused–is that it’s okay for men to be attracted to men or women to women because the lines between their roles have gotten too fuzzy.  I can’t decide which interpretation of Emily’s words is more offensive.  In either case, gross stereotypes are being perpetuated here.  Whatever Emily’s intent, it changes nothing.  There are no schools teaching these bizarre things about gender.

When I send my son to school, I worry that he might have forgotten his lunch money.  I worry that he might be bullied (or worse, engage in bullying behavior).  I wonder if his ADHD is making him struggle through his day or if he’s getting enough stretch breaks.  I think about whether he’s learning to work cooperatively with all kinds of people.  I hope fervently he doesn’t get hurt on the playground or in phys ed.  I think about ways to make getting his homework done a priority on nights he has ballet class.  I pray that today is not the day a troubled young man decides to show up at his school and shoot a classroom full of children.

I do not worry that he won’t grow up to be the right kind of man.

 

Same song, second verse

http://thecurvature.com/images/abonly2.jpg

I read this article last night, and my what-the-hell meter went off.  You can read the whole bill here.

Now, I’m not so sure I disagree with Tennessee’s ban on K-8 sex ed.  I kind of wish my school had banned sex ed, given what the district tried to pass off as covering the topic.  You know how everyone is all worried that their kid is going to learn the wrong things on the school bus?  I’m pretty sure that my bus education was superior to what I got in the classroom.  Given the conservative environment in Tennessee, it’s probably better that the schools leave it up to someone else.

On the other hand, this gag order on mentioning anything that falls remotely outside “natural human reproduction” is kind of weird in that context.  So they’re not supposed to teach about sex…but they are supposed to teach “natural human reproduction.”  I was under the impression that most of the time, the latter requires the former in order to occur.  I guess my education was worse than I thought.  I’m thinking that’s just a poorly worded way of saying that they advise kids to have proper man-woman marriages that involve a lot of non-kinky child-producing sex when they grow up.

I admit that I was confused by the wording of the bill, especially since the Salon article didn’t include the full text.  From appearances, it looks like staff are to report things that put students at risk without specifying what things constitute risk.  It’s poorly phrased, and it leaves too much room for interpretation, but it didn’t seem to me as though it was specifically targeting LGBT students.  From what I could tell, it could be a problem for any student engaging in any behavior that a staff member deems “risky.”   It could also mean that staff are required to report actual dangers to students, such as abuse and rape.  If it were more clearly the latter, I might think that there was at least some good in here–an acknowledgement that assault and abuse are dangerous and damaging to students.

It’s the wording of the thing, though, that troubles me.  Staff members are to report students who are “engaging in” or “at risk of engaging in” behaviors that someone (who even knows who) deems potentially injurious.  The unclear language suggests that it is not about non-consensual acts like assault and abuse, but about acts in which the student is a willing participant.  Issues of immediate danger are covered separately (more on that later), so this is clearly about intentional behavior.

What concerns me is that this provides an opportunity for the government to dictate and/or support others in dictating what constitutes “injurious” sexual behavior.  Even worse, the student doesn’t have to actually do anything, he or she only has to have the potential to do something.  While I agree that the students at greatest risk here are those who have sexuality or gender identity that is not aligned with what conservative evangelical Christians approve, they aren’t the only ones being targeted.  A student caught carrying a condom could be penalized with a call home too, regardless of whether he or she was planning on using it.  And before anyone says that this has to do with school staff “counseling” students and then calling home, don’t be fooled.  There is nothing in there that suggests that the student must be the one to seek the “counseling”–only that parents be informed if it has taken place.  That ought to put your Creepiness Radar on high alert.

The other troublesome aspect is the paragraph below the one on “risky” behavior.  I have to say, I do like the provision for not notifying parents who are suspected of being the perpetrators of abuse.  I think that may be the only bright spot here, and it really doesn’t belong in a bill related to human sexuality.  The failure here is lumping abuse and assault in with sexuality, when those things really have nothing to do with sex or sex education.  The fact that there needs to be a whole paragraph in which adults are told that the gag order on sex talk doesn’t extend to abuse bothers me quite a bit.  If there weren’t an underlying belief that rape, assault, harassment, and molestation are issues of sexuality rather than, you know, abuse, there wouldn’t be a need to spell it out in a bill pertaining to sex ed.

The whole thing is utter nonsense and just extends the stupidity of the original “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  Ignoring, legislating, and “reporting” behavior outside the approved category of “natural human reproduction” won’t make it go away.  Neither will making laws regarding what can or cannot be said in schools, but it just might make students feel less safe and less willing to trust adults–even those who wouldn’t report them to their parents.

Sex is not a magical unicorn, part 3

Warning: Sexy Sex talk.  Read at your own risk.  Also, for some tips on how sex actually can be a magical unicorn, with wings even, please check out this comment on yesterday’s post.  There’s a couple of great links from Hunter on non-intercourse sex.

So, over the last two days I’ve been explaining why sex isn’t the magical, mystical experience we’re often taught to expect.  I’m wrapping it up today with a bit about how we can stop both overrating sex and shaming people about it.

In my quest for information, I watched the documentary Let’s Talk About Sex.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions of the filmmaker.  I’m not convinced, for example, that the Netherlands is the country we should emulate when it comes to sex education.  But I agree that we have a problem in the U.S.

Our country is an oddity.  Our culture is saturated in overt sexuality, and we have the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases of any developed nation.  Yet our method of handling the crisis is to yell more loudly and more often that everyone should just abstain until marriage.  The bad news is, the yelling isn’t working.  Upwards of 90% (some figures closer to 95%) of people aren’t waiting.

There is a truckload of guilt and shame attached to sex.  Recently, I heard one (Christian) girl explain the reason why pregnancy is more common among conservatives is that they are taught that everyone makes mistakes.  Therefore, getting caught up in the moment is acceptable.  Only “bad” girls would plan ahead or use condoms, proving that they were intending to sin.  Does anyone else see the problem with this line of thinking?

As several people have commented on this blog, this is something we need to talk about.

I see two places we can begin.  First, we can make sure that within our families, we are providing an open, caring atmosphere where sharing about sex comes as naturally as sharing about any other subject.  Second, we can make public education and religious education two sides of the same coin, rather than opposing forces where one imposes its will on the other.

One of the best ways to take the shame out of sex and sexuality is to speak about it honestly.  Now, I don’t necessarily mean with strangers on your blog.  Well, okay, maybe I do mean that.  But that’s not the only thing I mean.  It’s easier, sometimes, to be truthful about our feelings and experiences when we don’t have to do it face to face with people we know.  But we have to move past that, or we will never see any real change.

As I’ve said before, parents need to take play an active role in their kids’ sex education.  I don’t mean being involved at school or church, I mean being the first person your child talks to about sex.  Parents need to be well-educated on the subject.  Make sure you have accurate information.  I’ve provided many wonderful links you can use to increase your own knowledge, and others have added theirs to the comments.  Feel free to add your own here.  (Please be aware that I will remove anything that has obvious false or intentionally misleading information, however.)

In addition, parents should be ready to be honest with their kids about their own histories.  Don’t lie in the hopes that your child won’t make your mistakes.  If you feel you’ve made a mistake, own it.  If you feel that what you did was right for you at the time, be truthful about that.  You don’t need to volunteer anything you don’t want to, but don’t cover it up if your kid asks.

When it comes to sex education, the church and the school should not be at odds.  The school should provide accurate, comprehensive sex education from a health standpoint.  This should include information about how to prevent pregnancy and disease.  I don’t see this as any different from schools teaching the theory of evolution.  Lots of conservative Christians disagree that evolution is a valid theory, yet it’s still taught.  There is no reason why sex education can’t be improved.

Meanwhile, the church should stay out of attempts at explaining physiology, especially when it’s used to make a point about the “nature” of boys and girls.  I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve seen real damage done with misinformation masquerading as “moral values.”  I’ve seen boys who think it’s excusable to blame girls for rape, and I’ve seen girls who think there’s something wrong with them because they experience arousal.  Leave the physiology lessons to the school and stick with talking about spiritual, ethical, and moral expression of sexuality.

Instead of treating sex like a rather mysterious and wondrous prize, we need to begin seeing it as a normal part of human experience.  Only then will we be able to think and speak of it in a way that is both God-honoring and healthy.

Sex is not a poopy diaper, part 3

Warning: Yeah, more sex stuff.  Seriously, it’s fun to talk about.  Try it some time.

Question of the day: Why are we often so willing to admit our rebellious teenage behavior, but we can’t talk openly about sex with our closest friends?

If your friendships look like the ones on TV and you get right down to it talking and supporting each other when it comes to intimate relationships, more power to you.  But most of the people I know don’t do that, especially Christians.

When I was young, I was the worst combination of extremely uptight and very strong-willed.  So I rebelled against my parents by becoming more conservative than they were and by “getting religion.”  I bought into a rather severe view of purity which led me to believe that virtually nothing was acceptable.  I only had a handful of rather hushed, giggly conversations with several other girls who shared that mentality.

I remember vividly the first Christian I ever met who was open about sexuality.  We were talking about wanting to be in relationships, and she spoke candidly about experiencing arousal—and how she . . . *ahem*. . . addressed it.  She asked me if I knew what she meant.  My mind went, “OMG . . . OMG . . . she didn’t really just say what I think she did.  Did she?  Crap, she did.  What do I tell her???”  I’m sure that I mumbled something intelligent like, “Squeak!” and nodded, just to move the conversation on to safer topics.

See, I had the impression that being turned on was bad, bad, bad unless you were with your husband.  If you were feeling aroused, you were supposed to try thinking of something really unsexy, like school cafeteria pb&j sandwiches.  (But not the fiestada; because fiestada is damn sexy.)  The very notion of having any sexual feelings was inextricably linked to feelings of guilt, because it was a clear sign that one was “lusting.”

I have no idea if that was the intent of the people at my church.  But it was certainly the result.

We’re constantly told that “the world” (or whatever term is popular for non-Christian culture) is responsible for emphasizing sex.  Sadly, we just don’t seem to get it that Christians share equal responsibility for elevating sex beyond where it needs to be.  It’s reactive, rather than taking the initiative: Culture (movies, books, TV) encourage sexual immorality; the church pushes back with an emphatic no.  But the harder we push back, the tighter we grip, the more likely we are to cause a cycle of rebellion, sin, guilt, and promises to stop.  It’s a losing battle.

Not only that, the very people the church makes responsible for teaching sexual morality are often the same people who lack education about basic biology, feel embarrassed discussing sex, or are dealing with their own addictive sexual behaviors.  (I’m not judging anyone; I’m just saying that if a person has not yet addressed his or her own trauma or addiction, it can be hard to move beyond it to instruct others.)

The struggle with ethical, moral sexuality doesn’t end when a person moves out of his or her parents’ home.  We need to begin helping our Christian adults to be able to talk openly about sexuality with each other.  The more we do that, the safer the church will be overall.  We will end up with many adults who have healthy attitudes toward their bodies and sex, and therefore children and teens with healthy attitudes.

This is one place where we need each other.  Too many people have too much guilt, shame, and fear piled on.  Let’s end the cycle of hurt by being open with each other.  Instead of another tired lecture about sinful sex, we could just encourage people to begin talking, to hear each other’s stories.

At least it’s a start.

And that’s a wrap on this series.  Tomorrow brings my usual weekly highlights, and then I’m going on vacation.  Weee!  I’m not sure how much I will post while I’m away, but I’ll try to stay in touch.  See you on the other side!

Sex is not a poopy diaper, part 2

Warning: There’s stuff about sex in here. You can read it and take notes, read it and blush, read it and pretend you didn’t, or just skip it entirely. Up to you.

Yesterday, I talked about how we often introduce shame about sex early on by failure to communicate clearly about anatomy. Today, I’m advancing the conversation to adolescence.

By the time I was old enough to start getting any real “sex education,” I discovered just about everyone seemed to think sex was something to be ashamed about. In school, all I learned about sex was that if I had any, I could get a disease. Heck, they didn’t even talk to us about pregnancy. I think that’s because, despite what some think, I live in a conservative area. As an adult, my understanding is that teachers weren’t supposed to talk to us about contraception, although they could tell us how not to get sick. The emphasis was definitely on Things That Can Go Wrong. With pictures. In full color.

Most churches offer some variation on the theme of waiting for sex until marriage. While I have no disagreement with encouraging waiting, the way it’s taught nearly always promotes that sense of guilt and shame, along with the idea that sex itself is something dirty and embarrassing. There’s always a list of rules, mostly things you’re not supposed to do:

  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Don’t look at anything sexy.
  • Cover up any part of your body that might even remotely be sexy.
  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Don’t do anything with your partner except polite, chaste kisses.
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Keep your hands off yourself.
  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Looking is the same as sex.
  • Don’t entice people with your body.
  • Don’t be aroused, and if you are, pray it away.
  • Don’t think about sex.

There’s some really big problems with that.

First, it makes some assumptions about boys and girls in relation to one another. It sets boys up as predators and girls up as temptresses. So instead of girls being able to discern which boys really are predatory, they learns to see them all that way. It also teaches boys that if they’re aroused, girls are at fault. Gee, I wonder what the scary implications of that might be.  (For a fictional rendition of this, see Twilight.  There’s some seriously creepy stuff in there.)

Second, it ignores basic biology. Ever been a teenager? Maybe it’s been too long. Maybe you had a lot of this guilt piled on. But all those surging hormones create a lovely playground for sexual arousal. Telling kids that the changes their bodies are undergoing are bad or that they should fight them is . . . weird. I’m not suggesting the way to handle hormones is to go have as much indiscriminate sex as possible. But c’mon, let’s work with biology here, not against it. If more kids understood that their bodies were normal, that would be a great start.

Third, it takes Scripture out of context and legitimizes the encouragement of guilt and shame. Remember that whole “lust is just as bad as adultery” thing? Yup, Jesus said it. But let’s get this straight: He wasn’t talking about getting a little hot over the cute next-door neighbor. This has been used time and again to shame people for having sexy thoughts. It’s even used within the context of relationships. Because of the whole “sex is bad until the wedding” mantra, dating couples struggle with the very idea of being physically attracted to each other. Instead of acknowledging it, they stuff it down. The expectation is that it’s a light switch—turn it off until the minister calls it, then turn it on when you get to the honeymoon suite. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

Lust is an entirely different beast. It’s a willful, possessive way of looking at another person. It’s a way of reducing a person to nothing more than a body that might be available for our own pleasure. It is not a normal, ordinary biological process. It is not a fleeting thought. It is not a mere attraction to someone nice-looking. And the best way to handle it isn’t to simply stuff it down and repeat, “I will not lust; I will not lust; I will not lust.” It’s best handled by learning to value and respect other people.

Finally, the laundry list of don’ts is exactly that: An anti-to-do list. A set of rules. A no-no checklist. That view of sexuality is entirely negative. When the message is that it’s bad until the wedding night, it can be pretty challenging to suddenly see it as a good thing. There’s a host of terrible consequences in that.

I think most people would be very surprised by the number of people (particularly women) who are hiding intense fear and shame. Often, their spouses don’t know about it. It has a huge and lasting impact on the loving relationship between spouses. Trust me, I know it’s true, both from personal experience and from the experiences of others. In fact, the guilt and shame piled on related to sex and sexuality are so deep that people feel it even if they were not Christians at the time they first experienced sexual intimacy. I’ve met many people who have told me that they are deeply ashamed of their past, even though they were acting on the moral values available to them at the time.  And even though they believe their sins are forgiven, it’s often the one thing they can’t let go.

This isn’t healthy, in any sense. I don’t have any easy answers. My hope is that we can begin to talk about ways to bring about a less damaging way to handle purity and fidelity without pre-shaming people into the Just Don’t Do It camp.

Join me tomorrow when I address another layer of sex as a four-letter word.

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My apologies that I’m not adequately addressing the unique feelings of my LGBT brothers and sisters here; I have no experience and feel that I cannot speak to this particular subject within your marriages and relationships. I am not trying to further marginalize or alienate you. I’m open to discussing those issues, though, so if anyone wants to write a guest post on the topic, message me.

Sex is not a poopy diaper, part 1

Warning: In this post, I use correct anatomical terms for private body parts.  If you find that squicky, go read someone else’s blog.  Or play Words with Friends.  Whatever.

From the way a lot of Christians treat it, one might get the impression that anything to do with sex is embarrassing and dirty.

The aversion starts early and goes right down to failure to use proper terminology when referring to body parts.  The number of people (especially girls and women) who have no basic understanding of their anatomy is shocking.  I mean, guys are pretty simple.  I think most boys reach adulthood knowing the proper words for their external genitalia.  Maybe they couldn’t give details on the internal plumbing, but they’ve got a pretty good idea how things work.  Girls, on the other hand, tend to be familiar with their internal physiology.  That can’t be helped.  When you need to take out stock in maxi pads for at least thirty years, you get to know what’s going on in there.  Not so much with what’s on the outside, though.

I really don’t understand why parents don’t make the effort to teach their kids the right terminology.  We explained from the time the kids could identify what they saw that boys have a penis, girls have a vagina and a vulva.  My daughter has no notions that hers are called a “cootchie,” “hooha,” “flower,” or “front butt.”  (Yes, that last one is real.  You take any two or more moms waiting for their kids to finish a community-based class, and by the end of it, at least one of them will have overshared about their kids’ private parts and/or bathroom habits in some way.  I have no idea why this mom felt the need to explain to me what her daughter calls her genitals, but she was rather proud of this bizarre euphemism.  When asked, I politely explained that I used to work as a nurse and my daughter is familiar with the correct words.)

Seriously, people, just call a spade a spade.  Take the mystery out of it.  And if you aren’t sure what everything is called, there’s this handy thing called Google.  You can even see a diagram.  (Yes, I know it comes from Planned Parenthood, which every good Christian knows is run by Satan’s minions.  You know what?  Deal with it.  It’s a pretty good diagram.  Although I gotta say, those colors are a little scary.)

I honestly feel that a good part of helping kids navigate these things is being proactive as a parent.  I would really rather that they hear about their bodies and about sex from us than from anyone else.  Church can’t (and shouldn’t!) provide the anatomy and physiology, and school shouldn’t be responsible for providing the morals.  That makes it our job as parents to talk frankly with our kids.  We’ve started early, just understanding their bodies, because it helps all of us feel like this is something we can discuss.  Having two parents who know basic biology also helps build our kids’ trust that we will be able to give them answers to more challenging questions.  Trust me, if you come off like it’s painful and humiliating to talk about it while your kids are young, they won’t want to talk about it when they’re older and really need you.  And when they find out you don’t even know the same basic stuff they can find in their textbooks, they won’t believe you when you offer other information—even if it’s true.

Time and again, research demonstrates that the single biggest factor in kids making wise, healthy choices about their bodies and sex is having parents who are actively involved in the conversation.  It’s never too late.  Take some time to become familiar with the correct information about physiology, the part that carries no moral or spiritual implications.  Figure out your own feelings, and deal with your own past, first.  Practice with your spouse, significant other, or a friend.  Role-playing sometimes lessens anxiety.  When you’re ready, open it up and talk to your kids.  You won’t regret it.

Join me tomorrow when I talk about how shame and guilt have led to an unhealthy view of sexuality.