Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't tell me how to talk about sex

A few nights ago, as I was unwinding before bed, I had the TV on as I did some research--either Thomas trains or gluten-free stuff, who can remember these things. I'm not even sure what channel I had it on. A commercial came on, one of those black and white PSAs. It went back and forth among a variety of kids who were all saying things like:
  • "Mom and Dad, you need to talk to me about sex."
  • "I may not seem like I'm listening but I am."
I nodded along a little. I've always felt strongly about the importance of talking to one's children about sex. Heck, I've been known to talk to other people's kids about sex (my sisters and some students who directly asked me my opinion about some things they'd been discussing in human development... so I answered with my honest opinion).

But as the commercial continues, the tone starts to change a little and I'm starting to wonder where this is going.
  • "If you talk to me about sex, I'm more likely to wait."
OK, my sense is that children of parents who speak openly with them about sex, not just the mechanics but also the emotions and responsibilities, might be more likely to approach sexuality in a more mature manner and possibly wait for a more appropriate relationship. But still, I feel like I'm waiting for the moment that will make me want to yell.

Ah, there it is:
  • Voice-over: "Tell your kids you want them to wait ’til they’re married to have sex."
Oh, and one more:
  • Final screen, faint printing at bottom: "Paid for by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."
Now I should not be surprised at this, given the current administration and their continued push for abstinence-only education, regardless of what scientific research may say about its (lack of) effectiveness. And apparently my indignation is a little late in coming, though that can be attributed to being in Canada when this first started to run.

Nonetheless, I was, and am, indignant that my tax money is going to tell me what I need to tell my son about sex, that I must necessarily believe sex should be saved for marriage. Because I don't. And not just because I had sex as a teenager. This is something I have actually thought through quite carefully.

Speaking in the most general of terms for the sake of brevity, the idea of saving sex until marriage is both outdated and sexist. Historically, women have been held to this standard much more rigorously than men; it is a way of controlling one's property--both the women themselves and the guarantee that the children who will inherit your property are actually carrying on your bloodline. Add to this the fact that women were routinely married off in their early teens and that the average age of puberty is thought to have been later than it currently is. Back then, it was quite possible for a girl to be married off before hormones had kicked in; now, kids are frequently looking at a decade or more between when they enter puberty and get married.

Allow me to play the gay card here too. The simple statement that people should wait until after they're married to have sex is inherently heterosexist. Given that gay marriage is not legal in the US, outside of Massachusetts, the message is that the gay kid should never expect to have sex or conversely that any sex they do have is bad. Yeah, I'm just not on board with that.

Now, I'm not advocating promiscuous, irresponsible, unsafe sex, and this is something my son will hear. For me, sex is something that ideally occurs in a stable, loving relationship and is the logical next step in expressing the love between two people who respect each other. On the other hand, I don't believe that sex occurring outside of that sort of relationship is the end of the world, causing irreparable damage to one's psyche.

I am sure that there are plenty of parents who will continue to tell their children to wait until marriage, whether because they truly believe it or because it is the easier conversation to have. That is their right--I disagree and would even be willing to discuss this, but I respect that parents must choose their own position. But I'm indignant that the government thinks it can choose my position for me.


cinnamon gurl said...

Great post, Mouse! I agree wholeheartedly... I'm still trying to figure out what my stance will be on promiscous sex... because it's really ok and even expected for men to be promiscuous but not for women, and that bugs the shit out of me. I worry that if I say encourage sex with love that I am somehow supporting the notion that a promiscuous woman is a slut, and I don't want to do that. Besides, chances are, my child(ren) may need to figure that out for themselves...

Aliki2006 said...

This was a great and important post. I'm with you--I plan on being very open and proactive about discussions. My parents did the opposite and I always felt the effects of this, the shadow looming over me that sex was secret and shameful, and was not to be talked about until MUCH LATER. I had to find out everything on my own--even information about menstruation.

I think in this day and age teaching kids about responsibility and self-respect is important, for both genders.

Mouse said...

I am hopeful that if I discuss sex honestly and openly with my children, then they will put the thought into figuring out their personal beliefs. My parents hit sort of a middle ground--I'm actually going to write about this soon. I'm not sure they intended to leave me the space to make some of the decisions I did, but I appreciate that they were my decisions.

moplans said...

and use your tax dollars to promote a quick fix to a complex issue.
well written!

Mad said...

Great post, Mouse. Morality and government are far more uneasy bedfellows than two teenagers figuring out life.