Actually I Don’t Hate Christians, Virgins, God, or Hamsters

Maybe I do hate hamsters a little bit. They’re very creepy.

I’ll be on Sheila Liaugminas’ show on Relevant Radio again tonight, talking about abstinence and abstinence-only education with Elizabeth Duffy, Sam Rocha, and Marc Barnes. In preparation for that, I spent a little time reading back through my post that kicked off this sexy party, Sam’s and Elizabeth‘s responses, Marc’s two pieces on the purity culture, and then my own (frightening) comment section.

Basically, most people seemed to be hopelessly confused about 1) why I wrote the post I wrote, 2) what I was advocating if I wasn’t behind abstinence-only as a sex ed movement, and 3) what the hell the words on the page even meant. I guess I’ll start with 3 first, since that’s the one that kept making me go

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I really thought that the inclusion of catchwords like “feminine genius” and “theology of the body” would make it pretty clear to my Catholic readers that I was not advocating teaching our children that sex is an all-you-can-eat buffet as long as you pop birth control like you would a Tums before the big feast, and maybe wrap that boy in latex to keep it all STI-free. But even if they didn’t catch that, I thought that including what I wanted our kids to be taught would clear the air a little. Here’s a few choice sentences that make clear the type of sexual education I’d like my kids to learn:

“It (abstinence-only sex ed) doesn’t teach children what sex is, what their sexuality means, how to understand it, or how to properly integrate it into a life of chastity both without and within a marriage.”

“We need to create a new way of teaching children about human sexuality, a way that emphasizes their essential dignity as rational, spiritual, and sexual human beings. We should strive to teach them to grow in virtue, to gain temperance, to master their passions, and to love for love of the other, not out of desire for pleasure, power, or possession. We should be teaching human sexuality as a series of positive moral developments that boys and girls must attain before sex can be truly enjoyed. We shouldn’t be teaching our kids to white-knuckle it through puberty and then glut themselves as soon as they say ‘I do’.”

About 98% of my comment box could be divided into two opposite-yet-similar reactions. Here’s the first one:

High-five, sister! Those religious wackos need to GTFO of everything, everywhere!

Here’s the second one:

Your problem is that you hate Christians and are secretly ashamed of your dirty, dirty sin.

You know, it’s times like these when I want to quit blogging forever and devote all my time, energy, and pennies to addressing the growing illiteracy epidemic in our country. It’s astounding that one blog post could produce so many reactions that were utterly ignorant of 1) what I meant, and 2) what I said. Usually when this happens, I go back and re-read my post and try and find the place or places where my rhetorical skills were sloppy or non-existent.

I did that here. The problem wasn’t with me.

I wish Disqus would add a new function to the comment section. You can vote comments up, vote them down, or you can put them into this

My blog has this handy, ground-breaking feature called an “About Me” page. You can click on it and see the part where I talk about being faithful to the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception, which might be a hint that I don’t hate Christians. But if clicking on a whole new page seems like too much work, you could also just scroll on up to the top of the page, where you’ll see this:

Patheos>Catholic Channel>Barefoot and Pregnant

I didn’t write the post to hate on Christians. I wrote the post to educate Christians on what is happening in many abstinence-only sex ed programs. Guess what? Some of them didn’t know this was going on. Guess what else? If I didn’t know this was going on, I would sure as hell want to. Guess one more thing for me: what does it prove, that a blog post criticizing abstinence-only sex ed was interpreted by almost the entire internet as being critical of religion in general and Christianity in particular? It proves that Christians have become way too invested in the abstinence-only sex ed movement. That is crystal-clear in the comment section.

I never said that we should teach our kids to have ALL THE SEX before marriage. I thought my paragraph about chastity and virtue and moral development made that clear. I don’t think kids should be encouraged to express their sexuality until they are married. But I also think it is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG to teach them to associate their sexuality with something dirty. That was literally the ENTIRE point I was making, and the fact that so many Christians were unable to hear that over the roar of “someone’s criticizing abstinence-only sex ed MUST DEFEND MUST DEFEND” that filled their brains troubles me to no end.

Listen, it’s not just Christians. The liberal part of the internet was giddy over my post, and only tripped up over the criticism of Planned Parenthood. I assume that they skimmed right over the part where I talked about chastity, virtue, moral development, and especially the part about teaching children to master their passions. That really doesn’t fit into the left’s “sexual expression is healthy”  platform.

I didn’t actually advocate any solid position on sex ed in the post. The post was meant to make a point, not pitch an idea. Besides, I don’t really have a solid position on sex ed. Darwin makes the point that public schools can’t teach chastity. As far as public schools go, I guess my preference would be that they teach straight biology using only facts. (Hint: “masturbation is a normal and healthy expression of sexuality” is not a fact. “Masturbation is when a person gives him or herself sexual pleasure” is a fact.) Facts about condom use, birth control, teen pregnancy, etc. Putting a condom on a banana is not a fact, it’s practice, and I don’t want my kid practicing putting condoms on fruit.

Mostly, though, I think sex ed is the job of the parents. It’s not one talk and then hey, we’re done. It’s an ongoing, life-long conversation with your child. Is it awkward? I dunno, I’m not really there yet, but I’m sure it’s gonna be. So is teaching a 4 year old to wipe her own butt when her arms aren’t long enough. Guess what? That’s our jobs. If we don’t do it, no one else will…or in the case of sex ed, if we don’t do it, someone else will, and we might not like what they have to say.

That was the motivation behind my post in the first place. I’ve seen so many people champion abstinence-only sex ed without having any idea that the types of curricula I experienced are happening, and are happening in Catholic schools. It’s not just some Evangelical purity culture horror-story.

And for the love of God, everyone who freaked out about the fact that I accidentally typed “Catholics and Christians” instead of “Catholics and other Christians” to the exclusion of everything else in my post seriously need to re-evaluate their freak-out priorities.

I’ll be discussing it more tonight on Sheila’s show, if you want to listen. 6 PM Eastern. Please tweet at me if I start speaking “um” instead of English.

  • tedseeber

    Pre-emption works. I started with my son about age 3. When he was propositioned by 4th grade homosexuals this year, I was proud of his response- his first confession was dedicated to the subject.

  • kcthomas

    Sex education must be imparted by parents. When it is done by Govt through schools, the book will contain such banana stories It will spoil the children

  • Eve Fisher

    I thought your original piece was very clear, and very real – the same with this one. Some of the comments on the original were… insane. But then there are always people who truly believe that this one piece (whatever that piece is) of their belief system is the key to God and if you don’t repeat verbatim their screed, well… You know the rest.

    Personally, my take on abstinence-only sex education and “Biblical truth” comes from the fact that I’m an historian. In most pre-modern, rural/pastoral communities women were married off as soon as they got their periods – i.e., 12, 13, 14 years old – so that there wouldn’t be a problem with them losing their virginity before marriage. Now women don’t marry until at least 18, and most are waiting until their 20s and even 30s. That’s a long time to go on the white-knuckle abstinence-only method.

    AND – before the commentators go ballistic – I have no objections to abstinence or chastity at all, and believe they are doable. For one thing, I’ve been married 34+ years, and you don’t pull that off without being abstinent at times and chaste all the time. What is needed is a realization that sexuality is only a part of the whole world of sensual pleasure CREATED BY GOD – like Spring. Like a sauna. Like a walk through autumn woods. Like watching a fire in winter. (I said this before and was accused of being “sensual, devilish” for it by a commentator.) What I have seen coming out of abstinence-only is women (and men, but mostly women) who are terrified of ANY bodily pleasure because it might lead to sex, if not in deed, then in thought, and that would make them impure. And that is awful. God created a beautiful world full of things to see, smell, touch, hear, feel…

    Today, it’s as if there are only two only physical pleasures: food and sex. And, let’s face facts, women are supposed to be exceptionally wary of both of them, because if a woman is impure or fat, well, society doesn’t need her. And if you teach them that food and sex is all there is – well, guess what they’re always going to be hungry for? And that hunger will not be healthy, but twisted. Anorexia and bulimia are all around us – and there are sexual equivalents…

    But the great saints knew that there were innumerable pleasures, beginning with the pleasures of God – read John of the Cross’ “En La Noche.” You want chaste children, chaste men and women? Teach them feel the beauty God created all around them, with all their senses. Let them run through the tall grass (pick the ticks off later), laughing their heads off. Let them climb a mountain and look out on the view. Let them smell a field of lavender. Teach them deep prayer, and deep laughter, and deep tears. Let them live. If they’re truly alive, then the small sacrifice of chastity/abstinence is possible.

  • Randy Gritter

    I am a bit confused at you confusion. Your piece was a liberal piece. Liberal Catholics do pay some lip service to chastity. Yet when balancing questions of self esteem with questions of chastity the self esteem concern will win every time. Reminding people that you are actually Catholic is also a very liberal thing to do. Joe Biden has to tell you he is Catholic. George Wiegel does not have to because it is obvious from the way he thinks.

    There are two deep truths we need to understand. One is we are beautifully and wonderfully made and deeply loved by God. The other is we are serious sinners. That runs deep too but not as deep as our identity as children of God. If we lose sight of either of these truths our spirituality becomes totally dysfunctional. Abstinence sex education is going to focus on the second truth. Sin does make us dirty. When we choose more serious sin we become dirtier. That has serious impacts on how we see ourselves and how others see us. You need to communicate that strongly without diminishing their understanding of the first truth. But you have to do it in secular terms. You can’t talk about purgation of the soul.

    What makes the communication even harder is people come to you with issues. Some have latched on to the truth of their sin and tend not to hear anything you say about their beauty but really hear anything you say about their sin. Some are the opposite. They believe they are truly awesome and don’t hear anything you tell them about their sin while they embrace everything you say about their beauty.

  • tedseeber

    Just to freak everybody out, Hampton and his buddies are cool:

  • Jennifer Ayars Bush

    “But I also think it is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG to teach them to associate their sexuality with something dirty”

    Yes, that would be wrong. If a man or a woman has sex outside of marriage or engages in any other disordered sexual activity they should feel ashamed because they engaged in something shameful. We need to convey this to our daughters and our sons. Why would you not? As another commenter noted, you appear to be more concerned with preserving a woman’s self esteem than with her chastity. We are all sexual beings. Our sexuality, when rightly expressed (either in marriage, religious life or single life) is never dirty. Sexual behavior, when expressed in a disordered manner, is.

  • Joy

    I come from the Protestant world that you grew up in. i am actually friends with your sweet momma. I love reading your blog because it helps me think outside of the box my world tends to put my thinking in. Thank you. Keep being real. I love it!

  • made for another world

    I have a sixth grader and we’ve been talking sex since he was 4. Just naturally. I’m not an expert in Theology of the Body or Feminine Genius and it took my husband and I 10 years to root out all of our bad habits and start following the church’s teachings 100%. What I do know is that somehow, he understands the beauty of life and God’s design because this child who is starting to get a bit of an attitude and who is a little bit in his own world, points out every pregnant lady and every baby in our midst. He points and smiles, full of wonder. And even before we had any sort of birth control talk, he exclaimed, “Why would anyone want to prevent a pregnancy?!” after hearing a birth control commercial. And he said, “Mom, I’m not going to date until I’m older because why would I date someone for 10 years since the point of dating is to get married.” He drew these conclusions on his own. Part of it is him and his openness to the teaching. Part of it is because we’ve been very frank and open when ever he has a question. And, I do use any opportunity I can to teach him about TOTB. I also think part of it is, ironically, the fact that he doesn’t have a sibling (I suffer from secondary infertility) and he knows how precious life is. The director of religious ed and I are going to sit down and try to find a program to start formally teaching these concepts to the junior high. My gut says that if you teach the truth, the kids are going to draw correct conclusions (with careful guidance). This is a great convo, thanks for representing, Caleh! You rock!

  • TheReluctantWidow

    I intend to teach my children they are not their sexuality. That does not define them. I also intend to teach my boys that they are responsible for not only controlling their own urges and to respect a young woman enough to not make HER responsible for her urges but his as well. Lastly, we’ll talk about the grace found in the sacraments and how if you mess up, as we all do in many ways, confession and a fresh start is readily available. My daughter will not hear from me that she’s garbage if she loses her virginity before marriage. Well, I am just rambling and not making a good point, but I got yours the first time and this time.

    • CS

      I love this especially:

      “I also intend to teach my boys that they are responsible for not only
      controlling their own urges and to respect a young woman enough to not
      make HER responsible for her urges but his as well.”

      Women have been told from time immemorial that they should bear the burden of male sexuality, in wide-reaching areas from enforced modest dress to their literal bearing of children no matter how the pregnancy occurred.

  • Iota

    Just a few thoughts, for all it’s worth:

    (1) A lot of the power over a discussion comes form the words we use. The thing that involves teaching people (apparently mainly women) they are chewed up pieces of gum got called “Abstinence only education” so it technically got one of the best names, form a Christian POV. The moment you say “We have to reform/ditch/change” AOE some people will immediately go “Wait, you want to get rid of abstinence? What kind of a Christian (Catholic) are you anyway?” You can’t control that process.

    If I were writing a piece of that sort I’d try specifically renaming the practices I disagree with. It might make it a bit harder for some people to take the bad mental shortcut.

    (2) That’s just the Internet. We get used to divisions and labels (Liberal Christians this, Conservative Christians that); our brains are wired to like neat divisions. And communication on the internet doesn’t give us any particular points at which to stop and think. I assume most of the people who end up saying uncharitable, silly or simply incoherent things in coxcombs wouldn’t do it in a longer discussion, face to face, because they might notice you are one particular Calah Alexander and not [Insert Label].

    (3) Drive-by commenters, i.e. the people who don’t care about you enough to even check you “About” page, didn’t read any other post, and therefore completely lack context, don’t know your “writing voice”. Since human brains are wired to fill in any perceived gaps, they will fill in the context with whatever they think already. You drop the right words? Maybe that’s just lip-service. Or worse, maybe you’re being devious and mischievous? You don’t drop the right words or slip up? “Gotcha! We SAW right through your little façade of being a nice, reasonable person! This is Sparta!!!!”

    Also., I suppose they are unlikely to change their behaviour en masse just because you tell them, you’d appreciate them familiarising themselves with the broader context. It’s kind of like the people who bug you when you work at an information desk by asking the most obvious questions, the answers to which are posted right on *this* wall over *there*. Technically, each one of them is doing a very small thing by asking that question instead of reading the info. It just adds up over time. Similarly, not familiarising yourself with the whole context and tone of the blog before you comment isn’t a crime. Its’ just that if you get many. many people doing it, it can drive you nuts.

    (4) Some people will understand what you said and disagree. Of those, some will choose to disagree in an unproductive, impolite or otherwise “escalating” manner. Sometimes completely unintentionally, just because they have a different temperament or way of phrasing themselves.

    (5) Also, what Tom said (click).

    Thing is, there really isn’t much you can do about everything besides #1 except turning off the comments….