Simcha Fischer is a treasure. Today she follows up a column on the problems with some abstinence-only education programs with some ideas about how to talk to your kids about sex.
No one likes having “the talk”. If you approached it with any kind of enthusiasm, then I’m kind of concerned about you. I went into the conversation with my son with a kind of weary resignation. I know it should have been one of those deep and meaningful conversations in which I impart the magic and wonder of connubial bliss.
To an 11 year old.
If that’s what you expect from this kind of conversation, then would I be able to ride your pet unicorn some time?
I didn’t want to have the talk. My son didn’t want to have the talk. Neither of us wanted to be there. But I give myself some modicum of credit for approaching it with quiet, dignity and grace. I explained some of the words, some of the anatomy, and talked about the Catholic understanding of the role of sexuality in married life. It was simple, direct, to the point. He didn’t squirm too much, but he listened. He didn’t ask any questions, probably out of fear that it might prolong the conversation, but I try to touch base with him now and then to see what he’s thinking and emphasize our values. (I never got The Talk. I learned about sex the way God intended: from the dirty magazines my cousin kept in his bathroom.)
He’s 14 now, has Asperger’s, and is in a special school with a completely male student body, so there isn’t a lot of opportunity for the whole girl/boy dynamic. Add in the fact that a conversation with an Aspie either lasts 5 seconds or becomes a 20-minute monologue (you would be amazed at how much data the Aspie brain can store about Dungeons & Dragons, Team Fortress 2, and superheroes), and there isn’t a lot of room for meaningful dialog.
And now my wife has to have the conversation with our daughter, also now 11, and I am so very glad I’m not her right now. I can’t even imagine where I’d begin. Even after 22 years of marriage, there are still aspects of the female body that mystify me, and I’m okay with that. I know my daughter is afraid of the changes about to occur, and I honestly have no context whatsoever for assuaging those fears.
What I can do, however, is try to model what a man should be, and make sure she’ll know what to expect from men. I want her to have high standards, and to reject the leering, rude, frat-house man-boys that seem to be everywhere. My quick rule-of-thumb for eliminating potential suitors will be “Avoid men who wear baseball caps backwards. Or indoors.” That should take care of a large swath of potential suitors who are failing at the basic task of modeling reasonable manhood.
Other than a few bits of advice, however, words don’t have a lot of impact. The best thing I can do is show her how a man treats a woman by the way I treat my wife: with dignity, love, compassion, consideration, and self-sacrifice: in sort, the total gift of self. Healthy sexuality is modeled by a healthy life and a strong relationship. Without out that, sex is meaningless. Worse than meaningless, it’s destructive.
Honestly, I’m far more concerned about my daughter than my son, because I know what young men are capable of. They’re driven insane by hormones, and most lack the emotional resources to manage that insanity. There’s a Rodney Atkins song called “Cleaning This Gun” that includes the line “Now that I’m a father / I’m scared to death one day my daughter is gonna find / That teenaged boy I used to be / who seems to have just one thing on his mind.”
Yep. That about sums it up. I’m going to try to resist killing the first boy to show up, but that will be hard. (As the saying goes: “Shoot the first one and the word will spread.”) Perhaps threatening looks will be enough. The simple fact is that it’s harder being a girl than a boy in this sex-saturated culture. The great effort over the past few decades has been to turn women into the same kind of sex-obsessed, rutting dogs men are supposed to be, but it’s a poor fit and ends in sorrow and pain.
The best thing we can do–the most important thing–is to remind them of the power, majesty, and mystery of sex, and to do our best to steer our kids away from the nonstop stream of sewage coursing through popular culture. People wonder why they have trouble raising sexually mature and moral teens, and yet from the youngest age they let them soak up a media culture that treats sex not as the expression of a lasting bond between a husband and wife, or as a way to create children, but as a recreational activity for a slow Friday night.
You really should read all of Simcha’s post, but here are a few highlights:
Love is a gift of self. Affection and desire go along with love, but love itself means caring for another person’s well-being. If you love someone, you will not involve them in anything that will be bad for them (and you will not do anything to harm your own bodily or spiritual dignity, either). The way you show love to your boyfriend or girlfriend is not the same way as you show love to your spouse.
We speak with our bodies. This means it is also possible to tell lies with our bodies. Being sexually intimate with someone says that you have exchanged binding vows of fidelity with them. If you haven’t made these vows, you must not act as if you have. You must learn to show love in other ways.
The world lies to you. It’s your job to have the courage to resist these lies. Kids are proud of not trusting Big Pharma or Big Agra — so remind them not to trust Big Sex (but don’t say it like that — that sounded really dorky). Kids are responsible for turning away from the lies that books, music, movies, the internet, the abortion and contraception industries, and porn want to offer. Tell them what to do: be brave enough to say no, walk out, avert their eyes, or change the topic of conversation. Make sure they know that they are in charge, and that it takes guts to go against the stream. Discuss the chemical effects porn and masturbation have on the brain, and educate them on how it destroys the ability to enjoy normal sex.
Sex forms bonds, whether the people engaged in it acknowledge this or not — emotional, psychological, spiritual, and scientifically proven chemical bonds. You do not want to form that bond before you’re married, because it will hurt like Hell to break that bond once it’s formed.
Fear has its place! Fear of single motherhood, fear of STDs, fear of disappointing parents, or of having an unpleasant experience — these are all acceptable things to mention, as long as they are by no means the entire discussion you have about sex.
Be frank and honest, but not crude or confrontational. There’s no use in using only lovely or abstract or antiquated terms — kids will either disregard you or literally not know what you’re talking about. You don’t have to ruin their sense of modesty, but you do have to make yourself clear. You can just admit, “Look, I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about this stuff, but it’s really important.” You don’t have to make eye contact. To ease the tension, have these talks while you’re doing some hands-on work like dishes or other chores.
The big picture isn’t enough; practical advice is a must. Some kids may appreciate having actual lines to say if they find themselves in a bad situation, even one of their own making. They should understand that they always, always have the right to back out of a situation — that there’s nothing noble or fair about going all the way because they’ve gone a certain amount.