Sex Ed

Sex Ed October 16, 2014

sex edby Kaleesha Williams cross posted from her blog The Lost (And Found) Mind of Kaleesha Williams

Are you going to give your children sex education and how?

Okay, how about some random, rambling thoughts and interesting links?

I’m have been easing carefully into this sexual education bit. It helps tremendously to live on a farm with breeding animals. I know folks who’ve told their children, upon their surprise at witnessing the mating of chickens, “It’s okay, they’re just dancing.” Seriously? How could you pass up a perfect opportunity to begin your child’s education in reproduction and sex?! No, my children know about how sex works firstly from our around-the-farm conversations and events, secondly from my many pregnancies (at least, the older ones had that aspect). I chat with them about it casually. I don’t make a big deal of it and I don’t go into a lot of detail. Time for that later. For my eleven-and-unders this seems appropriate.

But down the road? I don’t know. I am so conflicted still about my own sexuality and shame, as some of you have read here. I recognize the need to do something different with my children, to help them avoid some of the shame. I recognize that I may have already done some damage to my older ones by dragging them through the modesty mire, possibly, unintentionally, making them ashamed of their bodies. I can talk with them some, but I must lead by example. I’m still figuring this out.  I don’t want to just swing the other way to get as far away from conservative christiandom as possible.

Only part of it has to do with the way we dress, but I still think the way we dress is important. We are projecting an image of ourselves and will be judged accordingly by everyone we meet. How can I present myself in a way I’m comfortable and also be respectful of others? Tricky balance. Frankly, I love long skirts, baggy shirts, and long braided hair, I always have, but I am tired of looking like a frumpy housewife. I am experimenting with clothing and hairstyles. I am feeling free to discover myself. You may be laughing or scratching your head; maybe this sounds curious to you. Maybe you’ve taken your freedom for granted. If you knew the culture I’ve been steeped in for the last several years you would understand.

Right off I’m thinking of this ultra-modest family we used to spend time with and how I focused so much on trying to dress appropriately for visits to their house. I became hyper aware of my body and my sexuality around them. I went to their home one evening wearing a button-up shirt I thought was very modest (read that: not attractive in the least) and had just stepped through the door and been greeted when my host discreetly pulled me aside and kindly buttoned the very top button of my shirt. She said nothing, but smiled a matronly smile. Of course, I was uncomfortable all evening; not just from the choking collar of my shirt, but oh my, what else was I wearing or doing that was unacceptable, immodest? I was ashamed of my skirt which came only to mid-calf instead of to my shoes like those on all the women in their family. I was sure everyone was staring at my legs the whole night.This is only a small bit of the type of shame I felt and the way christians, in my experience, focus on sexuality by trying to avoid it.

For myself and my children I want to find some balance between this shameful restrictiveness and flaunting of our sexuality. I am a sexual being, yes, but that’s not all I am and it’s not necessarily the aspect of myself I want to bring to the forefront. How about a tiny bit of sexy with a side of humorous and large helping of brilliant? Yeah, that sounds good. Ha. Balance… balance… Who do you want to be? Create yourself. Put thought into it. That’s what I want my children to understand.

But beyond appearances…

I’d like to share a letter that I wrote to my children last December, after writing those bits about sexuality and shame. This is in Free to Be (page 217 in the paperback):

To My Dearest Children,

Today you cannot fully understand how getting out of religion has changed the direction of our lives. Because we live in the midst of a culture of Bible-believers it may always be a part of your lives, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Seeing this culture around you will challenge you to think and make your own decisions. I guess that’s what I want most for you, the ability to observe and consider, to think critically and make careful decisions. This will be the key to your happiness and that of the people around you.

Spending almost 33 years in a christian culture myself I learned some things I want you to be aware of, some things I want you to watch out for in your life. I learned that these things were true but now I know they are not.

I learned that God was watching out for me. Now I know that I am in charge of my life and that I have to watch out for myself and learn to trust others in my life to watch out for me, too.

 I learned that God would judge me. He would reward me if I was good and punish me if I was bad. Good and bad were decided by God and the rules written in the Bible. Now I know that the Bible was written by men who were just trying to make a culture (a group of people and the way they live) to be just the way they wanted them. It’s not for our culture today. We have many tools the writers of the Bible didn’t have, like our modern science, that enable us to make an even better world than they envisioned.

Not everything the Bible says is wrong, but some of the things it claims are good aren’t good and some of the things it claims are bad aren’t bad.

No one is going to judge you when you die. This is your life, here and now, and you can do whatever you want with it, but please, never forget that the things you do affect other creatures here on Earth! You will need to pay close attention and put thought into your actions. Decide for yourself what is good and bad. Does it hurt you? Does it hurt someone else? Does it hurt the Earth?

I learned from the Bible and christianity that sexuality was something to be ashamed of, that if I kissed another person or had sex with them without being married to them that I was sinning, that I was doing something very wrong. Now I know that it’s not wrong, it’s a very normal thing to want to experience. Our sexuality is a very special part about being human; as far as we know, no other species experiences it like we do. Kissing and touching and sex are very beautiful ways to express our love for other people. Because it’s so special, we should be very careful with it. Though we are free to practice it with whomever we want, we should apply the same thoughtfulness to it that we do to other things. Ask yourself, will this hurt me or anyone else, physically or emotionally? Talk about it with the person you want to be with. Communicate.

Of course, you may decide some of this or all of this is something you want to wait to experience until you marry or find just the right person to commit to. That is a fine and beautiful choice, too! Just think about what’s best for you, what you want, and how to go about making it happen that way. Think.

Sex requires a little more thought than some other things in our lives. Because sex involves body fluids, diseases are sometimes passed from one person to another this way, sometimes very serious ones. Sex is also how we make babies, and babies shouldn’t be brought into the world unless or until you and your partner want them. So, be thoughtful and wise, get educated. There is much to learn to practice safe, healthy sex and the information is readily available. There are books at the library and you can always talk with an adult you trust.

You know that I got pregnant with Farra before Daddy and I were married. We were just having fun and we didn’t think about the consequences. You may also know that we wouldn’t have gotten married if it weren’t for that. I felt a lot of shame because my culture, christianity, told me that what I had done was very wrong. I thought getting married would make it better; it did, as far as my culture was concerned, but it was not a good idea for Daddy and I. Of course, neither of us regret having Farra, but neither of us was really ready to be a parent. Also, we were not a good match for each other and shouldn’t have gotten married.

I wish someone had just hugged me and told me that it was okay that I made a mistake, that someone had helped me to see what the next best step would be for me instead of just trying to make things look better on the outside. But then, I cannot regret all of that because if we hadn’t gotten married we wouldn’t have the rest of you awesome kids!
That’s one of the funny things about life… it is what it is. Sometimes it’s what you make it, sometimes it just happens to you. If you don’t put the effort into making it what you want it to be then more of it just happens to you, which can be very hard! But, accept your mistakes and pick yourself up and move on to do your best. Surround yourself with good quality people who will help you do this.

Anyway, it’s a lot easier to do the work and make life what you want than living under pressure from your culture and an imaginary God to be and to live a certain way, or to believe that a higher power is controlling things. It’s very nice to be free and I hope you all will grow up happy and confident in this freedom.

I love you so very much,
Momma


I don’t have all the answers. I’m still figuring out things myself, but I want to carefully lay foundation I can build upon later. I think I can do that even if my goals are as vague as “I want my children to be unashamed of their humanity” and “I want my children to think things through and to communicate.”

So many thing have popped up in my internet wanderings this week regarding sexuality. First, this breakdown of sex education in America, presented by Upworthy is shocking. It’s no freaking wonder we have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world. Second, this absolutely amazing and articulate piece, The Failures of Sex Education, by tween activist Madison Kimrey, whom I have begun keeping my eye on since reading her feminist rebuttal to Phyllis Schlafly awhile back. She and her young friends are blazing remarkable paths in our world. True inspiration and hope for our youth. If you have nothing else to do tonight, and even if you do, go read this article. I’m just gonna share the first couple paragraphs to give you a taste:

High school is a complicated time in life. We’re preparing for college and careers, we’re defining and expressing ourselves, and we’re thinking about sex. However, the way many of my peers are thinking about sex is extremely unhealthy. Many of them are thinking about it as a way to level-up their relationships, as something that will make them more adult-like, and many view sex as something dirty.

The messages teens get from many adults and from society do little but to reinforce these unhealthy views on the topic. It makes many adults uncomfortable to have frank discussions on the subject, either with or in front of teens, and because of this, teens are even less likely to engage in frank discussions themselves.

Even more disturbing and unhelpful are sex education programs designed to indoctrinate teens into a particular mindset regarding the most personal of topics. Abstinence-only programs are the manifestation of adult fear. In order to keep teens from making “bad decisions,” adults step in to attempt to control the decision making. The tactics used in such programs range from instilling fear into teens that any sexual relationship will lead to STD’s, pregnancy, or feelings of shame to directly trying to shame teens by comparing those who are sexually active to a piece of passed-around chocolate or chewed-up gum.

 

I won’t keep you because I want you to go read the whole article (and it’s so hard for me to write about a subject when I’ve just read someone else’s wonderful insights). Be sure to watch the video at the end of Texas Governor Rick Perry fumbling around, trying to answer a point-blank question about abstinence.

Girls like Madison inspire me. I don’t know yet what a complete sex ed will look like for my children, but I have reason to believe we’re on the right path.

 

Read everything by Kaleesha Williams
Kaleesha Williams accomplishes her musing, writing, and goat-wrangling
in rural southeastern Missouri–that is, when she has time between
homeschooling and adoring her seven children, gardening, making goat
milk soap, planning projects with Denny, and trying to get her
sourdough English muffins to cook up properly.

Kaleesha has been blogging for over ten years and has written for
various farming and astronomy magazines.  You can check out her newest
book, “Free to Be:  How I Went From Unhappily Married Conservative
Bible Believer to Happily Divorced Atheistic Humanist In One Year and
Several Complicated Steps” at her website, www.kaleeshawilliams.com.
You can also keep up with her on Facebook.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dandi-Doo

    My non american sex-ed was hetero-normative, and pretty much was the teacher with a suitcase full of different kinds of birth control and him saying use protection or you will get STDs and pregnant. No talk about consent, no talk about anything other then what boys and girls do.

  • Saraquill

    Your hostess pulled you aside and grabbed your clothing without preamble or permission? That’s disturbing.

  • Nightshade

    Boundaries. Someone there didn’t understand the concept.

  • lh

    I work at a pretty conservative Christian school and I’ve had an older lady coworker do the same to me. And of course my mother has done it countless times over the years. It makes me cringe but these people seriously don’t believe in personal boundaries at all.

  • SAO

    Sex is tough for anyone to talk about. I tried to be open with my daughter, but, Oh! the stumpers she has asked! When she was thirteen, she asked at what age would I be okay with her having sex, to which the obvious answer was that when she was mature enough, she wouldn’t ask for parental permission, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to convey that she shouldn’t ask and that sex is a sign of maturity.

    Later she talked about marriage without sex and how you can have romantic relationships without sex (she hasn’t had either) and I tried to explain why that just doesn’t happen, but without making sex sound too wonderful.

    I’ve ended up talking about intimacy. Being naked with someone is very intimate and you need the trust in them and in yourself.

    I was a late bloomer and my daughter clearly is, too. Some girls have those hormones kick in at 13 or 14 and if that was her, no doubt, I’d have had different struggles. In the end, you have to play it by ear.

    And remember the mother who prepared and prepared and when asked, “Where did I come from?” by her child, went into the whole spiel and about mommies and daddies loving, sperm and egg, etc, etc. When she finished and her wide-eyed daughter recovered from shock, the girl said, “No, I meant what city. Susan says she’s from Minneapolis.”

  • Mel

    I was educated in the Catholic school system in a fairly conservative area of the US. I always figured I was getting a watered-down sex-ed class since it was a religious school and because my parents were always (in my embarrassed young mind) talking about sex or giving us books to read.

    Well, weirdly enough, I got a surprisingly comprehensive sex-ed curriculum at school. We started covering human reproductive anatomy in 4th grade, the mechanics of sexual intercourse in 5th, setting healthy boundaries in relationships in 6th, labor and delivery in 7th and the difference/importance of consent as well why victims of sexual abuse/rape didn’t commit any kind of sin and how to report a crime in 8th. (I’m sure we covered other topics when we were younger, but I don’t remember clearly which topics were in which year. Each year included a “No one should touch you if you say no portion.) In 10th grade Biology, we got a crash course in ALL of the forms of birth control – especially the artificial ones – “so we wouldn’t accidentally use them.” (That was such a clear lie that even a rather oblivious teen like me knew the teacher was “toeing the line”)

    It was hetero-normed, though. I don’t remember ever talking about homosexuality outside of some vague statements in junior high.

    I don’t know how prevalent this was outside of my one school in my one town, but I wish more students had access to more comprehensive sex-education.

  • gimpi1

    Yes, I thought that I’d smile politely and unbutton the shirt to where I had it, and say something like, “My neck is sensitive, and I don’t wear anything tight around it. This is how I like this shirt.” Then I’d walk away. Any attempt at ‘correction’ would be pushed away firmly.

    The obsession over modesty creates far more sexual tension than would exist without it. People who dress for comfort and don’t worry about a bit of skin showing aren’t the ones haunting porn sites. It’s the modesty and chastity focused folks who keep these sites humming.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    The sex ed at the Catholic school I attended was a vague explanation of menstruation and then the nuns saying to put an aspirin between your knees and hold it there, keep your legs closed to anyone who is not your husband. Very useful *insert eyerolling here*

  • Baby_Raptor

    I didn’t want to convey that she shouldn’t ask

    Why does she need your permission to have sex? Or did you mean that you didn’t want her to think that she shouldn’t be asking questions in general?

  • Mel

    Yeah, that’s pretty awful.

  • Rebecca Horne

    Romance without sex: “and I tried to convey why that just doesn’t happen…”

    But that DOES happen. Asexuality is a thing. There are people who simply do not experience sexual attraction and do not crave partnered sex (or even fly solo). Some can enjoy it for other reasons, even though they don’t feel a drive to have sex for their own sake, and other people just don’t want to have it ever. But either way, asexual people exist and have loving, romantic relationships without sex.

    If your daughter is asking whether sexless romance is an option, it’s entirely possible that she’s asexual. Or maybe just young and not feeling it yet. Who knows. But receiving messages like, “there’s no such thing as romance without sex,” is what leads asexual people to think that they’re fundamentally broken and will never experience love.
    Please acknowledge asexuality as a thing, especially if she’s young enough that her ideas about how romance works are still forming. Whether she is asexual or not, it could only be a good thing for her to view sex as a choice she can make when it’s right for her, rather than as something that will inevitably happen.

  • Nightshade

    True. Asexuality may be a minority, but I don’t see at all why it should be considered a problem. If a person, male or female, has no interest in sex, and is OK with that, then why is it anyone else’s business? And if that person has the good fortune of finding another like-minded person for a relationship, and they’re happy with it, then good for him/her!

  • Poster Girl

    That’s about what I got at my public high school, though not so hetero-normative. At my Catholic church, we were told that birth control was an insult because it was telling us we couldn’t control “our animal instincts.”

    Well, so what? We’re animals. We eat, we sleep, we poop, and we have sex. That’s the way we’re supposed to work. And we have technology to help us control all of those things: stoves, refrigeration, indoor plumbing, hot showers, and birth control.

  • *growls* So much wrong with modern sex education, so much horribly wrong. I no longer remember just what my education on the subject *was*, exactly. I know that there was an introduction to the mechanics of menstruation at some point, I know that I was already familiar with how a baby developed inside their mother. I know that there was a semester in High School of required “health” subjects. That would have been my freshman (9th grade) year. I do not actually remember any real discussion of forms of birth control, but I do remember getting the impression that sex without some form of birth control Always Made A Baby.

    Yeah, like THAT wasn’t a toxic damn idea to feed me at that age. Married for sixteen years without ANY birth control and not a child to be found (other than the husband and the furbaby). So I’m just like, not supposed to exist?

    I’ll be honest, I STILL don’t understand how some forms of birth control work and I’m pretty well past the age where I would even need to WORRY about them.

    And as for the specifics of *how* people have sex? *wry laugh* I’m afraid I got all my information on that from *those* kind of romance novels.

    America… Land of the Not-Free, Home of the Prudes…

  • SAO

    She thought she needed to ask permission and I thought when she’s mature enough to have sex, she will know she doesn’t need to ask permission, but I didn’t want to convey the message to a 13 year old that mature people have sex and don’t ask their mother’s for permission, in case she then thought having sex without permission would MAKE her mature or PROVE she is mature. I was not that impressed with the maturity of her thought processes at age 13.

    I also didn’t want to make her think she couldn’t ask questions. My mother did not manage to discuss menstruation, so I was delving into the whole area of talking about womanhood with not much guidance and knowing that my go-to source for parenting advice (my mother) was not going to be of much use.

  • SAO

    I think asexual romances are quite rare, but most of what I was going off was my experience. I was a late bloomer who didn’t date in HS and barely in college and I figure my daughter will be the same.

    We do talk about consent and we live in a very liberal community and my daughter has never had the message from me or my husband or her community that waiting until marriage is important.

  • Rebecca Horne

    I don’t know how common or rare it is. I’m asexual, and I’ve been in rooms where, once I say that, other people say, “oh hey, me too,” but those weren’t mainstream crowds.

    Common or rare, though, I think, “yup, that’s a choice you can make if you want,” is a much healthier message than, “nope, love always includes sex. Just doesn’t happen any other way.”

  • ShinyZubat

    Seconding this. For years and years, I was never interested in sex or even open mouth kissing. I just thought there was something wrong with me and even went to the doctor a couple of times about it. Yeah, turns out I’m asexual. Definitely acknowledge that asexualism is a thing.

    Also, it’s important to note that asexual =/= celibate. I’m actually very happily married to a completely hetero man. (I can still fall in love, you know.) I’m not incapable of having sex, I just don’t feel a drive to do it. So we still have a sex life, it’s just a bit more complicated than it would be if we were both hetero.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Completely off topic but can i say that I love your name?

  • Rebecca Horne

    Same. Or similar. More-or-less-married to a woman, and have s sex life, but it’s sort of a rocky and awkward one, prone to, “whoops sorry. I forgot that sex existed for like, 3 weeks.”

  • Hmm… well, the first section, the what age would be old enough… I *think* I’ve got a decent answer for that.

    “Sweetie, I’m afraid that since I’m your mother, I’m always going to see you as the baby you were when I first looked at your beautiful face, so I don’t know that *I* am ever going to think you are ‘old enough’ for sex. That’s a decision you’re going to have to make on your own. It won’t make you more mature and you don’t *have* to have sex in order to prove yourself to anyone, and you have the right to dump with extreme prejudice anyone who would imply otherwise. When you’re ready for it, you will know, because you are the only one who *can* know. As a general rule of thumb, though, later is better than sooner because you are less likely to regret the decision and you’ll be more ready for it.

    “I love you and I want you to be able to ask me these questions, even when I don’t have answers to give you, so thank you for trusting me with this.”

    Does that help?

  • SAO

    Well, actually, I think I said that it was possible, just not likely.

  • ShinyZubat

    Haha, thank you.

  • ShinyZubat

    I totally do that too! Haha. I really have to try to remember it.