I’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately.
With a teenage daughter, the prep school sexual assault trial in NH and first year students arriving on campus this weekend, truth be told, I’ve been thinking about sexual violence a lot lately.
A number of years ago, a feminist philosopher friend of mine commented at a dinner party at our house that she really hoped that when our daughters were ready that they would have good sex.
All the fathers of daughters at the table cringed and shrank into their chairs, but I nodded my head in agreement. I knew what she meant.
Reading the media accounts of the now sixteen-year old young woman who is being forced to defend herself at the trial of the man who sexually abused her, what struck me was the way in which this young girl’s insecurities and culturally instilled scripts of “niceness” contributed to her self-shame and her self-blame after the incident.
Her testimony indicates that she agreed to meet a popular young man for a clandestine date. Not only was he three years older and a graduating senior but she clearly admired him and was worried about “offending” him and not “causing a conflict.” She recalls how she hoped that they might kiss. The juxtaposition of her innocent hope for a kiss and her culturally induced anxieties about politeness, giving offense, and causing conflict are deeply disconcerting.
This young woman is my daughter’s age. This very same thing could happen to my daughter (or your daughter) or to any of their friends. The blame should not be placed on that young woman (or any young women) but on us as a society. As long as we continue to teach young girls and women to be polite and not to offend or cause a scene, we are setting them up as potential victims of sexual violence.
As long as we teach our young girls that they shouldn’t want to have sex or that if they do they are somehow a “bad” person, we are asking them to deny a core aspect of who they are. Most teens feel sexual desire. The question they need to grapple with is what do they do with that desire? When we fail to accept their sexuality, when we fail to acknowledge their desires, when we fail to teach them how to think ethically and responsibly about their sexuality – we have failed them.
We need to be teaching our girls and boys, our young women and our young men what good sex requires and what consent means.
Sex can be a wonderful, fun, exciting, and intimate experience. Along with my feminist philosopher friend, I want my daughter, and the young woman in NH, and all the young women in this country to have “good sex.”
In order to have good sex, they must trust their partner and trust themselves. They must know what it means to say “no” and be able to have their no respected before they can ever be in a position for their “yes” to have any value. For young women in our culture to be able to have good sex, they must be strong, confident and they must know their hearts and their desires.
And we have to stop calling them sluts, whores, loose, and all the other derogatory terms that are reserved almost exclusively for women who are sexually active. We all have to stop, but particularly Christians need to stop this shaming, blaming, and infantilizing of women. It is simply another attempt to control women’s behavior and keep us “in our place.”
While good sex might happen in a broom closet, on a whim, for fun between two consenting adults – broom closet sex that involves secret keys shared among high school boys seeking to “score” is not even remotely associated with how I define good sex.
Good sex requires trust, active consent, mutual respect, an equality of power in the relationship, maturity, and readiness (although as a blog post, this is an inadequate discussion of the ethics of sex, very good books have written on this – read some!). And, of course, in the context of sex ed for youth and young people, we should really stress the aspects of maturity and readiness! As a Christian ethicist, I also believe that good sex requires a commitment between the two partners in the context of a long-term relationship. Good sex is part of building healthy relationships.
Sex that hurts us, that is not voluntary, that makes us feel bad about ourselves, that is the result of obligation or fear or nervousness or timidity is not good sex. Good sex should make us feel better, not worse.
Good sex is the experience of sexual intimacy that invites us to risk being vulnerable in the context of a trusting committed relationship. Our sexuality is one of the most sacred aspects of our being and sharing sexual intimacy with a partner should be done thoughtfully and respectfully. Good sex requires that we respect ourselves and our needs and desires as well as those of our partner.
I talk about sexuality often with my sixteen-year old daughter. I want her to know what good sex is because sex can be so good and she deserves to have good sex.