In my Kinesio class in college, there was a yoga portion and a classroom portion. Apparently, yoga is very popular among defensive linemen so I’d do my planks next to the Fightin’ Texas Aggies’ defensive tackle, who were surprisingly quite flexible. Although I’d been in Texas public schools my entire life, I found the classroom portion fascinating. At one point, the professor kept talking about anal sex.
I had no idea, y’all.
19. Graduated 4th in my class. Honors student. Has no idea what anal sex means.
I knew what those two words meant separately but could not wrap my mind around how they fit together. I also knew that I probably didn’t want to google that and risk scarring myself for a lifetime.
So, I called my mom. And she told me. Then we talked about rent and the dog and Leah.
I appreciate that my mom didn’t throw the phone and fall to the ground weeping when I asked her.
We met with a potential counselor for The Kid before he came home with us. We shared a little of his backstory and she talked about other kids that she counseled who had come from the foster care system. We knew that it was likely that this little 9-year-old probably knew more about some stuff than I did and I had no idea how to parent through that. At that point in my life, I was still scared of sex myself so how am I supposed to guide this child into healthy sexuality?
The best advice she gave us was, “Talk about sex like you’re talking about the grocery list.” No biggie. No shame. No embarrassment. No weeping or shutting down. Use the actual words for private parts. They aren’t dirty words. Be to the point.
“Hey Beth, can you get some chips when you go to Kroger?”
“Hey Beth, do people have sex because it feels good?”
Quite frankly, it’s one aspect of our parenting that I feel like we’ve done really well in. We have an open-door policy- any questions, any time. And the Kid has used that policy. I feel like I’m pretty aware of what he knows about sex. We talk about consent (even in nonsexual situations) often. We don’t squirm when there are implied sex scenes in movies that we’re watching together. When he sings lyrics, I ask him if he knows what that means and if he doesn’t, we talk about it. Teenage me would have found all of this mortifying. But it isn’t mortifying if you talk about sex like you talk about farting. It’s a part of being human.
I do set one boundary- our personal sex life is out of bounds. I don’t dish on all the juicy details of my love life with my teenage son, okay? But anything else goes. I cannot be shocked.
While I’ve been writing the series, I’ve been mulling over the question, “Do I regret being a virgin when I got married? Do I wish I had experimented more before settling down?” because I feel like that plays into how I’ll talk about sex with my kids.
I think purity and modesty culture stunted my sexual development and I am angry about that. I could have done without the shame and secrecy around sex. All things being the same, if I had had sex with a boyfriend, I think the guilt would have killed me. I’m not sure I could have gotten over the shame.
Absent the purity and modesty culture bullshit, do I think people *should* have sex outside committed relationships? Good sex can be absent in marriages. Consensual sex can be absent in marriages. Simply waiting until marriage to have sex seems like kind of a low bar.
If the sexual ethic of “just don’t have sex before marriage” isn’t working, then what should our new sexual ethic be? This is the real question, right?
Around the same time of my sexual revolution, the Liturgists podcast had a short series on sexual ethics that made me do some deep thinking. (You can listen to it here). Here’s a short list of things that I would want to be present in a sexual encounter.
- Know Thyself– Real talk- I really wish I would have jumped on the vibrator train earlier, friends. Masterbation was almost as bad as having sex before marriage and so I’d never tried. I didn’t know what I liked or what felt good because I’d never been encouraged to seek answers to those questions. I’m pro-masterbation, now. I haven’t recieved my bumper sticker yet but it’s in the mail. While I know that both boys and girls are shamed for masterbation in evangelicalism, we’re more forgiving of boys (and sometimes girls require a little help, which parents aren’t going to buy). If I had a teenage daughter, we would be having a talk about what feels good, etc, and I would purchase a vibrator if she wanted one. I don’t think that masterbation would have been a slippery slope into wild sexual behavior.
- Enthusiastic Consent– Not just a “Well, okay” but a “Yippee! Let’s do this” kind of consent. I’d want both parties in the sexual encounter to understand that consent can be revoked at any time and it can be consent to do one thing and not another. It needs to be consent that is based on respect for each other and be absent of any kind of pressure- external or internal.
- Communication– Good sex requires good communication. You have to be able to talk to each other. I think good sexual communiation is a combination of knowing yourself, feeling comfortable with your partner, and knowing that they’ll respect what you say (i.e. consent to).
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list. There are other things but those are kind of my basics. And all of those require a certain level of maturity that most smooth-brained teenagers I know can’t do yet. Consent is especially important. I remember talking to a friend who did sex ed talks in middle schools and girls would come up to her crying because their boyfriends (who think sex=porn) wanted them to do anal and it hurt. I am enraged by every part of that sentence and I think about those girls when I’m talking about consent. They don’t understand consent and it doesn’t sound like the boys are asking. I don’t think those kids are emotionally capable at that point. Also, there are adults who are not emotionally capable of understanding consent. Non-enthusiastic-consent sex can happen at any age, even WITHIN marriage, so that’s why I think we may need to expand our idea of sexual ethics beyond where it is right now.
So, that’s where I’m at currently. I’m not opposed to people having sex outside of marriage but I want to make sure it’s good, consensual sex. I don’t know when I would have been ready to have sex with a boyfriend. For now, I’m glad that I didn’t because I worry that it would have evolved into a different kind of distorted sexual ethic (one that’s not good for me or him). Succinctly put, without good sex education, I wouldn’t have known what I liked or when I wanted it and I think those are essential for good sex.
I’m genuinely curious where you’re at, readers. What are you teaching your kids? What are your hopes for their sexual development? What would you do differently from how you were raised?