When my sons were in high school, they didn’t learn much about sex at school. About the only think my oldest son got out of sex education at school was, “All they told us is that we should wear a condom, but they never told us how to put one on or use one.”
I would love to say that it’s parents’ jobs to teach their kids about sex and relationships, but I don’t know how many times I’ve heard friends of mine and other people say things like, “Like hell my kids are going to have sex before they get married! They know better!”
Umm … Yeah. Right … NOT!
Aside from statistics I’ve seen that say 90%-97% of people don’t wait until marriage to have sex and that the average person loses their virginity when they’re 17 years old, the abstinence-only, premarital or extramarital shaming, or not talking about sex at all approaches to sex education simply don’t work. They don’t just hurt teens, many of whom will defy what they’ve heard and what they’ve been told or not told, but also adults that hang onto such powerful messages they hear in their developmentally formative years. The number of years between high school and adulthood are very few. It doesn’t take long for sexually- and relationship-ignorant teenagers to become sexually- and relationship-ignorant adults.
The trigger that got me going off on this tangent came from a post I read in Sweet Woman, Dirty Mind – Cartoon Animals Expose Ridiculous Abstinence-Only Lessons. The post features videos based on and tears apart messages that are taught in Choosing the Best abstinence-only until marriage curriculum. Sex ed curricula like this, especially when it’s taught in public schools, infuriates me to no end, but it’s not much different than the messages a lot of kids get either directly or indirectly from their parents and other adults in their lives.
Here’s one of those cartoon animal videos that got my blood boiling…
“The main things women need are … financial support,” said one of the cartoon bears who talked about what he/she learned in abstinence-only class. “Men need women to think that they’re strong … and they need someone to help with the cooking and cleaning … and girls should be careful about how they dress, like not wearing low-cut sweaters … The speaker said it’s girls’ responsibility not to get a guy’s microwave running.”
“And what’s the guy’s responsibility?” the other cartoon bear asked.
“I don’t know,” the abstinence-only-educated bear said.
“I don’t know”??? Like hell!
I spent more time talking about sexual responsibility with my sons more than anything else about sex when they were teenagers. While I wasn’t giving my sons the green light to have sex while they were in high school, I gave a lot of reasons why sex is an adult activity that comes with adult responsibilities, especially when it came to things like dealing with unintended pregnancy, STIs, STDs, respect and consent. Even though I told them that I thought they were capable making responsible decisions based on things we talked about, many people in their peer group probably couldn’t. I also asked them about how they would handle any possible adverse effects of being sexually active on their own without Mama’s help because, “I’m not bringing up any more babies,” and “I’d really hate to see you lose someone who could be ‘the one’ because you have a health-threatening STD. I wouldn’t blame anyone for turning you down for that. It’s a legitimate reason. I’ve had to do that myself.”
Lisa also featured another video about how women shouldn’t have ideas of their own and have no business having equal say in relationships.
“The speaker told us a story about a prince and a maiden. The dragon is attacking the maiden’s home and the prince tries to slay it. The maiden suggested that he use a rope instead of a sword. He does. He kills the dragon. Then another dragon attacks. The maiden suggests he use poison this time. He does, but he’s mad about all the suggestions. He leaves the maiden for another princess who doesn’t know anything about dragon slaying. So we learned not to act like the first maiden because too many suggestions will drive a guy away.”
I hear this crap from my parents all the time. I heard it often when I got pissed off with my ex about things he did or didn’t do when our sons were kids. “Back off of him,” they said. “He’s already getting it from both sides (meaning me and his wife, who I’ve nicknamed Her Supreme Cuntiness).
My parents talk this way about my oldest daughter-in-law, who is extremely intelligent and speaks her mind.
“She has too much influence over Caleb*,” they’ve told me on several occasions. “She doesn’t allow him to have a mind of his own.”
They’ve never said these things to her, but she and my son know that my parents don’t like her. They’re very icy towards her and they’ve expressed disappointment to my son. Yet they can’t understand why the two of them don’t talk to them often or want to spend all kinds of family time with them on holidays and special occasions. They see their “behavior” as being “disappointing” and “disrespectful”.
From what I hear and see, the two of them have a great way of making decisions together on things that affect both of them. It’s not a perfect relationship. No partner always gets everything they want, but it’s a model relationship. I’ve never heard either of them complain about their marriage, but the extended family dynamics are troublesome and a pain in the ass for them because they (and I) believe that family matters, even when you’re no longer a child.
At least my son learned one of the most important lesson I taught him when he was growing up: respect is earned and it goes both ways, whether it’s between parent and child or sex/relationship partners.
While all of the abstinence-only curriculum videos that Lisa of Sweet Woman, Dirty Mind featured all outraged me, this one pissed me off the mos. It’s the same kind of messaging I heard from my parents and other older family members and friends when I was growing up and still hear today.
“The teacher passed around a rose and had us each take off a petal. Then she said that the rose was now like someone who has had sex before marriage. They lose their beauty and value … Then she told us that having sex is like reaching into a bag of candy where some of it has been chewed and spit back into the bag. Who would ever want used candy? … Then she told us to imagine a really gross toothbrush that a lot of people have used. If you’ve had sex, you’re the toothbrush … Then she had everyone spit in a cup. She passed me the cup … Then she asked me to drink the spit … She said that’s what losing your virginity is like.”
I never heard those comparisons, but I’ve heard some pretty damning things about “those kinds of women”. I heard this kind of crap when I was a kid about my aunt, my dad’s sister, when she was dating after her divorce. When I was going through my divorce, my dad told me, “No one will ever want you. You’re damaged goods.” And don’t even ask how many times I’ve been referred to as “the cow” in the comment, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” I’ve lost count.
I’m not against marriage, but I sure as hell know that most marriages are not happily-ever-after couplings, even among people who stick together until death do them part. As a kid and a teenager, I was often confused why sex before marriage was a bad thing, but sex in marriage was a beautiful and wonderful thing.
Passing along these messages like these really fucks with kids’ and even adults’ minds. Ask any mental health professional how often they have these conversations with clients and they’ll tell you, “Plenty.”
These sex-shaming messages in schools and from parents and adults needs to stop. Now. I highly suggest that you check out the mission behind Advocates for Youth and Amplify, which produced these videos. There are so many positive ways how schools, parents and adults can change the script about sex and relationships.
*Name has been changed to protect the innocent from being shamed.