Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Sex Post

(Okay, so that's all my posts lately. But after this we're moving on. Tomorrow: a meditation on the cultural implications of Thomas the Train.)

My mom is a big advocate for abstinence. The way she tells it, unmarried people didn’t actually start having sex until the 1960s – she’s always outraged when she sees movies set before 1967 in which teenagers are having sex. "It wasn’t like that in my day!" she’ll insist, though she has admitted recently that perhaps she was the only one abstaining, and everyone else was just having sex without telling her. Abstinence is so important to her that she considers a good dose of body shame to be a healthy thing. She stopped short of deliberately teaching me to be so ashamed of my body that I’d be too scared to show it to a boy (aware, perhaps, of how badly that tactic can backfire into seeking sex as validation), but she considers it fortunate, in her case, that a few embarrassing nipple hairs worked better than a chastity belt.

It was easy for me to avoid having sex in high school, since No Boys Liked Me in those days. (Though it’s not entirely clear how the cause-and-effect operated: I’m pretty sure I was exuding a powerful Don’t Touch Me vibe, a skill I’m still able to exercise when the occasion demands it.) But I worry about the Pie, about how she’ll navigate the minefield of teenage sexuality. 'Cause I have a feeling she's going to be exceptionally pretty (her dark brown curls are just starting to come in), and she'll have an older brother, so she won't be as afraid to talk to boys as I was. A recent post at Another Mommy Moment elicited a number of saddening tales of teenage sexual activity: girls who put out for their boyfriends because they thought everybody else was doing it, or because they knew it was the only way to keep a boy interested, who are now women who don’t enjoy sex because they feel used, disrespected. How do I protect my daughter from those experiences? As everybody knows, preaching abstinence doesn’t produce abstinence – it just produces babies, because condoms are proof of pre-meditation. At best, the abstinence guilt-trip might make a girl postpone sex until she really wants it, until her body joins the chorus of social pressures urging her on. So she avoids the psychological trauma, but she has a baby at seventeen. Hmmm.

Yesterday, in a few parenthetical remarks in which I sounded remarkably like my mother, I expressed my nostalgia for the days of dating without sex. Blogging is all about finding common ground, and I’m aware that few people would recognize any common ground with that part of my post. Unless they have religious reasons for doing so, nobody is going to spend a lot of time dating without having sex. (Though I do feel that in real life, unlike books and movies, there is sometimes at least a brief interlude between the first expression of romantic interest and full penetration. At least a few minutes – possibly even days!) But I wonder what to teach my daughter, how to find a middle ground between the "sex is bad" guilt-trip and the unhelpfully ambiguous "wait until you’re ready." (I’m aware that I will also have to teach my son something about these matters, but that task is even more daunting, so I’m shoving it aside for the moment, to be revisited in about thirteen years.) I would like to teach her not to confuse sex with love, not to use sex as currency, in exchange for something else. Not just because I’m more like my mother than I admit, and I’m freaked out at the thought of either of my children having sex, ever (although I am both of those things). I want to find a way to instill these ideas because when I look at her chubby arms and legs and tummy, her graceful, skilful self, I think of the months I spent carrying that body within mine, of the hours I spent breastfeeding and nourishing those healthy limbs, and I recognize the value of her body. The sacredness. And I don’t want anyone touching her who doesn’t see that too.

18 comments:

Jaelithe said...

I think you already hit on the answer.

Tell her, just as you said here, that her body is sacred, and you don't want her having sex with anyone who doesn't understand that her body is sacred, because you fear she will regret it later. If she learns to love her body she will probably treat it with respect.

Of course, there's not much you can do about the media / advertisers / boys at school telling her her body is an object to be assessed, bought and sold, but you do have many years to try to innoculate her . . .

Tyler said...

The greatest form of abstinence...is marriage!

HA.

sunshine scribe said...

Why do I have the feeling that you are going to handle this just fine. You seem to have such a balanced perspective already and she is so young. You'll handle those conversations and lessons the best way you know how.

kate said...

it's hard to think of these things when they are so young. my little guy is nearly 2 and just yesterday i said to my husband, "someday he'll have sex." and it freaked us both out!!! but you have to think about and how you will handle the topic. you are brave to think so carefully about it.

i think the whole sex thing comes with in the greater scope of parenting than just that one thing. i mean, you are nurturing this *whole* being. and i think the outcome of who that person is will be someone who values her body and her spirit and herself. i don't know if that makes any sense. as you said, her body is sacred. teach her that.

Mommy off the Record said...

I so fear for my kids where sex is concerned. My brother who is 10 years younger than me actually recently got his VERY young girlfriend pregnant. Both of them were minors and she was only 15. Sadly, but perhaps, luckily she had a miscarriage. I had had sex talks with him before, but I guess it didn't really sink in to take all the precautions.

I agree with Jaelithe that you hit on a good approach in trying to teach her to respect herself and her body. I so don't look forward to having the "talk" with my kids.

Anonymous said...

Dangnabbit! I meant to be in bed an hour ago. (No pun intended, considering this post). I caught up on all the blogs since last Thursday. I'm now starting my own "Excerpts from Gabrielle's Blog" because there are too many paragraphs I don't want to forget.
I missed our walk this week. Next week for sure.
S.

Emily said...

I think self-esteem is key. (Here's a can of worms...)Although I would never blame a victim for sexual assault, low self-esteem can bring a young woman into situations were such a thing might be more likely to occur. Sadly, I have some experiences that point to this. As far as normal, loving sex, I will teach my kids that it's best to wait until after high school (at least). I had no interest in being sexual at that age, but got into certain sexual situations due to peer pressure. If I could only take that stuff back!
I don't want to shame my kids at any point. But sex is serious and the human body is a vessel and instrument to be cared for and celebrated. Never abused.

Emily said...

I also think that our culture is very anti-physical. I'm a very strong believer in athletic prowess and a strong body-identity. This might be achieved (especially for a young girl) through participation in dance, sports, martial arts and the like. Personally, my physical self is something I view as a repository of power and strength. When I'm depressed, lost or feeling mediocre, I know I can do X, Y or Z physically. I may owe to the dance training.
And I mean to tie this to the sex issue, but I won't go on about it. I think the relationship here speaks for itself.

bubandpie said...

S.S., Jaelithe - I hope you're right.

Kate - Good to know I'm not the only one freaking out here!

MOTR - Yes, the whole boy angle - possibly even more terrifying, but in a different way.

S. - It was a beautiful night for a walk last night, but all I had time for was a quick spin around the block (had to finally take some time off blog-reading to mark some essays).

Emily - I share an office with a woman whose 10-year-old daughter has taken up athletics in a bid to avoid the TERRIBLE CLOTHING marketed to girls these days - she and her friends can wear loose athletic gear and still look cool without dressing for the street (see Mrs. Chicky's post for more on this).

Let's hope my children inherit my dad's athletic ability and not mine! It took me awhile to appreciate the whole sports-are-healthy thing; I was convinced for years that gym class was just an evil plot to make me look inferior.

J's Mommy said...

I worry about this too especially because of my own history with sex. I was the girl who did 'it' just because I thought I was supposed to. I fear for that same mentality in my daughter but how do you teach her to say no. If she's anything like me, she'll hate that I say no and go out and try it just to spite me. Tricky subject and I'm glad I have at least 10 years to think avoid it! Thanks for the link.

Nancy said...

Wow, I hear you on this. I have two girls who are under the age of 5 and I'm already thinking ahead to these discussions -- how I can teach them to love and honor their body without having to use it to earn respect, if you know what I mean. And although I am determined to be more open than my parents were about sex -- they never discussed it, so I never would have felt comfortable asking questions -- I find myself already having a hard time using the correct body part terms.

I agree with Emily that self-esteem is important. I don't want my girls to make some of the mistakes I did in college, trying to get guys interested in me in the wrong ways.

It's interesting that your coworker's daughter has so deliberately chosen a persona to avoid some of the provocative clithing out there. WOW.

lildb said...

yes.

kittenpie said...

yeah, I'm all for connecting sex with love. Not excitement, curiosity, need for validation, but a physical manifestation of a real connection. I am not quite sure how my mom did it, but my sister and I both feel that way, and I am glad that I didn't sleep with my first boyfriend, for my next one was right. And I don't regret it at all. I know way too many women who regret their early experiences, and it's really sad, because you can't take it back. But I think the whole idea of caring about your body and expecting someone else to do so to before sharing it with them is a good core value to start from.

Christina said...

I think the best thing to teach her is that her body is something special and something to be proud of, and to not let just anyone touch it. Someone has to be special to her to let that person have access to her body.

And actually the "Wait until you're ready" speech can work, too. I dated a few guys without having sex with them before I ever had sex. I simply wasn't ready for it, and I knew it, and I made sure they knew it. I think a strong self-image works well with the "wait until you're ready" approach as well.

bubandpie said...

Such encouraging insights. Part of the reason I have trouble with this issue is that I always felt totally loved and accepted by my parents, but that didn't necessarily translate into a lot of social confidence. My BFF and I used to draw a distinction between self-confidence and self-esteem - you can respect yourself and refuse to accept abuse from others even while struggling with shyness. Thanks for commenting, you guys - you've given me a lot to think about.

Mel said...

You made me cry with this post. Man. And I may just take that "sacred" line and insert it into one of my many many conversations with Really Rosie about Sex and the Modern Girl... we spend a lot more time talking about it than I ever imagined we would. But that's the way the world is now, and all we can do is to hope that they will love and respect themselves enough... not to allow their bodies to someone who doesn't love and respect them.

Sarah Denley said...

B&P, I am still enjoying my "dig" through your archives, and I was planning on posting on this same issue when I saw this. Ironic, much?

Would you mind my quoting the last couple of sentences from your post (with credit given and a link, of course). It was so beautiful; brought tears to my eyes!

Bea said...

Sarah - It's sad how little I remember of my own early posts - when I saw the title of this one pop up in my in-box with your comment I was surprised and curious in equal measure. Quote at will!