Where Logic Meets Love

How to Raise Ignorant Children who Fear Sex

Thursday, February 3, 2011

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How to Raise Ignorant Children who Fear Sex | Faith Permeating Life
If you've been around this blog for a while, you know that I have no problem with contraceptives. I don't personally use them and I love NFP, but I recognize that it's not for everyone and I'm not going to judge anyone for their own personal practices. I also don't believe in abstinence-only education, despite personally being abstinent until marriage. Given some comments on a previous post, I wanted to explain more clearly my thoughts on sex ed.

My mom leads a women's Bible study at her church and a while ago told me about a conversation she had a fellow Bible-studier. This woman was horrified, and believed her daughter was scarred for life, because this high-school-age daughter had been forced to watch someone put a condom on a banana in health class.

Let's break this down.

Perhaps she was horrified that her daughter had had to not only lay eyes on a contraceptive, but actually see how to properly use it. This made me wonder: What would happen should her obedient Catholic daughter marry an obedient Catholic man who went on a medical mission trip and accidentally contracted HIV when giving or drawing blood? Should they just never have sex ever again? Even the Pope has said that condoms are permissible for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. So let's presume she would want her daughter to continue having a healthy marriage but to try to avoid getting HIV, and thus she may use condoms.

Well, if you're going to use a condom, you ought to know how to use it properly. I once heard a statistic (from a presentation promoting abstinence-only education, ironically enough) from a study that found that in monogamous partnerships in which one partner has AIDS, only about 30% use condoms correctly. (If anyone can find a link backing this up, I'd be grateful.) So given that it's not completely impossible her daughter would actually have to use a condom someday, it shouldn't be horrifying for her to have seen one and had its proper use demonstrated.

Maybe the part that was horrifying was that she was asked to imagine an actual male penis!

OK, here is the thing that bugs me. Yes, we have such a thing as modesty. But it's cultural. It's just like how we place special emphasis on certain words as "bad" words that are completely meaningless in other languages. And in America we place so much focus around certain parts of the human body that it's kind of ridiculous and actually unhealthy. A girl is going to have a much easier time taking care of herself if she understands the difference between her urethra and her vulva and why she shouldn't wipe back to front than if she only ever hears whispers about "your private parts" and "down there." And maybe men wouldn't be so obsessed with their penises if they were treated just like any other part of their body, like their elbow or their nose. (OK, OK, maybe not.)

Basically, I see nothing wrong with a girl -- especially high-school age -- having a working knowledge of the male anatomy. For one thing, it reduces the "fascination of the forbidden" that could lead to earlier sexual experimentation. Or on the flip side, it reduces the fear of the unknown that causes some virgins to freak out about their wedding night.

There are books devoted to helping married women get over their sexual repression because they've been told their whole lives that sex is this dirty, dangerous thing, and now that they're married, they're unable to enjoy sex. This breaks my heart. Sex is something holy, and so many Christians talk about it as something unholy.

So what would sexual education look like, if I could design it? That is a topic for another post...

Update: Here's my take on sex ed!


  1. I agree.

    Our society has pathologized sex to the point that they sincerely believe exposure to sexual imagery or even information about sexuality is harmful to children because they're "not ready."

    Our concept of virginity, that is, that there is such a thing as a non-sexual person, is a fantasy. There is no such thing. As I said to my husband, you were born with a penis, and one of the first things you ever did was grab it. There is no such thing as a "virgin," because it first implies that without sexuality a person is pure, and that there is a certain age or milestone that turns a person from non-sexual to appropriately sexual.

  2. The whole concept of being "not ready" is a really interesting one that is addressed in an entirely different context in the book 11 Myths of Media Violence by W. James Potter. He points out that there tends to be this logical fallacy in the cultural myths around media violence--and, I would add, sex--that people with limited experience (children) are less able to handle these issues than adults, and so we should shield them from it. It's illogical because if being able to "handle" these things comes from experience, then more experience, not less, would be the remedy.

    The point is that it actually has nothing to do with total amount of exposure to violence or sex and everything to do with the context in which it's learned about and experienced. And saying that because someone is an adult that they're invincible to the effects of media violence or invulnerable to having an unhealthy understanding of sex is equally as ridiculous.

  3. I LOVE this post! I agree with this 110%!

    My mother talked to me frequently about sex. About how I should wait for marriage, but if I didn't how I should protect myself. She did, however, also tell me how wonderful and enriching sex is for a married couple -- how it affords intimacy and trust and even build self-esteem. She told me she hoped I had a healthy sex life with my spouse someday. I feel like I can thank her (and my dad) for giving me a healthy understanding of sex, in a Christian culture that so often labels it as "bad" like you said. It's not much of a stretch to see how difficult it would be to have a sexual relationship with your spouse when someone was always slapping you on the wrist for even THINKING words that were even semi-related to sex or nudity. It really is a shame!

    On that note, I just got back from being a youth counselor at a girls camp a few weeks ago. I talked about nudity with my 12 - 14 year old girls. They were all FREAKED by their naked body and other people's naked bodies. I tried to talk to them about the difference between modesty and simply being okay with the nude human figure. They weren't buying it. I studied art in college, and I'm grateful I had the chance to draw the nude human figure...it gave me appreciation for the human body without thinking of it as being "bad," "wrong," or "pornographic," -- something that I think gets really confusing in Christian cultures!

  4. @Hannah
    They were all FREAKED by their naked body and other people's naked bodies.
    That really makes me sad! I can't imagine how I would have approached sex with my husband if I had had a fear of all things naked (including myself). There is definitely a distinction between appreciation of the human body and being lustful or sinful, but I think it can be easier for parents and educators to lump all sexuality and nudity into one category of "bad" rather than try to sort out the complexities. Kudos to your parents for finding that balancing act!

  5. It really was sad! One of my girls even proclaimed that she would never, ever get naked in front of her husband... *sigh*...the other girls told her to enjoy her divorce!

  6. @Hannah
    A marriage podcast I listen to (which I highly recommend) had a recent episode in which they talked about people being comfortable with being naked in front of their spouse. It was really interesting!


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