I've written before about what good sex ed looks like and also why I think education is more important than laws.
I want to combine these two topics today to talk about why I think the typical thinking about kids and sex is way off.
Let's say that you are a parent, and you are, like most parents, concerned for the well-being of your child. Therefore, when you hear about STD epidemics in middle school and pregnant teenagers dropping out of high school, you want to make sure that your child makes it to graduation without getting infected or pregnant (or impregnating someone else, as the case may be).
The easiest tools to reach for are fear and authority. Why? Because that's probably the atmosphere in which you heard about sex as a child. And if you're Catholic, the rules are already laid out for you, as Macha pointed out in an excellent recent post on why religion cares so much about your sex life:
You can't have sex if you're not married, and if you're married it's okay but only if you're not using contraceptives. And it has to be penis-vagina sex, no anal or oral sex, unless it's just foreplay to the penis-vagina sex then maybe it's okay. And definitely no gay sex, even if you are married! Don't masturbate, and don't help anybody else masturbate, even if you're married ... unless it's just foreplay for the p-v sex. Have we covered everything? No? You cannot have threesomes or foursomes, and you must be monogamous, even if neither of you wants to be. That's just the rules, okay? Anything else? Don't have sex with a pregnant woman because SEX IS ONLY FOR BABY-MAKING GOT IT?! Oh, when you're having p-v sex, you can't pull out before you finish...Following someone else's rules is inevitably easier than wrestling with difficult questions and coming to a nuanced and comfortable understanding of your own sexuality.
And if you haven't developed a complex understanding of your own sexuality, how are you going to help your child develop one? It's much easier to grab hold of a prefabricated set of rules and try to enforce them through your own authority as a parent and through trying to instill fear of the worst possible consequences of not following the rules.
The problem with being ruled by fear is that it keeps you from thinking long-term. If you're afraid of your child having sex, you're never going to teach them about the positives of sex, about how to be a good sexual partner, about how beautiful and special sex is.
To me, this is akin to being afraid of your kid drowning and so just forbidding them from going near a swimming pool until they're an adult, then throwing them into the deep end. Are they magically going to be able to swim? No.
I would argue that the more we talk to our kids about sex, the more likely they are to see that a full, great sexual experience requires maturity and a committed partner. The more they're going to be able to make a good decision for themselves about when they want to have sex, rather than simply deciding whether or not they want to obey authority and the rules that have been set down for them.
Mike likes to talk about how, at his all-boys Catholic high school, he was actually taught in health class that women generally take a lot longer to get in the mood for sex than men, and how he needed to be doing things all day long to show his love -- like doing the dishes. This didn't negate the clear expectation that sex was for marriage, and he did wait until marriage, but you can bet I was glad he'd been taught all that back in high school!
I challenge you not to take the easy route by punishing your kids for not adhering to your rules about sex. Talk to them about the good and bad of sex. Teach them to have a healthy appreciation for their own body so they want to be protective about who's allowed to see their naked body. Explain your fears and ask them to explain theirs. Don't make sex a taboo topic in your house.
Your child's future partner will thank you!