Friday, February 5, 2010

One, Two, Skip a Few, Thirteen

[This post is not incredibly graphic or anything, but it is honest and it's something some people don't feel comfortable with. If a frank discussion on sexuality and the way we teach our children about it bothers you, you may want to skip this post. You've been warned.]

Well, I was all prepared to do a post on "Show Us Your Life- Beauty Tips" yesterday, but I felt absolutely horrible, and really I have no post worthy beauty tips, but about eleventy million other posts swirling around in my head, sooo.....I decided to skip it. I wanted to blog about something different today, instead.

For the parents out there, do you ever think about your child in say twelve or thirteen years....who they will be, what they will be doing, what YOU will be doing with them? I've been thinking alot lately about thirteen year old Ann Peyton. Well, specifically one facet of her thirteen year old life- her sex life (or hopefully, at that age, lack thereof).

I was watching The View the other day and they were talking about how Bristol Palin told Oprah she is going to remain abstinent until she is married. She seems to be doing something similar to what was known back in the day (ten years ago) as "declaring second virginity". I never really fully understood that term, but I know that grace abounds and it is like God casts our sins into an ocean, so if you truly repent I guess you can call yourself a virgin, although I would recommend telling your potential spouse (most people I know who used the term were pretty honest about the fact that this was round two for them on the virginity front).

Oprah asked her some tough questions, but I felt like overall she was pretty respectful. The ladies on The View were not. They pretty much said that it was just not an attainable goal for Bristol, or really anyone in our current society. Sherri basically mocked her own "celibacy vow" and Elisabeth and Barbara didn't do very much to defend Bristol. The other two pretty much verbally attacked her. The reality is that I believe sex should be saved for marriage- not for "someone you love", not for "when you are ready", not for your "soul mate"; for all those things within a marriage. But I also understand that not everyone shares my views on sexual intimacy, and really I don't expect them too. However, I find it extremely insulting for five grown women to sit on a couch and basically insinuate that human beings are animals with urges that cannot be controlled. I did it. I spent four years of my ADULT life with someone who I knew to be my soul mate and who I loved more than anyone else in the world, and we never had sex. I'm not saying that to brag on myself or say that we were perfectly pure in our relationship, but just to say that it is very much an achievable standard to hold oneself to.

Then today, I read a beautiful archived post from BubandPie about how she would approach the topic with her own then infant daughter. The post ended so eloquently:
"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."

I think a lot of the reason Peyton and I waited had to do with our faith. But I think a lot of it also had to do with what our parents had told us about it. Peyton knew that his parents definitely took a strong stance against sex before marriage, but I don't think it was a common topic of discussion at their home.

My situation was a little different. It was definitely a common topic of discussion. Although my dad really never said much about it, my mom spent a great deal of time informing us of her opinions on the subject. My family encouraged openness to a degree I have not seen in another family, ever. And I was an inquisitive child/teenager, so that made for a lot of good conversations that my mom didn't even have to initiate.

For example, when I was about twelve years old I wanted to watch The Montel Williams Show. My mom regarded it as total trash and mostly just tried to distract me from it. Well, one particular day I was relentless. So she decided I could watch it, but she had to stay in the room for the whole thing. That day they were doing paternity tests. She used it as a great teaching tool- "See. If you run around having sex with a bunch of guys you're not married to, you'll get pregnant and you'll have to go on Montel to find out who the child's Daddy is". I don't think the term "Baby Daddy" had really made it's way into middle-class suburban vernacular at that point. Good thing I listened, because as I've said before, I pretty much shook hands with Peyton and got pregnant. The most bizarre thing of the whole experience- I don't think I felt one bit of awkwardness about watching it or talking about it with Momma. "Don't have sex with multiple partners or anyone you are not married to" came across just like "Grits or hash browns?" and "You may need a coat today".

That is for sure something I wish to emulate in our family. Peyton has commented many times since he has gotten to know my family about the closeness and openness we have with one another. I'm not sure I fully appreciated it until he pointed it out. Anyway, I want my children to know that they can bring ANYTHING to me (or Peyton) and know first, that we will love them unconditionally no matter what they say and second, that we are always open to an honest discussion about their feelings on anything. That's not to say that if they fess up to a crime, there won't be a punishment; but that was never part of the deal with me growing up, either.

I also want to be intentional. I don't think my parents "planned" their parenting as much as Peyton and I often do with intentional goals and whatnot, but they did that a lot more than most. They knew the values they wanted instilled in us and they set about doing the hard work of instilling them. The Montel story serves as yet another good example here. Although it was really initiated by me, I am sure that my mom's day was filled with many other activities not including televised paternity tests. But she knew that it could be a very real learning opportunity for me and she seized the chance at it.

There are other things, though, that I don't want to do the same as my parents. The main one being the freedom and leniency they gave me in this area as a teenager. Really, I know that I am going to parent in a much firmer way than my parents did, across the board. In this area, I was just allowed way too much time alone with boys. My parents let me and my junior high boyfriend hang out in the guest house behind our house, unsupervised, for hours. That situation led to nothing good. As an older teenager/young adult Peyton and I spent many nights together asleep on the couch downstairs at my parents' house. I fully admit I should have been mature enough to draw that boundary myself, but I still wish they had done a little more on their end.

So, I want to teach her how important this is. There is another side of the coin, though. I feel like all too often people (especially Christians) unintentionally teach that sex is dirty and shameful. We were talking about this recently after Bible Study. One girl said she had a friend who had to go with her husband to couple's therapy because she just could not shake the feelings of guilt that came with having sex once they were married. I never had any feelings of that severity, but I do think my mom inadvertently sometimes made sex out to be a scary/weird thing- she once told me not to freak out when I saw Peyton naked, because "not everything looks like it belongs". And months into our marriage we still had to remind each other not to call foreplay "being bad".

I also think that sometimes Christians act as if sexual sin is for worse than any other sin. I know there are differences, but I also know that my theology doesn't support the notion of "really bad sins" and "not so bad sins". I would wager to guess that it's much easier for a high school boy to confess to theft in front of his small group than confess to viewing pornography. And I wouldn't have to guess that it is much easier for a high school girl to tell her Bible Study about her out of control gossiping habit than to tell them how she let her boyfriend feel her up. There is just so much shame and stigma attached to it. That was a very real struggle for me. Just because I know I would be dying to know if I were reading this, Peyton and I (as well as any other boyfriends) obviously never had sex and we never had oral sex because, in addition to our believing that it qualified as sex, I was incredibly repulsed by the thought of it. I'm not going to be any more graphic than that- people from my church read this blog- but you can pretty much guess. And those things, those "little" things, brought so much guilt with them. I think part of it was a good kind of guilt, but I know that some of it was not of God.

So, here it is. First, I want extreme openness within our family. Second, I want to be intentional about teaching her our values on this important issue. Third, I want her to see that sex can be, and is, a beautiful thing in the right context and also is not the "unpardonable sin".


Elizabeth said...

Great post Denley. We will have our work cut out for us in 12 years and less really. It is hard to know what struggles our children will face in this crazy world! Parenting has definitely challenged me in ways I didn't plan on. You are right that sexual sins do have an unfair stigma in our society, I do think sexual sins can scar people in ways that other sins don't. And the Bible does say that sexual sins are sins against our own bodies, temples of the holy spirit. I'm not a great Bible verse spouter, but Corinthians 6 is a wonderful place to look to the importance of sexual purity.

Tiffany said...

This is such a powerful post and I know for certain that I haven't read anywhere else in the blog world this degree of open honesty on this subject. So many people shy away from it, because of all the reasons you stated and because for so many "What's private is private" or "It's just not proper." But, it is so important as a mother to put this discussion out there even if just to get people thinking about it. Because this is not the world we grew up in and we aren't even that old yet. I also believe that you must plan ahead with your spouse the approach you're going to take on this as well as other parental issues! I'm glad you felt comfortable sharing this!