“Let’s talk about s-x* for now
to the people at home or in the crowd;
it keeps coming up anyhow.
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
’cause that ain’t gonna stop it.”
- from “Let’s Talk About S-x” by Salt ‘N’ Pepa
*(It’s not that I don’t love spambots, but… I don’t love spambots. That’s why the “e” is missing in each instance of the word.)
I wonder if it ever occurred to my mom to decline the sexual education portion of my sixth grade health class. Did she worry, like I see some devout parents do, that knowing how s-x happened would make me run out and do it? Was she really that confident in her parenting ability, and in me, believing that I would make the “right” choice – the one she taught me – and choose abstinence until marriage?
I think her answer to the last question, had it occurred to me to ask, would have been, “Of course,” said in that same calm and controlled demeanor that she always had (when not complaining about the lack of tidiness in my bedroom). I don’t know if it would have been the honest answer, but I think it’s what she would have told me.
On the surface, my dad’s take on the issue was similar to my mom’s: “Don’t do it until you’re married.” Pause. “And don’t worry about getting married until you’re at least 40.”
Where Mom’s stance was about morality and family values, however, Dad’s was about practicality.
“You know,” he said, “the woman always shoulders the heavier burden when it comes to s-x.”
I was in high school when he first said that. I rolled my eyes, because I didn’t want to talk about s-x with my dad.
“I’m serious,” he said. “It’s easier for a man to walk away when things get tough, but you? If you get pregnant, your body is the one that’s going to go through changes. You’re the one who is going to be carrying that child for nine months. The man can throw his hands up in the air and complain, ‘Hey, this is too difficult! I’m not ready for this kind of responsibility’ and walk away. You can’t. Remember that.”
He looked thoughtful and then added, “Your papa will always be here for you and help you in whatever way I can, but it’s a tough road for a single mother.”
That’s what stuck with me far more than any warnings about what “good” girls supposedly do and do not do.
No matter how much of a romantic I was at heart, I think a part of me sensed that people’s minds and actions can change. I didn’t want to be a parent by myself. I was afraid to take that risk. As such, s-x was neither a priority nor a driving force when I was a teenager.
I sometimes think about what I would say if I had a daughter. I’m pretty sure it would be close to what my dad told me: S-x can result in babies. If you’re going to have s-x, be prepared to deal with that possibility, and don’t just think, “Well, I can have an abortion!” That’s still a surgical procedure, and it’s your body that will have to go through that. Educate yourself, sweetie, because you are the one who will have to make the heavy decisions.
For the record, I’ve had a variation of this talk with my son, framed to his age and priorities: Don’t make babies until you’re able to help take care of them and yourself. That means acquiring skills and a job. Can you imagine how sad it would be if you never got any toys because Mommy and Daddy can’t afford it? What if you told me you’re hungry – like you did during lunch – and I said, “Sorry, honey, but we don’t have enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” Wouldn’t that be sad? It would, so make sure you don’t have kids until you can take care of them.
(Do you see the other thing I’m doing there? I’m already planting the seeds that will not entertain the idea of children being the woman’s responsibility. Nuh-uh. Sorry, buddy, but in this family we take care of our kids.)
I don’t think that we do any favors by teaching our kids to feel shame about their sexuality. Instilling a knowledge of consequences for actions gives them a chance to make better and informed decisions.