March 7, 2009

Teens, Sex, Love, Commitment, and Academic Excellence

When I speak about teens, I mean those under 18. I believe in a excellent, comprehensive sex education, and I don't know anyone who thinks schools provided that. Ideally parents would provide it, but schools have to emphasize it because so many parents don't do it at all or get it all wrong. I am startled that parents of my children's generation often seem more reticent than my generation of fervent feminists. Liberals might consider screaming less about abstinence education and more about parental failure to do their jobs. I was rather obsessed with educating my girls because my parents failed to do so. I developed my excellent library research skills looking at every book in my local library. In 1957 there was only one that told me what I needed to know.

I had two babies at home. Their older sisters, 3 to 9, were there. Sex education in my family began at birth. Discussing how babies are made and born is so much easier with preschoolers than with 11 year olds.

My 4 daughters all recall the condom-on-a -banana demonstration. My four year old wandered in, discovering a challenging new game. (We were willing to purchase bananas for her, but not condoms.) My oldest told me "You talked so much about sex that I don't even want to think about it until I am 30." At every sleepover, every sex-ed book and Natalie the birthday doll mysteriously migrated to the basement with the revelers. My kids all reported that they could have taught the school sex education courses infinitely better than their creepy gym teachers. Does anyone know of a truly excellent sex education curriculum?

Emphasis on love and commitment, not using people, should be a vitally important part of the curriculum. I wish more adults would see junior high and high school sex as undesirable. Parents should fight the sexualization and pornification of our culture, in our advertising, media, movies, television. Women are denigrated. The sexualization of little girls is criminal.

So many parents are puritanical about drugs, booze, smoking, high school soda vending machines, pizza or hamburgers in the cafeteria, yet are not confident enough to warn about the physical and emotional damage of premature sexual activity. Most young teens are not ready for sex. Surveys indicated that many young women do not find it pleasurable. Teens too ignorant and reckless to protect themselves are particularly unready. Too many girls have sex out of insecurity, not lust, and do not exactly find it ecstatic.

Yes teens desperately need to learn how to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally. I took my college daughter for the pill. I would have helped a sexually active daughter of any age to protect herself. work with teens both as a librarian and a social worker. No one has ever accused me of being judgmental.

Teens without adequate parental sex education are more likely to be sexually active. Parents whose kids can tell them everything are more likely to have kids who wait until late high school and college. If you want your daughter or son to graduate from high school a virgin, demand rigorous academic effort and excellence. AP courses might be the best abstinence education. Valedictorians often seem to be virgins; they have enormous self-respect for their bodies as well as their brains.

I think that I, my siblings, my children, my nieces and nephews all had sex in college, mostly, but not entirely, with people they loved and were faithful to. I and my sibs mostly married their college sweetherats; my children and my nieces and nephews mostly married people they met after college. Obviously I haven't taken a comprehensive survey. Hooking up, friends with benefits, drunk sex with a stranger upset me, because sex, love, and commitment have been inseparable in my life.

Love is a decison as well as an overwhelming emotion and passion. You can honor the commitment even though love and passion ebb and flow. If you don't feel your love for your husband or wife any more, try acting loving toward him. Obviously I am not talking about abusive marriages. We saw many of our friends give up when their problems seemed so less serious than ours. There have been remarkably few divorces or affairs in my extended family. I have known dozens of happy marriages, some lasting 50 or 60 years. I have seen spouses taking tender, dedicated care of their demented or chronically ill spouses. I know too many excellent parents to count.

My favorite sex education book for kids of all ages is The Facts of Life by Jonathan Miller and David Pelham. It is a magnificent, astounding, 3-dimensional pop-up book. It seems to be out of print but you can track copies down. Every kid in Baldwin who set foot in my house studied it carefully. Sheila Kitzinger's wonderful Being Born concentrates on pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and is also essential. How could these books have been allowed to go out of print?

I would like to see a study on teen girl sexual activity and academic excellence. In many ways I was a permissive parent, but none of them were ever allowed to quit the gifted program, drop out of honors classes, or choose not to take as many advance placement courses as they could. God had gifted them with excellent minds, and it was their moral responsibility to themselves and to the world to honor and develop those gifts. They have more than carried out my dreams for them.  All have married wonderful guys. It has been an utter joy watching them and their husbands parent my young grandchildren.

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