Teens, Virginity, Katy Perry, and Sex Ed

Sissy wants to be Wonder Woman when she grows up. Or Rachel Maddow. She's not picky.

This post is in honor of my daughter, who turned seventeen last month. She is amazing. If you don’t already know her, you probably will one day.

Sissy is now two years older than my own mother was when I was born. If abortion had been safe, legal, and without stigma, my mother would undoubtedly have chosen it. Probably, if I had been her mother, I would even have accompanied her to the clinic and written the check. My mother didn’t have a choice, and she resented being stuck with me for much of her life. Hard as it has been, I am fantastically grateful to be here.

My daughter is a church-goin’ girl. In the vernacular of my home-culture, that would have meant she went to church faithfully every Sunday, memorized her Bible verses, and was trying to save herself for her eventual husband on the night of their wedding. I presume you know what is meant by “save herself.” In my daughter’s case, only the first of the three is true.

I am not implying that my daughter is not a virgin. Whether she is or isn’t is none of my business or yours, and I refuse to think of her as a virgin or not-a-virgin either way. She is first, last, and always a person. I am confident that her choices about sex and reproduction will be grounded in a healthy sense of self-esteem. She isn’t likely to be manipulated or to choose to have sex with someone who isn’t worthy of her affection.

As regular readers and friends already know, part of the religious education my children receive is a comprehensive sexuality education. The Our Whole Lives (OWL) program begins in the first grade, a class I help teach on Sunday mornings. During OWL sessions children and youth learn a vocabulary for talking about their bodies, and they have an opportunity to ask questions and to air their own concerns and feelings. In eighth grade and senior high, there is a tight teaching team of well-trained adult educators who offer accurate information and the resources necessary for youth to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It is sex ed that aims to cultivate healthy body images and expectations, a strong sense of self-worth, and a much-needed system of sexual ethics, in addition to providing the details of tab A into slot B. Contrary to the suggestions of some, this sort of sexuality education does not give youth the idea to start “doing it,” but rather, it leads them make more considered and responsible choices about sexuality.

Most likely my daughter is leaving for college in eighteen months. As we prepare, she is getting a good look at what college life might actually be like.

“I don’t really want to be in close proximity to drunk people making bad decisions,” she said. “Also, drunk people throw up and that’s gross.”

I hope she won’t ever get too close to anyone making lousy decisions, I think. Hey, a mom can wish can’t she?

“I don’t get how people can get drunk and just have sex with someone they don’t even know,” she said. “I don’t wanna live in a Katy Perry song.”

I smile. It strikes me that really good sex is often a deeply spiritual experience. I have always been amused by, and also liked, the phrase urge to merge as a euphemism for generic sexual desire. It doesn’t just imply a hunger for orgasm, but also a longing for the warm and deepening connection that can come when two people get it just right. It is what I hope my daughter, and also my sons, will eventually come to know.

Even so, if any of these three people who were borne of my flesh are ever inclined to the kind of sex that happens without love or fidelity, I hope they at least govern themselves by a set of ethics. They should take care of themselves and not hurt other people. They should feel free to say no at any time, and if they hear anything from a partner that isn’t affirmative, they must heed it, heated as things might be. They need to understand the nature of consent and that drunk is not consent. They need to understand the weight of their choices, to attend to their own boundaries, and they must view partners as people.

These are the things my daughter and I are talking about. They are conversations to be had with sons in their turn, too.

Lastly, because laughter is good for the soul, this:

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