Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Having sex doesn't make you good or bad.

Have you heard of this thing called "the sex"? Here are some stunning facts about it:

  • Most people do it.
  • Most people like it.
  • It serves some useful functions, among them strengthening bonds between couples and something or other about helping to continue the existence of the human race. (Not all forms of sex help with the species survival thing though, ya know, like sex between people who are all like hella old and shit.)
  • There's way too much emphasis put on it for young people - whether they feel as though they should be doing it when they're not or if they feel that they shouldn't when they are.
For the sake of this, I'm going to focus on my last point. I've actually had this brewing in my head for a while now - long before I ever started this blog. These thoughts began when I taught sophomores (which was over 10 years ago now) and I had them do an oral presentation on who they were and what they believed. I had one class where quite a few of the kids included in their presentation that one of their defining attributes was that they were going to "save themselves for marriage" when it came to having sex.

I didn't comment, but I felt like saying something. Good thing for me that I kept my mouth shut about that issue, because I'm sure that even bringing that particular choice into question would have been interpreted as "Mr. Johnson thinks that teenagers should be having sex!" without any room for some nuance.

What I felt like saying was something along the lines of, "Hey, that's great if that's your decision. But you don't know what life will throw at you between now and then, and if you wind up having sex before marriage, you shouldn't beat yourself up about it." In other words, I wanted to tell them that they shouldn't attach their morality and self-worth into whether they were having sex or not.

Look, if you were to give me a sheet of paper that read, "Should teenagers have sex? Check this box for 'yes' and this box for 'no'" then I would have to go with the "no" box. But I would hesitate and think for a moment, which is more than I can say if the question was "Should teenagers do meth?" (In that case, it would be a definite YES! No, wait, I mean NO! Meth is bad, kids. I've seen Breaking Bad.)

This is an issue where I can't just sum up my feelings in a convenient soundbite. I want to just make the blanket statement that sex and morality should be completely separate issues, but we all know that they are unquestionably tied together in at least some ways. Obviously, having sex with somebody who's not consenting is wrong. Having sex with a child is wrong. Lying to somebody about your intentions is wrong. (Like saying, "I want to marry you!" when you have absolutely no intention of even calling the person back the next day, for instance.)

In all those cases, the sex itself isn't what's wrong, it's the lack of consent, the lack of consent from somebody who can even give it, or the act of lying that is bad. But sex between two people who are old enough to understand what they're doing and are both consenting? Why should there be any moral judgment in there one way or another?

We're hard-wired to want to have sex. Just imagine what would happen if we weren't? It's not a desire that was given to us along with a sense of prudence as to when we should or should not engage in it. You can sit there and say that you're not going to do it, but unless you plan on living in solitary confinement, there are going to be moments when your basic human instinct is going to override your judgement.

Let me give you a scenario, hopefully without being too crude about it, but it will be somewhat on the extreme/mostly unlikely side: imagine a person the most attractive person you can. Let's say that this person also has a really awesome personality and makes you laugh. Imagine that you're alone with that person, and if you're a man, you haven't gone solo (if you know what I mean) for weeks. Imagine that this person is coming on to you, and wants to have sex with you right then and there. Imagine that there's one really comfortable bed (or whatever you're in to) in that room.

Now, you can lie and say that you'd stand up, say "No thank you, ma'am/sir" and walk out the door. But you know as well as I do that the chances are better than average that you're going to go for it. Don't believe me? Well, think of this - how likely is that scenario? Not very, right? Well, even in that sort of unlikely event, abstinence pledges generally tend to be unsuccessful! So, even under non-optimal conditions, people are going to give in and have sex, no matter what they may have promised themselves when they didn't have a sexually attractive person right in front of them. And let's not even get started as to how the teen pregnancy rate tends to be higher in "conservative" areas of the country that espouse "abstinence only" education. (I don't think that's being conservative. "Conservative" is handing your son a condom and/or getting your daughter on the pill in the event that they have sex. Seems pretty liberal to me to just trust that they'll ignore their biological instincts.)

And yes, this is worse for girls than it is for boys. If anything, boys get the opposite sort of pressure. But pressure about sex in either direction is harmful from where I'm standing. As usual, the only thing that I can do is teach my son what's what. I plan on telling him the following:
  • He should only have sex if both he and his partner are ready and willing.
  • His urge to have sex has a good chance of outweighing his ability to think and act rationally.
  • The only way that "abstinence only" will be a surefire success is if he lives in solitary confinement.
  • He should use protection and encourage his partner to do the same. (Doubling up on contraception is even more "conservative" from my vantage.)
  • His having or not having sex has no bearing on his value as a person.
  • Assuming he's straight, how much sex his partner has or has not had before him has no bearing on her value as a person.

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