This week my amazing daughter handed my son-in-law a daughter. This brand new person has lots of silky dark hair, deep blue eyes and 2 dimples. She is a 7# 8oz miracle.
In the last few days my son-in-law has heard endless versions of “You’re in deep trouble, man,” “You’ll need a shotgun,” and “The boys will be after her!” My son-in-law is a deep thinker, so he gave it some deep thought and said, “Why?”
Assuming we want our daughters to have joy in life, fulfillment in their chosen work, family, and love: why then do we not want them to have sex? It seems an essential part of the picture.
When we actually consider why we feel this way, it comes down to the unfortunate fact that we equate a woman’s value with her sexual appeal, but devalue women when they actually have sex. No sex? Virginity and a pedestal. Sex with one man? Mother and Madonna. Sex with more? We have a direct line of descent into whoredom, where your daughter can be given a monetary value.
Then we confuse this scale by judging a woman’s value by how sexy she is. I once heard a med student say about the best kid cancer doc I knew, “What else could she do? She’s damned homely.” We want our daughters to be sexy, but not to have sex.
The valuation for men is perhaps equally harsh, but diametrically opposed. Virginity brings snickers and derision. Faithfulness to one women is sometimes thought to be gullible and foolish. Sex with many women is part of the admirable macho stereotype: men have conquests and “sew their wild oats,” admire James Bond, Casanova and Don Juan, and slap each other on the back as they carve notches into their belts or acquire trophy wives.
Math works, and these numbers do not add up.
There are of course other problems with these assumptions: not only are we devaluing our daughters, we are also making life difficult for our sons. We want our boys to have self respect, good long term relationships with their partners and the maturity to hang around to see their children grow up. Herpes, AIDs, and serial shallow relationships devoid of respect will not bring them this future.
So what is the solution?
We need to give our own values serious consideration, and then evenhandedly teach those values to both our sons and our daughters. We cannot tell our boys that it is OK to get a girl drunk so that she will have sex with them, and then tell our daughters that if they drink too much and have sex they are whores. We cannot tell our boys they are not manly if they choose to wait for love, and our girls that they must wait, or they are trash. It does not work to dress our seven year old daughters in spangles and teach them to hip thrust to sexy music, but then insist they remain innocent.
We need a coherent, honorable, human plan. Consider the future you want for your child, give thought to how sex fits into that future, be fair, be stringently honest, and build rules consistent with that future.
Some simple rules might be: we don’t want you to have sex until you are fully mature; we want you to be in a relationship built on love and mutual respect when you do; we want you to be safe and responsible.
Follow your own rules. Start when your babies are brand new, behave honorably, and be consistent throughout their childhoods. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never and will never work, because in the end your children will know you very well indeed.
- Watch what you say, both to your own partner and about the other people in your life, because words and judgments will worm their way into your child’s mind and later poke holes in his or her self worth.
- Keep conversation open, so that when they hear something at school or at a friend’s house they know they can ask you about it. They need to be able to come to you when they have questions. Give them knowledge so that they will be able to make good decisions.
- Monitor what they see on the internet and on TV. Much of what is on screens these days will need explanation.
- They will probably make mistakes. When they do, it is perfectly all right to discipline them, because they did break your rules (aren’t you glad you made those rules beforehand, and made sure he or she understood them?) Do not, however, add judgment to the mix. Give them time and space to think and consider the consequences of their actions. Allow them the chance to do better next time. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is hard enough to forgive yourself and go on, without the ones you love adding to the weight of regret in your heart.
- Never throw labels at them, because labels will leach onto their brains forever. They will never forget that their parent, who should love them no matter what, called them trash, or a slut. They might even feel that they have to live up to the label.
- Sex is a powerful weapon. If handled well it can bring joy, deepen a loving relationship, and create life. A parent’s example provides the model, good or bad, for their child to follow; thoughtless words from that same parent’s mouth can echo in their brains and make them bleed.
- Society’s views, as seen in your neighborhood or church, and on the screen in everything from commercials to movies to music, have an impact.
- How we think about sex, our behavior, and the inner judgments of our own actions effect everything from our relationships to our health, our self esteem to our future.
Sex can be a natural part of a fulfilled life, or it can injure your child’s mind, body and soul, up to the point of self-injury, depression, and death. It is important. It is deserving of respect and careful consideration, and an absolutely equal and consistent application of those conclusions to the parenting of both our sons and our daughters.
My son-in-law is brilliant, you know, and he was right.