My kids are doing the Human Sexuality unit at school, which has me thinking. For a while, oh maybe since I was teaching teenagers, it has occurred to me that our health classes focus too much on the physical realm while skipping over the details that are just as important — the emotional health of sexuality. Anyone who has been exposed to the UU Sex Ed programs will probably read this and think “No duh!” And I am deeply grateful that their public school has based some of their curriculum in the UU stuff. Here are a few of my ponderings.
First, I feel young teens should not have sex, and older teens should wade in with deep care.
My belief that one should hold off on sexual activity has nothing to do with prudishness or a religious attachment to an idea of purity. It is about readiness and care. Sex can be so tender, or so damaging, and we should be mindful to coordinate for ourselves experiences that foster tenderness. I also feel that young bodies may simply be less ready for the kind of arousal, communication and expression that makes sex so lovely. Practicing before you are ready is like trying to teach algebra to a toddler…. It doesn’t “land,” and the time you waste is also a missed opportunity to do some more age appropriate endeavor that would be more beneficial. For me, I also accrued a few years of muscle memory of immature, disconnected sex… harsh lessons that were hard work to unlearn.
Second, I feel that Sex Ed for young adults about to make the leap should include concrete “how to”s about pleasure, not just medical cautionary tales about danger and protection. Here’s a few really simple ones– for straight kids, girl-on-top for your first penetration is a good way for everyone to be at choice. For straight or gay kids, taking the care and time to explore all of the ways to pleasure a partner, with hands, mouths, eyes, words and then finally using your genitals is a good learning path. Learning to talk about sex is as important as having sex, and if you don’t have the maturity to name the feeling, act or part, you are probably not mature enough to have the feeling/do the act/share the body part with another. And what about the gear? How to use barrier protection and good lessons on the science of lube should be part of the discussion. Finally, but what should be first, is the truth that self care is so critical. We need to learn our bodies, our longings, our curiosities thoroughly to be a good sex partner. These are obvious lessons once you read them, but were not clear to me in my first fumbling years of sexuality. Having to discover them on my own led to needless suffering.
So we talk about plumbing and health risks, but sex is an act of love and self expression. We should talk more about that. I love the scene from Glee where Kurt’s dad explains that when you have sex, “It’s doing something– to you, to your heart, to your self-esteem.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSz9QmuAMcU. That’s my third thing, to include the discussion of love, intimacy and sexuality as the three equal pillars that they are. And to celebrate each. Once we are certain our children are mature enough to have the conversations, as a culture we should celebrate their coming of age rather than shaming them or leaving them to cast about on their own. We celebrate getting the driver’s license, graduating, first jobs and so much more as given Rites of Passage. We know they will grow into sexual beings; why don’t we honor the first love, the first kiss, the beautiful fumbling first attempts at intimacy? Maybe because it is private and it comes at a time that is also marked by autonomy from parents, but most of us keep this topic taboo all through adulthood, and that just feels wrong to me.
My journey into adulthood would have had so much more ease if these simple philosophies had been at least offered up for my consumption.