In the faster and more furious days of my youth, I found out that I was going to be a father. This was not welcome news at the time. I suppose I had thought of being a father before, holding my son upside down by his ankles, or getting lost in the woods with him and subsequently attacked by a bear, you know, father stuff, but I hadn’t imagined it in a real sense.
Being raised a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian led to some pretty interesting conceptions of sex for me. The three most important lessons that I ever learned about sex growing up were these:
This meant that I had virtually no experience with sex before I had it, no awkward parents or banana condoms or anything. The lack of awkward conversations with the parents would probably be due to the fact that my father died when I was 13, right in the burgeoning dawn of my puberty, neither of which were things that could be helped. And I definitely wouldn’t blame my mother if she had no idea how to approach that kind of conversation with her pubescent son, or if she was so distracted that she forgot it was time to have it.
Another source that I might have gotten crucial knowledge from could’ve been public school, because in 2004, when I was 13, only 7% of the public did not want sex education taught in schools. However, I happened to spend my entire educational career in Seventh-Day Adventist schools, which subscribed to theories that I think are well-described by this Wikipedia contributor:
Christian organizations promote abstinence-only as part of what they consider to be “sexual purity”, which encompasses abstaining from not only intercourse before marriage, but also from sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions that are known to lead to sexual arousal.
The above paragraph pretty charitably describes the education that I received. In the first part of this series, I mentioned that I went to an academy where anything from kissing to holding hands could land you in trouble, because those were the ways that Satan distracted the youth. Many of us heard the admonitions given us by our superiors like “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) but once we found out that Satan looked a lot like pre-marital sex, we weren’t sure we wanted him to go anywhere just yet.
As mentioned earlier, not only were we not supposed to do, ahem, the sex, but we weren’t even supposed to think about it. Not to mention that when you have enough of these talks pounded into your head, you actually believe that you’re loving God less because you enjoy having sex. So every time you want to experience this thing that is ohmygod SO normal, you end up having a psychotic moral decision to make between God and the boys. And the boys, much like Sebulba from Star Wars, always win.
Virginity and Purity
These shaming ideas are problematic, and largely, in Adventism and the wider Christian community, they stem from this idea of purity and virginity. I must have listened to dozens of talks about the importance of chastity, and how important it was that you stay pure for the man or woman you would eventually marry (which also helps solidify the terribly untrue idea of “soulmates.”) The idea was that sexual immorality drew you away from God and that if you didn’t have a governmentally signed license to do the horizontal boogey, you were in direct violation of God’s plan for you.
Furthermore, virginity was less of a topic that was discussed, and more of a presumable fact about all of us. We didn’t know why it was so maniacally important to them, but as far as anyone was concerned, we were all virgins, every single one of us. Virginity was implied, expected, demanded, and assumed. This kind of climate actually created kids who went to their chaplains to help them rid themselves of their “impure thoughts”, or kids who broke up relationships because their significant other was “leading them away from God.”
The idea was that…if you didn’t have a governmentally signed license to do the horizontal boogey, you were in direct violation of God’s plan for you.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is a shot of By Design Science, (which will be featured multiple times here today), a textbook published in 2014 by the Seventh-Day Adventist/North American Division Office of Education. As you can see, this lovely science textbook has a heading that reads “Waiting is the Right Choice” and a helpful reference to a Bible verse about purity.
The other damaging idea that the focus on purity and abstinence taught us was that we had better watch out, because if we had sex, we would have that much less to give when we found our special person. No jokes here, I view this as the saddest lie of all that we were taught. We were taught that we were not people, but that we were receptacles that would be empty someday, and that after the breaking of that once-fresh seal, we were steadily becoming worth less to the person who would eventually try to love the mangled pieces of our hearts.
That’s not what sex is. It’s not what love is. It’s not even what virginity is (considering that there is general disagreement about that concept, anyway.) But this is the sandy beach on which my house of sexual knowledge was built for a long time (until Satan and the internet intervened), and this is exactly what led to that fateful night where my girlfriend and I frantically ran through Walmart, scouring the racks for a pregnancy test.
Past Tim didn’t even think that he was going to have sex. He was specifically conditioned to cordon that off, to partition that sexual part of his (extremely) hard drive away for use in the distant future. The only problem was that Tim was and still is a human being. And instead of being prepared for that moment, he ended up rambling through aisles looking for a couple of Clearblues or EPTs while an older black woman and Walmart employee gave him a judgmental “Mm, mm, mm”, because we both knew what I was there for.
We were taught that we were not people, but that we were receptacles that would be empty someday…
The great irony of the whole thing is that the people who would claim to have only the best interests of the youth at heart are not doing what is actually in their best interest. Condoms actually have 98% effectiveness when used correctly every time, which I guarantee is a higher success rate than any presidential candidate you’ll vote for in 2016. And 98% is surely more than the phrase “some protection” would imply. But textbooks like the one featured above continually push a strong abstinence-only message, even when they know it doesn’t work.
In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2006 [pictured below], headed by John Santelli, M.D. and Mary Ott M.D., the abstract reads: “Although abstinence is a healthy behavioral option for teens, abstinence as a sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic. A recent emphasis on abstinence-only programs and policies appears to be undermining more comprehensive sexuality education and other government-sponsored programs.”
It strikes me that the people who are always ra-ra-ing about some kind of educational plurality and “teaching the controversy” when it comes to their ridiculous idea of creationism all of a sudden want to monopolize the conversation when it comes to sex education. It also strikes me that the same people that would judge me for having a child at an early age would conceivably be the same people that insist that I not be educated about sex properly at that age. If you create a climate where kids think that STDs (as they were called then) are what veterans call bombs, I’m not sure what you expect. And while I would not reach and say that these people don’t love their children, I would pose the question: When you see that your actions are not effective towards the goals you espouse, what do you do? What is this really about?
None of this is to say that religion is the cause of all sexual weirdness. Goodness knows that humans can create their quirky sexual idiosyncrasies by themselves. Nor is it to say that abstinence isn’t actually important in young people. In fact, Santelli and Ott point out in the 2006 study that “there is broad support for abstinence as a necessary and appropriate part of sexuality education. Controversy arises when abstinence is provided to adolescents as a sole choice, and where health information on other choices is restricted or misrepresented.”
It strikes me that the people who are always ra-ra-ing about “teaching the controversy” when it comes to their ridiculous idea of creationism all of a sudden want to monopolize the conversation when it comes to sex education.
Abstinence is important, but it should not be the entire story. We should also be preparing kids to fight against STIs and unwanted pregnancies, not lying to them about their options. And it might help if we didn’t have to tell them that they’re sinners fallen from the grace of God because they wanna get frisky.
Ultimately, what these anti-sexiness structures have backwards is that they don’t seem to understand that sex is naturally appealing. People do not have to be told to enjoy sex, they don’t even have to be told to have it. That will happen almost as sure as the sun will rise. What they need from you is to tell them how to do it right and how to do it safe.
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