Friday, November 5, 2010

Puritan, Shmuritan! Or Maybe Not

On the way home from work tonight while waiting for the metro I was treated to a new ad campaign from a Dutch website called (I'm translating) "Make sexual intensions clear". The first poster is of a 20 something guy who says "I am not going to touch your breasts unless it is ok with you." The second, a beautiful girl saying "I don't want hands in my pants right away."  The third, a beautiful young girl with the slogan " I love to flirt but that's it"  and the fourth, a hip young guy saying " I am ready for more but you are the boss".

My first thought was naturally, that this would never fly in America and that Fox news, Limbaugh,and the new speaker of the House guy would have a field day and find some obscure reason to blame this on Obama.  Sarah Palin would probably invite Katie Couric to dish about it over a steaming hot bowl of moose chili.

As liberal as I am, my American roots tempered with a dash of Puritanical spin makes me shocked at at least some of this ad copy. Does it have to be so blatant to get the message across? At the same time I admire Europeans for taking a sober view toward sex, which basically asserts that sex isn't something to be ashamed of but an important part of life and should be talked about openly even with kids (of a certain age). Their view is that adolescence is a confusing time and many kids will have sex so why should't we just be open about it so that they go onto it with their eyes open and minimize their risks.

I do think there is a certain logic to that. Teenage pregnancy is not out of control here.  When kids become a certain age they are not only given the option of birth control but it usually the parents that arrange this out in the open. Why not?  If your kid is going to have sex as a teen (as many do), why not fully prepare them for it, so that they can understand and respect safe sex and at least on the physical side have a good understanding of what they are getting into.  

I definitely grew up in both an era and an area where the message was to wait until marriage.  Sure, when I was in high school there were kids having sex although I do think today it is much more common place that teenagers of high school age and even earlier are experimenting with sex.  The facts in today's world are that kids are growing up much faster than in my generation and the ones before,  having sex earlier.  Although I still totally agree that teenagers are not equipped emotionally to handle sex and that you shouldn't have sex until you are mature enough to handle the emotional aspects.  Then again, if that is the criteria, there are a lot of 35 year olds I know that would still be virgins because they are not mature enough to handle the implications of a sexual relationship or encounter either.  So I guess that argument is out the window!  

When my parents divorced in the late 1970's, I chose at age 13 to live with my dad, which was quite unusual for that time.  My dad did not explain sex to me.  Actually back then it was still called the birds and the bees or the facts of life.  Well at least until Jo, Blair and Tootie and a young Molly Ringwald until she got canned after the first season gave that phrase another meaning). My mom did the deed of explaining sex to me when I was 12 but when I was 15 my dad did  tell me that if I wanted to have sex I should be on birth control and that although he felt I was too young and not ready, if there did come a time when I wanted to have sex I should, no matter how uncomfortable it was, tell him and he would let me get birth control.  Pretty emancipated for the early 1980's.  Then again, my dad was European, and you know those Europeans!

So why not be open about it?  Not only about the risks, but about what is permissable.  That flirting or even beyond flirting is not a green light unless both people involved want it to be and that you can stop at any time.  Thankfully my daughter is only 7, but tomorrow when I wake up she will be 13 or 15 and these questions will go from being just something to ponder on a blog to being very real.  Right now I think I would choose to be open about it with her and prepare my daughter that in case she does have sex, she understands it and protects herself physically from the risks associated with sex and that she has a good understanding of what the boundaries are.  Yeah, I am emancipated and even though I believe in central air conditioning and bathing every day, but despite that I can be a modern European and relax about sex.  Let's talk about it and get it out in the open.  Right?

Then again, I think back to an evening spent with friends of ours 3 or 4 years ago. One of our friends has a daughter who was 15 at that time and she had a boyfriend.  Not only did they talk to her and put her on birth control but they let the boyfriend spend the night  and have sex in her bedroom when they were home.  One night we were over there and this girl and her boyfriend were hanging out with us and at one point, the girl yawned and said she was tired and they said they were going to bed.  I am quite certain my eyes were as big as golf balls as I watched them go up the stairs especially when I watched this boyfriend pinch her on the behind in front of her parents as they were going up the stairs with him playfully telling her she was "in trouble" as soon as the bedroom door was closed.  When they were out of earshot I asked our friends whether or not I heard what I thought I just heard and they said yes and just laughed it off.  I tried to be delicate and non judgmental (not very successfully I think) but I asked them if they were okay just being so casual about their 15 year old daughter having sex right under their noses.  They said that if they didn't allow it there, they would still have sex anyway so why not just let them?   At least this way they know where they are and their daughter is not sneaking around or lying to them.  

So maybe I am more Puritan than I thought.  What did I do with that chastity belt?


  1. It's interesting that we are the same age, and both grew up on the east coast, but the message I got was very different.

    Maybe it was because from age 3, I was raised by a young, divorced mom. She flirted and she dated and she had more than one serious boyfriend who slept over, or actually, moved in with us.

    Her message was always, better to wait until you find someone you love. Don't waste something as important as your first time on a drunken and soon to be forgotten flirtation. Her main message was love, which helped me stay a virgin until I had almost finished high school. Mom also always told us to come to her if we needed birth control. I didn't choose to involve her, but she also told us how to make our own appointments with our HMO, so that's just what I did.

    It is funny that when mom explained things to us at an earlier age, she seemed very calm and accepting. The reality was significantly less calm. I seem to recall being threatened with being thrown out after she caught me huggin' and a kissin' in her living room.

    Maybe it's easier to be open minded in theory, but not when it's YOUR daughter....although your friends seem perfectly accepting, lucky them, I guess.

  2. I do think the message you learn depends on what you grow up with. I do think you kind of got a mixed message, relaxed on one hand and the other being threatened.

    I was not allowed to date until I was 16 and to be honest, although I was interested in boys I was too shy and awkward to be ready for dating as a teenager. I remember one of my very first dates was with a guy I had had a crush on and by the time he asked me out he had gone off to college. And I was so nervous about not saying the wrong thing that I didn't say anything the entire date. Every question he asked (what movie did I want to see, was I hungry, I answered with 'ummm, I don't care' and that was the whole date. Awful, although not very since he dropped me off at 9.00!

    I do think kids grow up faster now and that it may be difficult for us as parents to go with the slow approach.

    Thanks for commenting!