This is not about our family farm.
Explicit content included.
“What do you mean there are no sex education classes,” I asked, my voice escalating a bit. Surely this wasn’t true.
Feeling like I had stepped into a world that had changed while I had stopped looking, I waited for the educator in our family to disabuse me of this crazy development.
A dusty memory surfaced of someone in my social circle complaining about a teacher using a banana for a condom demonstration. A guilt niggled a bit at the thought because I couldn’t remember how seriously I took her negative attitude or if I had registered any complaint.
“No. They don’t have it anymore,” he said.
Even before I got as old as I am now, I knew that sex was complicated. And it doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Muslim, atheist or don’t care, male or female, married or not. We humans want it complicated. All of us.
It got me to thinking. How DO people get educated about sex in 2020? Is it usually parents? Television? Social media. Word of mouth? Is Texas different than other states? Clearly it isn’t happening in the school my son works in.
I am going to tell you about my sex education. I am telling it for a reason. The specifics matter to me because they shaped my attitudes and behavior about sex, but my guess is that they speak to the same but different specifics that sex has played in anyone reading this.
I was raised in a house that lived the Christian faith, but likely not in any way that the majority of Christians in my community practiced it. When I say we lived it, we lived it 24/7. This mostly because of my recovered alcoholic dad’s reliance on a higher power than himself, to stay sober that day. That kind of faith in practice was the truth we all lived under. I soaked in all I saw in him. In my family and in those around me, Christian and not. I added to this to the sex education I received.
From my dad.
Let’s give some facts first. I am just going to list them.
- My dad served in the army, the Korean war, and came home with the clap. (Clap was the common name for gonorrhea in my Dad’s day. French for.. you don’t want to know.)
- When the unmarried teenager on our street got pregnant, my father disabused anyone who thought she shameful for walking each day to keep her health. (This may be difficult to understand in the light of 2020, put succinctly, most would have liked to brand her as ‘sinful’, literally. Brand her. Especially since she was brazen enough to walk the street with an evergrowing belly.)
- A young 15 year old girl on our street accepted the request for her help from a stranger and was found raped the next day.
- My maternal grandfather was a pedophile, having exposed himself to me at the age of 7 and many of my cousins. I don’t know what else they suffered.
- My mother and dad did not attend worship with my brother and I. My dad had a difficult time with the Missionary Baptist Church we attended. Although it was a not-out-of-the-closet gay minister of the church who had taken him to AA, his predecessor did not regard AA as a Christian entity, therefor shunned the very miracle that God had given our family.
At about the age of 11, every Sunday, after I walked home from Sunday School, my six year younger brother in tow, Dad would start our sex-ed conversations.
Can’t say I loved them. Didn’t dislike them. Mostly accepted them and listened. My dad has something really important going for him that I cottoned on to early. He was consistent in his faith and life.
My mother found the conversations fascinating.
They weren’t all about the mechanics of sex although there was clear information given on how things worked in intercourse. He was always very faithful to make the conversation welcoming to any questions I had, as constant questions were a hallmark of my personality even back then. To be frank, Dad allowing me to talk during his lectures was rare. Indication this was on a different level of communication he wanted. Inexperienced in any of the mechanics of this as I was, Dad did fail to mention a couple of salient points. The first was erections. I think it was an unintentional oversight on his part. He being a male and these a fact of his life, he probably figured there was no need to explain the necessity of them for intercourse to happen. This omission was eventually succinctly explained to me at 18 when I visited my friend in her college dorm room. She had begun having sex with her future husband. Noting my confusion while listening to her very detailed description of the events, she let out an exhausted, full of wisdom sigh, her hands in the air, describing the ineffectiveness of a limp spaghetti noodle. The gained knowledge of the second omission happened while I was sitting in speech class in 11th grade. The young woman who had performed oral sex as requested by her boyfriend asked me if I thought that it was deviate behavior. (Deviate is a word that only a speech student would likely use). Oh, and the topic of masturbation was left up to my Mother, who upon the two minutes or so she used to explain the details, finished with “and don’t ask me if I have ever done it!”
Most of these extended Sunday afternoon lectures were more about the value and purpose of sex. Some were about the oddities of sexual interest, for instance he mentioned that some individuals fantasized. There was information on pornography. There was a series I remember very distinctly where he talked a great deal about the good kind of love and love that took a turn to obsession. There were many, many about the way God looks at sex.
“Janet, sex is not dirty. It is a gift from God. It is meant to be enjoyed by both parties,” Dad would say, his brown eyes watching to see how much I was tracking and taking in. “It is meant as a special union, a oneness that is not able to be experienced any other way. There is an intimacy to it that has meaning in a relationship.”
“You have to make a decision before you get into a position that you can’t make the decision that you want. Foreplay (he used this word with a bit of an explanation) and sex are very enjoyable. (He stressed this fact.) It’s important for you to know that a boy will say almost anything to experience that feeling.”
It was a little difficult to know what the ‘enjoyment’ part really entailed early in those conversations. I certainly already understood that there was a distinct funny feeling in me that sort of seemed ‘hungry’ and not in a food kinda way. (I’m being an excessively polite female here. If you need more substance, men, find you a romance novel, the kind that are really softporn, and read it.)
But I was growing in expectancy and unafraid. Things were making sense.
Dad covered the concern of frigidness in women. I had heard Mother using the term, sometimes substituting with “She’s a cold woman”, her side eye giving even the uninitiated a clue to the problem.
(Much later, a married friend bemoaned that she didn’t know what the big deal about orgasms were… sorry. What they thought they knew then about that problem is not what we know the problem is.)
I think Dad talked a tiny bit about STD’s, having had the clap and all, which to be honest, this topic was the only time I caught a whiff of embarrassment for him in the multiple lectures or Q&A’s in the multiple Sunday afternoons. (There was a somewhat bizarre public service announcement that occurred about this same time. Drive In movie theaters were the rage, and as a family, sans my dad but with a ton of cousins in tow, we spent lots of summer nights on the gravel lot of one just north of Little Rock. One night, before the feature movie a whole slew of infected male genitalia showed up on the big screen. Drive in movie were hot beds for sexual activity. While this didn’t scare me into not wanting to participate in sex when the time came, it did cement the idea of the value of limited partnerships.)
It is clear to me now, six decades later, what I got from those conversations. My body was mine. I had every right to stand up for myself regarding sexual enjoyment and choice. Males for the most part couldn’t help themselves. My dad clearly hoped I would be a virgin for my husband, he believed that was the best way to have a successful marriage, an enjoyable sex life, and because he believed that it was scriptural. We loved God. We were completely confident in the wisdom of God. But Dad made this point over and over:
No matter what I chose, he would always love me. There was nothing that I could do, in these kinds of choices or any other, that would make him stop loving me.
This was scripturally sound behavior my Dad mirrored of the grace he himself knew. It laid the groundwork, mirrored the abundant grace I would come to know myself. That I count on this very day. This truth is very important to every human being.
There was one thing I didn’t agree with or favor in the talks with my dad. The ones he gave to my brother were not the same. There was a different code of conduct expected. I didn’t exactly resent this, but I thought it wrong.
He did one other thing to facilitate these lessons. He found creative ways to make the opportunity to make a poor decision less likely. Long enough for me to get enough wisdom about me. In all honestly, if I had to say what cemented my own choices, it would be this. If I’d had a long term high school boyfriend, the odds would not have been in my favor to resist. I’d had to have counted on a like focus with the boyfriend. According to my dad, not a high percentage.
Life is life. And the drive to have sex isn’t any different now than it was when man, and woman, started having the sentient kind. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing, young, old, educated, not educated, gay, straight, married, not married the drive to have sex hasn’t changed much. No matter our context, sex is powerful enough to make us, all of us, do potentially unwise things. Scripture is full of God fearing humans perpetrating sexual indiscretions, despite the fact that they had the really excellent rules of sexual conduct with equally good reasons to abide by them in the words! They are Creator given for heaven’s sake!. You can’t get much better than the wisdom of those. They are of real value for each individual’s best life then and now. There are also vaccines to prevent HPV, medicines to prevent the spread of HIV, and contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
So what’s missing here in 2020?
I am fearful that it is an ever worsening chance that honest, open conversation and the relay of facts will happen.
You can try and enforce any kind of rule, law, obligation, censure, expectation, hope, consequence or threat to try and moderate sexual behavior, but if you want a choice that supports the person making it, at a minimum they have to have at least a working knowledge of the facts. They’ve got no shot at making a good choice without them. If we can’t practice what we preach (which we Christians have lost the moral ground all around this subject), let’s inform in ways that cover anyone’s context.
In a few words… I don’t see a thing wrong with the banana and a condom in sex ed in school. It would’ve cleared up one of my misconceptions. And its’ possible it could change the trajectory of a young person’s life.
Addendum: You are now completely aware why I was never asked to teach a young person’s Christian evangelical Sunday School. But someone has got to teach. I suspect that my words may have made a few people uncomfortable. I am sorry for that. I understand. I hope you see my heart and my faith in my words. Sex is at once the most private part of us as humans and yet it is evoked in every medium we indulge in today as if it’s no different than waving hello. A large part of the reason good teachers can’t teach even the basics of sex education can be laid at the feet of politics and the religious tradition to which I belong. Especially in Texas. I am sorry for that too. One of the best pieces of advice anyone can give a child is to understand that waiting until they are older to decide is to their benefit, no matter their moral code of conduct. Girls, especially.
It seems the plan in Heaven is to not have sex. I so get that. But down here, it’s part of us, so you’ve lost the choir if you are preaching that you’re sinful for wanting it.
On more addendum. While sitting in the Lanier Theological library writing this, a young 30 something former 7th grade teacher overheard a small discussion I had with a patron on this subject. He said he thought there were some school districts around Houston who still might have human reproduction units. I hope so. And I was grateful for both of these conversations.
I pray that if a young person needs some information they find someone to talk to.
For all of you who have children and grandchildren, I am praying they have you to talk to.
If you are at a loss as to what to say, the wisdom of my dad isn’t a bad example to follow.
For you teachers, who might have a student who asks, God bless you. You’ve got a really tough job.
Any conversation bounded in love is bound to be a good one.
Comment if you’ve a mind.