When you get older and all your friends are driving, maybe one of them will have a car and will say “let me show you how to drive!” I’ll expect you to say no. Why? Not because I never want you to get behind the wheel of a car. But because there’s a time and a place and a way to learn safely and a time and place and way to make really bad and dangerous mistakes that can put you and others at risk in ways that I want you to be aware of.
Part of that will be getting your learners permit. And part of that will be taking a defensive driving course. Part of that will be a series of conversations that you and I will have where we talk about the risks and consequences of certain behavior and of certain mindsets.
Sex is like that.
When you get older your friends may be experimenting with sex. Maybe you’ll be under pressure. I’ll expect you to say no. Why? For the same reason. It’s not that I want you to NEVER HAVE SEX or even that I want you to wait until you’re married. Sex is a choice that ultimately belongs to you. I’m not squeamish about that.
BUT. Big but. There is a time and a place and a way to learn safely and a time and place and way to make really bad and dangerous mistakes that can put you and others at risk in ways that I want you to be aware of.
I want you to understand rape culture. I want you to understand consent. I want you to understand inebriation. I want you to understand all of the different reasons why a person might engage in sexual behavior, and I want you to understand the difference between good and bad reasons. I want you to be aware of the fact that sometimes people agree to have sex not out of desire but out of fear. And I want you to make sure that you never accidentally take advantage of someone who isn’t into it wholeheartedly. I want you to understand that boys and men can be raped just like women and girls can be raped. I want you to understand that you need to actually know a person in order to be sure that they are on board. I don’t want you to ever get kicked in the gut as you realize that someone you were with feels violated and used. Not all people feel safe or okay with saying “no” or “stop” or “don’t”.
I want you to understand sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy and life and what condoms and birth control really mean, and the fall-out of “safety” not always being 100% safe. I want you to understand what abortions are, and that they aren’t an undoing of a mistake. They are a huge hulking looming decision that has all kinds of consequences. I want you to understand the crazy emotional fall-out that happens when both people aren’t on the same page about the “right” choice to make. I want you to understand that the whole idea of adoption isn’t a quick fix, either. That it’s emotionally complicated, often comes with postpartum depression, almost always comes with questions and grief and regret. That after you give up your baby you bleed for six weeks and your breasts fill up with milk and your eyes fill up with tears and that it’s not like anything from a movie. That you’re left with all the what-if’s and the missing and the sadness and the regret even when you know it was a good decision. That it’s seldom done in a way that is fair to everyone, and it is a beautiful and sad and wonderful but horrible choice all at the same time. I want you to understand that when you have a child you don’t sleep for more than an hour or two at night for two or more years. That having a child before you’re ready comes with tremendous changes to your life and that it teaches you a level of responsibility that makes all the responsibilities of sex and relationships and abstinence and homework dog walking and litter box cleaning look silly small.
That sometimes when you have a child you end up raising that child all on your own. That other times you end up in a relationship with someone that may not have been the right person. That sometimes you end up going to court with a person that wants to take your child away from you and that will go to the end of the Earth to do so.
I want you to understand trust. The type of trust where you communicate and share thoughts and feelings and words and truths as openly as you are thinking about sharing your body.
I want you to understand that sometimes you will trust someone so completely and then learn that you gave your trust poorly and that you will have to live with the fall-out along with heartbreak.
I want you to understand what pornography is before you view it. I want you to know that it is not what real sex is like.
I want you to understand that the “love” and sex that you see glorified in movies… Is not real love or real sex and that you don’t see real relationships in movies. At all. Ever. For example, you’ll never want to kiss passionately first thing in the morning because everyone’s breath is going to smell like that chipmunk that got killed by the cat and that rotted away under the deck. And that morning breath really isn’t sexy no matter how much you are attracted to a person.
I want you to understand that full-body tingle that feels like real true love? It is going to disappear after you’ve been with a person for some time. It’s replaced with other things. One of those things is annoyance about silly little things. I want you to know that you shouldn’t mistake the disappearance of that tingle for the disappearance of love any more than you should think that just because the water in the pool doesn’t feel as cold after 20 minutes that you’re no longer swimming.
I want you to understand that everyone has an opinion about sex. That you should do it, it’s no big deal. That you shouldn’t do it at all ever until you’re married. I want you to research and understand those things and what they mean and why people think those ways.
And then I want you to make good responsible choices. Something that is going to be hard for you, considering your facilities for self control aren’t fully developed until you’re closer to 21. Considering that peer pressure can be ridiculous and insecurities can be pretty terrible.
But I want you to try.
Mostly I want you to come to me to talk about things. To ask questions. To share fears and to talk about heartbreak. Not because I don’t trust you.. But because you need someone there to be a safe person. I would like to be that for you.
I’ve been young and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve been stupid and I have done stupid things. I won’t get mad at you if you do stupid things, too.
I’d like you to take it slow and safe, though. Not because I’m squeamish, but because things always work out better when you know what you’re doing and when you’re sure of who you are with. First times are almost always terrible and awkward. No reason to rush into that and have first memories be ones of regret.
When you are ready you will know that you are ready rather than just wanting to be.
Wait for that, at least. It is worth it.
This stuff isn’t as simple as putting a condom on a banana or understanding what stuff goes where. It’s not as simple as getting an A+ in the sexual education class taught by a jaded high school teacher. It’s like driving, like getting a job, like real life stuff. Not like passing a history quiz or cramming for a mid-term.
It’s real. And I hope you understand that before you get involved in all the different details that involve an adult sexual relationship.