Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Frank Schaeffer's Sex, Mom, & God: Appreciation for My Own Sex Education
One result of reading Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Sex, Mom, & God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, is that I have come away with a greater appreciation for the way my own parents taught me about sex. In fact, they did a very good job of providing me with appropriate information.
Before reading Sex, Mom, & God, I had always compared my parents with parents who never breathed a word to their children about sex--and I was grateful that my parents had talked to me about these matters. After reading Sex, Mom, & God, I now realize that it is possible to give one's children too much information about sex or inappropriate information. Frank Schaeffer's mother, for example, revealed to Frank that his father required her to have sex every single night, she showed Frank (when he was eight years old) the diaphragm she used to space her children, and she talked to Frank so much about sex and the importance of doing it only with one's spouse after one's wedding that Frank could think of nothing but when and how he might have sex!
Here are some of the points my parents followed when talking with me about sex.
LET THE CHILD GUIDE THE KIND AND AMOUNT OF INFORMATION. My parents simply answered my questions about sex or where babies come from. If I asked a question, they simply answered it and let it go at that. If I asked more follow-up questions or wanted to have a discussion, then they went along. They didn't push information at me. In contrast, when Frank asked a question, this seemed to open an unstoppable fountain of information from his mother on the topic of sex.
USE CORRECT TERMS. My parents used correct terms, such as menstruation, intercourse, vagina, uterus, and penis, when talking to me about reproduction. Frank's mother used euphemisms, such as falling off the roof for menstruation and little thing for penis.
DO NOT SHARE YOUR PERSONAL SEX LIFE WITH YOUR CHILDREN. My parents never used themselves as examples or talked about what they themselves did in their sex life together. They talked about the man and the woman or the husband and the wife.
DO NOT SURROUND SEX WITH WARNINGS. My parents did not go on and on about the importance of being a virgin on one's wedding night or saving oneself for one's spouse or the danger that boys and men might pose. They did always put sex within the context of marriage when they talked about it, but they did so in a natural way, as though it were a given that sex would be performed within marriage. They said things like this: "When a man and a woman get married, they show their love for each other in a very special way." Or: "Husbands and wives show their love for each other in a special way."
Now, here are some other interesting things about my sex education from my parents.
SILENT PARENTS OF THEIR OWN. My parents had parents of their own who never breathed a word about sex to them as they were growing up. This is true of my father's parents and of my mother's parents. Sex was a taboo subject in their households. My parents decided to do things differently with their own children. They decided to answer their children's questions as those questions arose, and to give clear information using correct terms. Both my father and my mother would answer questions about sex.
OTHER SOURCES. My parents also provided other sources of information. My mother gave me a booklet about menstruation and arranged for me to attend optional talks about menstruation given for fifth and sixth grade girls at my school. She explained that it would be good for me to have these other explanations as well as her own, and I did like having the booklet and attending the talks with other girls in my class. I might mention that I attended a Catholic girls school, and the talks were given by the father of a girl in the class two years ahead of me. He was a gynecologist, and his talks were interesting and informative. For some girls in my class, these talks were all the information they got about menstruation because they had parents who would not breathe a word about these subjects.
CURIOSITY ABOUT HOW IT'S ACTUALLY DONE. While Frank's sex education caused him to want to have sex as soon as possible, mine did not have the same effect. Having a boy or a man put his penis into my vagina just didn't sound like something I'd want to participate in. Frank was curious to try it, but I was curious to see it done. I just couldn't imagine even how it was initiated. Or, if I did try to imagine it, I imagined something like this. One spouse says to the other, "Well, shall we have intercourse now?" The other spouse says, "Okay." So they both pull down their pants and the husband puts his penis into the wife's vagina, sends the sperm up into her uterus, and takes out his penis. Then they pull up their pants and go about their business.
From this, you can gather that my parents didn't provide much information about what leads up to the actual act of intercourse.
Anyway, so curious was I about how intercourse was actually negotiated that I once asked my mother, "Mommy, the next time you and Daddy do this, can you let me watch to see how it's done?" My mother very nicely explained that, no, I couldn't watch because this was a very special way that married people showed love for each other and it was private.
SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE. My parents always assumed a marriage context when they talked about sex. They didn't push this overtly, but they always talked about the husband and the wife. This eventually caused me to wonder what would happen if a man and a woman had intercourse but weren't married. Did this ever happen, I wondered. And it it did, would it work. That is, could intercourse lead to a baby if the two people weren't married. I vaguely remember asking about this and being told that, yes, two unmarried people could have intercourse, but it was very wrong. I can't remember if I asked about the baby.
OMISSIONS. There were some omissions in my sex education. My parents never said much about foreplay, and they didn't mention homosexual sex. But this was in the 1950s and 1960s, so homosexual sex wasn't much talked about anyway.
UNFORTUNATE RESTRICTION. My parents did put an unfortunate restriction on the topic of sex. They often told me that this was a special topic that should be discussed only with Mommy or Daddy, not with other people. Their idea was that they didn't want me to receive misinformation from unreliable sources, such as other kids. But this meant that I couldn't talk with friends about our bodies without disobeying, so I missed out on conversations that I think it would have been good to have with my friends. (I wish I hadn't obeyed this injunction from my parents as long as I did.)
MORE UNFORTUNATE FACTS. Another unfortunate fact was that my father could be quite frightening with his rages, so I thought it best to avoid men as much as possible. As a child, I remember thinking that the world was set up to be painful in so many ways. One of those ways was the institution of marriage, where a woman would have to share her life with one of those frightening men. I wondered why it wasn't possible for two women to share their lives together. (I didn't realize that it was possible because I had never heard of it.) I wasn't thinking of this in a sexual way--as far as I knew, there was no way for two women to have sex, and I didn't experience sexual attraction to women. I was thinking of it in a friendly way--two women living together and sharing their lives and maybe even raising children. How safe and comfortable that would be. I wondered why no one had considered it.
Another unfortunate fact is that I was being raised in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church. Probably because I had a rageful father, I tended to zero in on the rageful aspects of God the Father as presented by the Catholicism of the time. I zeroed in, for example, on how a person could be sent to hell for just one unconfessed mortal sin, such as impure thoughts. We learned things like this at my Catholic girls school, and I don't think my parents were aware of how this aspect of my Catholic education was affecting me internally. I was learning that sex was bad, some parts of my body were off-limits even to me, touching those parts of my body was bad, and thinking about those parts of my body or those parts of others' bodies was bad. When one is going through puberty, it is not easy to avoid thinking about what is happening within one's body! And yet this was a sin (or so I thought)!
My parents would never have agreed with this heavy sex/sin connection. They were a voice of reason on the few occasions when I did ask them a question that seemed to relate sex (or just bodies) and sin. For example, I remember once dreaming about running around naked with other girls in my class. I think I was about eight at the time of this dream. I was worried that this dream might have been a mortal sin since it obviously involved thinking about naked bodies. After all, dreaming takes place in one's mind, so dreaming about naked bodies would be the same as thinking about naked bodies, which would be indulging in impure thoughts. Fortunately, I asked my mother about this, and she explained that we did not have control over our dreams, so a dream could not be a sin. (I can't remember if she commented on my underlying belief that thinking about naked bodies was a sin--perhaps she did--but I know that she would not have subscribed to such a belief.)
Well, to get back to my original thought, I am grateful that both my mother and my father in his better moods gave me good information about sex. Some people get no information from their parents, and others (like Frank) get an overload!