February 15, 2013

I'm Not Surprised, Just Sad

The Valentine reports have been coming in today.  One friend reported on a happy memory from time gone by.  I've seen Facebook-posted pictures of flowers and status updates chronicling renewed promises of love.  Then there are the stories from the high school set.

Mostly the stories I've heard are sweet or bittersweet, innocent and often deeply heartfelt Valentine wishes accepted and rejected.  And this one:  "Mom, you know such-and-such and so-and-so were home alone last night having sex."  I guess I either gasped or sighed.  "Mom!  Are you surprised?"

I wish I were.  I know these kids only by sight, really.  It's not these particular kids anyway.  I know it could be any teen couple.  I am nowhere near naïve enough to imagine that high school kids aren't having sex.

I've read all the enlightened, post-modern thinking about sex and empowerment.  "Girls can be as free to have sex as boys!"  "Hooray for the hook-up culture!"  "Three cheers for condoms and the Pill."  I don't buy it.

I know I risk sounding old-fashioned, or, worse, like a prude.  Who else thinks sex should be saved for marriage anymore?  Puh-leese.

Honestly, I don't know if my kids will wait until they're married to have sex.  The odds are that they won't, but I hope they do, and not because of some abstract moralism. 

It's not that I think there is anything inherently wrong with living by a set of abstract moral standards, but we can all point to the human damage of shame that such standards and their bearers tend to wring from us.

Neither do I hearken to some misty bygone era when no one had sex before marriage or committed adultery after.  Such a time never was, of course, and to pretend that some earlier time was more sexually innocent than ours is silly at best.  People have always been people and have always had hormones and desires, which they have, to a greater or lesser degree, chosen to indulge or to discipline.

I don't think sex is bad.  How could it be, when it is part of how God created us to be in relationship with each other?  What I think is that sex is very, very powerful -- too powerful to be engaged in by kids.

Here's what I tell my own:  Sex is the way that God gave us to make new people.  Now, I realize that it's more than that too, but think for a minute about the procreative part.  Making new people is a big deal.  It's why we all, whatever side of the argument we may fall on, get worked up about abortion or even parenting choices.  We think it's a big deal to make a person and then to take care of that person until that person can take care of her or himself.

As for the more-than-that-part, the intimacy-between-partners part, that's powerful too.  Are we ever more vulnerable, men or women, than when we're sexually intimate?  Even if we choose to reserve our emotional investment in this particular partner, we become physically as vulnerable as a person can be -- naked (usually) and a little out of control.  That's what makes it beautiful and fulfilling, and that's what makes it perilous.

There is a difference between sex that serves only me and my needs and sex where I can both give and receive.  The former turns my partner into an object; the latter flows out of love.  If I think I'm getting the love but end up feeling like an object, the damage to my soul is all too real.  

I recently read an article summarizing a study that showed how profoundly our first sexual experience shapes our sexuality, maybe for our whole lives.  Too many young people have already had their sexual selves exploited through abuse.  I believe that sex-as-nothing-more-than-a-good-time also threatens to harm our sense of value as sexual beings.

Because sex is more than having a good time.  It is a way of connecting with one other person at a level of intimacy that no other bond can replicate, save, perhaps, that between a mother and her infant.

It's obvious, at least to anyone who is married or in a long-term, committed adult partnership, that every individual act of sex is not going to create that level of closeness.  But the commitment to one person, over time, does.  The willingness to continue, year after year, to be united in this unique way, knowing that the union is exclusive, even through times when we might not like each other all that much, creates something bigger and more genuine than hooking up can.

That's what I want for my kids.

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