Yesterday my sixth-grade middle schooler handed me one of the many forms parents have to sign to let their kids do stuff at school. This one was peculiar in that it wasn't a permission slip; it was a non-permission slip. The sixth-grade Health Ed class is starting to teach sex ed, Farragut-style, and one two-hour lecture is a (probably faith-based) program called "Abstinence Only." The form was to let them know it's *not* OK for your kid to participate.
The abstinence part doesn't bother me. I think teens should put it off as long as they can. Sex causes all kinds of weird emotional and ethical dilemmas apart from the physical risks and I don't encourage anybody to be in a big hurry to get it on. It's the "Only" part that fired off the red flare signaling a weird, Puritanical notion of that sex is something that can and should be suppressed until marriage. And when I reviewed the form, sure enough, that's what it said: The program would instruct the kids that sex is meant only for (implicitly heterosexual) couples who are married under the law. But the form went on to explain that you can opt your kid out of the program by signing and returning the form to school. I did.
I was riled. First off, these kids are in the sixth grade. They should be learning about reproduction, how it happens, the process of sexual maturity and attraction that they are on the verge of experiencing. But jumping ahead to the morality of premarital sex serves only to confuse kids that young, and give them early notions that sex is in and of itself dirty and unhealthy, and that marriage is really all about sex. Not to mention the fact that the "marriage" mandate at this point excludes healthy gay relationships. And it put me in the uncomfortable spot of explaining to my kid, who doesn't understand or care about sexual morality, why I signed the form saying he could not participate.
I signed it because I don't expect him to stay a virgin until marriage. In fact, I hope he doesn't. I hope he delays marriage for as long as it takes him to mature and sort out his goals and get his education and see some of the world and figure things out. I want him to be able to have healthy sexual relationships along the way. I want him to respect his body and those of his partners, and to treat his partner with respect. Whether it's one woman (I'm pretty sure that's his leaning) or many, approaching sexuality with a healthy attitude about protecting himself and his partner from disease or unplanned pregnancy, and a genuine appreciation for the worthiness of the person he's with, is what matters. To wipe out all of those extremely valuable lessons with some ignorant idea that's it's just wrong before marriage, period, is less evolved than a cave man's attitude about sex. (They don't call us Meanderthal for nothin'.)
I'm not dumb, so what I want and how things actually play out for him and his path to maturity may differ a lot. But at the very least I want him to know what's right, what's healthy, and what's moral: and that is all about how you treat your body and that of the person you're with. Not in pretending the issue is moot until a guy with a license says it's OK (no offense, CAFKIA:-)
If he decides to marry young, that's his choice. But I don't want him to do what so many previous generations did, getting married too young because they were horny and marriage was the only way to make it respectable. How many pointlessly unhappy people did that sorry convention create?
We've already had the talk, and a few months ago he asked me if having sex before marriage was wrong. And I told him no, it isn't, but not loving your partner is wrong, not respecting them is wrong, and not using protection is wrong. But I also told him he had a long time before he should worry about things like that.
So yeah, I signed the form saying NO, we won't participate in your "abstinence only" program. And he came home from school today telling me that he was the only kid whose parents had signed it, and that his teacher said there must be some mistake. So I said, well, do you want to participate? He said, "Yeah, 'cuz everybody else is doing it."