Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We Can't Teach "Abstinence Only"

I am a practical idealist. I want my children to remain sexually inactive prior to marriage, and that is the standard they have been taught since before they could walk. I don't EVER phrase it as "sex is bad and dirty" (since I abhor that belief and phrasing), but they know what I believe - no question about it. 

Having said that, I also teach them that they can come to me and talk about anything - and I mean anything. After my oldest son completed the process to receive his mission call, we had a very open conversation about his future after he returns. It included some advice that would surprise some who read here and assume things about me, and it is indicative of how I would approach a conversation with my daughters AND sons about birth control and pre-marital sex.  

[Post-script note: There was some misunderstanding originally as to the nature of the conversation I mentioned in the above paragraph.  It was NOT about sex and birth control.  I used it simply to illustrate what "type of conversation" I would have if one of my older / adult children came to me to talk about sex and birth control.  It was "indicative of how I would approach" such a conversation.  Thank you, R. Gary and others, who pointed out that misunderstanding of wording that wasn't as clear as it should have been.] 

My short answer:

Yes, I would encourage them to use birth control if they decided they were going to have pre-marital sex.  

They know I don't condone it, and they know I would be disappointed in that choice, but if they are going to make that choice . . . I certainly don't want them getting pregnant or getting an STD or causing that for someone else. They all know that we use birth control and that we used it to plan their own births perfectly, and even my 8-year-old has made comments that lead me to believe she is hearing stuff at school - so I have no hesitancy talking with my kids about sex and birth control. I think it's irresponsible in this day and age not to do so. 

Bottom line:

I want them to be able to talk with me about anything, no matter what their choices are about that anything. I tend to think that openness and honesty and trust and recognition of them as adults and real education is part of true parenthood.

To phrase it differently, I think what works for Mormons is that we don't teach "abstinence only" as the comprehensive answer for chastity. We teach mission and temple marriage and eternal marriage and on and on and on that ground the PURPOSE for pre-marital abstinence in something other than "mere" abstinence. We give it an eternal purpose that is absent in other theologies. It's grounding sex in the context of eternal creativity that makes it unique and literally empowering, in my opinion. If kids "get it" (even if only in simplified, outline form), they are less likely to engage in pre-marital sex; if they don't, they are more likely to engage.


SilverRain said...

I just wish that more regimens emphasized that birth control is not a way to not get pregnant or get an STD. It helps, yes, but is no guarantee.

Everyone seems to think it's "safe" to use BC, when it's really just "safer".

Ellen said...

Ding, ding, ding!

Papa D said...

Amen, SilverRain.

Tim said...

R. Gary at NDBF has a link criticizing your post. I guess he didn't like one of my comments, because he refused to publish it, but the gist was this:

I can tell my kids not to ride a motorcycle, but when the kid next door comes home with one, I'm also going to teach my kids about the importance of helmets. I still don't want them to ride the motorcycle, and I'll continue telling them not to, but if they ride one without knowing of the protection a helmet offers, any harm that happens to them because of the lack of helmet is partially my fault.

Same with birth control. I don't want my kids to have sex, but if they do, I don't want them to become pregnant or have an STD. So I need to teach them abstinence and about birth control.

Richard Alger said...

Papa D,

Did you plan on discussing this with your son before his mission or did it just come up?

At what age do you teach them , "to use birth control if they decided they were going to have pre-marital sex"?

Papa D said...

Thanks for letting me know, Tim. I'll check it out. Loved your comment; spot-on.

Rich, I don't initiate the conversation; they know what we believe, and the point is that I try to be open enough to everything they want to discuss with me that they would be willing to initiate that conversation with me if they make that choice.

That probably wasn't clear in the post itself - and I'm not sure my concluding emphasis on WHY we teach abstinence (the theological grounding, if you will) instead of "just" teaching technical abstinence was clear enough, either.

Papa D said...

Since Tim's comment was not published at the blog that criticized mine, I am going to post the comment I just wrote there in this thread - just in case mine is not published, as well. If my comment gets published, I apologize sincerely for being concerned that it might not be:

"1) Thanks, Tim, for pointing out that the "we" is about teaching the REASON for abstinence, not just the technical prohibition. The first part is stated as the way I talk with my own kids; the last paragraph ONLY is about how the Church teaches about sex. I absolutely love how the Church, speaking collectively and not individually, teaches about sex, even if I really loathe the way some members teach their kids about sex and the way some leaders have talked about it.

2) NOWEHERE in my post do I even imply that I don't teach my kids abstinence - or that I teach them how to use birth control. That simply isn't there. I say that I do teach them abstinence multiple times, in fact. It's crystal clear in the post itself.

3) I said IF, and I repeat IF, my children decide that they are going to engage in pre-marital sex, THEN I will encourage them to use birth control. To argue otherwise, to me, is like encouraging someone who is going to assault someone to go ahead and kill the person instead of just beating them up - since the assault is a crime anyway. I don't think anyone in their right mind would make that argument.

4) Nowhere in the post did I say that I would tell my children, "Great! I'm so glad you are choosing to have pre-marital sex! I support you in that decision! Make sure it's as good as it can be! Tell me about it when you're done!" I said they would know of my disappointment in their decision - that they know I would not approve.

Other than about five or six other mischaracterizations of the actual post, that's all."

Papa D said...

I said I would apologize, and I will. My comment was published expeditiously. Thanks, R. Gary.

Anonymous said...

Well,here I am twenty years later,and actually come the crunch,I want my kids to enjoy great sex if that's what they're doing,as well as to keep themselves safe whilst they're doing it.I don't want what they know of my aspirations for them to get in the way of that open and honest relationship with me as their mother,and i have to work hard to keep that door open because what with all the guilt they would be more than happy to just slam that door in my face or provoke me to do likewise.the great test is in keeping the love alive in a family when things don't go according to my plan.I'm determined not to let my kids decisions provoke me into a withdrawal of love,because that really can't end well.

Anonymous said...

And what's nbdf? Cuz,I'm thinking I'd like to go where you're going,Ray.It's people like you that remind me why we're struggling,and frankly sometimes I wonder if i really want to be in the same place as many of the members I've met over the years,and unfortunately that includes family members.I had exactly this discussion with my cousin some years ago.He said he was happy for his kids to die of AIDS as a consequence of any sexual activity.Still,it worked out well for him.Lovely,compliant kids.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, "ndbf" stands for "no death before the fall". It's an anti-evolution term - or, more precisely, it's the foundational philosophy that underlies the opposition on that site to evolution.

I would add more, but this post isn't the place for it - and I will delete any comments that focus on evolution and not this post.

R. Gary said...

Papa D: After reading your comment (click here), I have come to the conclusion that you and I have had a big misunderstanding here. I extend my sincere apologies to you for anything I may have done that contributed to this misunderstanding. (I've also updated my original blog post.)

Your blogging brother and friend,

Richard Alger said...

I love it when misunderstandings turn out this way. Apologies were spoken by both. Lessons were learned about writing with clarity and with reading what was written.

I definitely misread what Papa D wrote. "and it is indicative of how" is very clear looking back at it. He did not expressly say that his short answer is what he said to his son. My mind did make that conclusion though.

With that last comment of Papa D, I can say that I completely agree with his line of thought. I always want to teach the standard. There is a possibility if you bring up the topic of birth control with a teenager they would receive the sub-text of "I think you are going to have sex so if you do please use birth control".

Perhaps having that discussion with a returned missionary son or daughter, or perhaps a daughter that is closer to marriage. Maybe even an older teenager. As long as you approach it from the perspective of what mom and dad did. So they have a chance to begin to study and pray about it years before they make that decision as to if and how to use birth control in marriage.

Now thinking about it, it may not be a bad discussion to have earlier than later. If our children are to make a decision as to what size and kind of family to have, it may be useful to let them think and study and pray about that before they have a chance to fall in love. I have always believed that you should go into marriage with your eyes wide open and then keep them half shut after you are married.

If any of my children want to have a large family, maybe that is something they should be thinking about when considering a possible spouse. I don't think that is a given (perhaps it never was) within the LDS community.

Papa D said...

Thanks, R. Gary. I realized when I re-read the post that there was the strong possibility of a misunderstanding about the conversation with my son. I also am going back into the post and making it clearer.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing.That whole thread assumed the possibility of The Conversation.Great in theory,but hey,some reality in the practise would not,I think,go amiss.So,in the interest of balance,may I direct your readers in the direction of Julia Sweeney's article in the british Guardian Weekend section of the newspaper 23.4.11 entitled 'But what do they do with their legs?'

Oh I laughed till I cried.