Although I have disagreed with him in the past on many topics (such as abortion), I like much of what blogger Matt Walsh has to say in his recent post entitled “I will not teach my kids about safe sex because there is no such thing.”
Walsh’s thesis is – as he puts it – that in teaching kids about safe sex, “…we have taken the honesty, love, passion, beauty, and creative power out of the act, and replaced it with something sterile, guarded, frivolous, and disinterested.”
For Walsh, “safe sex” teaches kids that they must protect themselves as much as possible from the potential harm and dangers that can arise as a result of sexual contact. He feels this misses the entire point of sex, and turns it from a beautiful expression of vulnerability and mutuality into a sterile act that is little more than shared masturbation, as well as providing a false guarantee that it is possible to have sex safely.
He’s got a point: I agree with him that we – as parents and as teachers – have the responsibility to teach (and demonstrate) to our children that sex is one aspect of the many dimensions involved in loving another – and I’m not talking a nebulous “they” or “someone else has to do it” sort of responsibility, either – but rather a direct personal mandate. We need to remember that we are constantly modeling – whether we intend to or not – how to express our love for another – whether we do so in healthy ways, or not. Those younger than us see how we relate with others, especially how we treat those we love, and model it in their own lives.
In this context (although we certainly aren’t going to invite kids into the bedroom!) sex involves vulnerability and emotional attachment, and is a step that must be taken with care, caution, and patience. By modeling the importance of love and commitment in our own lives, we are teaching kids that love has nothing to do with simply “bumping uglies” while drunk.
What Walsh misses is that sex is not an “all one or all the other” sort of choice. There are many situations where sex without love will occur (or love without sex, for that matter) – and this is often perfectly fine. Sex is also often a result of the participants being in what they think is love, only to find out later that it was really more about hormones and opportunity – lust, if you will; and this is a valuable lesson we all learn at one point or another. Youth is about learning, often through experimentation: learning how to do things, rejoicing in and embracing one’s physical existence, and reaching out to connect with others in all sorts of ways. Sex is one of the ways the young (and pretty much everyone else, too) do this. So, sex will happen – whether we try to teach them to abstain, or not.
The point of teaching safe sex is to help our children make independent, mature choices – which means we need to teach them about relationship in all of its richness, of which sex is but one aspect. … And I say “independent choices” here very deliberately – because they may (and many will) make the choice at some point (probably sooner than later) to have a casual sexual encounter or relationship with another. If that works for them, then fine – we should not be making that choice for them. So, enjoy – just be aware of the risks!
But, if we only teach kids how to use a condom correctly, we are teaching them that sex is a shallow game, that it is about us – our pleasure, and our safety, not about relationship and the richness that is possible in bonding with another beyond a simple physical act. Teaching about “Safe sex” in isolation can cause far more harm than good.
In summary – even though we disagree on the implications, Walsh is right. “Safe Sex” is a fiction: there is always risk and vulnerability – which is as it should be.
Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)