Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I Will Tell My Kids About Sex. Maybe.

[Whether I will actually give my kids a long speech using words like "aggrandizement" and "compartmentalization" remains to be seen. Though it's likely. At any rate, it's an interesting thought experiment. Content warning, I guess, though the title is probably a tip-off.]

Kids, Western culture's tendency over the last few hundred years has been to attempt to subordinate all ways of being and becoming, all methods of understanding, and all wisdom under the rather limited worldview fostered by one of the several branches of knowledge--namely, science. While science has led to many great things, its aggrandizement above other ways of viewing the world leads inevitably to a magnification of its flaws, as well as its fine points.

One manifestation of a common scientific worldview is our tendency toward division, categorization, and compartmentalization. You will see this whenever you walk into a bookstore (if indeed there are bookstores by the time you're alive, theoretical kids): bookstores inherently ask the question, what category are you looking for? Children's? Adult? Teen? Science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy? Teen paranormal romance? Erotic science fiction poetry? Here at the end of 2011, I think some of this strict categorization is starting to break down: I am seeing the same book shelved in teen sections AND adult sections, and "Young Adult" books shelved in "Adult" categories. Writers, as they ought to do, are breaking free from the compartmentalizations imposed upon them.

If bookstores were run by people with an artistic sensibility, the books might be arranged intuitively, or all grouped together in a single running mass. The fact that these ideas seem hopelessly whimsical simply shows how tenacious the grip of a scientific worldview really is.

In light of this, it might seem dangerous, even blasphemous, to say: babies--people--do not come from DNA. Yes, I'm familiar with genetic research, and the fact that we have supposedly broken people down into the constituent categories that add up to all their traits and tendencies. But people are greater and more mysterious than any combination of genes could ever describe.

In fact, people come from mystery. People come from sex. That is, people come from the mysterious absolute union of a man with a woman. This is just as true of babies formed in a test tube as it is of babies formed the old-fashioned way. People are a mystery that will not be solved by categorization; sex is a mystery which cannot even begin to be clarified by compartmentalization.

Our culture has an extremely clever way of covering up this fact: by making it ubiquitous. Sex and physical beauty are everywhere; therefore they come to seem like not a big deal. Here's a fun game: every time you hear a euphemism for sex--sleep with, screw, fuck, bang, do, etc.--replace it with the grammatically appropriate version of "the mystical joining of one body to another." See what happens. Maybe nothing; maybe you'll want to cry.

Just because a mystery can be cheapened does not make it less a mystery. Just because people treat sex sort of like a handshake does not mean that it has any less significance. Just because people categorize sexual acts into "more serious" and "less serious" does not mean that they are not all united.

Kids, sex is a lot easier to get into than to get out of. We are physical people; once we begin to rely on something that is physical, we get very upset when it goes away. There is nothing necessarily wrong with holding hands, kissing, "making out." But always remember that it's foreplay; and always remember that if you start getting to know someone physically and ultimately are not with them, the pain is just as great as if it is only your heart that desires them. And if your heart desires them too, then the pain is doubled.

If you are sixteen and never been kissed, don't worry about it. If you are twenty-one and have never even held hands with anyone, don't worry about it. If you are thirty, or forty, and still a virgin, good for you. Any friends--of whatever kind--that are upset with you for this are not your friends.

That said, don't get hung up on purity either. Purity is certainly a wonderful thing; it is, of course, the absolute safest way. But we are human. We are weak. It takes an endless string of victories of self-control to maintain "purity," but it only takes one defeat to lose it. I'm not recommending you go out and have sex; if you've been paying attention, most of what I've said has been dead set against it until the exact right time. However, if you end up doing so--or if you decide not to kiss anyone until your wedding day, and end up accidentally kissing on the first date--or whatever--it in no way decreases your value as a person. Christ still died for you. I still love you. You could get an STD--four of them--and these things would not stop being true.

We can get to the mechanics in a minute; any questions on this, the important part?


Robin said...

1. Your kids are going to either grow up incredibly pretentious, or else are going to rebel against you and become biologists, and astrophysicists.

2. The closest thing I ever had to The Talk was watching Deadwood with my parents, so I figure, in the unlikely event that I ever have kids, my version will prolly be just having them watch that, with the forewarning, "Kids, this is what you SHOULDN'T do."

Ethan said...

1. Considering that both of your options seem likely, based on what I've seen of this sort of thing I would bet large amounts of money that neither of them will happen. Children tend to grow up in ways that no one would think to predict, based on their parents.

2. Oh dear...

Robin said...

1. Hmm... maybe pretentious astrophysicists?

2. Explains a lot, doesn't it...

3. Concerning the whole physicalality of it, you should probably add that it's also a lot easier to go back to being "just friends" with somebody if you don't get into a lot of kissing and stuff with them. That's what I've noticed, at any rate.

Ethan said...

Honestly, that hasn't been my experience at all. I've found it to be just as hard/easy either way. I don't think that particular territory can really be generalized about, or if it can, I am not intelligent or experienced enough to do so.