Sex is, quite literally, everywhere in our society. Turn on the television and you’re bombarded with images of shirtless men and near-naked women selling everything from beer to shoes to toilet paper. Go into a shopping center and the stores are plastered with the same kinds of images. Most music videos are minor sex shows. The internet? Well, as Avenue Q told us, the internet is for porn.
At the same time, though, a huge swath of people in this country give lip service to the idea that sex is dirtybadwrong. They clutch their pearls, and their Bibles, and they wag their fingers, and they exclaim, “Think of the children!”
(Meanwhile, many of these same people are having affairs, or watching porn, or abusing children, or any of a number of other things that fly directly in the face of their public stances.)
Society in the United States has a completely unhealthy relationship with one of the most natural parts of being human. We love sex, but we’re ashamed of it. We fight our own needs and desires as if they’re demons and then wonder why we’re all stressed and unhappy. We tell kids “don’t have sex or else!” but refuse to teach them even the most basic information about how to stay safe when they inevitably give in to their raging hormones. We ignore the avalanche of statistics and studies and science that explain what’s wrong with how we view sex and how to fix it, because OMG dirtybadwrong.
And then, if you’re still a virgin when you hit college—or God forbid, still a virgin when you graduate—you’re a weirdo, or you’re gay (because OMG the horror of that!), or there’s just something fundamentally wrong with you.
We are one messed-up bunch.
But I don’t think any of you need me to tell you that.
I grew up in a staunchly conservative Christian household. My parents were, and still are, very traditional in many ways. My mother’s parents were even more conservative than mine are, and my dad’s father was such a staunchly conservative Catholic that he disowned my father for marrying a Protestant. (His mother was less so, but she wouldn’t go against my grandfather.) Unsurprisingly, my mother was a virgin when she got married. My dad wasn’t (he was a Marine, after all), but both of them have been completely faithful since they started dating. Fifty years later, they are still happy, still in love, still attracted to each other, and, yes, still having sex.
(No, the idea of my parents still having sex doesn’t gross me out, though naturally I do not want details.)
Unlike many of their peers, my parents have always had a very healthy attitude toward sex. Despite the way they were raised, despite the things people around them said they should and shouldn’t do, they gave me and my sister clear and comprehensive information about sex. Abstinence was the first line, of course. Don’t have sex, and you don’t have to worry about the possible consequences. But unlike the ineffective programs that stop there, they also gave us good information about how to have safe and healthy sex.
When I was 10, my mom gave me a set of books that explained everything about sex, from basic biology all the way through some fairly detailed mechanics. It even included masturbation as an option. This was before the AIDS era, but other kinds of sexually transmitted infections were covered. All of it was handled in a straightforward, not fear-mongering manner.
At age 10, I was already headed into the early stages of puberty. I understood those feelings I was getting sometimes, and by the time I was 11, I was figuring out that masturbation could be pretty fun. I knew what it meant, too, but despite what some people would probably think, that wasn’t because I’d had comprehensive sex ed but because of the world I lived in. The books Mom gave me didn’t introduce concepts I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise; they helped me make sense of things I already knew about. The books taught me the facts, not the often-ridiculous stories kids share on the playground.
The books also kept me from having sex.
At first glance, that last sentence might sound like a bad thing. But for me, it wasn’t. I was absolutely, positively, not ready to have sex when I was a teenager. I might have been able to handle it in college, but even then, sex would have messed me up pretty badly. Or, I should say, the inevitable breakup of the relationship during which I might have had sex would have been infinitely harder on me had sex been involved.
Part of it was the atmosphere I grew up in. My parents were pretty awesome, yeah, but we still lived in the rural Deep South. We were surrounded by people whose attitude toward sex made me wonder if they’d ever had sex—or decent sex, at least. And any woman who had sex outside of marriage was clearly a harlot who deserved to be shunned by polite society.
Men got a pass, of course. They were men, after all, and men have needs.
(Sorry. Had to pause to roll my eyes there for a minute.)
For a number of reasons, some healthy and some not so much, I didn’t have sex until I was in my early 30s. By then, I knew myself better. I’d survived my twenties and gotten my career on solid ground. I’d learned a lot about myself and my body on my own. And, probably most important of all, I’d come to terms with the fact that I would never have a perfect body, and that if a man didn’t like me the way I am, then he wasn’t worth my time.
For me, what it took to develop a healthy relationship with sex was to… not have it. But because of our messed-up societal view of sex, my choice made me an anomaly. A weirdo. I couldn’t possibly have just decided I didn’t want to have sex. Something must have been wrong with me.
So, yeah, one little look around at society will show you that, when it comes to sex, we’re all losers. No matter how or when you choose to have sex, or not have sex, someone (usually a lot of very loud someones) will take you to task for it. Yes, sex can carry some risks, but so can pretty much any part of life. We don’t stop eating because we might choke.
So what’s the answer?
The answer is up to you. How and when you choose have sex is about you. (And your partner[s], of course.) Sex isn’t dirtybadwrong or any of the other crap people might try to throw at you. Sex is fun. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate your body and your attraction to another person. (Or persons! It’s all good!)
Sex is your decision. Whatever you choose to do, or not do, don’t let the haters and hypocrites get you down.
They’re probably just jealous anyway. ;)