“Hormones are nature’s three bottles of beer.
― Mary Roach
It’s the beginning of another school year and, as usual, the discussion of if, what, and how sex should be addressed in schools is in the news. Many people think it should be taught in its entirety (age appropriate, of course) from “A” (autoeroticism) to “Z” (zoophilia) without any judgements to the right or wrongfulness of anything. Many others think it should be restricted to only anatomical changes in puberty and the mechanics of the sexual act between consenting adults only, along with generalized moral restrictions (i.e., heterosexual only). Many others believe that it has no place in the schools at all.
It’s pretty much a given that alcohol lessens one’s inhibitions, allowing one to say or do things they otherwise wouldn’t. How much it takes to lose that tenious control we possess over our mind differs both physically and emotionally for different people, but there is a threshold that can be crossed in each of us. The same can be said of hormones; they, too, can overtake us physically and emotionally, where we can lose control and do something we otherwise shouldn’t, and the threshold varies from person to person.
As adults, most people learn from experience what their threshold is and wisely stop before it’s reached, in order to remain in control of their body and emotions. But what about children, specifically teenagers, who desire to be an adult and to try adultish things like drinking, or following those urges where their newly burgeoning, rampant hormones lead them? It is only natural that they want to find out what it’s like.
We adults, knowing from our own experiences how tenious are the self-limiting controls teens have, have made it plainly known to them the dangers of alcohol physically and have enacted laws forbidding them to drink, or for anyone to sell or otherwise make it available to them. We do the same when it comes to having sex, we tell them that there are dangers to them both physically and emotionally. However, there are no laws forbidding them to engage in it – except where it involves someone not of their age, such as a younger child or a legal adult.
And yet, they will find a way sooner or later to obtain alcohol (and get drunk). Likewise – with almost unrelenting hormonal urges and no legal prohibition not to – most will, at some point before legal adulthood, engage with a like-minded other of their age (and have sex).
Realistically, there’s no way to stop them. Telling them to just say “No” doesn’t work. Once physically able to, the desire to do it is a natural bodily response. And even for those who are hesitant, peer pressure to do it will almost always force them into it. As Margaret Mead observed, “Young people are moving away from feeling guilty about sleeping with somebody to feeling guilty if they are not sleeping with someone.”
So, back to the question of if, when and how. The real question is, who? The answer is it’s the responsibility of parents, it is part of their job description. They are the ones who should teach their children everything they need to know, including all the variations of sexuality out there on the world, and impart to their child whatever religious or moral boundaries they believe in. And then trust the child, all the while knowing that afterwards it is ultimately the decision of the child as to do what they will do, and standing by to pick up the pieces if all goes wrong, just as they would if it were anything else.
Unfortunately, that all too often isn’t the case. Otherwise there’d be no compelling reason for society to step in and require it to be taught in schools. So parents only have themselves to blame if it’s taught to their child in a manner they don’t approve of.
My father was the “who” who taught me, and he explained everything to me that I described above a parent should. I did the same to my sons.
And the thing he said to me (and I said the same to my boys) as he finished “the talk” was, “Whenever you have sex, you both share and absorb your DNA into each other. So just remember, when you have sex with a girl, you’re having sex with every boy she’s ever had sex with before you.”
Now, if that doesn’t make a real heterosexual boy stop and think twice, nothing will.
But if he’s secretly somewhere on the sliding scale downwards of the remaining 80 or so percent, the bi- to homo- sexual, he might just might realize how wider a field there is to plow.
Regardless, as a parent, you’ll have done your job.