Irreverent Mama

Sunday, February 07, 2010


No, not a nasty website nor some sort of spam aspiring to induct me into the marvels of barely-legal playthings, but a title on the front cover of that mostly sensible publication, Brain, Child.

So of course I bought it.

Not because I'm interested in sex. Though I manifestly am. Not because I'm intrigued by teen sex, because I'm not, particularly.

But I do have three children, the youngest of whom is still a teen. They're all sexually active.

Though I have never -- since my own teenage years, at any rate -- had any moral qualms about premarital sex, nor about sex, at least for older teens, being a mother has taught me that it is one thing entirely to have an intellectual stance on teenage sex, and quite another to have it happening under one's own roof.

My first must've picked that up out of the ether, because, though we never talked about the possibility of her bringing a boyfriend home, she never did. At least, not when I was in the house. When my son became sexually active, roughly four years after his sister, it did happen in the house. Discreetly, not too often, but definitely under my roof. The girlfriend was slipped into his basement bedroom after I was in bed, and slipped out again early in the morning.

I knew it was happening, of course, but opted not to say anything because:
- he was being duly respectful of my comfort level (and probably his own) by behaving in such a way that I could pretend it wasn't happening
- the girlfriend was a lovely young woman and their relationship was respectful and positive.

It was a matter of personal honesty, of putting my money, as it were, where my mouth is, of behaving in keeping with my principles. If I am not opposed to pre-marital sex, so long as it's positive, loving, respectful and mutually desired, then how could I espouse the familiar "not under MY roof, young man/woman!" strategy? That just smacks of a distinct lack of parental integrity.

Okay, I know I can't take the high road here on my parental integrity. Pretending it wasn't happening is a weaselly way around the dilemma. You learn as you go in parenting, and at this point, though I felt a bit sheepish about my less than 100% integrity, I was grateful to my son for allowing me the out.

And really, though in a very real way I would like to have done so, I could not think of one good reason to prohibit it. "You can't because it's gross!" is not a good reason, and thank God for that. My youngest still thinks it's a bit gross that I have a sex life. I'd have gone decades without. DECADES, I tell you, and I wouldn't have one yet.

My youngest child has pushed the envelope still further by entertaining her boyfriend in her room while I am awake and around the house. When he spent a few days with us over Christmas, they forgot to close the guest room door, making it abundantly clear he had not spent even a small portion of the night in that room.

They are reasonable about it. They don't kiss at the door and scamper direct upstairs to entertain the household with groans and giggles and rhythmic squeaking of bedsprings. They visit with Matthew in the living room, they chat with me in the kitchen, they do homework at the dining room table. And then sometimes, but not always, they head to her room and close the door. Sometimes the conversation continues in her room, unabated for hours, and sometimes it gets very, very quiet.

And, while I am mostly at peace with this -- he is a fine young man, intelligent and kind, sensitive, respectful, interesting -- there is still that squeamishness. And I wonder about it. Not many of my friends know my position on this, and of those who do, not all approve.

"I would never let them have sex in the house! That's like condoning it."

Well, I guess I do condone it, don't I? I don't think it's morally wrong unless it's coercive or abusive. I don't believe that teen sex is by definition damaging. I don't believe that virginity should be saved for marriage. I do believe that sex is best experienced between people who care for each other... and that is what is happening here.

So why, I wonder, the squeamishness? I don't let my emotions call the shots, but I do respect their input. Does the squeamishness indicate there's some important factor my brain has missed that my emotions and subconscious are trying to push me to see?

So I bought the magazine, hoping for some insight.

The article proved to be a debate, with one essay on the "Yes", and one essay on the "No". I was particularly hoping for insight from the "No" side, some clarification of the reasons behind my reluctance, some explanation of the ick response.

I didn't find it there. Instead, the arguments on the "Yes" side all rang true, while those on the "No" side were not compelling at all.

On the "Yes" side, I particularly liked this: "I sometimes want to ask those of my friends who know their kids are having sex but who don't want it to happen in their house ... Do they really think it's wise or helpful to add the burden of furtiveness and guilt to something that might be emotionally complex enough as it is?"

To which I would add: and if your teen knows you have that degree of discomfort with it, are they likely to come to you with any problems that may arise? Or have you, by catering to your squeamishness, proven yourself unworthy of their trust? Are you letting your children swim those waters without the security of your safe harbour?

And on the "No" side? The author argued that letting it happen in the house removed layers of mystery and stripped your child of their rightful privacy. To which I respond, Um, no. Unless you're in the room with them, they have as much privacy as you do when you have sex with your spouse.

The argument that carried the least weight though, was this:

The author, as a child, had overheard her aunt and mother in conversation. "'I'm bored by sex... It was so much more fun when we did it secretly in our folks' basement.' And she swept her hand around her room in a dismissive way to indicate that her queen-sized bed was a total downer."

Wait, now. You were forced into furtive sex as a teen, and so marital sex has no spice. And this is supposed to be an argument in favour of prohibiting sex in your home -- i.e., making it more furtive? If you're going to draw any conclusions from that single example, the more obvious one would be that if you'd been allowed to have legitimate sex as a teen, your legitimate adult sex would be equally intense.

Or, as my husband noted, "If she believes that, then what she's really saying is that the 'not under MY roof!' school of parenting is precisely calibrated to not just make sex more attractive to teens, but, when they have it, actually better. What she should be saying is 'if you really want to take the pizazz out of teen sex, make it legitimate'."

It was the "Yes" writer who gave me the insight I was seeking, when she wrote,
Don't get me wrong. I understand that there's a fairly hefty 'ick factor' here. About the only thing more uncomfortable than imagining your own parents' sex lives has to be imagining your children's.

It was the juxtaposition of the idea of your parents' sex lives with that of your children's that gave me the key. The 'ick factor', I suddenly realized, is nothing more (nor less) than the incest taboo -- a highly useful, profoundly ingrained, social pressure that prevents us from wishing to have sex with either our parents (ew!) or our children (ew! ew! EW!). Because incest is bad for the gene pool, because it is bad for the propogation the species, because it increases the likelihood of birth defects, and because, well, ICK!

So, no, we don't like to be made too aware of the sex lives of our close relatives. But that is not because it's morally wrong for them to be having sex, only that it would be wrong for us to be having sex with them.

Allowing my child to have sex in the privacy of her room with a young man who treats her very well is not "involved" in her sex life, any more than she is "involved" in mine when her stepfather and I have sex in our room down the hall from hers. And so, powerful though it is, the incest taboo is irrelevant. It does not apply. It can be ignored.

I was thinking I might come to a different conclusion when I picked up that magazine... but I'm happy to have resolved that one last niggling uncertainty.

Yes, I let my teens have sex in my house. And no, that doesn't bother me.

Yeah, I'm a little surprised, myself.

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