PART I- THE BOYS
It was 1991. I was 8 years old and Magic Johnson was all over the news. He had just publicly announced that he had tested positive for HIV. Not understanding anything about STD’s (or really, sex for that matter), I asked the only person I thought knew everything. The expert on all things: Mom. This is how I remember the conversation:
Me: Mom? What’s HIV? And how do you get it?
Mom: It’s a really terrible disease that can kill you. And you can contract it by having sex with someone before getting married.
Me: (thinking about this for a minute…not really understanding the mechanics of sex but considering the fact that it doesn’t seem possible for your body to really know when you’re having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse. So, what? God knows. Does He give people HIV? That can’t be. This doesn’t make sense. Conclusion:) Well, I guess I better not have sex before I’m married then, just to be safe.
Mom: (cheering inside her brain victoriously. “Mom of the Year” crown being placed upon her genius head. Playing it cool and unaffected on the outside.) That’s a great idea, honey.
My extensive knowledge on this subject at that point in my life had been that time I was about 7 years old and Mom took me out of school early, bought me Baskin Robbin’s peanut butter chocolate ice cream and proceeded to give me “the talk”. I don’t know why it was so uncomfortable for me (and for every other kid in history who ever had this same experience) but however bashful I was about it, I guarantee it was worse for my overly modest Mother. I tend to err on the TMI side of life (that’s “too much information”) while Mom was always NEI (that’s “never enough information”, which I just made up). Of course she told me I could ask her any questions I wanted and if I was too shy to talk about it I could always write it in letter form and we’d correspond that way. I did this a few times and even that was too uncomfortable for me.
Mom did her best. She really tried to inform me to the best of her awkward ability. But something just didn’t compute with me. She just didn’t speak my language. Not to mention that the general attitude towards sex in the Christian community as a whole was “don’t ask, don’t tell, just don’t do it unless you’re married”! Growing up with strict, conservative Christian parents who met when they were 16 and married when they were 19, sexuality was not a topic of much conversation in our home. I wish it had been. And if you’re wondering why my Dad never talked to me about it, well, he was/is more of a NEIEE kinda guy (that’s “never enough information ever ever!). Maybe if I remember healthy discussions regarding sex growing up there would have been more normalcy surrounding it and it would be less of a “forbidden fruit” (to get Biblical on you).
Here’s the thing; Mom and Dad wanted the best for me. They love me dearly. They were and still are the greatest parents. They just didn’t want me sleeping around and getting knocked up super young or becoming a breeding ground for a host of nasty STD’s. I get it. I have three daughters. I have those same fears. But there is honestly more to worry about than merely the physical consequences of promiscuity; there’s the emotional, mental and spiritual. The pain of what happens when you experience sexual intimacy with someone who isn’t your spouse can be just as haunting to you lifelong as the physical manifestations. So why is it SO difficult for us to talk about, especially in the Christian community?
More on that later. If you’ve had a Magic Johnson moment in your life, when someone older than you feeds their opinions to you in the form of fact, I believe that you need to ask more questions. I wish I had. Something in my brain began asking questions, but I don’t recall my mouth ever materializing those words into thin air. One thing that my husband and I decided to do with our girls is answer any questions they have about sex. Any at all. No matter what age, no matter what question. We decided to make nothing taboo. If they don’t hear the answer from us, they’ll ask their friend at school and suddenly that 5 year old friend becomes the “expert” to our daughter. It’s like the time in second grade when my friend Rebecca told me you can get pregnant by French kissing a boy. To this day, I’m pretty sure she’s right. Kidding.
I also believe that kids need to form their own opinions about things. There are certain questions my children ask wherein we answer with “What do you think about that? Do you think that’s wrong or right? Why do you think that?”. It’s really incredible to see their little minds spin and their eyebrows furrow and hear the responses that come out of their mouths. It gives way to such beautiful conversations and they eventually ask what our own opinions on the matter are, breaking through those awkward lines of communication and giving birth to full and honest dialogue. By the end of it, they have gathered the information, formed their own conclusion and now their belief is their belief. It’s a lovely trick. I highly recommend trying it sometime.