One of my younger cousins (17) is visiting California and a few nights ago she stayed at my house. While we were lounging on the couch watching “Fantastic Mr. Fox” she turned to me and very abruptly said, “My friends called me a whore because my boyfriend spent the night a few weeks ago.” I was taken aback and asked her to tell me the entire story.
Apparently my aunt, her mother, had allowed her boyfriend (18) to stay over after the two had gone to a concert and gotten home late. Rather than make him drive 45 minutes to his father’s house, she suggested that he stay at her house. She had called the boy’s father and he said it was ok as long as they slept in separate rooms. My aunt relayed the message to my cousin and said that she didn’t mind if they stayed in the same room, as they were both responsible young adults. After the boy left for his father’s house, my cousin received a text message from a “friend” of hers telling her that she was, “kind of a slut.” This obviously upset my cousin and she told my aunt who was angered by the reaction to the situation. The next week at school was even worse; with her friends not wanting to associate with her for fear that they would also be labeled “sluts.”
After talking with my cousin who was visibly upset throughout most of the conversation, I asked her what her boyfriend thought about this entire debacle. She said that he just initially shrugged it off, but that he had been acting a little distant the last week or so. I tried to explain to her that she shouldn’t let anyone get to her and that it was just high school drama, but I remembered what it was like it high school so I tried to offer some actual advice. This advice included keeping an open line of communication with her mother, making sure that she was seeking support if she needed it, offering up my shoulder to cry on and having a sit-down with her “friends.” I told her that I knew she went to a school that taught abstinence only sex-education and that her town was quite conservative. She said that one of her friends had even told her that they were praying for her during their youth ministry meetings.
After an hour or so, she went off to bed and I couldn’t help but think how things had been different for me when I was in school as well. Growing up in Poland, my parents had taught me that sex was a natural part of a healthy relationship. My mother had broached the subject of sex with me when I was around 10 and had made it explicitly clear to me that I could come to her with any questions. When we moved to the States when I was around 11 years old, I was surprised how much sex was not discussed with my friends. Around the age of 13 I went to a sleep-over with several girls from my middle school. The entertainment for that evening was a box of condoms one of the girls had found. All of the girls were disgusted by the condom and didn’t want to touch it. They didn’t understand how it worked, all the while espousing to me that “Abstinence was the only way to not get pregnant” and if you did have sex you were “icky and gross.” Everything they said to me went completely against what my mother had taught me. I came home confused by the entire night and asked my mother if having sex made someone gross. She very calmly explained to me that, although it was ideal to wait until you were married, sex was a natural part of life and was definitely not “icky.”
After the sleep over incident I didn’t really have any direct confrontations with sexuality/sex until I was 16. When I started dating my first “real boyfriend,” my mother sat me down and asked if I had any questions regarding sex or how to use contraceptives. She showed me where the condoms were in the guest bedroom and gave me several to keep in my room. She told me that when I became sexually active, I should tell her so that we could make an appointment with the gynecologist. She even allowed my boyfriend to stay over on occasion, as long as I didn’t abuse the freedom she gave me. It all felt very comfortable and I didn’t feel like my mother was judging me or upset about the fact that I might be sexually active.
Throughout high school my mother made sure to keep the “condom drawer” stocked and a few weeks after I had sex with my boyfriend for the first time we sat down and talked about it. I just kind of blurted it out to her while we were sitting by the pool. She sat next to me and asked me if I felt ok about the entire thing. I told her that I loved him and that we both felt like it was the right time. She was understanding, gave me a hug and she even told me she was proud of me for being so open with her. I felt really good about the entire conversation and from then on I didn’t feel like I needed to hide anything from my mother.
Even though my mom was fairly strict when it came to school work and wasn’t around a lot when I was younger, she was always very adamant that we remain open with her. When the rest of my friends were whining about curfews, not being able to drink and having to hide their extracurricular activities from their parents, I was able to stay out as late as I wanted, drink within moderation and discuss my activities openly with my parents. My mother explained to them that as long as I wasn’t hiding anything and didn’t abuse the privileges I was given, she had no reason to distrust me. This of course made them very jealous and my parents were labeled the “cool parents.”
When I got to college, I was surprised that most of the kids acted as if it was their first taste of freedom and I guess that, for many, it was. In my observations, kids in the United States are treated like children for so long. Even when they are young adults, their parents keep them under such a heavy thumb that they are never allowed to practice making their own decisions until they are away from their support system. When someone is just starting to act independently from their parents when they are 20-21, it is little wonder they begin by making poor decisions. When my cousin’s friends graduate from high school, very few of them will have ever been taught proper sex-education and many won’t understand how to have a healthy sexual relationship until well into their 30’s (if ever). By keeping sex under wraps and placing it into the same category as drugs/alcohol, parents are only postponing the inevitable.
I hope that one day American’s realize that sex isn’t something degrading and sinful, but rather an integral part of relationships that should be openly discussed. It should be especially important topic of conversation with those just coming to terms with their own sexuality, young adults. Intimacy with another human being is a very fulfilling, enjoyable, wonderful experience and it should be treated as such. Until that time, I can only hope to help guide my cousin in the right direction, toward having a healthy relationship where sex is not something to be feared, but embraced.