Thanks to a few recent conversations with some of the ladies of Cathsorority, I have been thinking about chastity talks and how they relate to sex education as well as self-worth.
I have mentioned in a previous post what my own abstinence education class was like (you can read it here) but, to be honest, the chastity talks I had as a teen were never really that memorable. I had mountains of personal testimony that were far more convincing than any analogy that was thrown my way.
I am not sure when I was told, but I don’t remember a time where I was unaware that my mom and dad conceived me before they were married. (I wrote about it more in depth for the GSP here.) They were always very open and honest with me about how it was the right decision, that they loved me very much, but that even the right choices can come with some consequences. I loved school. I loved reading and drawing and learning: I wanted to go to college. I wanted to wait to have sex until I was married. I was awkward and would rather break up with a boy than be intimate when I was a teen. I had my mom’s personal testimony to the hardships of being a mother young, as well as all the wonderful things that came with parenthood. I had more information about contraception, abortion and abstinence than I knew what to do with, and I had hormones and ways to distract me from those hormones. I had dozens of chastity talks. I read Real Love and hit the chastity speaker circuit.
There seems to be a giant conspiracy in this country that has opted to make every aspect of one’s teenage years focused on sex. Not only are you thinking about sex because of hormone changes, but they have you reading about it in English class, and talking about it in youth group. I heard every analogy under the sun: Your virtue is like a stick of gum/duct tape/a crisp dollar bill/a spit cup/a piece of fruit. If you give it away or whatever fits best with the analogy of the moment, there is something not quite right about what is left. Your gift belongs to your spouse, ladies! You must be modest so that you do not let others see what belongs to your future husband! I read plenty of books on the subject also, because I was naïve.* It seemed that our speakers and youth group leaders were always dancing around what they wanted to say, and I just did not get it. What things could you be doing sexually that were not even okay to do when you were married?!
I had no intentions of giving away my flower/gift/virtue. I was a virgin, and I often crushed from afar or dated boys from out of town, so these talks went in one ear and out the other. The sort of talks that stuck with me, were the talks such as The Snowball Effect** that focused on the sex act continuum and how it applied to our lives. It was not until after I spent some time as an advocate that I realized how harmful some of the chastity talks I had heard as a teen could be to a young woman’s psyche.
While I do not contend that it is important for teens to have these conversations and a safe place to ask questions, I do take issue with the talks that imply young women are owned by their future spouses. As a human being, I am owned by no other human being. I chose my spouse of my own free will. Had I had my virginity taken from me without my consent, I would not somehow be worth less than an individual that had sex willingly or an individual that still had their virginity. The fruit, tape, gum and money analogies leave the impression that after the abuse or the sex act, a person is ultimately worth less.
I believe there are better ways to talk to our young ones about chastity, sex and self-worth.
Admittedly, I have not studied Theology of the Body. I do understand the concepts well, however, and I can recognize the genius behind it. This week, I came across this article that talks about expanding our understanding and teaching of TOB to include NOT just the sexuality of our bodies, but all our bodies are capable of being. The article encouraged me to put the original addresses on my reading list as I find the subject to be THAT important and relative to the relationship Catholicism has with true feminism.
Raising our children to know that they are valuable is a priority as far as this discussion is concerned. They are valuable precisely because of who they are, male and female alike. Our value as human beings does not decrease or increase depending on how sinful we are, gender, size, age, sexual orientation or ability. This respect for life breeds self-worth in a way that a chastity talk or a list of do’s and don’ts cannot match. Yes, teens are thirsting for information concerning sex, but I don’t think it has to be isolated in the way that it has become. Our self-worth, respect for all life, sex/TOB/contraception/abstinence/abortion talks and healthy relationships (AKA bullying, rape culture, intimate partner violence) are all interconnected and we as parents can begin the conversation and shape it in a way that reminds our children of their inherent worth without inserting shame.
What are your thoughts on the issue?
* As another example of this, at the age of thirteen, I overheard a friend's father talking about how his son and I probably spent all our time smoking pot in the second story of the garage. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was imagining cookware with smoke billowing out of it, and was thoroughly confused.
** The Snowball Effect may have been coined by a friend of mine, I am not sure. We took turns in CCD class with the chastity talk so we could avoid hearing it from our friends' parents. In retrospect, it is a much preferable method to me precisely because it talks about how sexual acts can start out small but "snowball" out of control, and how we all have different limitations, turn ons etc. that we must be aware of in order to be responsible. It is much easier to insert conversations about what rape is, was abuse is, etc. into The Snowball Effect rather than an analogy that compares an object's decreasing value to a human being.