I have never understood parents who tell their children to stay virgins until marriage. First off, we do not own our children’s bodies. Their virginity, and when they choose to relinquish it, belongs to them.
It’s entirely unrealistic to try to force children into such a way of thinking. If they come to the decision that they want to have premarital sex, they should be able to explore that decision without feeling ashamed or like they have to keep it a secret from their parents. Sex is a natural part of life, and attempting to force kids to adhere to our rules regarding their sexuality is selfish. Who are they really pleasing in a situation like that?
And also, preaching abstinence is a really effective way to shut down communication with our children. They will likely still make their own choices regarding their body and its natural urges; they will just be far less likely to tell us about it. I don’t know about you, but I prefer open lines of communication over failed control.
Plus, it often seems hypocritical. Many parents had enjoyable sexual encounters before marriage, so why should they expect our children to have sex with one person (and one person only, according to traditional marriage vows) indefinitely? If you as a parent really did wait to have sex until you were married, then by all means, you should tell your children about your decision to do so and the reasons behind it, but don’t expect or ask them to follow in your footsteps just because that’s what worked for you.
I vaguely remember telling my mom during my early teen years that I was going to wait until I was married to have sex for the first time. She commended me for that decision, but never really made a big deal about it. A year or two later, after realizing that my decision came from my love for Jessica Simpson and not because I actually felt that way, I did an about-face and decided that I was just going to wait until I was in love with someone and the timing felt right.
I lost my virginity when I was 20. I liked the guy enough, but I surely wasn’t in love with him.
When I got pregnant with my son, his father and I were in a deeply committed relationship, but we weren’t engaged or married, and had no plans to be.
As someone who was never told to abstain from sex until marriage, because my parents had a realistic approach to sexuality and bodily autonomy, I felt inclined to research some of the reasoning behind the “celibacy until marriage” perspective. This likely comes as no surprise, but nearly everything that came up in a basic Google search was religion-based.
One such website that kept cropping up, and I was particularly awestruck by, was Aleteia.org which is a fundamentally Christian website that gives several interesting reasons to postpone sexual acts until marriage: “It promotes good communication in dating,” “There is a better relationship with both sets of parents,” and “There is less risk of verbal and physical abuse” (yes, you read that correctly.) Apparently, sex robs you of all the fundamental things that make you a good person, and turns you into a raging hormone that is incapable of communication and restraint. (Of course, I realize that not all religious parents instill these ideals into their children.)
Right now, my son is 3, so we’re not really talking about having sex yet. But time moves quickly, and before I know it, he will be old enough for us to start engaging in those discussions. I want him to know that sex is a normal, natural, awesome thing and that thinking about having it, and consensually engaging in it while using appropriate protection(s), is not wrong or weird in any way.
It boggles my mind that sex is still something that can be considered taboo in our society. I mean, sex happens, and it isn’t going to stop happening. Advocates for Youth, an organization dedicated to educating young adults about reproductive and sexual health, estimates that 70% of young people will have sex by the age of 19. That’s a fact. I’m not championing teenage sex here, but I choose to recognize that it can/does happen, and we need to allow our kids the space to discuss all aspects of their lives, so we can support them to the best of our ability.
As a parent, it is incredibly important for me to let my son know that I support him, but (of course!) I want him to really think about what having sex means and not engage in anything until he’s completely ready. I want to make sure that he feels comfortable enough to come to me so we can have an adult dialogue about it. I want to give him as much information as I can so that he can make an informed decision, and have access to contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Advocates for Youth also shared that around 95% of people have sex before marriage, especially now that people are getting married later in life. Most people aren’t going to wait until they’re 30 to have sex, folks. And do we really expect that? (I don’t.)
For me, as a parent, the most important thing I can teach my son about sex is safety and consent. In the end, only he will truly be able to make the decision about when he’s ready. I will never tell him to wait because I have to trust that I raised a mature, responsible young man. I think that by forbidding sex or telling children to wait until marriage we’re placing expectations on sex that make it sound off-limits and mysterious while inadvertently making it more enticing.
I don’t want to place unrealistic expectations on my child, and I want him to come to me (versus the internet and his peers) with his important questions. Like all parents, I hope I have given him all the best answers to his questions.