I am getting so damned sick of having to bandage shaving wounds I inflict upon myself with gauze and medical tape to stop the bleeding, then having to go back to clean up scenes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in my shower. This is what I get for having epiphanies while holding a razor so near to my ankle.
But this time, it’s worth it. I haven’t had words for a very long time, they had literally gone, but thanks to a friend of mine (whom shall be henceforth known simply as The Muse, she has inspired so much that matters in what I write) and a conversation we had, I have something important to say, and I know how to say it.
So sit down and listen, because when Mama Ruby talks like this, those who fail to pay attention do so at their own peril.
Now I am going to say one word, and I’ll only say it once, so you will not turn away because you are over-saturated-sick-to-death of reading and hearing about it: Steubenville.
SIT. BACK. DOWN.
That’s not what I’m going to talk about, not directly. A lot of people have already done a much better job than I ever could, and I’ll provide some links at the bottom for those who are interested.
But, as it would turn out, I have something to say related to this that hasn’t yet shown up on my radar as having been discussed. And if it has, it bears repeating. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, anyone who is raising children, this matters.
I’m going to tell you how to talk your children about sex, and how not to. I don’t mean I’m going to give you my value system, so you in the back there, getting up? Yes, I see you. Sit.
I had a conversation some time ago with a child of mine.* I’m going to withhold all details of which one out of respect to her. She’s old enough to be talking about sex (I think nowadays kids start doing that at preschool, right?), but what popped out of her mouth that day floored me. It was a remark that came from some of her friends about rape, and if it hadn’t gotten me so livid, the subject matter probably would have taken me a bit by surprise.
The comment was how “such-and-such” behavior meant boys were going to rape her, if she didn’t do it differently. Again, not mine to share, also not the point. I got so whipped into a frenzy by this, I gave her the “doesn’t matter what you wear, do, if you’re drunk, etc.” and moved on and on, performing my denouement somewhere around, “I don’t care if you are lying naked on a bed, with a man you have had sex with hundreds of times before, I don’t care if he’s your husband, if you say no, he has no right.“
She got a little quiet by the end of my soliloquy — and I mean in demeanor, she never breaks in on me when I “get like that”, which isn’t very often. In fact, she smiled a little inside. Being able to read her, I can tell you it is exactly why she mentioned it, consciously or not. She knew, but she needed the kind of fiery hot rage of reassurance that only Mama Ruby can provide.
She has good parents. Wonderful parents. And I guarantee that they have talked to her about sex. Rape?
Here’s the thing, my loves. I don’t believe in an abstinence only approach. I also don’t believe that every child should be given condoms at a certain age. I believe that if you are raising a child, you should absolutely do your best to instill your values into them (unless your values are really messed up, in which case you shouldn’t be raising a child and God help them).
Your children are going to grow up, and they’re probably going to do some things you don’t agree with. And even if they don’t, the odds are extremely high that they’ll have something done to them. Every parent has that worst nightmare, and so do I, and every parent says, “not my child”. That second thing I hope and I pray with everything in me, but I don’t say it blindly. In the United States, one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.**
Here is where the conversation parents have with their children needs undergo a seismic shift. Because we live in a rape culture, that is a fact. It’s an ugly one, and one that needs to change, but I’m not dealing in what “should be” right now, I’m dealing in the ugly reality of what is.
Parents, when you talk with your daughters (and sons) about sex, if you tell them to wait for marriage, if that is fundamental to your beliefs, I support you wholeheartedly. With two caveats. And to clarify, the second caveat applies to whatever stance you take when you talk with your kids, so those of you who have no problem with pre-marital sex, back in your seats.
The first is that you do not ever use the words “wrong”, “bad”, “immoral” or even “sin” when you do it. That isn’t going to change the mind of a child/young adult/teenager/adult when they have decided to explore sex outside of the bonds of marriage. I know, I’m sorry, it hurts to hear that, but it just isn’t. What it is going to do is plant a deep seed of shame within them. Such that if they are ever molested, raped, or sexually assaulted in any way, they’re going to be that much more hesitant to come forward and talk to you. After all, if sex outside of marriage is so bad and wrong and sinful, then they must be bad and sinful, too. Think what that does to someone who has just been horribly traumatized.
Don’t tell me it doesn’t work like that, either. You expect them to listen when you say don’t have sex before marriage, but not remember all the other things you said when someone forces sex upon them against their will, their want, the very beliefs you have instilled? Uh-uh. No way. You can’t have both.
Which brings us to caveat number two. When you talk to your daughters and sons about sex, talk to them about sexual assault and rape, too. I know. Really big and really scary and my guts are churning just thinking of how to broach it. But bite the damned bullet and do it. Make sure that whether or not you think sex should only occur in marriage, when you teach your child about sex, you also teach them that if they are raped, if they are attacked in any way, it is never their fault. That even if they have broken every rule you have ever made for them, if they have had sex before, if they were out drunk partying, I don’t care, doesn’t matter, they can come back and tell you what happened and you will support them with all of your heart. And follow through on that.
If, God forbid, your daughter should come stumbling in at three a.m., clothes a mess, sobbing, and tell you she was assaulted, don’t ask what she was doing out, don’t ask her where she got that dress that’s so short. Sit down with her and tell her that you love her and will do anything she needs you to. I can’t tell you what that may be. Maybe the foundation you laid will be enough to help her want to call 911 and report it. Maybe she won’t be able to do that, and it won’t be anyone’s fault but the scum who put her in such a state. But at least she’ll know that you have her back 110%, that you don’t think she’s “bad” or “sinful”, and that you want to do whatever you can to help her.
And, sadly, even that won’t make her magically feel better, like when you used to be able to kiss a bump and make it go away. But it may make it easier for her to see herself as a worthwhile, valuable, beautiful human being once again.
*For those who don’t know, I have no children of my own. I do have several “daughters of my heart” that I used to care for and still consider “mine”.
And if you read nothing else, please read this piece:
Steubenville’s Jane Doe asked people to do something…
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