The Awesome And Terrible Responsibility of Raising Boys

Standard

Date night with NicholasAt present, the web is a hornet’s nest of outrage over the light sentence given to the swimmer convicted of rape—and his father’s response—and his victim’s lengthy, no-punches-pulled response to her attacker.

And all of this makes me think about myself as a parent, and what this means about my particular responsibility as a parent of boys.

I have for a long time been convinced that the terrible ugliness that is sexual assault is a multifaceted problem. Saying that always lands me in hot water—usually by being accused of “blaming the victim.” So let me be clear: rape is no one’s FAULT except the perpetrator’s. No one is “asking for” rape, no matter what they wear or say or do.

Yet it’s a dangerous oversimplification to pretend that outside factors don’t come into play. Men are visually stimulated; it’s a biological reality. Alcohol removes inhibitions, and people under its influence say and do things they know are wrong and would never do if they were in their right minds.

Does any of this excuse rape? No. Men who rape are responsible for their actions, no matter how much alcohol they’ve consumed, no matter how much alcohol their victim has consumed, and definitely no matter what a woman is wearing.

But if we want a solution to this problem–which has been a plague of humanity as long as humanity has been around–we have to address every facet that exerts an influence. I have a lot of opinions as a woman about women’s responsibility, but what I really want to focus on today is the men.

See, another thing we’re not supposed to do is talk about sex when we’re discussing rape. Rape isn’t about sex, we’re told, it’s about power. But sex is the tool being used by men who rape, so you can’t pretend it’s irrelevant. And here’s the thing:

We have a cultural problem with sex. Men are taught–conditioned, even—to view women as objects to fill their desires. (See how that ties into “power”?) They are encouraged to measure their self worth by the size of their genitalia. The culture of boyhood teaches them to appeal to the basest, grossest part of their nature. In childhood, it’s fart humor and poop jokes. In college, it’s the bragging rights, the “let’s sit around in the lounge and turn every discussion to a joke about sex.” (In grad school a group of us one day were having a conversation about conductors, and I was talking about working under so-and-so, and this guy goes, “See that’s your problem. You’re always UNDER instead of on top!” Har har. You’re so witty. Excuse me for a moment while I add you to the list of “people not worth talking to ever again.”)

It’s not that girls never do this, but it’s not part of the girl culture the way it is for boys. Boys are conditioned to view their own gratification as paramount, and to belittle something that, truly, is the most intimate act in the human experience. I mean, as women, we are literally inviting someone else to take up residence inside our bodies. This is no trivial thing!

And this is the world my sons are inheriting. The world I’m supposed to be preparing them for, the world they will have to navigate. I already see them having to choose whether to buy into the boy culture or to stand aside from it, as their father has chosen to do.

Blog Dance 1I love being a mother of boys. I love how they just lay it all out there. I love the adventuresome spirit and the pursuit of thegrandiose and heroic.

I also love that they have, in their father and myself, a model of a relationship based on deep respect and a willingness to call each other out when one person is in the wrong. Whatever other flaws we possess as human beings, I am secure in knowing we are showing our kids what it looks like to treat the opposite sex with dignity. I know they are seeing a relationship in which the good of the other is paramount, and that it’s a two-way street. In which we set aside “me” (I’m tired, I had a hard day, I’m in a bad mood, I want to watch TV) for the good of the other. I love that we are raising boys who are watching the news and who are processing the world and trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

It is an awesome and terrible responsibility, being a parent of boys. There’s no doubt in my mind that this ugly reality surrounding assault and the lack of dignity given to women can only be addressed if we get over our hangups about talking about sex. It can only change if we teach our children—all our children, but especially our sons, because let’s face it, for the moment, men still have more power to shape the world—how to treat everyone around them with dignity. It’s a hard lesson to teach, because it’s a hard one to model. It involves approaching choices with thought, rather than impulse, and considering how every choice impacts the people around you. It’s about moderation and self-control—two values that are really not a part of the consumer economy we live in.

This post has taken me pretty much forever to write, and as long as it is, I’ve abandoned almost as many words as I’ve included. So I’m going to hit pause for today and just conclude by saying that this awesome and terrible responsibility is why I am so grateful for the Theology of the Body—because in all the static out there about abstinence-based versus so-called “safe” sex education, this is the one philosophy that is really acknowledging the whole picture of humanity: What happens to the body also impacts the soul, and what injures the soul also affects the body. If we can use that reality to shape the next generation, it will make a difference
for the better.

Advertisements

Sex Is A Good Thing

Standard
7123938873_0857105011

Photo by Sheep”R”Us, via Flickr

Whenever somebody talks about sex, ears perk up and strong reactions—both positive and negative—ensue.

For a long time, I saw that as a sign that there was something fundamentally wrong with humanity, something inherently sinful. But I’ve come to realize that I had it backwards. We have this reaction because there is something fundamentally right with us. No matter what hangups, dysfunctions and sexual wounds get piled upon us over the course of life, something at our core still recognizes sex and sexuality as the ultimate expression of our identity as human beings; it is the thing we hold closest to ourselves and the gift we take the most care in sharing.

This shift in understanding has come to me courtesy of Theology of the Body.

I was asked by Sarah Reinhard, an author friend, to share the impact TOB has had in my world. That turns out to be a harder question to answer than I thought, because it’s an ongoing process. TOB first opened up my mind to the interconnectivity of all subjects—the fact that everything we do, all our reactions, all our thought processes, are based upon a foundation of our identity as man and woman. More recently, TOB, and the ongoing will he-won’t he discussions about Pope Francis and birth control—have caused me to take a step back and try to see the issues surrounding sex with mercy as well as passion.

Blog CK2But in practical terms, the most obvious impact has been in my marriage. I entered marriage with some pretty enormous hangups about sex. There were personal struggles to reconcile belief and experience, which I’d always been too afraid to bring into the open and thus they became monsters in my head. There was the fact that I was highly physically developed and extremely socially underdeveloped, and the resulting encounters with boys over the course of childhood and adolescence left me some pretty good-sized emotional scars. There was guilt for things I had done and knew I shouldn’t have.

And then a couple of years into marriage, of course, infertility piled a whole lot more dysfunction onto the fire. Your brain automatically labels infertility as a punishment, even though you know better.

So it was the Theology of the Body that began to help me put out fires, toss rubble away, and find at the core of my soul a healthier, more enjoyable and joy-filled approach to intimacy. This process is far from over, but I am in so much better a place now than I was then.

A few other posts I’ve written that show the impact TOB has had on my total world view:

Sexuality for a New World

A Christian Mom Talks Sex Ed

Sex, Love, And Women’s Fiction

Chores, Sex, and Marriage

Sex Always Has Consequences

What It’s Like To Practice Natural Family Planning

Why Do Women Do It? Vanity Fair’s Article on The Hookup Culture

Standard

Photo by origamidon, via Flickr

This article, “Tinder And the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse,” was shared on my Facebook feed last night. I’ve heard about the hookup culture, but this lengthy and detailed look at it was truly nauseating. I’m going to let it speak for itself today and offer the combox for thoughts and discussion, if others feel so inclined. I only ask this: if this is how young women experience sex, why are they going for the hookup culture? If what is laid out in this article is the common experience, women are getting neither physical nor emotional fulfillment out of this. They are hurling themselves onto the altar of objectification and getting absolutely nothing from it. Why?

Sex Always Has Consequences

Standard

Photo by Selbe <3, via Flickr

When I heard the story on the news this morning, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or do a face palm. There’s a new study out saying that women taking the newer-generation mini birth control pills have 3x higher risk of blood clots compared to women who don’t take oral contraceptives. But, they hasten to add, that doesn’t mean you should stop taking them.

I’ve come to a realization lately that I think all women, and frankly all men too, need to come to terms with. For me, it was a long time in coming, considering how obvious it is.

There is no such thing as sex without consequences.

Proponents of natural family planning and proponents of artificial means of birth control both seem unable to grasp this simple truth. The NFP community likes to harp on the side effects of birth control and its potential to damage human relationships. Those who use birth control deride NFP as ineffective and contrary to human nature because it requires people to fight their instincts to come together at women’s most fertile time.

We would all like to think there’s some magic bullet that takes away the sacrifice and, dare I say it, suffering that is part and parcel of reproductive life. We want to be able to enjoy the coming together without the side effects/consequences. There are basically three courses you can take: you can impose artificial controls on nature (contraception); you can work with nature (NFP); or you can do whatever you want and let the chips fall where they may.

Photo by einalem, via Flickr

But every one of those paths has consequences.

If you use natural family planning, you have to deal with occasional (and for some people, frequent) ambiguity in the signs and the need to abstain when the woman is most interested in sex. There’s no question that requires sacrifice and, sometimes, suffering.

If you use chemical contraception, though–assuming it does what it’s supposed to do, and fools your body into thinking it’s pregnant already–you’re giving up that increased sex drive altogether. Which is why I find it puzzling when proponents of birth control criticize NFP for the abstaining when the sex drive is highest. I mean, it’s not like contraception solves that issue. And besides, there’s that whole thing about side effects, and environmental impact, and blood clots. Again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

Your third option is to let the chips fall where they may. You get the best of both worlds: sex whenever you feel like it, without side effects, without increased risk of blood clots. But there’s a natural consequence to that, too, and it involves bigger cars and bigger houses and a humongous grocery bill, to say nothing of college costs. And a lot of time pregnant and breastfeeding and exhausted. So again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

The reality is that sex does have consequences, no matter what you do. You can gnash your teeth all you like, but that’s the reality. Our job is to make the most responsible choice we can, based on as much information as we can. And the longer I’m involved with natural family planning, the more thoroughly convinced I become that NFP, while not without consequences, is the best option. It’s not the easiest, but it is the best–for women, for couples, for the world.

Consent is NOT Sexy

Standard

Photo by ctrouper, via Flickr

“Consent Is Sexy.”

That’s what the t shirt said. And clearly, the woman wearing thought it was a good slogan.

I do not.

First of all, I have to preface my comments by saying: I get it. The state of relations between men and women sucks. The way we talk to each other sucks. The way we talk about each other sucks. The humor about sex and relationships sucks. The idea that women even have to worry about being violated? Sucks.

But really? “Consent is sexy”? That’s the standard we’re shooting for? As long as they get permission, that’s enough?

Just how low are we going to set the bar?

There’s a truism about expectations. I’ve mostly heard it in the context of education: that people will live up to your expectations, or down to them. If that t shirt is any indicator, the bar we’ve set for how we expect to be treated is so low, it might as well not exist. As long as a guy doesn’t rape us, we’ll flatter their ego and call them sexy.

Really?

On the scale of sexual attractiveness, consent doesn’t even register. Consent is a prerequisite for claiming to be a man. If we women, in the name of sexual liberation, have chosen to fling ourselves at the feet of men for nothing more than “consent,” then we have brought ourselves very, very low indeed.

Consider this:

Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there’s one in perception, too. While the men’s female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women’s male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time. (From WebMD)

So not only do the men get more out of sex, they’re also clueless about how little their partners get out of it.

And this is okay because…?

If a man wants to claim the moniker “sexy,” he needs to do way, way more than just ask permission. I realize this is a radical concept in the modern world, but sex is the capstone of a relationship, not an audition for it. Relationships between men and women have always been troubled because we’ve failed to make the effort to understand and respect each other for what makes us different from each other. But in the modern world we’ve taken it to a whole new level by making sex the end-all-be-all of existence.

And if WebMD is right, women haven’t gotten much out of the deal. Why are we so concerned about our God-given right to have sex with as many people as possible? What are we getting out of it? Has no one else ever stopped to ask this question?

Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

I can’t say for sure, but I think that means women say they recognize that sex is the capstone, not the audition, but their behavior says they’re willing to let men dictate the terms of the relationship.

So much for women’s liberation.

Down deep, I don’t think any woman really thinks this is okay. The focus on romance in fiction aimed at women indicates that we are all seeking authenticity, understanding, and dare I say it, something holy in a romantic relationship. Or perhaps a better word would be transcendence: something in our partner that gives us a glimpse of a reality beyond what we ever thought was possible.

To my fellow mothers–and fathers, too–I say this: we are the ones who form the next generation of men to view women with respect…or not. And too often we shirk our responsibility to point out what is wrong in the world, simply because it’s awkward. We’re so uncomfortable with our own brokenness where sexual matters are concerned, we feel unable to address the subject with our children.

But we have to get over it. We have to confront the ugliness within, look for healing within ourselves, and summon the courage to tell our children–beginning at a very young age–how the world is supposed to look.

Because they deserve better. And so do we.

 

Chores, Sex and Marriage

Standard
Male and Female Ring-Necked Parakeets Enjoying...

Image by Jim Linwood via Flickr

This is one of those days where I’m going to be very frank on a very personal topic.

My reading list lately has been long on the heavy stuff—like Bad Mother, by Ayelet Waldman. This book came highly recommended by several people I respect. I’ll have more to say about it later, but today I want to focus on the chapter in which she talks about sex and marriage. After writing that after four kids, she was still interested in sex with her husband, Waldman got lots of feedback. Men wanted to know how to get their wives to have sex with them.

There’s talk of resentment, of inequality in household chores, of women who are too worn out by kid duty—whether or not they work outside the home—to be willing to trouble themselves with their husband’s desires. Waldman tells her male correspondents to do housework. “There is nothing sexier to a woman with children than a man holding a Swiffer. … You inevitably feel warm toward someone who is clearly thinking enough about you to relieve you of part of your burden.”

The thing that blows my mind about this chapter is how prevalent the marital discord over sex seems to be—how deep the resentment runs. I freely admit that my husband is much better about chores than the stereotypical man. And I freely admit that physical intimacy is nowhere near the top of my priority list. But it is important to my husband, and so I keep it on my radar anyway—because I love my husband.

There are bloggers out there who come across very happy-happy and, well…creepy. The ones who talk about changing clothes, getting dolled up, and having the house pristine every day before their husbands get home. Who talk about subordinating themselves, about giving sex to their husbands, as if the men have no answering responsibility and no call to do anything but be manly and The Provider.

This doesn’t sit well with me. There are things that are implicit in marriage. They’re not in the vows, but we ought to be able to generalize that if love is patient, kind, not dwelling on wrongs, and so on, then love calls both husband and wife to be focused on the other person’s needs and desires, not just their own.

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

When you get married, you are subordinating the constant pursuit of “me” to the love of your spouse. It’s a two-way street. It doesn’t mean the responsibility falls on one partner. It doesn’t mean you never get to do things for you, because your spouse is making the same commitment. In our household, I try to make sure Christian gets out to play golf; he tries to make sure I have time to unwind by novel writing, sitting out in nature, scrapbooking—whatever it may be.

He also recognizes that after a rough day with the kids, I’m just not going to be in the mood. And I recognize that sometimes no matter how rough the day is, I need to get in the mood.

None of this can be kept on a score card: X cleaning jobs = 1 free intimacy card; you got three hours of free time, so I get three. You just give, that’s all. Both of you. The balance is never perfect; sometimes you have to assert yourself, but married love can’t flourish—maybe it can’t even survive—when one or both partners think the other person’s job is to make them happy.

Marriage is a total gift of self. To love means that sometimes—maybe even most of the time, once you have kids who assert their own rightful demands—someone else’s “want” is more important than your own. We get this instinctively in our dealings with our kids, but for some reason we don’t apply the lesson to our spouses. Why is that? Why does resentment over chores and sex seem so widespread? Do people just not get it?

Maybe that’s the problem. When do you ever hear about this concept? It’s totally off the cultural radar—even, generally, in marriage prep programs. I’m not even sure it was on my radar when I got married. I think I understood it instinctively, to some extent, but internalizing the lesson is a long process of maturation. (One I’m by no means finished with, I might add.)

I really began thinking about this clearly in the past few years, when I started being exposed to the Theology of the Body: the idea that our call as children of God is to reflect God’s love in the way we use our bodies. In marriage, this boils down to a total gift of self. Not holding back parts of ourselves (like, say, our reproductive systems), but giving everything we are to each other, all the time.

We just don’t talk about that, and I can’t help thinking that if we did, if we stopped focusing so myopically on “me,” that marriages in general might be happier and healthier.