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May 19, 2005

Comments

Russell Arben Fox

Hugo, this has been quite a journey you've been on with these kids--thanks for tactfully sharing so much of it with your readers. You've mentioned your friendship and envy of "Mike" before, and, once again, I'm impressed by the bravery you show in opening up to the youth of your church like that. I hope they take the right message from it. (And I love the Yeats line.)

Amanda

We pointed out to the kids that there's no evidence that those who are promiscuous as youth have more successful relationships as adults, something one would expect to find if "experience" really were that salutatory. Drawing on my own experience I reminded them of something I wrote in that December post:

Unfortunately, it's very easy to veer dangerously close to telling people (especially women) who've been "promiscious" (sluts are always those who've had 2 more partners than you, remember) that they are ruined for lasting love. I hope that in all the lectures about how experience isn't a great teacher you didn't forget the other, often more powerful message to young women that experience devalues them as candidates for love. My relationship that started as a love relationship that gradually grew into lust ended in misery. The one I have now started as pure lust and now we're deliriously happy and have to make up stories about the less-than-pristine beginnings of our relationship.

Amanda

Four years in, last month, by the way.

Hugo

Absolutely, Amanda, you're right. While experience may not be a great teacher, it's not automatically a "ruiner" of anything. We chart a very careful middle course here, between the Scylla (of encouraging young people to explore their sexuality however they see fit whenever they like) and the Charybdis (of shaming and condemning those who have done just that).

Trust me, we've become masters of the awkward, loving, middle ground.

Stentor

I think experience can be a good teacher, but it's the *quality* of the experience, not the quantity, that's important. In the aggregate, the people who learned the wrong lessons from their experience balance out those who learned the right lessons. Your point that appeals to learning from experience are often facile is good, but I would hope you could move from there to helping your kids learn how to choose the most learning-rich experiences and how to learn the right lessons from their experiences.

mythago

He and his wife gave each other their virginity all those years ago

Hugo, I understand that you're awed by Mike and his wife's devotion to one another, but I really think you fell down flat if you put it to your kids this way. You're conflating patience (to wait for the right person), faithfulness and self-control with the first occasion to perform a particular sex act. I wonder how any sexual-assault victims listening to you must have felt.

The Birdwoman

I think that a lot of our hang-ups about sexuality in general would be alleviated if we gave sex less importance, not more. Sex is fun; beyond that, it's what you make of it. As for the promiscuity thing, I know I wish I'd played the field a bit more before I met the fella! :-)

Barbara Preuninger

Hugo, these are some really good thoughts for me in relation to my own teaching. I remember an OWL classroom conversation about whether or not one could be hurt by too early sexual activity and WHY. (i.e. how is it more that "just a physical act"?) I was trying to explain, but I had trouble articulating it well and who knows what message actually came across. (Hey, I'm not a teacher as a profession - I'm a computer programmer. What do you expect?)

Anyway, I'm teaching OWL again next year and I will keep the things you said in mind. If it's OK with you, I might even like to tell parts of your story (I wouldn't use names or anything. It would be along the lines of "I know of someone who...")

Personally, I feel very lucky that although I had first intercourse when I was 17, it was with my current husband, and I was "first" for him too (now we're going on ~13 years). I suppose I have no real way of ranking my experience over anyone else's, so I won't even try. But my gut feeling tells me it was certainly the best possibility for me personally. Sex really is wrapped up with a lot of emotions. IMHO, people who say they feel no sense of deep attachment after sex are usually deceiving themselves.

It's really best to wait for the "right" person, especially before having intercourse (for men or women). The problem is that teenagers (on average) have a less-developed sense of judgment. More likely for teens, the "wrong" person will seem "right". But how do I tell them this without annoying them? And how can I avoid being a total hypocrite (since I was 17 and apparently found the "right" guy?)

mythago

IMHO, people who say they feel no sense of deep attachment after sex are usually deceiving themselves.

I could claim that people who always feel a deep sense of attachment after sex are just deceiving themselves, and persuading themselves that the endorphin and post-coital languor are Rilly Deep Feelings. But you might find that a little insulting and dismissive of your own experience, hm?

And how can I avoid being a total hypocrite (since I was 17 and apparently found the "right" guy?)

You can't, really, unless your message is that you did something immature and stupid but you got lucky and the guy turned out OK.

Barbara Preuninger

I could claim that people who always feel a deep sense of attachment after sex are just deceiving themselves, and persuading themselves that the endorphin and post-coital languor are Rilly Deep Feelings. But you might find that a little insulting and dismissive of your own experience, hm?

I don't have any intention for being dismissive of other's experience, only voicing what I suspect to be true (and not what I know as fact or anything). I don't even think that the counter-argument you proposed is dismissive, unless you intended it to be. In fact, IMO the strong feelings from sex do have a lot to do with endorphins and post-coital languor! Just because they're scientificly explainable doesn't mean they're not there.

I guess I didn't really make it clear that I don't think that casual sex is automatically bad. (And I definitely don't think anyone should have a sense of shame or embarrassment for it.) Though I have never had casual intercourse, I've had other casual um... "encounters". I felt a strong emotional connection from these. I can imagine many reasons why some people might deny such a feeling. That's one major reason I suspect it happens a lot. I could be wrong, of course.

You can't, really, unless your message is that you did something immature and stupid but you got lucky and the guy turned out OK.

Well, now that I think about it more, I would say that I happened to be very mature for my age, and that 17 is not so terribly young (My OWL class is more like 12-13 yo). And I don't think this just because "everything turned out OK". Beforehand, I had thought long and hard about what I would do in the case of pregnancy, talked it over in depth with [insert name of spouse here], and worked out exactly what kind of birth control I'd use and why. I also made sure I was comfortable with my partner and personally ready to have sex. If there are 14 y.o. doing the same thing, I am not too worried about them. But I doubt that this is really the case. And I think a lot of kids are getting hurt.

BTW, I know of teens that are very mature like I was. The problem is that "maturity" is such a subjective concept. It's impossible to really know when one is "mature" enough. And it's hard to tell kids they're not mature enough when they might just be!

So it's still a tough message. By the way, I don't ever actually reveal anything about my age of first intercourse in class (or much about myself at all). The class has nothing to do with the teacher's personal experience, and besides, kids might interpret that as an "appropriate age" to start, which is not the intended message.

It's just that I feel that tension, knowing what my own actions were compared with what I'm telling them to do.

Gareth

I've been a keen reader of your blog since the New Year and always find your combination of compassion and rigorous questioning refreshing and thought-provoking.

One finicky detail, which I'm only bringing up because I think it makes a point. I think the Yeats quote was actually "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart". I take this to mean that it isn't suffering as such, but suffering because you deny your own needs for too long, which does the damage.

Obviously this could happen to someone who embraces a lifestyle of casual sex, when what they crave is one close, deep erotic relationship. However, I'm also reminded of people who for various reasons have put aside their own desires (erotic and otherwise), only to realise that opportunities have passed them by and they'll never get those years back.

It isn't necessarily a catastrophe if a relationship ends, although of course it's painful at the time. The only way to avoid pain is never to try anything in the first place.

Thank you for providing a place where such a wide range of conflicting opinions can be respectfully aired. There aren't enough of these!

Hugo

Gareth, you're right -- for all my love of poetry, I tend to rephrase difficult passages when I'm quoting, which is inexcusable. (If you think I do it with Yeats, you should see me pull lines out of the impenetrable Wallace Stevens). It's true that a poem written about the Irish struggle for independence is difficult to apply to contemporary sexual morality, and perhaps I ought not to try -- or if I do, to do so by quoting accurately!

Thanks for your kind words.

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