This series of posts is in direct response to this blog post and the related discussion below. As much fun as comment whack-a-mole is, it does get time-consuming and exhausting. So I decided to organize my thoughts and put them all in one place.
Other thoughts –
We tend to focus so myopically on sex, whether you’re abstinence-only or pro-sex education. We (as a whole) have completely lost sight of relationships. Not enough people know how to build and maintain good relationships, and not nearly enough people know how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship. Among the relationship guidance I’ve encountered, I see two types:
1) Marriage is sacred and lifelong. Do not ever consider divorce under any circumstances, for thou shall be singlehandedly responsible for the decline and fall of Western civilization. Yea, though you have just returned from the ER after being treated for a head wound, and though you have long forgotten what it feels like to have sex out of love instead of out of physical coercion, thou shall continue to serve thy husband and meditate upon your failings as a wife.
2) Leave at the drop of a hat. He had a bad day and said something snappy? Gone. She had a bad day and said something snappy? Gone. Who care if you have built a 10-year marriage and have 2 children, a house, and a dog? GTFO. Now.
I’m exaggerating, obviously, but not by much. I would like to think most people have more sense than that, but if you reach a point where you seriously need some guidance, there really isn’t anything useful out there. Although I recently found reason to hope, because this is exactly the type of advice we need more of; notice how he states practically verbatim the concerns I have in his first paragraph.
And don’t even get me started about those “how to pick your spouse” guidelines. (Here and here are just the first two that caught my eye). One Christmas my mom even gave me “The ABC’s of Choosing a GoodHusband.” After I was already married. Thanks, Mom.
My litmus test for “how to choose your spouse” guidance is in two parts:
1) Would it have helped me avoid my hellish first marriage?
2) Would it have steered me toward my husband?
In every single case, the answer is “no,” and “no.” Frankly, this is disturbing to me. I would LOVE to find something that would have helped me avoid my first marriage, because I would LOVE to shout it from the mountaintops, email it to everyone, tape it on everyone’s desk …. you name it. No one should have to go through what I went through.
If I could re-design our sex-ed classes, I would incorporate a mental health focus as well as a physical focus. I would like to see some broader, more comprehensive discussion about relationships, and sex in that context. Let’s talk about:
1) the types of things you find in good relationships, and what sex means in a good, committed, long-term relationships. (Here’s a clue – it’s not like the movies)
2) the types of things you can do to be a good partner (Here’s a clue – also not like the movies)
3) the types of things you find in abusive relationships, including some early warning signs and how sex can be used as a weapon in these types of relationships (Just for fun – Edward Cullen is example A)
4) how to figure out whether you can fix your relationship or need to leave
5) how to fix your relationship / how to leave safely
6) resources for fixing / leaving
7) lots and lots of examples and case studies
8) Sex - What it means in a committed relationship (a lot), and what it means in a casual relationship (virtually nothing). Emphasize that relationship symmetry cannot be assumed and cannot be easy to determine; this holds true for time and emotional investment, not just sex. Interestingly, your best chances of relationship symmetry are really two extremes: one-night stands and marriage. Let’s cover nuts and bolts, birth control, the fact that there is ALWAYS a risk of STD transmittal, and the fact that there is ALWAYS a chance that you will create new life. New life is an awesome responsibility, and every sexually active person should have a plan for any new life that may be created. Here’s a clue: abortion is not a plan.
“But Athena,” I hear. “That’s WAY too much ground to cover!” Oh yeah? Too bad. Without any discussion of context, discussion about sex means nothing. We have such a void and a lack of wisdom regarding relationships, and we need to fix it.
“But Athena,” I hear the conservatives say, “that’s what parents are for. They model a healthy marriage so that their children know what to look for in a spouse.” Awesome. First of all, they’re not doing it. They’re just doing the same “Sex is bad, mmkay?” that everyone else is doing. Second, having one healthy relationship as a model isn’t particularly useful. What if you know that model isn’t for you?
I’ll give you an example - my parents have a healthy marriage. They must – they’ve been together for 40 years and they both seem happy. In their marriage, my mom calls all the shots and my dad is basically along for the ride. Also, my mom disdains physical affection. How many guys do you know that would put up with that dynamic? What if I actually enjoy affection? Am I wrong? How do I know what elements of their marriage are “healthy” and to be emulated? How do I know what elements are completely subjective?
My husband and I also have a healthy marriage; we love each other and are ridiculously happy. We decide things together and are very affectionate with each other and with our children. I don’t follow their example at all. If I had tried to, I would be with someone who was completely wrong for me, and I would likely be miserable.
So here I am. Just me speaking out about the lies I was told and how what I was “supposed” to do would have been destructive to me. Doing what I can to share the truth so that hopefully no one else has to go through what I went through.
At one point I was accused of being “sanctimonious.” I assume that’s because I momentarily prattled on about “truth” like it’s a thing and made a reference to an omniscient God that I believe in. I further assume that it’s because I invoked “truth” and “God” with regard to things that this individual didn’t agree with. So let’s take a step back – if someone sounds “sanctimonious” when they don’t agree with you, why do you expect to communicate effectively when you are being sanctimonious yourself? Food for thought. Maybe think carefully about what you want to say and how you say it to maximize how receptive people are to what you want to say.