I am so grateful that my daughter isn’t afraid to talk to me about sex. I’ve always been extremely open, honest and comfortable with the topic and, I believe, this helps. Not long ago, she told me about a classmate who is sleeping around and may be pregnant. “Will you take me to the Dollar Store so I can buy her a pregnancy test?” she asked. The sad thing is that this girl, let’s call her “Molly,” comes from a very religious Mormon home and going to her parents isn’t an option. As we talked further, Molly also believes that if she’s had sex with one boy, it no longer matters the number. Sadly, the boy who perhaps got her pregnant won’t return any texts or phone calls. And at school, he walks the other way when he sees her. She thought they really liked each other. Molly is afraid and devastated with seemingly no adult to run this by. She’s getting all her advice from classmates who know little more than she does, and who are spreading horrible rumors around the school about her. (I would have hoped that by the year 2015, we would be beyond this but apparently not.)
Growing up in a Mormon home myself, I remember far too well being taught by (well meaning) advisors that sex was only for marriage and that this was the second worse sin I could commit (only murder was worse). If I was to do something this horrible, I needed to hurry up and confess my sin to my male Bishop so I could be forgiven and be pure again. One such lesson taught in church involved a donut. Each of us girls were invited to stick our fingers in the donut and even spit on it. Mash it. “Go ahead girls, get in there and make that donut look horrible!” When we were done, we were asked what boy would ever want to eat a dirty donut? (As I type this story, I’m thinking of all the places I could go with this analogy and I can’t help but giggle.) “No one!” of course, was the “right” answer (boys, after all, want a virgin!). And that donut is like a girl who sleeps around– she is used up and undesirable. Worthless. Gross. When the lesson was done, we were all invited to enjoy a fresh, delicious donut. Yum!
When I graduated from high school and headed off to Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Mormon church, I can’t tell you how many girls I knew who had sex with a boy and, since they were now essentially worthless, decided to sleep with anyone and everyone. After all, it didn’t matter the number or circumstance since they were already doomed. Many other girls did “everything but” with an alarming number of boys. “I’m still a virgin!” some proclaimed. Others were terrified of sex and boys altogether and entered marriage (oftentimes at the ripe age of 18 or 19) totally unprepared to have a normal, healthy sexual relationship with their husband “just like that.” After all, those frightening sex messages didn’t all of a sudden disappear once they said “I do.”
A close friend of mine, “Lori” who grew up devoutly religious, married young and without any sexual experience whatsoever, then found herself divorced after a decade, told me that she had no idea what normal sex was. “He was a severe porn addict,” she says about her ex-husband. “We had strange, weird sex but I had nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t until we divorced and I had sex with a man for the first time as a single woman that I realized how wrong my married sex life was. I was 42 years old before I had great sex.” But the guilt that accompanied that experience was tremendous. She cried for weeks from the shame, lost weight (that part she liked), and knew for sure she would rot in hell.
I certainly don’t think that sleeping around is a great option. And I would never second-guess anyone’s religious convictions. But I will absolutely not teach my daughters that their value is tied to their virginity. Because their value is limitless. And having that confidence will (hopefully) help them have a lifetime of healthier attitudes towards boys, relationships, and sex in general.
When my daughter told me the story about her classmate, Molly, it was time for a Mommy-Daughter conversation.
“You know that if you have sex with a boy, it’s just sex. Don’t ever confuse sex with love or like or interest,” I told her. “The healthiest way to have sex, and what I hope for you, is that you develop a relationship first. Whether its friendship or more, it takes time to know if you like him, and if that feeling is mutual. Only after that, is sex a valuable piece of that relationship. Otherwise, sex can ruin everything. Plus you can get pregnant or get an STD.”
I then told her that she is amazing and that any boy who didn’t treat her amazing needed to go away. This opened up a really important hour-long discussion about boys, sex and relationships. And then came the zinger, “Did you have sex before you married dad?” Oh boy, I did say I was going to be open and honest with her, always. “Yes,” I answered. And I’m so grateful we stopped there, at least for now.
I then thought of a better analogy about sex and value. Here’s a $100 bill in perfect shape. Would you want it and spend it? Of course. Now step on that $100 bill. It’s dirty and you wipe it off a bit. Still want it? What if you spit on it or write on it, or it gets stained. Is it still worth $100? Of course. Value and importance are not tied to sex or virginity.
Let’s hope our mommy-daughter chats make a difference. Crossing fingers here. And if anyone out there has a better approach, I’m all ears.