Intimacy and Marriage, and Sexual Ethics

(This is part 3 in my series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)

Yes, you heard me right: Getting married has nothing to do with getting pregnant, and getting pregnant has only a passing connection to sex.

You might think then that I want you to have wanton intercourse with boys far and wide. And it is true that some people do just that. And some of them say they’re happy with that lifestyle. And I believe them. (Many of them also say that they’re unhappy about the way society demonizes them— but more about that next week.)

But that’s not exactly what I said. What I said was: much of what society has told you about marriage and teen pregnancy is misinformation, and I don’t want you to rely on it.

However, sex does go along with marriage.

Wait until you’re 18, and maybe married

It’s pretty obvious that sex does go along with marriage. A person will usually have sex with his marriage partner. And will usually have sex only with his marriage partner, or at least only admit to having sex with his marriage partner.

I’m fairly sympathetic to the idea that you might want to wait until you’re married before you have sex. That’s because sex can be quite intimate, and in modern society marriage is an expression of intimacy.

I certainly think you should wait until you’re 18 to decide to have sex. This has nothing to do with the dangers of sex itself, but because of the way our culture and our legal system react to minors having sex. The way people react can emotionally scar, or even ruin lives, even if the sex itself doesn’t. As I pointed out before, sex is risky, and our otherwise progressive legal code includes some pretty puritanical laws regarding sex, at least if one of you is younger than 16. Even if you or your partner is 16 or 17, you could theoretically get into legal trouble for “corruption of a minor.” But once you’re 18, you’re legally an “adult”; you can sign contracts, join the military, and legally consent to the risks of sex, all without anyone else’s permission.

(This is in the state of Massachusetts. Other states have different laws. But all states recognize you as an “adult” when you turn 18. At 18, the only thing you apparently aren’t “old enough” to do is to buy alcohol. But you can still always come over to our house for a glass of wine, if you want.)

On top of that, our society really doesn’t offer much support for 16 and 17 year olds who want to have sex. And your particular sub-culture definitely doesn’t. In some cultures, this would not be an issue. In some cultures, young people are encouraged to begin having sex as soon as they hit puberty. But those cultures (or at least the ones I’m thinking of) also have other traditions and conventions that protect teens and teach them how to experiment with sex without getting hurt. We don’t have that here.

So you should absolutely, unquestionably, unequivocally wait until both you and your partner are at least 16 years old. And I think you should also wait until you’re at least 18, because you’ll be able to make better decisions then. And if you want to wait until you’re married, I fully support you and think that’s a great idea.

However, I freely admit to you, many people do have premarital and even extramarital sex, and they do so ethically, and many of them live happy and healthy lives.

What is an “ethical” sexual relationship?

Here’s another area in which I’m risking the rage of religious conservatives on my keppy. But I believe you need a sexual ethic that will bear the weight of 21st-century life. I’m not sure precisely what this ethic looks like, but I do know at least some of its components.

Communication is especially important in this day and age, because many people assume a host of unwritten rules surrounding issues on which not everyone agrees:

I’ll talk about myths regarding some of these issues, next week.

(Click here to continue with part 4, “Myths about Sex.”)

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