(This is part 5—and the last part in a while—in the series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
We pick up this week with more myths about sex and relationships, especially that part about relationships.
Myth: “The right person will bring you lifelong happiness.”
Is it all in my mind?
Cause it seems so hard to believe
That you’re all I need. (Jack Wagner)
You bring me hope when I can’t breathe.
You give me love, you’re all I need. (Christina Aguilera)
All I need, all all I need… Is you smiling.
All I need, all all I need… Is life, love with you. (Awolnation)
You are all I need.
I’m in the middle of your picture,
Lying in the reeds. (Radiohead)
I’m holding on to you, holding on to me,
Maybe it’s all we got but it’s all I need.
You’re all I need. (Mat Kearney)
You’re all, I need—
Lie together, cry together,
I swear to God I hope we fucking die together
—to get by. (Method Man)
Truth: The right person will support you in your lifelong pursuit of happiness.
And you will support him.
It’s a very romantic fantasy, to fall in love with that person who fulfills you forever. But that’s all it is, a fantasy. In real life, human needs are complicated, and happiness is complicated. Life is complicated, and this is not an exception to life. In real life, we meet our needs and find happiness from a wide variety of sources, not from any single person. And in real life, people change, relationships develop, and we find new ways to meet our needs, new ways to find happiness.
Making a long-term relationship work involves a certain amount of flexibility and exploration, and a lot of communication.
(There’s that word again.)
Myth: “Sex is primarily for reproduction.”
“Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…'”
Truth: Most sex is for enjoyment and bonding.
Otherwise, there would be no point in having sex after you’ve hit menopause. In fact, there would be no point in having sex during most of your cycle, only for the few days that you’re actually fertile. But that’s not how humans are built. Humans, like bonobos and chimps, are designed to have sex during most of the female’s cycle, even during those times she is not ready to conceive. Actually, humans seem to be designed to have sex during all of the female’s cycle.
This myth, unfortunately, is fallout from the culture war. Many religious conservatives insist that sex is primarily for procreation so that they can therefore conclude that gay sex is somehow evil or wrong.
But that’s simply not how we humans live. Even those of us who choose not to get pregnant, we still have sex, and usually a lot of sex. Even women who have had hysterectomies still have sex, and I’m not going to tell them it’s abnormal or immoral, because it isn’t.
On the other hand, with artificial insemination, women regularly get pregnant without having sex. I’ve said it before: sex has only a passing connection to pregnancy.
If it gives you a sense of purpose to think of sex as being involved in procreation—which it often is—that’s wonderful. Just don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Myth: “The man is the head of the house.”
I was told this both when I was dating and when I got married. Now I’m a stay-at-home husband-homemaker who has found a great degree of fulfillment in so-called “women’s work.”
Truth: Two heads are better than one.
Individuals have different personalities, different preferences, and different styles. All relationships require honest communication, sensitivity, and compromise. That may mean that the woman takes the lead sometimes, or even all the time. Love must be defined within the relationship, not by some outside criteria.
This principle extends to how we think and act about sex. It is not a woman’s “duty” to give her man everything he wants sexually, as much as he wants, whenever he wants, without a thought to her own needs. Relationships are more complicated than that. Nor is a woman who asks for sex somehow acting slutty. Never be afraid to ask for what you want, and always require consent. For both partners.
Myth: “Sex is a sacred rite.”
“Sex is my ministry to my wife” (an actual quote from an actual youth pastor).
Truth: Sex is a part of life, and a normal part of being human.
That is why it’s important, for example, to negotiate condom use, in order to guard against pregnancy and STI’s.
Many religious people have built up a mystique around sex, and made it larger than life. When you build something up to that scale, it gets scary. And many religious people are very scared of sex.
I have decades of personal experience with sex—that makes me somewhat of an expert—and let me say, it’s not larger than life. It’s part of life, a small part.
By limiting the quantity and quality of sex, religious conservatives make it seem more scarce, and make it seem bigger and more valuable than it actually is. Then they focus on those limits to the exclusion of all else. No wonder the poor buggers go mad.
Don’t get me wrong: limits are good; they’re how we define who we are and how we live our lives. So set limits that work for you. But decide them with knowledge, not based on false perceived value.
Myth: “Focusing on God will keep you out of trouble.”
Again from that Christian book about teen dating.
Truth: Teenage pregnancy is higher among the more religious.
Yes, it really is. It could be because the most religious teens don’t know anything about sex, or about STI’s, or about birth control. After all, why would they need to, if they never plan on having sex? But without a plan, they end up making stupid decisions. (Note that this narrative is controversial, and not obvious from the data.) In any case, these teenagers, who presumably believe that abortion is murder, end up having more abortions than non-religious teenagers.
I believe God wants us to be informed, to know what we’re getting into, and to behave ethically. Only then can you make reasonably responsible decisions about when to have sex, with whom to have sex, and what to do if something goes differently than you expected.
Myth: “Premarital sex can destroy your relationship.”
Truth: Only you and your partner can build up or destroy your relationship.
Usually, when people blame premarital sex for destroying a relationship, what they mean is that the shame they feel destroys the relationship.
But sex itself is not supposed to be shameful. And certainly if you’ve behaved ethically, you should feel no shame. I know this may be hard to get your mind around, but please don’t let others load guilt and shame on you and ruin a promising relationship, no matter what else happens.