As a blogger, I sometimes fear that after enough time has passed I will eventually run out of things to say. Thankfully, Oprah has assembled a team of “expert” psychologists who will prevent that from ever happening.
Recently Oprah aired a show covering the topic of how to approach sexually educating your kids. For the first half of this discussion I was totally tracking with her. With the help of sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman, the show revealed how few parents are having this important discussion with their kids, nor are they having it at an earlier enough age. Studies show that 90 percent of O Magazine’s readers (mothers) thought they had had the sex talk with their kids, but when their daughters were asked about this supposed conversation, a large percentage of the girls felt that the conversation had not, in fact, taken place. Another statistic showed that 78% of women think their daughters feel comfortable talking to them about sex, but in reality only 39% of daughters actually do.
The study also revealed that girls aren’t just interested in the dynamics of sex–they want to know about the emotional side of it as well. They want to understand why they are feeling so strongly towards a boy, and why it affects their bodies the way that it does. It is for this and many other reasons that Dr. Berman encourages parents to “arm [their kids] with knowledge that will guide them well into adulthood.”
Up to that point I was TOTALLY with Dr. Berman. She also offered helpful advice about not freaking out over the conversation, not veiling the topic in such intense secrecy that it develops an unhealthy stigma, and other practical tips. I found myself actually appreciating Oprah and the good she was doing for parents and families. Yay Oprah!
Then the show took an unexpected turn..
Dr. Berman explained that only 35% of mothers talk to their daughters about one of the most important aspects of sex–pleasure. She explained, “We need to teach them about pregnancy prevention and STD prevention, but we also have to teach them about the gift that sexuality is.” (Still tracking with her, still on the same page, yes, yes…) So she concludes, “This is why…it’s important to have a big talk with your child when she hits high school about masturbation and orgasms. This is something that’s normal and natural, and if you’re talking to a girl from a young age about this, it’s a natural thing.” (Wait, WHAT?!?)
She later concludes that it’s a good idea to even buy your daughter a vibrator. (Though she qualifies this advice, saying you should only get one that stimulates the outside, not the inside. At this point, I’m not sure why that really matters…??)
So why does Dr. Berman feel that this is an important step for your child? Because “Teaching your daughters to take control of their own pleasure can help them avoid unhealthy sexual experiences. You’re teaching them about their own body and pleasuring themselves and taking the reins of their own sexuality so that they don’t ever have to depend on any other teenage boy to do it for them.”
Now let me back up and say that I agree with Dr. Berman to an extent. Not only should parents do a better job of talking to their kids about sex, but discussing the pleasure aspect is certainly important too. If we talk about sex as if it’s a dark and horrible thing to be avoided at all costs, and then they hear their friends talk about how great it is, who are they going to believe? We risk our credibility when we make sex out to be something that it’s not. It’s enticing for a reason–it feels good, and can be very wonderful. It was, after all, given to us by God.
But vibrators? That’s another matter. The other day I was talking to my pastor’s wife about when she should start having the sex talk with her daughters, and I somehow doubt this is what she had in mind. Now I have heard an argument made for women to explore their bodies (not in a sexual way but in an education way) prior to marriage so that they’re not completely blind-sided on the wedding night, and that makes some sense to me. I can even understand walking your daughter through the parts of her own body so that she knows exactly what’s down there. But teaching her to orgasm so that she isn’t dependent on a man for that pleasure? This is a case of feminism gone completely awry!
It is indeed important for mothers to talk with their daughters–in stages, over time–about their bodies, where babies come from, and the feelings that can arise from sex. It’s also important to explain that that “pleasure” is from God but is designed to occur within the boundaries of marriage. It is then crucial to explain that the reason behind God’s design for sex within marriage is that the “pleasure” of sex can result in emotional attachments that are devastating when they are broken. God wants to save women that heart-brokenness, which is why He wants us to only have sex in marriage.
It is with this God-ordained narrative in mind that Dr. Berman’s advice is clearly destructive. She is trying to help women short-circuit the emotional damage of failed relationships, not by teaching them abstinence or waiting for a guy who respects you, but by avoiding the attachment altogether. If I can get that kind of pleasure on my own, I don’t need a man to fulfill it. This has frightening implications for the future marriages of our country.
Which is why I should also point out that while Dr. Berman’s ideas might work in theory, she speaks as a mother of two very young sons, and not as someone who has seen the consequences of this teaching play out over a 20 year period. It is when these young women reach adulthood, get married, and start families of their own that this counsel will truly be tested. Until then, I would be wary of speaking so authoritatively on an idea that has not stood the test of time. While her intentions are good, and there IS something that mothers can learn from her–namely, that moms need to talk with their daughters EARLY and instill them with a healthy understanding of sex and their bodies–I’m afraid her advice could have devastating long-term effects for the marriages and families of our country.
There is more to abstinence than avoiding pregnancy, STD’s, or merely “staying pure.” In teaching abstinence we instill our children with the principles of faithfulness, perseverance, self-control and self-giving love, principles that enable marriages and families to last. With Dr. Berman’s advice, I fear we will miss the forest for the trees…or in this case, a vibrator.
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