What Are We Teaching Our Kids About Intimacy?

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Our relationships can be defined in levels, with fewer and fewer people at each one. The largest category being strangers, who my son once referred to as “friends we haven’t met yet,” then funneling down to the exclusive circle of our lovers.

These physically intimate relationships are usually our core relationships — and they’re ultimately the ones families and households are built from.  So why are we not talking to our young people about the intimate nature of these relationships beyond the mechanics and dangers of sex?

Without a boyfriend in high school, I attended dances and other events with my friends and dreamed of a day when I’d be good enough. Good enough to have someone want me — I thought I was doing something wrong, but couldn’t figure out what. Later on, as a young college student, that idea morphed into the belief that the only reason guys would be interested in me, or willing to stick around, was if I was willing to “do stuff” with them. 

I remember one night in my apartment, alone with my boyfriend.  My mouth full of him, I gagged.  I was kneeling in front of him on the hardwood floor, the thin strap on my red satin nightie had fallen off one shoulder.  I was grateful for the dark so he couldn’t see my twisted face... not that he was looking anyway.  His hands, tangled in my hair drove the rhythm.

The streetlight cast a cutting, blue fluorescent beam through the slit in the curtains. I kept my head down to be sure it didn’t reflect off the tears running down my face.  I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be doing this.  It wasn’t fun.  But it was the price that had to be paid.  The price to have the other things I wanted.  The price for having a “special someone."  

The ticking of the wall clock pulsed through the blood in my ears, my eyes tight shut and shins aching… a small pebble dug into the top of my foot.

Oh, finally, it was done.  I wiped my mouth and cheeks with the back of my hand then pretended to look for a fallen hair clip while pulling myself together. I put on my best smile and stood up.  Thank god for darkness.

I was in my mid-thirties before I learned that one of the reasons guys hadn’t asked me out was because they’d found me intimidating.  I’m very tall, relatively smart, and in my youth I was pretty.  It NEVER crossed my mind that this package of traits could be seen as intimidating.  NEVER! At that time, I didn’t know that we each live in our own mental fishbowl.  I just assumed my perceptions were truth.  

I hope my own children will have a different experience. I know I can’t protect them from their own minds, but I can offer up my lessons, my learning, my own growth.  

The Puritan dialog had us believing that sex was bad and shameful…along with our bodies and desires.  Rebels like Hugh Hefner broadcast the message, “sex is good.” But reconciling his Playboy lifestyle with raising a family is difficult, if not impossible.  Not to mention the double standard he held, which allowed him to have multiple partners, but his “main” female companion could not. It doesn't spark a warm feeling of gender equality.   

It’s way past time for a new message — one that goes beyond “no means no” and “be safe.”  

This is the message that resonates with me:
We are sacred and sharing our bodies is a sacred act. 

I don’t mean in a formal Tantric sense with exercises, rituals, or teachings — but rather something more simple.  Our kids will form their own ideas, their own preferences… that’s how it works.  But if they hold themselves and others dear, like heirlooms from great-grandmother; something to be cared for and thoughtfully considered, then at least they'll begin their journey on firmer ground.  

There are two dictionary definitions of sacred that I particularly like:

  • regarded with reverence

  • secured against violation

There's no judgement here.  No idea that you must be married before having sex…or any other rules. It’s more like a way of being. Even a one night stand can be beautiful if held in the light of sacredness; a gift between two people.

However, before we can even look in the direction of sacredness, we must move away from taboo.  The Our Whole Lives curriculum, created and taught by the Unitarian Universalists, is a wonderful sex ed curriculum that aims to dispel the shame and awkwardness around physical intimacy. You can read a candid account from a teen participant here.

Two years ago, our family took an online poetry class together, I mention it because if you have young people in your life, this company, Brave Writer, has wonderful courses to take together.  

My son and I still find poetry a fulfilling way to express ourselves when standard words and syntax fail.  I found that this was the case when reflecting on my own experience, and how I see things today.  Instead of struggling to make the prose work, I’ll simply share my experience using this art form… 

Newborn Stars

I am the temple goddess
Inhabiting my heart throne
The chalice of life resting between my fingers

Infinite and pulsing
this dwelling is not for me alone

My portico is grand, welcoming all to its columned benches
With wine and warmth on offer
Souls find comfort here

Just beyond rests the inner courtyard,
reserved for distinguished guests
Their feet I bathe in golden milk
and brush their brows with tender lips

Mother Earth herself frequents here
with chickadees and trees
Embracing, we wonder majestic

Beyond the walls, passed the fallen logs and through the secret garden
Lies the graced gateway of my sanctuary

Only gods may enter here,
no swords or armor on parade

Robed in light, the key to his shrine in hand
He follows the dew kissed maiden silk
Beyond the blue infinity and through the open doors

My cheek, his chest
Hands clasping
Ground trembling
Angels keeping
Time departing

We kneel before each other
Heads bowed, eyes bright
Our lips hold a prayer
Light dancing through
Waves lifting up

Securely swaddled by the night sky
Alone, together, 
inhaling the caress of newborn stars