Written by Kelly, #3
My parents gave me many gifts. Some tangible, like my treasured set of the Chronicles of Narnia books, and others intangible, like my mother’s characteristic bluntness – something my husband is, in turn, delighted and horrified that I inherited.
One thing that my parents never gave me, was birth control.
They didn’t shy away from “the sex talk.” When your mom is pretty much always pregnant, you’re bound to have a few questions, and nine-year-old Kelly demanded very thorough explanations.
There was never any negativity around sex that I recall, and if there was, it came from me. Upon learning of the…mechanics…of it all, I looked my mom in the eye and declared, in all of my innocent certainty, that THAT did not sound good at all.
My mom laughed. My dad looked relieved.
However, my parents did explain boundaries. In every conversation, the idea that sex was very special and meant for marriage was constantly reinforced. And of course, babies. Sex made babies. (That part didn’t need too much reinforcement. Nothing makes that point as clearly as having eight siblings).
More than that though, sex was less about you, and more about giving yourself to another.
It wasn’t until college that my peers informed me that my parents’ views – and the views of the Catholic Church – were repressive, unhealthy, and antiquated.
One girl would boast of how fun her mom was, always sending her condoms in her care packages to “take care of her and her friends”. This girl would dutifully stuff them into her pockets and bring them with her to parties, doling them out as needed. The “condom fairy” she called herself to much applause.
No doubt her mom meant well and was trying to keep her daughter safe. However, what she forgot – or maybe didn’t realize – is that she was only providing protection for physical consequences while enabling and even cheerleading her daughter’s chosen lifestyle. The results were about as sad as one might imagine: lots of tears and a string of young men who only spoke to her if all involved parties were intoxicated. It seemed painfully obvious that there was nothing healthy about this, but the girl insisted that she felt “empowered” and “free.” I never saw evidence of either.
That was just one example, but unfortunately, I have far too many more. For a brief time, I played on my college’s club rugby team. On the team bus, I would listen as my teammates played games of “would you rather” and “never have I ever,” always trying to be the one with the story of the most shocking sexual encounter. Being the team’s “token Catholic” – as one girl called me frequently, I sat those games out and listened to them tell me in tones ranging from pitying to patronizing to outright disapproval that it was a shame I adhered to such a “sexually repressive” belief system.
Upon meeting some of these young women during a visit my sophomore year, my mom said simply: “What a sad, sad group of girls.” She was right. I never met a single one who seemed truly happy, despite their extremely “liberated” lifestyles.
Of course, sex was decidedly not the only factor in the manifold unhappiness I saw around me; indeed it may not have been the largest. However, I could see the damage inflicted by the notion that people could simply do as they wished, when they wished. Put more simply, I saw the toxic ripple effects of the “you do you” mentality.
To them, and to their male counterparts, people were simply objects to be used for their own utility. I remember one girl, a captain on the rugby team, saying “my favorite nights are the ones where I make out with 4 guys, and have sex with one of them while the other three text me.” It bears mentioning that this particular girl prided herself on being a feminist and frequently went on tirades about men objectifying women. Apparently, she did not hold herself to the same standards.
Little effort was made to cultivate true, authentic relationships. The only rule was “don’t place any ‘limits’ on me.” Relationships were seen as too restricting. Why settle for one person when there is a whole world out there to experiment with? And if your mom is sending you condoms, telling you to have as much sex as you can, with whomever you want, without even pausing to think of the emotional ramifications, what else is there to stop you?
The answer is sadly, not much.
So, I want to thank you, Mom and Dad. For being so “antiquated” and for not sending me condoms.
Thank you instead for teaching me that the greatest joy in relationships frequently comes from sacrifice, not selfishness, for living out the truth that there is beauty in being bound to another, and for showing me that true love gives; it does not use.