Our U.S culture has a habit of portraying males as mindless, confused idiots who cannot be expected to know how to change a diaper, clean up a mess, not drool on a woman’s cleavage and couldn’t possibly have the self control to decline sex if it is offered to them.
But before we start pointing fingers at Homer Simpson, Family Guy, the Twitter defenders of the Steubenville rapists, and Huggies advertisements (all which deserve criticism) perhaps Christian culture should take a long hard look at itself.
I was raised in Christian culture. Conservative Evangelical Christian culture. I was home-schooled until third grade and then enrolled in a tiny Christian school that was in the same building as my church. Between school, church, youth group, and extracurricular activities, I literally spent more hours in the church building than I did at home. I had a poster of Michael W. Smith on my wall. I received Brio Magazine (a publication of Focus on the Family) in the mail every month. Brio would print modest fashion spreads and most of the clothes I still would have never been allowed to leave the house in. My parents read my DC Talk Jesus Freak lyrics and were skeptical about the word “freak” but they let me keep it. All the elders and pastors of my church were unquestionably male. Some of my friends had purity rings and I signed a purity card when I was fifteen. There were a lot of incredibly positive things about my childhood and I want to emphasize that my parents are awesome and gave me an awesome gift, they taught me to think for myself, but I also want to emphasize that I know this culture well.
This culture often teaches parents not to baby proof the house; instead to house proof the baby by teaching them what not to touch. They expect toddlers to have self- control. However, the same people teach girls to dress modestly because men cannot control their lustful thoughts if they see cleavage, an exposed bra strap, knees, an unzipped hoodie over a t-shirt, or wet hair. If a woman dresses immodestly (however that is defined) she is responsible for causing her brother to stumble. Toddlers can have self control, but full grown men cannot (see two great blogs on this Modesty, Lust, and My Responsibility and Who are the Real Babies? House-Proofing and Modesty)
The Purity Culture within Christian Evangelical culture emphasizes female virginity and the patriarchal idea that the father “owns” the daughter’s virginity, however says little about teen boys or young men being able to protect their virginity or their mothers “owning” their son’s virginity (it also completely ignores LGBT teens). We see purity balls where fathers take their daughters but where are the mothers and sons going? Nowhere. Because the assumption is that the boys cannot be taught to make responsible decisions with their sexuality, so we better teach the girls to say no.
Our males deserve more respect than that.
From the stories my husband and close male friends tell me, as teens there were plenty of times they had opportunities to have sex and they didn’t. Their reasons vary as much as the men who tell them. They didn’t feel safe, they knew they weren’t going to have a long term relationship, or they weren’t all that interested in the girl. Teen boys have self control. We need to have more confidence in them so we actually teach both boys and girls to make positive sexual decisions for themselves.
How do we do that? Instead of starting with the potential negative consequences of sex, what about talking about how God created us as sexual beings and that is good. That sexual arousal is a biological function and may or may not be under someone’s control and is not sinful and is different from lust which is under a person’s control.
We need to tell kids how to say yes, instead of just how to say no. Sexual contact needs to be soberly and enthusiastically consented to by both parties (See Dianna E. Anderson’s blog No Touching: Consent as the First Step) We need to tell them that the first time won’t be the best time and just like anything, it gets much better with practice. We need to tell them that a sense of humor and trust in your partner is essential. We need to tell them that the great joy of learning, laughing, trusting, and practicing is best suited to a lifelong commitment. We need to tell them that when they make mistakes with their sexuality, because they will, it is not tied to their worth as a human. They should learn from their mistake and move on, just as we learn from a bounced check or an over eating binge and try to do better next time.
I know that the boys and men I know have the capability of understanding, learning, and having self control. I don’t want to treat them as idiots and I don’t want our culture to either.