Pearl clutchers - assemble!

2014-08-11 18:10

There are a few conversations I'm no longer going to have. Breastfeeding. Vaccination. David Tennant vs Matt Smith.

Not going to debate these things anymore. Not going to enter into a discussion on them. No amount of online haranguing has ever made anyone see the light.

Add another one to the list. Morals.

When you're working with pregnant teens and writing about the issues they face, it is an inevitable fact that the pearl-clutchers will emerge fretting about Morals with a Capital Mo.

Unfortunately, friends, from this day forth I am unable to can.

Please give me a moment to get up on my soapbox for the last time. There we go. Super comfy up here. (At this point I’d usually warn people to toddle off and find something better to do if this is going to make them cross. Today I’m going to ask them to stay and read what I have to say. I’m NOT preaching to the choir, I want others to hear it)

You want to talk about morals. So let's. It’s a word that’s thrown about a lot, poor thing. But…

Morals and values hey. If only the kids of today had some, then they wouldn’t all be shagging like rabbits, right? Riiiiight.

My moral code?

Don’t be a dick. This covers everything worth mentioning. Also, note that the D word has no other place in my moral code whatsoever. No rules or instructions for what you may or may not do with, to, or in the vicinity or absence of said dick. DBAD neatly takes care of anything unsavoury, hurtful, illegal or unpleasant you may be tempted to do with the D in question.

Something too many humans seem to have missed for generations: sex has nothing to do with morality at all. Sex is about health: physical, emotional, mental.

It can have consequences that affect any or all of those health aspects. Having sex does not change who you are (this is something that parents and teenagers alike need to know: you’re still exactly the same person the morning after).

You are always the same person, but having sex can have consequences that affect your life. Responsible behaviour means that you take this into account when making your sexual decisions.

Morals are always, always ALWAYS subjective. If they are based on religious principles, for example, they will not apply to anyone who doesn’t share your beliefs. I almost can’t believe I actually had to type that sentence. I expect to be arrested by Captain Obvious any second.

What most people call morals are just learned rules of behaviour that fit your current society, family or culture.

What do I say to my children about sex? And to the teenagers I speak to?

I do not believe for one second that having sex makes you a bad person.  Or that NOT having sex makes you a good one. Or vice versa or any combination thereof.

Sex and morals intersect in how you treat your partner(s): this is where issues of faithfulness, consent, the power dynamics of relationships, kindness, trust etc come in.

Are you lying to a partner? Are you abusing their trust? Are you taking advantage of their feelings for you in any way? If you have the advantage (in age, money, experience), are you looking out for their best interests, if they can’t or won’t? Are you hurting them (or anyone else) in any way?

THAT is morality. That is where your lectures on morals belong. For the rest of the sex conversations, focus on facts. Safe sex, HIV, STI & pregnancy prevention. The fact that sex can have consequences which can seriously complicate your life. Facts cannot be argued with. What YOU call morals – can be.

So – to the ladies and gentlemen inclined towards neck-jewellery-grabbing:

Here you go:

What is MORAL comes down to what is universal between two human beings: the tiniest, most basic interaction between two people.

I will treat you how I want to be treated. Do unto others and so on. (Why does that sound familiar?)

With kindness, respect and dignity. This can apply regardless of the society, culture, family, country or even century you’re living in. You can’t break it down any further than that. Morality is goodness between people, without external rules. It comes from inside and if you have it, you will not murder, you will not steal or rape or bully or oppress or hurt. Whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, atheist or Martian – you can have exactly the same morals.

That is MY moral code, and it doesn’t have anything to do with sex. You cannot tell a person’s moral standing by simply checking their sexual history. You can, however, get a fairly good inkling of their moral state by their internet comment history.

Oh, my values then? (Morals and values, always mentioned together like Cagney and Lacey. Handy little concern-troll phrase wibbled out without any thought into what you actually mean)

What do I value? In myself, in my children and in other people, I value kindness, gentleness, respect, dignity, curiosity, intelligence, questioning, deep thinking, hard work, responsibility and humility.

You might think it’s being pedantic, defining morality this way. I don’t agree. Words are important, and people do not think hard enough about what they mean.

Tell a teen that premarital sex means they’re a bad person, and they’ll soon realise (after doing it) – that who they are has not changed. Why should they trust you again? Why should they believe anything else you might tell them? Your credibility is out the window. All you’ve done is introduce guilt and doubt in themselves. On top of that, people who rely on morality lectures to discourage sexual activity, tend to neglect the factual parts (the actually useful bits).

So their teens are having sex, not knowing all the facts, not knowing how to protect themselves, and feeling guilty and ashamed. What could possibly go wrong?

Lessons on healthy relationships and how to treat partners should be emphasised in sex education, as well as the facts.

Other than that, teach your children the cardinal rule of DBAD and give it a try yourself.

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