Let’s have that awkward conversation about sex.
Because we’re not doing anybody any favors by being hush-hush about this thing that is shoved into our faces every single day. Parents, pastors, youth ministers, and anyone else who has young ones looking to you for guidance and answers, this is especially important for you to know. Kids need to talk about sex.
When was the first time I asked about sex? I was 4 years old. My older sister had come home from school, bragging that she knew what sex was, but she wouldn’t tell me! I had to know. So when my dad came home from work later that night, I asked him, “Daddy, what is sex?” …Now, it’s probably important to note that in the Korean culture, it’s taboo to talk about sex. And talking about sex with your kids (especially for my parents’ generation) is absolutely unheard of. But I think this is pretty common across many different cultures. Even in America, where sex is plastered on practically every billboard, commercial, movie, and music video, parents will just pretend like it doesn’t exist. So when my dad looked back at me in horror, I asked, “Isn’t it when two people get naked and start French kissing?” Totally innocent question, right? Well, maybe not totally innocent. I had peeked through my fingers enough times when my mom would say, “Cover your eyes!” during certain movie scenes. (C’mon, I know I’m not the only one.)
Now, parents, if you’re ever in this situation, your next answer could greatly impact your impressionable child. This could set the path for their view on sexuality way into their adulthood. This is your opportunity to give age-appropriate, truthful answers that tell your children how God designed sex and that they are made for true, authentic love. Feeling the pressure, yet? I wish I can say that my father responded in this way, but instead, I was met with rage and fire. I got a spanking that night (so did my sister, because she obviously had such a bad influence on me. Michelle, it’s all your fault!) and I vowed to never speak, hear, or even think about sex ever again.
For the next few years, I continued living my innocent life, running away from any sexual image or thought, trying my best to shut it out in fear of another spanking. I still didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was powerful and somehow involved naked bodies. But what happens when you repress your feelings and pretend they don’t exist? Anybody have passive-aggressive family members? Know someone with alcohol or drug problems? Anger and violence issues? If you repress your feelings long enough, you’re going to snap. Those feelings will find a way to get out, and most likely, it will be in the most unhealthy of ways.
When I was in 3rd grade, we finally got a computer with Internet in our house. It was glorious. We would use our landline to dial-up to the Internet, gleefully listening to those screeching, robotic sounds that assured we would soon have the world at our fingertips. The first couple months were a joyful blur of computer games like Snake and Oregon Trail, but it didn’t take very long for me, as a child, to access chat rooms with perverted strangers, erotica websites, and pornography. I went from repressing my sexual thoughts and feelings to being exposed to sex in the most carnal and grotesque of ways. I felt horrified, but curious. I wanted to turn away, but I was infatuated. I was like Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings. I was hooked.
I knew it was wrong. My dad had made that abundantly clear. But this was a time before parental supervision and Internet search histories. I dove deep into a secret addiction to pornography and masturbation that lasted for about 12 years. And what did pornography teach me? It taught me that sex was the only way to feel loved and valued. It taught me that I had to perform sexual favors for my boyfriends to keep them happy. It taught me that I had to have sex with a guy on the first date to thank him for dinner. It taught me to hate myself. It taught me that I was never worthy of true love.
With all these sexual, lustful thoughts clouding my mind 24/7, I went into middle school never being told anything else other than what I was being taught by pornography. I never received any other messages from my parents, my pastors, my youth ministers, or my teachers. Simply because it was never talked about. Those conversations were avoided like the plague. Then came 8th grade, where everybody got to take a Sex Ed class and openly talk about sex. We all shuffled into the room, pretending like we were too cool to care about the class, then trying to stifle our giggles at words like penis and vagina. And this class proceeded to show us image after image of every STD you can imagine, as we groaned and gagged at the warts, blisters, and oozing pus. Then we had a lesson about what happens when girls get pregnant, which was basically a traumatizing and bloody video of a woman giving birth to a purple, alien-like baby.
This was the message of our “comprehensive” sexual education: DON’T get STDs and definitely DON’T get pregnant. Never once did we talk about the emotional, psychological, and spiritual ramifications of sex. Never once did we talk about the benefits and beauty of sex within the context of marriage. Never once were we told that the Pill is a class one carcinogen (i.e. cancer causing agent) as reported by the World Health Organization . Never once were we taught about any alternatives, such as Natural Family Planning (i.e. Creighton method, Symptothermal method, etc.) as an effective and 100% natural means to plan pregnancy and track fertility. Never once were we told that our bodies are treasures, that our sexual desires are good, or that sex is a beautiful expression of one’s true love and commitment to one’s spouse in the most vulnerable and intimate of ways. Instead, we were told that some people choose to abstain from sex until marriage, but in reality most wouldn’t. So the class ended with the instructor tossing out free condoms in various fun colors and flavors. Some were even glow-in-the-dark. Can you believe it? She was like Oprah, giving out free candy. YOU get a condom! YOU get a condom! EVERYBODY GETS FREE CONDOMS!!!
So, imagine a young teenage girl, with a twisted sense of sexuality, now handed free neon-colored condoms (and free birth control pills from Planned Parenthood at every annual checkup). I felt invincible because I was led to believe that condoms would make me “safe” from STD’s and that the Pill would keep me from becoming a teenage mother.
It wasn’t long until I lost my virginity and went down a dark, downward spiral into a world of sexual promiscuity, drugs, and untreated depression. I didn’t care about my body, my heart, or my soul. For a large part of my adolescence, I used sex as a tool to receive what I thought was affection, attention, and love (coincidentally, I was lacking these things in other areas of my life). But I was deeply mistaken. Instead, I was receiving false promises, pain and hurt, and ultimately the message that: I was only worth what my body could offer.
It has taken many years of prayer, therapy, and communication (and it’s still an ongoing process) to reverse those messages, to heal from the spiritual and emotional traumas, and to undo those knots that choked me for so many years. Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t talk to your kids about sex, they are going to become sex addicts. I’m just sharing my story to give an example of what could happen when you a) completely avoid the topic of sex or b) just tell them, “Don’t have sex because I said so.”
Priests and pastors, talk about sex with your parish communities. Talk about it in your homilies. Discuss it (in length) in marriage prep meetings. Draw inspiration from St. John Paul II and his writings in Love and Responsibility and know that people can and will learn about sex from unmarried, celibate men. Youth leaders, invest in good, solid Theology of the Body programs and chastity speakers (i.e. Paul J. Kim, Chastity Project Speakers) to come speak at your church or event. Talk about it with your teens even if they pretend like they don’t care. Spread awareness of the addictive and damaging nature of pornography and about resources (i.e. Covenant Eyes, XXX Church) that can help people break the cycle. Married couples, don’t just have sex, talk about it, too. Open communication can open up a whole world of sexual healing and discovery. Check out this great book called Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving by Gregory K. Popcack.
And finally, parents, know that it all has to start in the home. If you’re not teaching your kids about sex, the world is teaching them. And the world is unfortunately filled with lies when it comes to this topic, cleverly and cunningly planted by the Enemy. When your kids ask questions, and they will have questions, take those opportunities to give loving, honest, and appropriate answers without making them feel ashamed or intimidated. Do your homework. There will also be opportunities to use their mistakes and turn them into teachable moments. Pray for wisdom, patience, and guidance. Pray for your children, their sexual purity, and their future vocation in life. But most importantly, live chastity and purity out yourselves. Your kids may not remember exactly what you teach them or the carefully thought-out answers you give, but they will remember your actions. More is caught than taught. So strive for chastity in your marriage, kick that porn addiction, be mindful of the movies you watch, the music you listen to, and the books you read (moms, put down the 50 Shades), use those parental controls on the computers and smartphones, and remain close to the Lord through prayer and the Sacraments.
And for those who have already lost their virginity and now feel like there’s no point in waiting anymore, I totally get it. I’ve been there. We all have sexual desires and sometimes, it seems easier to give in. But I’m challenging you to start over and try again, not just for your future spouse, but for yourself. Because I know you are capable of living up to the challenge. Because I know you deserve better. It wasn’t until my early 20′s when I finally met a man, named Paul, who didn’t want to use me for my body and just have sex with me. WHAT?! I was confused. There I was, expecting to give it up by our 3rd date (I made him wait long enough, right?), and he was sitting there, telling me that he was waiting for his future spouse to show her the utmost dignity and respect, to sacrifice his sexual desires for the protection of her heart and soul, and to love and honor her the way she deserves to be loved so they can finally consummate their vows of marriage on their wedding night. I was floored. And by God’s good grace, I married that man. Not only because he was charming, intelligent, handsome, and hilarious. But because I knew he would love me the way Christ loves His Bride, the Church: through sacrifice and suffering, with strength, nobility, and humility. And that’s what I deserved. That’s what every person deserves.
~ Maggie Kim