Okay, Teachable Moment Alert. But what, exactly, to teach?
Mom: So, what do you think the lesson is here?
Ten-year-old Julia, brightly: Don't have sex until you get married!
Uh, um, is that the lesson? Did I hear Daddy's car in the driveway? Anybody want more peas?
No, Ms. Marcus does not want her daughter to draw that particular lesson, even though her daughter is only 10 and has plenty of time to change her mind. She doesn't seem to see that her daughter wants her to set limits. Little Julia is receptive to the romantic idea of saving sex for marriage. She illustrates that again in this exchange:
A few weeks ago, the girls and I were watching "Gossip Girl," the odious television series about overprivileged Upper East Side teenagers. (In a bad parental bet, I okayed this show at the start of the season, thinking it might offer some cautionary tales about wretched excess. Turns out the kids consider it more of a roadmap. But that's another column.)
In this episode, one high school girl was about to have sex with her boyfriend.
Insert maternal throat-clearing:
Mom: I'd like to point out, for the record, that I don't approve of this behavior.
Emma, 12, with an air of worldly sophistication: Oh, Mom, don't be ridiculous! How old were you when you had sex?
OMG, as the kids say. Is there a parental equivalent of the Fifth Amendment?
I am saved by Julia, who announces that I am so irredeemably dweeby -- Emma, she was in the chess club, for goodness sake-- it is inconceivable that I had sex with anyone before Daddy.
Julia wants to believe that her mother and father were virgins to each other. What is so wrong with a 10 year old holding that belief, even if it is a fantasy? The child wants more purity than the mother can stand.
But even the conversation with the "sophisticated" 12 year old could have taken a different turn. I'm prepared to believe that Ruth Marcus started her sex life in high school, like the Gossip Girls character. I find it hard to believe she was sexually active at her daughter's age of 12. What would be so wrong with pointing out that fact? Baby Boomer Mom could say: "I certainly didn't have sex at age 12, young lady, so forget it."
The sad truth is that Baby Boomer mothers get stressed over anything that points to problems with the sexual revolution that we did so much to institutionalize in this society.
This is the conundrum that modern parents, boomers and beyond, confront when matters of sex arise. The bright-line rules that our parents laid down, with varying degrees of conviction and rather low rates of success, aren't – for most of us, anyway – either relevant or plausible. When mommy and daddy didn't get married until they were 35, abstinence until marriage isn't an especially tenable claim.
But wouldn't you like to see them wait until the end of high school? By they way, they don't have to postpone marriage until age 35. You were one of the lucky ones, who waited until 35 and still was able to have two children. Not everybody is so lucky. There is something seriously squirrely with a society in which adults can't bring themselves to tell kids to postpone sex until the end of high school but they want kids to postpone marriage until they are nearly menopausal.
Nor is it one I'd care to make. Would I prefer – as if my preference much matters – that my daughters abstain until marriage? No; in fact, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm not especially comfortable saying that, quite so directly, to my children, partly because that conversation gets so complicated, so quickly.
Actually, Baby Boomer Mom (BBM) your preferences DO matter. Studies here and here, to list just a few, show that parental expectations and discussions of good behavior are a protective factor against early sexual activity.
Be brave BBM's! Tell your kids to wait for sex. There is plenty of time. Steer them toward other activities, and away from Pop culture like Gossip Girls. Some of your daughters want you to set these limits for them.