When It Comes to Sex and Relationships, I’m Pretty Sure America is Bipolar

I’m beginning to think that America suffers from bi-polar disorder when it comes to issues related to sex and relationships.

Either that, or we are simply a country of hypocrites.

Since I’d like to believe we aren’t a bunch of hypocrites,  I prefer to blame our attitudes and behavior on something else.

But whatever the reason, we are definitely a country of extremes.

On one hand, the United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world: a rate almost three times that of Germany and France and over four times of that Netherlands (http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/419?task=view).  On the other hand, we have a really difficult time talking to our children about sex and sexuality.

Years ago, I  felt completely beaten up when I was battling the issue of “abstinence only” education versus comprehensive sex education. But then, the issue got personal: I had children, and I want them to develop safe and healthy attitudes.

This means providing them with as much accurate information as possible.  This also means providing them with the tools to use that information wisely and to feel comfortable talking with me about anything. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll help find it.

But I’m learning that’s often the exception. A lot of parents want to avoid any conversation. Period.

They freak out when certain body parts or behaviors come up in conversation, and they attempt to steer the discussion elsewhere.

This is ridiculous considering what our kids are exposed to every day in the media.  I remember when 8:00 was reserved for family friendly television programs. Now, it’s hard to find anything on network television that doesn’t center around sexual humor and innuendo or that doesn’t portray casual sex as the expectation rather than the exception.

I’ve found myself explaining more to my daughter between 8:00 and 8:30 than at any other time of the day. But the discussion also becomes an opportunity to share my values, which I hope she and her brother eventually appreciate. And I hope both my children understand how self-love and independence are far more important than being in a relationship, at any age.

But that’s not easy, especially with girls.  While the public service messages and textbooks are telling girls they can be anything, the rest of the world seems to be broadcasting that being in a relationship is what they should be striving for.

I was recently at a birthday party for a 10-year-old girl who was crying because her boyfriend had broken up with her.  She had just turned ten, and she was crying over a boy. I just didn’t get it, and when I don’t get something, I ask questions.

First, I asked my daughter. Always her mother’s daughter, she said she didn’t get it either.

“Some of these girls always have to have a boyfriend,” she said. “It’s stupid. They waste so much time on that rather just having fun with their friends.”

I agreed, but, in a concerned manner, approached the mother about the issue. Her response?  “I know, she’s heartbroken and will be up all night worrying about it. Hopefully, she’ll get over him soon.”

Get over him soon? At (barely) ten?

But then, I should have known better. This comment came from a woman who, recently re-married, has a signature on her text messages that reads “I love (the name of her husband).”

I’m thinking maturity regarding relationships isn’t her strength.

When I told a friend about how the girl didn’t enjoy her tenth birthday party because she was upset about losing her boyfriend, his response was, “They are just imitating what they see adults do.”

That’s what scares me most of all.

Despite efforts to build their self-esteem, I’m afraid the predominate message girls  receive is that being in a relationship is a measure of who they are. Is that why so many woman are involved in abusive relationships? Is that why one in four women will experience domestic violence in her life and why an estimated 1.3 million woman are the victim of physical assault by an intimate partner every year?  http://www.ncadv.org/.

But I can’t blame the media too much. They simply sell what people are willing to buy, such as magazines with pictures of unrealistically beautiful and barely dressed women on the covers. Apparently, our country is fine with seeing pictures of half-naked woman while in line at the grocery store, but is struggling with issues of breastfeeding in public:  http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/27/the-nurse-in-why-breast-feeding-moms-are-mad-at-target/?xid=gonewsedit.

We need laws so mothers can breast feed their babies, but we are forced to look at “stars with  cellulite” while buying milk?

I understand that we all get mixed messages, but our country is one big mixed message, especially when it comes to the human body, sex and relationships.

If it was up to me to resolve the issue, I’d say we need to start with some honest discussion about what we really value rather than what we pretend to value.

But then, I also know Americans have a love/hate relationship with honest discussion.

I’m guessing that’s also part of our disorder.

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About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter in high school, a son starting his latest adventures at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on January 22, 2012, in Family, perspective, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Trina- I love this! So dead on. Having 2 girls all of this scares me. I have Natalie trying to decide who she is going to marry now. I am always explaining to her that it should not be a concern. I didn’t get a lot explained to me. In fact I was in the dark. Somehow that ended up working toward my parents goal. But I VERY easily backfire! I am not taking that chance!

  2. Another wonderful read!!!

  3. Hi Trina,
    I live in Australia and I’m not sure how the two countries compare.The birds and the bees is an awkward talk for most parents. Our son is almost 11 and I guess is on the cusp of noticing girls and some of his friends, at least have their eyes open. He is at the younger end of his year. This is his last year before going into high school so I am intending to swat on all sorts of subjects this year so I’m prepared. I need to teach him to be respectful of girls and understand the subtleties and not so subtleties of female communication and knowing how to respect girls as a whole.
    I face a whole different ta scenario with my daughter who is almost 9 and I don’t know about where you live but short shorts are the fashion here and she’s really skinny and able to wear anything and I’m trying to find the language for that conversation. She just wants to look good. she doesn’t know about sexuality…or perhaps I’d naive. It’s comfortable for her as well and we do live in a hot country. The girl next door went skateboarding down the street a bikini. My daughter and her friend were chasing a year2 boy around very intensely in year 1 and I was very disturbed about that. He was a nice boy but that wasn’t the point.
    I worked in HIV/Sexual health for a year and am better prepared than most to discuss these issues with their kids but none of us have had very good role models, even if we intend to do better than “the book” when it comes to our own kids.
    As you said, parenting isn’t easy!!
    xx Rowena

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