Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sex Education; A Pregnant Pause

A pregnant woman boards a bus. After taking a seat, she notices a man smiling at her. She feels self-conscious and changes her seat. His eyes follow her and he seems even more amused. She moves a third time, and he starts to giggle. On her fourth move, he bursts into hysterical laughter. They both get off the bus at the next stop. The pregnant woman is furious and demands an explanation. “What exactly is so funny?”

”I’m sorry, ma’am,” replies the giggling man. “But I couldn’t help noticing you’re pregnant, and when you first sat down, you sat under an advertisement which read ‘Coming Soon: Million Dollar Baby.’ That was funny enough. Then you moved and sat under an ad that read ‘Sloan’s Liniments Remove Swelling.’ That cracked me up. Then you moved under a deodorant advertisement which read ‘William’s Stick Did the Trick.’ And I just couldn’t hold it in any longer when you moved a fourth time and sat under a tire advertisement which read ‘Dunlop Rubber Would Have Prevented This Accident.’”

It’s no accident that you’re here this morning. You are here for a powerful reason. Do you come here to snooze, or do you come here to muuuuse? Do you come here to conform, or do you come here to transform? The aim here is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. So agree or disagree, but either way take a journey of free thought and new discovery.

There are plenty of churches you can go to if you want to be told what to think or do. You don’t come here to be told the answers. This is a safe place to ask questions in good company. When it comes to sexuality this is particularly true. While many churches present a back and white perspective on issues like sex before marriage and homosexuality, this community encourages you to think for yourself and do what is right in your own context and for the greater good. Most importantly, think without guilt or shame.

In an episode of The Simpsons, Bart’s teacher Mrs Krabapple is about to show the class a sex education video. She says,

Class, in order to explain why your hormones will soon make you an easy target for every smooth talking Lothario with his own car and tight jeans; I will now show a short sex education film. Ezekiel and Ishmael, in accordance with your parents’ wishes, you may now go out into the hallway and pray for our souls.

You are welcome here no matter who you are and where you’ve been, and no one is looking down their nose at your soul. Come as you are, and be yourself. Be comfortable in your own skin and affirmed in your spiritual journey. Whether you are happily married or divorced, dating or single, a teen or a senior, you have your own sexual journey. May you feel attractive and valued regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, height, weight, physical or mental ability. Free yourself to live in the infinite power of God within to create incredible love in your life. Is that an idea you can get excited about?

Sex Education

Little Johnny’s father said to him, “Its time to talk about the birds and the bees!” “I don’t want to know!” Johnny said, bursting into tears. Confused, the father asked little Johnny what was wrong. “Oh dad,” Little Johnny sobbed, “At age six I got the ‘there’s no Santa’ speech. At age seven I got the ‘there’s no Easter bunny’ speech. Then at age 8 you hit me with the ‘there’s no tooth fairy’ speech! If you’re going to tell me now that grown-ups don’t really have sex, I’ve got nothing left to live for!”

Let’s talk about sex and teenagers in this country. In 2005 and 2006, the rate of teen pregnancies was going down America. Then in 2007 and 2008 Jamie Lynne Spears was pregnant at 16, Bristol Palin was pregnant at 17 and the teen pregnancy movie Juno hit the screens. The rate of teen pregnancy climbed along with the headlines. Here are a few relevant statistics. I’m going to alternate some key statistics and some searching questions, using the Dwight Shrute communication method (for those who watch The Office).

Fact: The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world and American adolescents are contracting HIV faster than almost any other demographic in the US.

Question: Is abstinence-only sex education effective?

Fact: Among the 33.9% of currently sexually active high school students nationwide, 23.3% had drunk alcohol or used drugs before their last sexual encounter. One in two sexually active youth will contract an STD by age 25.

Question: Is abstinence-plus safe use of condoms and contraceptives a better approach to sex education?

Fact: 40% of older adolescents surveyed believe that the contraceptive “pill” and “shot” protect against STDs and HIV.

Question: At what age should we begin talking to kids about sexuality?

Fact: A majority of both girls and boys who are sexually active wish they had waited. Of those who have had sex, more than one half of teen boys (55%) and the majority of teen girls (70%) said they wish they had waited longer to have sex.

Question: How do you know when you are ready to have sex?

Self-Esteem and Sexuality

One of the ways we can equip young people to be sexually responsible is by countering the media’s beauty myth with reminders that beauty is diverse and diversity is beautiful. One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the measurement of self worth by weight, especially for women. Study after study shows that girls who consider themselves either overweight or underweight are more likely to engage in high risk sexual activity; skipping condoms and using alcohol. Body image and self esteem are closely tied in our society. The ideal body type is narrowly defined and impossible to achieve. It is said that only 2% of women in the world believe that they are beautiful. What a tragedy! So many lives are ruined because of the beauty myth. It wasn’t always this way.

Song of Songs, Chapter 7, verse 2 said: “Your navel is like a round goblet which never lacks mixed wine; your belly is like a heap of wheat fenced about with lilies.” The Roman goddess Venus was said to be a plump and voluptuous shape, not to mention Mona Lisa, Lady Chatterley, and I could go on with beautiful women of history with curves.

Just in case the media hasn’t messed with your self esteem enough, then there are your kids. They chronicle each new grey hair, and wrinkle. My kids find my aging hilarious. They say to me, “Dad, you’re so old you remember when the Dead Sea was just sick.” “Dad, every time you suck your gut in, your ankles swell up.”

A senior citizen decided to visit the social security office to sign up for his benefits. Upon his arrival the clerk asked for proof of his age. When he reached for his wallet the embarrassed man realized he had left it home. After explaining his problem to the clerk, she replied, “Don`t worry, just open your shirt, and if your chest hair is gray you will qualify.” The senior citizen opened up His shirt and was soon signed up for His benefits. Upon arriving home, he related the story to his wife. She looked at him, smiled and said, “Too bad you didn’t drop your pants. You would have qualified for disability as well!”

The Song of Songs is a beautiful series of poems, most of which are written from the perspective of a woman who is protesting the beauty myths of her day. She says, “I am black AND I am beautiful.”

With people looking down on her, she takes pride in who she is and also how she came to look as she does. Keep in mind that this woman would have been of Middle Eastern complexion. Even so, she was darker than the standard of her culture. So instead of apologizing, she explains that it was through life experience that she became darker. She was toiling in the sun because her brothers were punishing her. It’s possible that the vineyard is a euphemism for sexuality. When she says she didn’t keep her own vineyard, she may be referring to losing her virginity to her shepherd lover. In other words, she was darker because she refused to conform to the patriarchal standards of her day. Her beauty is her independence.

She looks at herself and all she sees is beauty. Think of your body in a new way. Look at the wrinkles on your face, and see only character lines. You have achieved so much through hard work. Look at your spare tires, and see bay windows, with a panoramic view of your life experience. Look at the stretch marks and see a road map that tells the story of your journey. Look at your love handles, and see only lurve!!!!!!!!! Look at your arms with their extra padding and see wings that have soared like eagles. You are beautiful in ways that the media will never understand, and your peers may never appreciate. Your beauty is where your life experience meets your body.

I came across a moving description of beauty, written by a blind man after a date. 

“Occasionally, I allow myself to imagine that I see the inestimable and charged faces that we all suspect lie just below the surface. But in any event, I know you differently than do your hand mirrors or photographs. One thing I won’t know is whether you are, in the ocular sense of the word, beautiful. It’s not that I’m inured to beauty. Imagine that you’re talking to a woman who is sitting across a table from you. When you look at her, all you see is a shimmering cloud of light. On the one hand, you are able to observe people as mystical emanations of divine radiance. On the other hand, you don’t know what this woman looks like. So you pour some pinot grigio, and you listen. She’s talking about hats: late 19th-century “Gibson girl” hats with the flowers and jaunty brims. She’s talking about the first great era of catalogue fashion and a new kind of innocent loveliness. A sighted person might have trouble believing this, but if you’re having a nice time in a cloud of light, and you’re talking about beauty, the person opposite you is, in fact, beautiful.”

Beauty is so much more than skin deep, and so much more than society would have us believe.

When is the Right Time to have Sex?

When is the right time to become sexually active? Whether you are a teenager trying to understand sexuality for the first time, or a divorcee trying to plot the often confusing new world of dating, how do you know when it’s the right time to have sex?

Lets start with the basics-

Is it legal? Did you know that there is a law in Iowa that says you can’t kiss for more than five minutes and another that forbids a man with a moustache from kissing a woman in public? Each city and state has its unique, and sometimes bazaar, laws. Know the laws- the age of consent is 16 and many lives have been ruined by disregarding this law. One important consideration; is it legal?

Are you sober? One of the greatest risks to safe sex is alcohol. So buddy up and make sure at least one person is sober enough to think clearly all night. Watch your drinks. Don’t leave them unattended and don’t take drinks from people you don’t know. The next consideration; are you sober?

Do you have a safe sex plan? Apparently there is a woman suing a pharmacy that sold her a popular contraceptive jelly, because she ate the stuff on toast and got pregnant anyway. Be smart. Have a plan.

Are you doing it because you WANT to? There is so much pressure, and sexual bravado. Remember that your peers are probably not having sex nearly as much as they say they are. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.

Are you comfortable talking about sex with this person? If you’re not comfortable talking about sex with someone, then there’s a good chance you are not ready to have sex.

Does the person make you feel safe and valued? How do you feel around this person? Do they make you feel safe? Do they treat you well?

Do you want to be that vulnerable with this person? Take a moment to think beyond sex? Are you ready to feel this vulnerable with this person once the lights are turned on?

If in doubt, wait. Waiting will only make it better when it eventually happens. In your own mind, you have to make a decision with all the information you have and weighing your own gut feelings. If in doubt, wait. Remember what Woody Allen said, “Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”

Why do you want to do it? Maybe the most important question to ask yourself is why you want to have sex? This week Tiger Woods made a public apology for the embarrassment he has caused many people. In his apology he said, “Craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.” That’s quite an insightful, self aware comment. He seems to have realized that his chasing after particular airbrushed super model type women was actually a search for something else. Only he knows what he was searching for. It probably wasn’t sex and it probably wasn’t super models. What was it?

Are you looking to prove yourself through sex? Are you trying to find some inner peace through sex? Know why you want to have sex, and above all else know that nothing outside of you can ultimately make you happy and secure. To expect that of a partner is to create suffering and pain for both of you.

Be Prepared to Forgive Yourself

Lastly, remember that there is always a way forward no matter what choices you have made. You don’t know the future, and those times that feel like endings may well be new beginnings in disguise.

Oprah Winfrey had a baby when she was 14. Her baby died. Aretha Franklin also had a baby when she was 14 and another one at 16. Maya Angelou gave birth three weeks after graduating at age 16. Barack Obama was born to an 18 year old mother. Lebron James was born to a 16 year old mother. These are some of the most successful people of our generation. If you, or someone you know is in a situation they may regret, be prepared to forgive and move forward.

uniI end with a practice that I learnt from Rabbi Rami Shapiro. You might try this yourself. Try it first on yourself, then try it on someone you care deeply about.

Rami says that when the Hebrew designation for God, the letters Y-H-V-H are written vertically and in Hebrew it looks like a stick-figure drawing of a human being. Rami suggests that you “visualize the Name of God as the physical body of yourself or any other person you know.

The Yod is the head, the Hey is the shoulders and arms, the Vav is the torso, and the final Hey is the pelvis and legs.”

You are nothing less than the image of God, warts and wrinkles and spare tires and all. Can you treat yourself with that sort of kindness and forgiveness? Can you see others with that level of gentleness and respect?

Divine beauty in me greets divine beauty in you. Namaste.

For Further Reflection -

Why do you think the rate of teen pregnancies is so high in the US?

Do you think there is a place for “abstinence plus” sex education?

What inspiration/challenge do you take from the Song of Songs poetry?