By now you’ve heard the news du jour that the heir to the throne of America’s biggest TV family molested his younger sisters and a family friend as a young teenager. The internet is predictably delighted, because nothing is more delicious to progressives than a stumbling, screwed-up Christian. Never mind that it happened over a decade ago and he has repented and reformed; because he and his family live a life of publicly-demonstrative faith, they must be stoned for their crimes.
The real victims in this whole disaster are, of course, his younger sisters and the girl who suffered his unwanted advances and touching, and his own children who are now going to grow up in a world where daddy’s dirty adolescent laundry will be forever enshrined online.
I am in no way excusing Josh Duggar for the abuse he committed against his own sisters. I know plenty of women who were once little girls who suffered molestation by family members, friends, and peers, and the healing can be the work of a lifetime. And sometimes it doesn’t come.
But I am a little confused as to why, in this sexually-permissive freewheeling society of excess we dwell in, it’s being treated as such bombshell.
If every boy I went to middle school with had his behavior from that time period made public, I can guarantee we would have a massive influx of registered sex offenders added to the roster, for one thing.
But then, I went to public school.
The Duggars, homeschooled and sheltered as they were, ought to have known better. Ought to have acted better.
But sin is the damnedest thing, isn’t it? There’s no guarantee that, no matter the efforts you make as a parent, no matter the values you strive to instill in them, your kids aren’t going to turn out to be delinquents. Or at least screw up royally at some point.
But here’s my question. Why, in a culture pushing sex sex sex at younger and younger ages, passing out condoms and dental dams in 6th grade health class and schooling kindergarteners on proper masturbation techniques, is it shocking or disappointing when a kid goes ahead and acts on the information we’re saturating their developing brains in?
But of course, Josh Duggar wouldn’t have been in any public health class. He would have been learning at his kitchen table what does and doesn’t constitute good and bad touching, what sex is and what it’s for, and how God fearfully and wonderfully designed us to give and receive love within His plan for marriage.
But perhaps that’s not exactly the message his parents were sending, either.
I don’t pretend to know the specifics of what the Duggar family – or other fundamentalist or even more mainstream Christian denominations – are telling their kids about sex. But I’ve read enough of their best selling books to guess it goes something along the lines of “no touching till you’re married, and then all bets are off.”
And guess what? That message is still flawed. Perhaps not as obviously or as disturbingly as free condoms at the nurse’s office and a parent-funded prescription for Ortho as a “now you’re a woman” gift, but for different reasons.
When I was a searching teenager gobbling up books like “Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “When God Writes Your Love Story,” I was reading a different narrative, but one which still left a lot to be desired.
In retrospect I can identify what was so lacking in those hopeful tomes of white-knuckle chastity I dog-eared, but at the time it just struck me as somewhat…lacking. To be told to find the line you should not cross and to point to it and say “there’s the boundary. Don’t touch.” and to leave it at that.
To expect kids to sign pledge cards and exchange chastity rings with the instruction that “true love waits,” and to not take them deeper into the explanation of why? That’s crazy.
And that’s what I found lacking in my middle class upbringing and sexual education. My parents did the best they could, pulling us out of health class and protecting us from the condom flinging freaks running the guidance counseling office, but 15 years ago there honestly wasn’t a whole lot of great information out there for them to counter the cultural narrative with, both mainstream and Christian.
I think that has been true for plenty of Catholic families.
Now they’re older, wiser, and in possession of countless copies of “Theology of the Body for Beginners” and “Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love,” and so my youngest brother has plenty of personalist philosophy and sexual ethics to read about, helpfully laid out in laymen’s terms, while he sits out chlamydia class in the cafeteria.
But that hasn’t always been the case. And part of the very real success of the so-called Sexual Revolution has been the deafening silence on the side of conservative Christians, those of us who are supposed to be communicating truth, goodness, and beauty to the world.
But how, when we can’t seem to have those conversations with our own children?
How can we expect to produce integrated, chaste, loving, self-sacrificing adults capable of becoming faithful spouses when all we’re saying in reply to the culture’s sex-a-palooza message is: wait till you’re married.
And then what? All that pent up sexual energy and frustration and curiosity are unleashed on your unsuspecting and inexperienced spouse? How is that setting up marriages for success?
That’s why the Catholic teachings on sexual ethics and sexuality have always been – and will continue to be – so profoundly life-giving. Even if we’ve made a few generational missteps in getting the information out, both from the pulpit and around the kitchen table, the truth of it has always been there: sex is good, sex is holy, your body is fearfully and wonderfully made…and there is a purpose for this part of you.
Sex is not reducible to an appetite, a mere craving or desire. Sex isn’t about scratching an itch or pushing the limits (or running right up to them and stopping short) or racking up carnal experiences over the course of a lifetime.
Sex is profoundly more than all of that.
And that’s the message our kids need to hear, from early on, and then continuously, for as long as they’re in our homes and then yes, even once they leave our nests. Especially once they go out into the sexually carnivorous world of college life and beyond. And then still, once they seek out spouses and begin to assemble nests of their own.
It’s not enough to tell them, “don’t touch that, don’t think those thoughts, and don’t do that before you’re married.”
And it’s certainly not enough to sheepishly hand over your credit card with one hand over your eyes, telling them to “be safe” and to “use protection.”
Here’s what I think they need to hear from us. And I speak as a mother with only very young children so far, but as a former teenager and very lost college kid.
Sex is holy. Your body, male or female, was designed with intention. The way you feel about the opposite sex is good – it’s meant to draw you into relationship with your husband or wife one day, and to bring forth new life, new souls. You are created with the capacity to create with God, within the relationship you’ll have with your spouse one day.
There are a lot of things you’re going to hear about sex as you get older, especially once your friends start dating. And it’s okay that you’re curious, that on the one hand, you don’t want to hear about their exploits and conquests, but on the other hand maybe you feel drawn to know what they’re experiencing. There is nothing wrong with being curious about sex. It is purposefully designed to be very, very attractive and very enjoyable.
What we’re going to help you understand and integrate is that sex is designed with a specific purpose: to bond you to your spouse for life, and to bring forth new life.
If you have a sexual thought or daydream, that’s okay. It’s not dirty to think about sex, and it doesn’t make you a creep. It’s not okay, hover, or healthy, to dwell on the sexual thoughts and impulses you’re going to experience. That makes the practice of chastity – of rightly ordering your desires and behavior – more difficult. When you find yourself experiencing a sexual though or a temptation, bring it to the Lord in prayer and tell Jesus, “thank you for making me this way, thank you for the gift of my body, teach me how to love as You love.”
You don’t have to be afraid of your body, or of the gift of your sexuality. You do, however, have to learn how to use it properly, how to integrate what we are going to teach you and what you will learn over your lifetime about chastity and love, for the sake of your soul and for the good of your husband or wife. We love you. We’re glad you’re maturing and becoming an adult, and God has a plan for your sex life that is better than anything the world can offer. You can trust us. We will always be open and honest with you.
At least, I think that’s a decent start.
My prayer is that my children and their friends and future spouses can grow up to witness to – and perhaps participate in – the destruction and conversion of our sexually perverse and dying culture.
Now that’s something worth waiting for.