I’m part of a few Facebook groups specifically designed for men to build up and seek advice from other men. These groups are amazing little online communities that fly in the face of the common stereotypical assumptions that men are loners. On the contrary, I’ve found tens of thousands of men across the world who seek community. This is a phenomenal development and these groups have made me a better man and father.
Anyway, a few days ago, in one of these communities, one of the guys asked what others thought about a “friends with benefits relationship”. The answers were all over the map but as I read through the 300+ comments, there were 2 things that took hold of me. The first was a comment by a young guy saying that he had “bagged several girls” using this tactic. Upon reading it, I immediately broke my own social media rule of moral non-intervention…and I lit him right up. It wasn’t pretty. The second thing that struck me was the vast ocean of opposing and competing views on sex. More than any other individual concept, sex and sexuality carries an unbelievable amount of cultural baggage. It is a jungle out there.
In thinking through this, I wandered into the inevitable consideration of how to talk to my daughters about sex as they get older. My girls are still young but I can unequivocally say that, for a multitude of reasons, this subject is the most terrifying to a young father of girls. He is painfully aware of this culture’s conceptual neurosis surrounding sex. He sees the consistent hyper-sexualized messaging making a relentless assault on the mind of his young daughter. He feels an intense desire to protect his daughter’s innocence. And, as much as he tries to forget, he can vividly remember himself as an awkward, hormonally charged teenager. Couple all these factors with a media driven society that tells him he is a buffoon who is incapable of understanding the complexities of human sexuality beyond his own primal drives, and the end result is a massive number of fathers who walk in immense amounts of confidence in other areas of their lives but are petrified at the thought of engaging their own daughters in deep meaningful conversation. Even the greatest of fathers for generations have been hamstrung by this same fear and these conversations have been relegated to the realm of the mother/daughter relationship, or worse, daughters have been left to figure things out on their own.
Brother, listen to me. It would seem to me that there is too much at stake for fathers to be uninvolved here any longer and I would argue that we simply don’t have the luxury of shirking this responsibility. In this area, this culture is toxic. I think a Dad has to engage in this conversation in order to provide his daughter with the confidence of a comprehensive conceptual framework surrounding sexuality before hormones, peer pressure, and cultural messaging rob her of that confidence and replace it with vulnerability.
Here are some general guidelines on how I plan to do just that. It will be difficult, monumentally so. And there will certainly be awkwardness. But I have to try.
While they are still young (too young to grasp the meaning), I am training and teaching the importance of modesty and privacy. I’m not talking about crazy prudish stuff so calm down. I do, however, make a point of teaching basic self-respect and decency. One of the ways we do this is by explaining to each of our daughters that there are appropriate ways to wear clothes and there are inappropriate ways to wear clothes. We do not pull our dress up over our head. When we wear dresses or skirts, we make sure to sit in such a way as to not reveal our unders. I want these little girls to gain an understanding from a young age that they have a responsibility when it comes to the way they dress and the way they behave with regard to their clothing choices. We make it undeniably clear that our daughters’ internal value is in no way derived from their appearance. However, we drive the point that the way they present themselves communicates a great many things about how they view their own self-worth. There is a standard and defining this standard early paves the way for an easier road later on when the stakes are higher and the consequences greater.
As they get a little older and a little wiser, I am perpetually initiating conversations designed around the prime reality I want to communicate to them about sex. With regard to sexuality, everyone holds one central viewpoint that dictates everything they say and everything they think. The radical feminist views sexuality through the lens of liberation. The fundamentalist Christian holds an altogether different view. The strip club owner subscribes to yet another basic reality. Each of us possesses an underlying truth that drives our viewpoints regarding sexuality. It is a father’s job to clearly explain to his daughter what his prime reality is and why he believes it is so. Dad, this requires work. It won’t happen in one quick conversation. Sitting down with her for 10 minutes when she is a teenager and giving her “the talk” is a ridiculously short-sighted approach that will leave her ill-equipped and vulnerable. We have to do better. I’ll give you my prime reality and a few examples of conversations we have had and will continue to have.
Intimacy has been created by the Creator God and gifted to humanity as a privilege of committed covenant relationship, not a meaningless cavalier recreation.
This is the whole of my view on human sexuality and the theme that undergirds every conversation with my daughters in this arena. When they are grown, they may come to reject this. But, until then, my aim is for the clarity with which they will understand this view to provide for them the confidence and strength required to keep them from being easy prey.
Some of the conversations are ones where we talk about the idea of commitment. Some conversations are the ones where we talk about biology. Some conversations center around their protection. Some conversations don’t fall into a category but support the main reality. In all conversations, I am trying to tell them the truth without sarcasm or embarrassment.
· “Girls, I love your mother very much. She is my wife and I am her husband and that means there is no other person who gets to be as close to me as Momma does. We share a relationship with each other that we don’t share with anyone else…”
· “Girls, what does marriage mean? I’m married to Mommy, so what does that mean?…It means that Mommy and I are connected to each other through our hearts. And it means we aren’t connected to anyone else in that same way. Mommy is the only one for me and I am the only one for her.”
· “What does it mean to be faithful?…”
· “What does divorce mean?…” (We can’t shy away from things they need to know.)
· “Where do babies come from?” “When a Mom and Dad love each other, they decide it is time to have a baby. That’s when the baby starts growing in the Mommy’s tummy.
· “Girls, no one is allowed to touch you without your permission…”
· “What does gay mean?”
In each phase of their maturity, I am establishing and clearly communicating the reasoning behind various boundaries. There is now a common practice in parenting where Moms and Dads abdicate their authority in exchange for friendship and approval from their kids. Rarely do I criticize other parents because parenting is a monumental task. However, giving up your responsibility in this way is, at best, lazy, and, at worst, dangerously destructive. In explaining and enforcing boundaries around sex and sexuality, a dad is communicating loudly with his daughter that she is vitally important to him and worthy of his time and attention. Boundaries also keep them safe and limit situations that can cause long lasting irreparable harm. Each dad’s boundaries are different but I’ll give you mine.
· Dating – The She-Gables will be dating sooner than I would like. It is inevitable. They will be able to go on group dates when they turn 13 and solo dates when they can drive on their own. A young man who wants to take one of these girls out will need to have met and introduced himself to me or my dear wife. Information surrounding their whereabouts will need to be transparent. And there is always a curfew.
· Social Media/Cell Phone – You don’t have to search for long before finding stories and reports of young girls getting into all sorts of situations that would never have presented themselves without access to social media and smartphones. There is danger here. Our response is a tiered responsibility scale. Before they are 13, my daughters will be provided basic phones (not smartphones) as we think they have need. These are simply tools for communication with their parents. Prior to 13, the girls won’t have access to social media sites. (The fact that this may be considered a radical boundary should tell us something about our culture.) Anyway, once the girls turn 13, we’ll take a significant step here. At this age, we will upgrade their phones and set up with them whatever online accounts we think are appropriate. In this time of transition, I will be active in monitoring their interactions online while continuing to have conversations about the many dangers that arise from technology. This is when the girls will be included in our family’s “open media policy”. In short, there is currently no online account or application where my wife doesn’t have the username and password for my accounts. There is no online activity to which she does not have direct access. Once the girls reach the age of 13, they will also have access to view my online social accounts. In our family, there will be no online closed doors. They can see my interactions and I can see theirs. Their text messages and other messaging apps will fall under this policy. (I’ll write more about this in other posts). During this phase, I’ll be active in monitoring their online activity and their mother will as well. As they turn 16, if they have proven themselves able to interact online without losing their minds, my monitoring will take a step back. They will always comply with our open media policy but this will be a turning point where they can trust that their father will respect their privacy. This is a fundamental part of growing up…and it already makes me queasy. So, at 16, their phones will be theirs and their online activity will be private. They will have had 3 years to earn that privacy and our conversations along the way will build their understanding of their personal responsibility.
· Parties/Sleepovers – I remember all the shenanigans I got into during parties and sleepovers so I am especially wary here. Our simple boundary surrounding parties and sleepovers is that we must know who will be there and who will be in charge. If we know them and have no reason to doubt their responsibility, the girls will probably be allowed to go. If not, they won’t.
However you want to go about it, talking to your daughter about sexuality is your responsibility. Dad, I think we have to be candid and truthful and understanding and clear but we can no longer be silent. Have no fear. You’ll be great.