This story comes, again, from Facebook, although not from Tea Party Friend this time. Those of you who spend time on that site and have friends under about age 60 know that there are several other websites out there devoted entirely to housing quotes that people can Like and share on Facebook. The following is my reaction to one of those quotes, which one of my friends just posted. It is (allegedly — you can never be sure of the sources of these pseudonymous posts) a 13-year-old girl ranting about the moral decay of the rest of her generation, specifically in regards to sex.
Now, I think most people who share this post react with a gut agreement with the author, but I saw this and immediately had a very different reaction. As easy as it may seem to go “right on!” to the author of this (alleged) post and condemn “kids these days” as promiscuous and shameless, it’s worth taking some historical perspective. It’s only about the last century or so that 13-year-olds having sex has been frowned upon, and even then only in certain countries, cultures, and contexts. Sex between teenagers has been around as long as sex and teenagers have, and, of course, so have bad decisions about sex by teenagers. I believe that we, on average, deal with those facts much better now than we used to.
Most human societies have associated sex with marriage of some sort, and have accordingly married off teenagers without a choice. This comes with the expectation that they’ll start having sex and producing babies for the alleged Greater Good ASAP, whether it’s for God or for the Nation, or just to keep the farm running. This still goes on in extremely conservative countries like Yemen or Saudi Arabia, where, regardless of the letter of the law it is customary for girls to be arranged to be married as young as 8. The connection between marriage and sex is even higher, and the regard for individual rights (especially if the individuals are women) is even lower, in Afghanistan, where wives can be starved for refusing sex. Holdovers from this more conservative time that, through nostalgia-tinted glasses, looks more moral, are everywhere in our laws. My home state of New Hampshire allows boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 13 to get married with the permission of their parents. I don’t know what rationale was given at the time that law was written, but I suspect it was a proposed “cure” to their own generation of morally degenerate teens daring to do exactly what their biology overwhelmingly commanded. One need only look as far as other states to see that kind of law explicitly-written: there is an exception to the minimum age of marriage in Georgia for young parents.
Now, defenders of the doctrine of “puberty = marriage = sex = babies” may have had a practical point (if not necessarily a moral one) as recently as the 1700s, when infant mortality in such comparatively advanced societies as England was as high as one in three, but you can’t really make that kind of argument in the modern U.S. and claim that pragmatics should trump the right of the individual to choose how to live their life. This means that, far from being in a state of sexual moral decay, our society today is better than those past ones because we don’t believe that relationships, and therefore sex, are obligatory. But how should sex in adolescence work?
The issue of individual rights is, for me at least, a tricky one from a psychological standpoint. An adolescent is definitely not fully thinking at an adult level, and should not be automatically be granted the rights of one, but they are, on the other hand, trying to integrate themselves into adult society, and they should! Nobody becomes good at something, including maturity, immediately. I would suggest, then, that the best strategy to allow healthy and happy psychological maturation in regards to sex would be for parents and culture at large to allow it, and the data backs me up.
Now, in case it seems like I’m swinging too far in the other direction and defending the alleged behavior of the author’s classmates, I don’t think it’s wise for 13-year-olds to be having sex. I’ve been 13. I know that I was not mature enough then to handle a sexual relationship, and luckily, through a combination of introspection and fear, I knew it then, too. I’m saying that, given that some young teens do have sex, the best way to deal with it is not to condemn them.
And, getting back to the original complaint that set me off on this speech, the good news is, in fact, not very many 13-year-olds actually do have sex, so the author is likely talking to an unrepresentative sample of her classmates, or (and I suspect that this is more likely), they’re exaggerating what little experience they may have in a peer-pressure-driven contest to sound more “grown up”. And that certainly doesn’t mean that this generation of somewhat-sexually-active, peer-pressure-driven teens is any worse than its predecessors, more likely that they’re just willing to admit it now, and by being open about sex, they’re setting themselves up for a future of responsible use of contraceptives and non-abusive relationships. So the moral of the story: don’t get too caught up in complaining about moral decay or you might miss the moral growth that has happened.