Up Front by Emma Hart


You're Telling My Child What, Now?

Over the years, I've had sex for some really stupid reasons. I know that's hard to believe, but I have. I've had sex with people because it would be rude not to and I didn't want to make a fuss. I've had sex because it was there and I had nothing else to do. I slept with a guy once because my best friend was having sex with his best friend and otherwise we were just sitting around. And once I had sex with a guy because I was really mad at another guy. 

That last is the only one I regret. And even from that, I learned something, and got a really good story to tell in bars. It's quite possible that I'm just not good at regretting things. Basically, I never think, "That was dumb, I really wish I hadn't done it." And the better you know me, the more astounding that assertion will seem. Even the worst of my sexual and romantic experiences were Valuable Lessons I'm glad I had. Not just about what to do or not do, but about who I was and what I wanted. 

I must be wrong, though, because Family First has gone to all the trouble of flying in a qualified medical professional to tell me how people should have sex. 

Teenagers are being let down by sex education that doesn't tell them it's best to wait until you're an adult and have one sexual partner for life, a visiting physician says. 

In sexuality - "and I'm not talking about morality, I'm a physician" - the ideal was one sexual partnership for life, delayed until adulthood.

"People that are able to achieve that - not that this is so easy - never have to worry about these myriad health issues."

I'm obviously a terrible parent, because the idea of someone telling my children they should abstain from sex until they're married fills me with horror. She doesn't want kids getting hurt, which is admirable, right? Pre-marital sex gives you STDs and cancer and terrible emotional trauma. Whereas only being allowed to have one sexual partner ever is in no way psychologically damaging. She'd know, right: she's a psychiatrist, after all. And she's not talking about morality, so it must be Science. 

To me, 'no sex before marriage' always sounds like telling kids they're not allowed to learn to ride a bike because they'll fall off and get hurt, but on their 21st birthday they're going to ride the Tour de France. Wouldn't you want them to practice first? Yeah, they'll pick up a few bumps and bruises along the way, but that's how you find out what the fuck you're doing. 

I'd be horrified if one of my kids told me they wanted to marry the first person they'd had sex with. If they wanted to marry someone they hadn't had sex with, that might be enough to make me lock them in their room and not let them out until they'd come to their senses. The idea of them only discovering their sexual identity after they'd married someone with whom they were incompatible – or never discovering it at all – terrifies me. You can't treat life-long misery with a course of antibiotics. 

Give Miriam her due, she appears to have no interest in my son. She's got it all worked out for my daughter, though: 

Women's health focuses on preventing pregnancy, but fails to warn that motherhood cannot be delayed indefinitely... Women complete their PhDs at 35, and realise the hardest challenge lies ahead: getting their Mrs,. and becoming an Mo.M. 

(Interestingly, no-one in Miriam's world appears to be anything but straight. And oral sex causes cancer, which 'one partner for life' will keep you safe from. So I'd be interested to see her explain why men have a higher rate of HPV-related throat cancers than women do.) 

I'm not, obviously, the kind of parent John Key means when he says "parents". Nor am I the kind of Mommy Miriam is aiming to terrify. I'm the kind of parent who somehow never gets mentioned, who's more interested in their child's happiness than their career prospects or their chastity. I didn't turn into a reactionary conservative when I bred. I don't actually know anyone who did. I can tell you something about my kids, though. I love them, and Miriam? You can fuck right off. How dare you try to foist the ineffective torture of abstinence on them? If you were any kind of "expert" you'd know it doesn't work. 

My kids were raised by a village of amoral atheistic liberals. That means, hopefully, they get to know the joy of sex, in as much of its wonderful variety as they're comfortable with. Their lives will have broader goals than marriage and breeding. They'll love, and they'll lose. They'll break their hearts, and bruise their hips on hand basins. Any joy comes with the possibility of pain, of loss. That's the point of living. 

I've accepted, like any sane person, that I can never keep my children completely safe. But I can certainly keep them away from Miriam's ilk, and their horrible fundamentalist bigotry and bleakness. 

      Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'. (Click here to find out more)

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