Thursday, February 02, 2006

The fuzzy lines all start in the maternity ward...

Pagan ethics are a much talked about subject. Non-pagans often make the mistake of thinking we don't have ethics because we don't have a checklist of pre-made, yes/no decisions. There is no equivalent of the 10 commandments for pagans. Pagans, on the other hand, take their ethics quite seriously and can expound at great length on how much more difficult it is to live an "ethical" life rather than a "moral" life. I have to agree, for the most part; choosing the best course of action based on the situation and the consequences rather than simply checking the list of rules and saying, "Nope. Says right here, "Thou shalt not..." is trickier and less comfortable most of the time. It suits me well, though, and even when I'm faced with a right versus right dilemma, I'm happier making my choices based on reasoning and compassion than not.

Some things are pretty easy. Some aren't. I eat meat. Does that mean I'm violating the "harm none" rule? I try to take pretty good care of myself but I'm grossly overweight and still eat cheeseburgers. Is that another transgression? What about politics? Am I ignoring a responsibility by not getting involved politically, or am I (as I like to think) working to affect change on a one-to-one level?

And then there's sex...which brings me to the title of this post. I have no real ethical dilemmas about sex for myself. As an adult, I view sex as a natural part of life and a really good thing. My husband and I share similar beliefs that whatever one, two, or more people choose to do sexually that causes no harm, is consensual, and is done with respect is really fine and dandy. We've both explored polyamory and find it a lovely ideal but one that falls short in reality, so we have established our own, slightly broader than usual, boundaries of monogamy. We're happy. And we're happy for everyone else who finds their way to sexual bliss, by whatever path they get there, as long as it meets the criteria of non-harmful, consensual, and respectful. Oh, and I suppose I should add sane, too...though one person's sexual sanity is another person's lunacy. A bit difficult to define, that one. :)

Where the line gets blurry is when it comes to our kids. As open as I am sexually, I tend to be quite provincial about the kids. As a pagan parent, I don't get the luxury of saying, "Chapter 1, Verse 12... No sex!" There isn't any such chapter. So we're left to face guiding our children into sexual maturity (and protecting them until they reach that maturity) with little more to go on than love and gut instinct.

On the one hand, I state loudly and proudly that I want my girls (both the one I gave birth to and the two I now hold so dear to my heart) to grow up happily and healthily sexual. I want them to revel in their bodies and know all the joys there are to know. At the same time, I'm crazy when I think of the two younger ones having sex now.

"But wait," says my brain... "think about what you're saying! Their bodies - all of our bodies - are biologically programmed to hit hypersex mode by the time they're about 13. If we are a Nature-based religion and Nature is giving the big green light to sex at 13, why am I trying to so hard to stave it off until at least 18? "

"Ah, but..." says the same brain (you see why I'm confused), "Their bodies may be ready, but our society and culture have done nothing whatsoever to prepare them for the possible consequences of being sexually active."

"What consequences?" I ask.

"Babies, for one," I answer, "and emotional involvment beyond their matutity level, and disease, and heartbreak..."

"Now wait right there..." I say to myself, "that heartbreak argument isn't going to hold water. Everyone gets their hearts broken and not having sex won't prevent that."

"You're right," I aquiesce. I know when I'm being silly. "But the rest of the dangers are real. "

"Yeah...they are. And I don't know what to do about it, either."

And so goes the discussion...always in my brain, always me and me having the debate.

Then there's the occasional ice water bath that happens that really shakes things up. We attend science fiction conventions and our younger daughters are surrounded by lots of men and women who find them attractive and who, in some cases, would be happy to help them learn the intricacies of sex. I'm not talking about pedophiles...I'm talking about people who see our girls as the young women they are and don't agree with me that sex should wait until one is emotionally, psychologically, and culturally (financially) able to be responsible for the possible consequences. When faced with that, the "Nature says..." side of my brain was drowned out completely by the other part screaming, "Hell, no!"

Why? I had to think about that one a lot. Besides the responsibility for consequences thing, I finally decided it was because there just isn't enough time in 15, 16, or 17 years (or 18 or 20 for some of us) to get a firm enough footing on who we are to not be rocked off-balance by the power of a sexual relationship. And I decided that any adult in or near his or her third decade should realize that and, if they realized it and still attempted to engage my daughters in such a relationship, they should be ashamed. Sex isn't truly consensual unless all parties involved are fully empowered and that takes time. I hope the people involved got the message.

The law says that 18 is a magic number and that everyone, no matter how well or how ill prepared they are, is able to make adult decisions about sex by age 18. That means, of course, that parents can't keep their children in a barrel for 18 years and then expect to turn them out into the world to make good decisions. Nope. Can't do that. They have to be given that responsibility gradually and grow into it.

How do you do that? I've looked in all the pagan books and it's not there. I looked in the Bible and it's not there, either. I've asked others and they don't know. Conclusion? It's a play-it-by-ear kind of thing. You have to figure out how to protect them without smothering and without depriving them of the sense of self and knowledge of their own sexual power that they will need when they enter into adult sexual relationships. A woman needs to know she is attractive without being allowed to become an intolerable tease. A man needs to know that women are wonderful but he can live without them. Men need to respect women in all their facets, and women respect men just as fully. Men and women need to know that same-sex relationships are still relationships and fraught with all the emotional dangers of any het relationship. Everyone needs to know that the best relationships happen when everyone involved is whole and comfortable alone, so that joining together adds to their lives rather than attempting to fill gaps it can't fill. That applies to casual sex as well as long-term relationships. And we need, whenever possible, strong spiritual communities wherein adults display the characteristics they are trying to grow in their children, where trust is held sacred and not betrayed.

So... I'm pretty comfortable with where I fall on this one. It's maybe not the same path other pagan parents will choose. I don't know. But it's the place I've come to. And I'm not dumb enough to think that just because I have arrived at this place that my kids will follow. I pray that the Old Ones will guide my actions for the good of those I love, and theirs, as well. us the way.


  1. so, now I am going to play devil's advocate...
    a)if you had 3 boys, would you feel the same? or would you be cheering them on in their conquests?
    b)how were you at the age of 14? 16? 18?
    c)does our sociery prepare us to drive at 16? to vote at 18? to drink at 21? to even be out of the house and go to college at 17/18?
    tell, tell... :)

  2. So good! Right on with what I have been saying, doing and acting on with my now 16 year old daughter. I am so proud of how she handles herself and as I feel her letting go of the apron strings, I remind her of how proud I am and how these decisions are hers now to make. Good or bad.

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