Back in 1986, when many of us were young, pop artiste Jermaine Stewart told us, “We don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time.” Twenty-five years have come and gone, and the children who have been born to those of my generation would probably consider Stewart and his music a step up from say, Sponge Bob or Diego.
Reading last Thursday’s newspaper article on the “safe sex” message aimed at students, I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder to make sure no grown-up was coming, because the song lyrics attributed to one Mavado were enough to make the adults of my growing-up years keel over from a stroke or heart attack.
I couldn’t help the dismay; after all, I come from a generation that would read 125 pages of a romance novel to get to the couple’s first kiss. So it stretches my imagination thin to conceive of teen-age kids not merely listening to such music, but having the confidence to “own” it in the presence of an authority figure.
But that wasn’t the crux of my distress, however. What boggled my mind then and bothers me now was the exhortation to the school-age audience to “be man enough or woman enough to take it to the next level and use a condom all the time.” For the last time I checked – and that was Friday – our secondary-school students were all children: not a man or a woman among them.
To my mind, there’s the problem right there. Ours is a society that would not consider renting a house to a schoolgirl or allowing her to take a bank loan. We strive to get our young people through secondary school by age 16, and even then, for two more years, we do not allow them to get a passport or marry without permission or to cast a political vote. These things, we reason, are adult privileges and behaviours. And yet we seem unable to summon the courage or the conviction to tell schoolchildren that sex is for adults only.
We can rationalize it away all day. We can point to the times in which we live; the examples – or lack of example – around us; and all the factors – music, Internet, film – that contribute to the problem of “containing” sex. But those are excuses, not reasons, for what we are doing or fail to do.
There never has been a “good time” in which to raise kids; we were not raised in any idyllic environment, ourselves. Tame as it might seem now, our parents always decried the music we listened to (as, no doubt, their parents did before them). I remember well my aunt’s outrage at Sparrow singing Too Much Wood in the Fire and I remember a sermon preached by a pentecostal minister against Short Shirt singing “Alleluia” in Lucinda. In fact, virtually all calypso was condemned as too sexual.
There were always friend and acquaintances that the adults charged with raising us called “bad company” and strove to put distance between us and them. There were pedophiles and pederasts in the village, and parents found a way – without being graphic, explicit or crude – to keep us beyond their reach. And all this was happening at a time when families of 10 and 12 persons lived in two-bedroom houses. …
Still, our parents and teachers never said, “Well, it’s all around them, so we might as well tell them the best way to do it.” Instead, they pointed out those schoolgirls and boys who had “made a mistake” and asked us in harsh tones whether that was how we wanted to end up. And, in my own case, they said in decisive tones, like my mother’s: “When you’re a child, behave like a child! School and sex don’t mix!”
Look at us: Grown women and men and sex can still mess with our heads, our hearts, our pocketbooks, our ambitions! If we can’t control ourselves and make good decisions, even with our years of experience, how on earth can we expect children to do so?
It was not so long ago that some social agency ran a campaign that acknowledge it was men, not women, who dictated when, where, how and how often sex takes place. What is the likelihood that a girl of 14 or 16 can insist that the boy whom she thinks she loves wear a condom every time? So much of teen sex is the result of impulse and unexpected opportunity; so how much advance planning can we really expect?
It is ironic that, while addressing a group of secondary school girls, they taught me a premise called the “Five F’s” practiced on girls by boys: Find them; friend them; fool them; “F” them; and forget them. Isn’t this the knowledge on which we, as adults, should capitalize, instead of making these “F’s” more Feasible?
According to the newspaper, the aim of the workshop and the resulting article, was “not simply to talk and to stir up controversy. It’s about safeguarding Generation X, even if that means disturbing norms to do so.”
Well, then, let’s disturb what is becoming a disturbing norm: Surrender in the face of what the world is doing. Regardless of who is already doing it, let’s go back to teaching kids that sex can wait. Let’s tell them that childhood is a very short period in what, hopefully, will be a long life. Let’s tell them of the world of possibilities we didn’t have and which they can neither take for granted nor ignore: Higher education, careers, travel, world-views. …
Let’s tell them the truth that we know, as adults: That Mavado is nothing but a gangsta treating sex like a four-letter word; that, treated right, sex can be a beautiful thing when given and taken as a gift; and, finally, that sex is not on the curriculum for school children.