A college-student contributor friend of ours, who wishes to remain anonymous, has a confession to make:
Before my freshman year of high school, I didn’t know much more about sex than the basic mechanics. Insert tab A into slot B and, voila, you have a baby and/or an STD.
This was the biggest lesson I took away from my early sex education: no matter how hard you tried to protect yourself, no matter how many condoms or birth control pills came into play, those would be the only two outcomes. Any sex would lead me to a hospital bed nine months later, baby in my arms, deadbeat teen dad at large, and wishing I hadn’t been such a non-abstinent whore. I was sufficiently scared out of having sex.
These lessons came not from some backwards colony of religious zealots but from a public school education in a moderately liberal suburban town. As it turned out, my real sex education — the one that I carry with me to this day — came from my synagogue.
It was towards the end of ninth grade when my synagogue’s youth group hosted a lock-in for the local Jewish youth community. About 30 teens showed up at the temple that evening, clutching sleeping bags and pillows and chatting idly.
After we’d spent a few hours on icebreakers and a movie, we began an educational program with the imposing title of “Sex in the Torah.” Our temple’s youth director passed out pink sheets of paper filled with passages from the first five books of the Bible describing man-woman (and man-man) relationships. We read them aloud: commandments declaring sex a post-marital activity, barring period sex, making sex the woman’s right in a relationship.
The youth director pointed out to us that, in Hebrew, the root letters for the word for sex between a husband and a wife are the same as those for the verb “to know.” Taking a deep breath, he looked around at the group of high schoolers and told us, “I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that you should never have premarital sex.” Pause. Awkward giggles. Blushing. And then this:
“Even though the Torah says not to, the lesson to take away from all of this comes from the connection between ‘sex’ and ‘knowing.’ When you have sex with someone, even if you never see them again, you know them. You carry them with you for the rest of your life, and you need to know the consequences. You’re making an adult decision, and while you know that sex brings you incredibly close both physically and emotionally to a person, you also know that you’re halfway responsible for everything that happens afterwards. But also know this. When you’re ready to make that choice, you’ll know. And if you pick the right people for the right reasons, you’re going to create a lot of love and happiness in your life.”
I didn’t lose my virginity until a few years later, but I have carried that lesson with me ever since, and I still recall it every time I have sex. Sure, in part I waited those years because I was terrified of players and herpes. But I also waited because I wanted to have sex with someone I knew on an emotional level, someone I trusted. When my first relationship went sour, I knew that the emotional pain I felt was intensified by the fact that I’d shared something special with him I’d never get to experience again.
I’m no longer terrified that I’ll wake up after sex pregnant and STD-laden — or, at least, I know that there are ways to reduce these risks. But more importantly, I know that sex can and should be an important part of the love-filled world I’m creating for myself. The Torah told me so.