I happen to live with a city planner. Among other things, this means that my professional books (Reviving Ophelia, Reaching Up For Manhood, You Look Too Young to be a Mom) are interspersed with his professional books (Toward the Livable City and An Ecological History of Agriculture, 10,000 B.C. – A.D. 10,000). Fascinating stuff, all around, isn’t it?
A few days ago, I was idly flipping through one of his books, and found something that was surprisingly interesting and relevant to this blog. The book is called The Preindustrial City: Past and Present, by Gideon Sjoberg, and the version that we have was printed in 1960. The version on Amazon was printed in 1965.
Here is what struck me as interesting:
This early matrimony, of course, obviates any “youth culture” – such a conspicuous part of the industrial-urban scene, where the rapid social change brings about a hiatus in the outlook of contiguous generations.
So Mr. Sjoberg is suggesting that there is a correlation between later marriage and intergenerational conflict. When young people are given time between childhood (pre-puberty) and adulthood (i.e., marriage) is when they formulate ideas and values that are in conflict with their parents’ ideas and values. Very interesting!
I have been hearing whispers here and there from the extremes of the abstinence-only movement and the more extreme Muslim movements that it might be a good idea to return to marriages at the time of puberty to prevent out-of-wedlock sexual behaviors. While I don’t think that many people would agree with that sentiment, it would certainly go far in preventing adolescent extra-marital sexual behaviors.
What these relative extremists are accepting is what many of the main-line members of these organizations and much of adult American society rejects: the notion that teenagers want to have sex, and will generally find a way to do so. Given the existence of adolescent sexuality as a baseline, the early-marriage proponents are simply looking to find a way to make it acceptable. That is, having it occur within the context of marriage.
But that’s just not a good solution. The issues of power and gender inherent in early, arranged marriages are huge, and not worth the pay-off (of no extra-marital sex).
This reality of adolescent sexuality can only be appropriately addressed once everyone, including parents, accepts the reality that teenagers, even their children, are sexual beings, and that most of them will act on those sexual desires before they turn 20.
The solution is to stop ignoring adolescent sexuality and to start teaching them to make good choices about their sexuality.
If you’re looking for someone to teach your teenager about sexuality, or to guide you in teaching your teenager about sexuality, e-mail me. Sexuality education isn’t something that should be left to chance or to the schools. Parents and families need to take ownership of it.