We did an awesome interview a couple of weeks ago with Umuntokanje – my favourite interview ever, I think. Read the interview here. The questions were well-considered and thoughtful. Some of the responses – not so much. This one, for instance. Just an example, and I don’t know how the person asking really feels about teen moms (she didn’t respond to my replies). I suspect, however, that she feels morally superior to me, and any other teen mom. Which is her right, I guess, but I find it misplaced and a sign of some shallow thinking.
As a sexually active teenager, what are/ were your morals and values???…I would really like to hear and understand this. Help me out yall.
— Tshiamo Thebe (@TshiaThebe) November 8, 2013
Please give me a moment to get up on my soapbox. There we go. (At this point I’d usually warn people to toddle off and find something better to do if this is going to make them cross. Today I’m going to ask them to stay and read what I have to say. I’m NOT preaching to the choir here, I want others to hear it)
Let’s talk about morals and values for a sec. Words that get thrown about a lot, but…
Morals and values hey. If only the kids of today had some, then they wouldn’t all be shagging like rabbits, right? Hmmm…
Sex has nothing to do with morality at all. Sex is about health: physical, emotional, mental. It can have consequences that affect any or all of those health aspects. Having sex does not change who you are (this is something that parents and teenagers alike need to know: you’re still exactly the same person the morning after). You are always the same person, but having sex can have consequences that affect your life. Responsible behaviour means that you take this into account when making your sexual decisions.
Morals are always, always ALWAYS subjective. If they are based on religious principles, for example, they will not apply to anyone who doesn’t share your beliefs. What most people call morals are just learned rules of behaviour that fit your current society, family or culture.
No two people have exactly the same morals – because, I believe, that they haven’t defined what morality is correctly.
I do not believe for one second that having sex makes you a bad person. Or that NOT having sex makes you a good one.
Sex and morals intersect in how you treat your partner(s): this is where issues of faithfulness, consent, the power dynamics of relationships, kindness, trust etc come in. Are you lying to a partner? Are you abusing their trust? Are you taking advantage of their feelings for you in any way? If you have the advantage (in age, money, experience), are you looking out for their best interests, if they can’t or won’t? Are you hurting them (or anyone else) in any way?
THAT is morality. That is where your lectures on morals belong. For the rest of the sex conversations, focus on facts. Safe sex, HIV, STI & pregnancy prevention. The fact that sex can have consequences which can seriously complicate your life. Facts cannot be argued with. What YOU call morals – can be.
So – to the lady who asked what my morals are:
For me, what is MORAL comes down to what is universal between two human beings: the tiniest, most basic interaction between two people.
I will treat you how I want to be treated:
with kindness, respect and dignity. This can apply regardless of the society, culture, family, country or even century you’re living in. You can’t break it down any further than that. Morality is goodness between people, without external rules. It comes from inside and if you have it, you will not murder, you will not steal or rape or bully or oppress or hurt. Whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, atheist or Martian – you can have exactly the same morals.
That is MY moral code, and it doesn’t have anything to do with sex. You cannot tell a person’s moral standing by simply checking their sexual history.
What do I value? In myself, in my children and in other people, I value kindness, gentleness, respect, dignity, curiosity, intelligence, questioning, deep thinking, hard work, responsibility and humility.
You might think it’s being pedantic, defining morality this way. I don’t agree. Words are important, and people do not think hard enough about what they mean.
Tell a teen that premarital sex means they’re a bad person, and they’ll soon realise (after doing it) – that who they are has not changed. Why should they trust you again? Why should they believe anything else you might tell them? Your credibility is out the window. All you’ve done is introduce guilt and doubt in themselves. On top of that, people who rely on morality lectures to discourage sexual activity, tend to neglect the factual parts. So their teens are having sex, not knowing all the facts, not knowing how to protect themselves, and feeling guilty and ashamed. A recipe for disaster.
Lessons on healthy relationships and how to treat partners should be emphasised in sex education, as well as the facts. There’s no room for shame. It does more harm than good.
When thinking of teen moms – the gauge of her morality is in how she treats her child. That’s the place to look, to find out the kind of person she is.
You won’t find it anywhere else.