In a recent article on sex education at The Week, the question was posed, “Should sex educators teach kids about pleasure?” The responses were mixed, and the comments were along the same line—they’re going to do it anyway.
This has been the common refrain with discussions of birth control, abortion and unwed moms, but rather than going down the path of deciding the best method of prevention, I would rather like to focus on the fact that these problems are of our own design.
Like many things, unplanned pregnancies and unwed sex are the result of Western culture—specifically how we’ve chosen to view courtship, love, and marriage.
I believe that we have done our children a great disservice by changing from the traditional marriage arrangement with parental involvement for the betterment of the family to one that is based on emotions, feelings, and impulses.
Taking a Wife in Ancient Israel
Marriage Was Possible at a Young Age
One of the things that I found most fascinating when thinking through this topic is how different our lives are—specifically in the area of finding a marriage partner—than those of Ancient times. Specifically, that women were married much sooner than they are today:
The Halakhah was a collection of texts in which various rabbis presented their views on how Jewish traditions should be applied in specific cases. The result was perhaps not a true law code, but its teachings carried considerable weight and probably reflected the real life of the Jews in the post-Biblical era. The Halakhah was quite clear on the requirements for a valid marriage:
- A payment to the bride’s father of a small sum of money (equivalent to our one cent coin and thus nothing more than a symbol of sincere intent)
- The bride’s consent
- Sexual intercourse
It is possible, then, that Jewish men did purchase their brides in the earliest days, but it is very clear that for at least the two or three centuries before the common era there was no bride price beyond a modest token to demonstrate sincerity. Since the expression “take a wife” was in Scripture it could not very well be repudiated, but Jewish leaders made it clear that brides could not be bought and that marriage required the consent of the woman herself as well as that of her father. Girls typically married at age 12 or 13, immediately after puberty, so one might be excused for wondering what chance they had of developing an informed opinion beyond that of their fathers. [Women and the Law in Ancient Israel; emphasis mine]
The part that I found most interesting was that, instead of waiting until the woman was an adult (today it’s not uncommon to see women around 30 that are still unmarried), girls of that time period were considered of marriageable age at 12 and 13! This would fit in perfectly with the idea that a boy of 12 was considered a man in the Jewish tradition.
Let me explain why this is a big deal.
I believe that most of the problems that we have with teenage sex is that we are fighting what others already state is a losing battle. Physically, teen boys and girls are supposed to be finding one another and getting together physically. However, Western Culture has decided to elongate childhood, creating a “teenagers” segment where young men and women could be working, learning a trade, or learning to keep house. We’ve institutionalized this with public schooling, and we’ve set expectations low.
I believe that much of the problems that we have with this age group is because of this lack of growth into adults and the transition from childhood to adulthood. Some men don’t seem to ever make it into adulthood for this very reason!
I don’t believe that girls at 12 and 13 were able to conceive children—as many have not started their cycles.
How different would teenage years with their sexual yearnings be if a teenager was considered an adult, was married with an appropriate outlet for the sexual energy, and had responsibilities—with a community of parents and family around?
Yet I’m not sure this would be immediately feasible in a contemporary Western Culture due to the fact of stunted maturity, and the fact that one family could prepare their child in this way, but how would they ever find another family that did the same?
Marriage, Sex and Children Were Expected
Every marriage was expected to produce offspring since neither society nor the individual could survive long otherwise. Marriage without sex was incomprehensible to the ancients, and it made sense that Hebrew law required the marriage to be consummated before it had any legal effect.
This goes back to something that I read in Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog and I shared it the other day, that sex was never meant to be an end in itself:
The message I’d heard loud and clear was that the purpose of sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential, almost to the point of being forgotten about altogether. This mindset laid the foundation of my views on abortion. Because I saw sex as being closed to the possibility to life by default, I thought of pregnancies that weren’t planned as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street — something totally unpredictable, undeserved, that happened to people living normal lives.
This takes me back to 11th grade Social Studies and a group discussion on abortion. My point was that “if you don’t do X, you don’t get Y.” The problem with this logic is that most teens believed that doing X was expected and that Y was an inconvenience.
In Ancient times, children were a blessing, and expected. Children were the lifeblood of the family, and the more you had the more you could do. Plus, they were born into not just a married family, but a community with the extended family around to help care for the child as well as to provide for playmates, role models and the like.
Why is it that we believe that children that are given little responsibility in their teen years are fully equipped to make the second most important decision in their life and we parents shouldn’t be involved except to give our blessing?
In Ancient times marriages were arranged, but if you noticed in the quote above, the possible wife had a choice about whether or not she would accept the marriage. There was choice. Granted, if you were 12 and someone’s family came and said they wanted you to marry someone else, what would you say?
Now, I’m not advocating pairing aging men to young children for monetary gain as the third or fourth wife, but what I am saying is that having parents involved in the entire process (instead of just an afterthought) is much more conducive to making a decision on a life partner than the current feelings based choice.
How many people have you heard that have gotten a divorce because they “no longer feel in love with him/her”?
How Could This Work Today?
Is it even possible or advisable? Certainly a good question. The problem is that we all know many twelve year old boys and girls who aren’t ready for the full responsibilities of adulthood. But that’s not really what I see going on here—I don’t see the “throw them out in the world, get a job and your own place” as much as I see a growing list of responsibilities that they must take on.
I can easily see parents of young children working toward the goal of having a child self-sufficient in a number of areas by age twelve—whether that’s:
- Knowing how to do some basic cooking
- How to do the laundry
- Other household tasks
- Learning how to do some of the father’s or mother’s job
- Taking care of younger children
- Maintenance on a vehicle
- Some money management skills
Common sense stuff. I’m not saying that we should stop educating our kids, marry them off when they’re 12, and build a room on the back of our houses and let the kids live there.
What I am saying is that we should be more intentional, confer more responsibility, be more involved in their lives, and encourage them to make good choices in who they associate with as friends and eventually a life mate.