Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jane Austen on Sex

Trumwill has written a pair of posts summarizing how he would talk to his adolescent children about sex. As luck would have it, I had a conversation with my almost-nine-year-old daughter along this line last night.

My regular readers will be unsurprised to know that the parental message on this subject has been consistent and uncompromising since my daughter was old enough to read the Seventh Commandment: sex is for marriage. Morally speaking, it doesn’t really get any more complicated than that. But last night, in the course of reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to her at bedtime, she gave me the “teaching moment” that every parent longs for:

Daddy, what is this book about?

This was pretty funny, considering that we’re about half way through it. But here, more or less, is how I answered her:

Sense and Sensibility is about courtship and marriage. More specifically, it is about “sense” – in other words, what and how we think – and “sensibility” – what we feel. Sense and Sensibility is Austen’s explanation of how “thoughts” and “feelings” are not the same thing, and how both play a role in courtship. In particular, Austen demonstrates, through Marianne’s attraction to Willoughby, the dangers of allowing our feelings and desires to run unconstrained by thoughtful deliberation.

I realize that, at age almost-nine, you don’t really have any feelings yet. But you will have them. In another five years, the feelings will come upon you quite powerfully. These feelings aren’t bad; on the contrary, God gives them to us for a purpose. Kind of like your father keeps an H&K USP for a purpose. But both are dangerous if not controlled properly, and for much the same reason.

Here is the best advice I can give you, advice that I will repeat as you grow older: be self-aware. Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Admit to yourself what it is about a boy that arouses your feeling of attraction to him. If you can do that, if you can acknowledge and bracket your feelings for what they are, you are much better prepared to think about what’s really important.

Jane Austen herself gave a compelling example of what happens when we don’t separate our thoughts and feelings in the last book we read, Pride and Prejudice. Consider the character of Mr. Wickham, the man who runs off with Kitty. Mr. Wickham had a number of positive qualities. He had élan. He had wit. And most of all, he had charm. And these qualities made him the life of the party! They made able to make people feel good in his company, and he easily ingratiated himself into the Bennett’s social circle. But the key here is that because he inspired positive feelings, the Bennett’s and everyone else attributed to him qualities of character that he did not, in fact, possess. It was only when forced to consider the charges laid against him by Mr. Darcy that Elizabeth realized that nobody knew anything about Wickham’s character. They had no good report of his qualities other than what he gave them himself. And this is how he fooled them all.

Young men still fool people this way. In fact, they even run websites to teach other young men how to pull this off.

So here is what you will want to ask yourself (and your parents) about young men seeking to court you: is this person suitable? Does he share your values? Does he possess good character? Is he honest? Is he faithful to God and his family? Is he temperate, wise, and considerate of others? But you can ask yourself these questions only if you are able to disentangle the answers from your feelings about what you want the answers to be.


trumwill said...

Very good advice for a son or a daughter.

Erik said...

These feelings aren’t bad; on the contrary, God gives them to us for a purpose. Kind of like your father keeps an H&K USP for a this the line you will also be using on the potential suitors in five or six years?

Φ said...

You know, I hadn't really intended the firearms reference quite that way, but now that you mention it, I'm going to plan on working in the H&K reference when I interview them.

trumwill said...

"Boy, look at me. You see that little girl right there? She's my only little girl, man. She's my life. So if you have any . . . thoughts . . . about huggin', or . . . kissin', you remember these words: 'I've got no problem going back to prison.'" -Bill Engvall