Let’s talk about sex, baby…
Aged 23, with a child galloping towards his third birthday, I am classed as a young mum. Not only due to the maths involved, but I also have the disadvantage of looking younger. I was one month clear of being a ‘teen mum’ when I fell pregnant with Sam, and as the title comes with such bad connotations, I’m afraid I’ve often defended myself with the phrase ‘well at least I wasn’t a teen mum’!
The truth is, though; everyone matures at different rates. Although at 16/17 I could have been officially classed as a ‘woman'; having hit puberty a few years previous; I was much closer to being a ‘girl’ than to being what I would personally perceive as a ‘woman’. I kept a journal at that age, and, reading back, it is impossible to imagine that version of myself looking after another human being. I wasn’t a goody-two-shoes but I certainly wasn’t a rebel; so whilst a hypothetical child wouldn’t come to know the detriment of a mother who drank heavily/took drugs/shoplifted,etc., he/she would have a mother who had very little idea about herself or the world around her. I had no responsibilities at that age, and to go from nothing…to then having the responsibility of a newborn child’s life…well, I would have fallen apart and that poor kid would have been caught in the middle.
As it happened, I fell pregnant, aged 20 (just). Three years seems like a flash in the pan once you are older, but the difference between 17 year old me and 20 year old me was unfathomably vast. I am not saying this shift in maturity necessarily comes at the same time for everyone; I expect many of those who leave school at 16 reach the stage that I was at when I left school at 18. Schools can be seen as many things, but, especially the type of school I went to, there is no doubt that they shroud you from real life.
An enviable few don’t let age define them, but especially in the earlier years of our lives, age is not just a number; but almost a status. Throughout your school years there are milestones to be reached; milestones that have to coincide with the changing of that magic number. When you start nursery, when you move up to the next class, when school becomes compulsory, when you must move on to a more senior school, when you sit exams. The hour at which you are allowed to eat is dependent on your age; the number of hours of homework you are expected to complete. Age is hugely important in school.
We also have laws that are based on age. In England, you mustn’t have sex until you are 16, you can’t hold a driving licence until you are 17, you do not legally become an adult and can’t vote until you reach 18 (which is also the age when you are allowed to purchase alcohol), and at 21 you have an excuse for a big party…but I’m not entirely sure why. There’s also an age for buying cigarettes but as the rebel-failure that I am, I have no idea when kids can stop flashing their fake ID, and instead legally purchase those little sticks of coolness (I expect that is also the age when the coolness of smoking starts its sharp decline).
Ages are also used when deciding which group of people can watch a film or buy a video game. There are sites on the internet that require you to promise that you are over 16 or 18 (and no, not just porn sites – don’t look at me with those scornful eyes!).
It is good to have guidelines in order to protect younger people from decisions that can’t be sensibly made until they come close to whichever magic number has been set, and I understand that to follow through with these guidelines, rules must be strictly upheld. But although the magic number might make sense for the majority of cases, for other people, the magic number is too high or far too low.
There were girls my age who were already having sex at the time that my friend was boasting about having three pubes. And, while those girls were no doubt busy having sex, there were girls (ok; one girl) who wrote in her diary ‘***** was boasting today about having three pubes. HA! I have way more.’ Your level of maturity is based so much more on your upbringing, and that wonderful friend-to-all: Puberty (which can strike at any time), than how old you actually are.
The ‘16+ ONLY’ rule for sex, also comes with a number of other rules (all of which are taken as seriously as the age rule by some). You should only have sex when you are emotionally ready. You should only have sex when you are ready to deal with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. You should only have sex when you are in love. You should only have sex when you are married.
Are any of us fully able to say we are emotionally equipped to deal with sex and all the disappointment and heartbreak that could potentially come with it? Perhaps this does not apply so much with married couples, but how many women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. are able to have a sexual encounter without feeling emotional about it one way or the other, sooner or later?
How can you ever know you are emotionally ready to have sex? No matter how old you are, ‘losing it’ for the first time is likely to be a dramatic, memorable moment in your life (or not, I suppose, if it first happened after heavy drinking…but even then, the lack of memory about something so huge is likely to have an effect on you). There are few people who can say they really and truly were emotionally ready; that the experience didn’t have some sort of effect on them. And there might be those who felt nothing when they lost their virginity, because they didn’t have the maturity at that stage to comprehend what a big step in their lives it was to open up their body so intimately to someone else, and they felt it further on down the line.
Prepared for the consequences of having a baby? This ‘rule’ might have been upheld in days gone by, but I personally don’t know that many people who would have initially embraced the thought of a baby when they first lost their virginity. The Married rule is a nice idea, but is kept by fewer and fewer people these days.
So, onto love..
I first chose to have sex when I was a couple of weeks off turning 19. It was only a month or so into a relationship with my first Real Boyfriend, but I was at uni…and I hate to use this as an excuse, but it seemed everyone was doing it. When having sex is considered the norm, the importance of ‘waiting’ shrinks significantly. In my naïve little way, I thought I had shared so much with him already that the Next Big Step was just one more step along the way to our future happiness together. Despite the brevity of time, our relationship was already strong (at the start of university you have to make your new best friends in the first couple of hours; so FIVE WHOLE WEEKS into our relationship (even longer since we first met – if you can imagine that immensity of time) seemed like a lifetime together). I had decided I was in love with him, and, having had nothing but fleeting crushes before, I had nothing to compare it to. Was I actually in love? I don’t know whether I can judge that. I thought I was at the time; and isn’t that what counts? I think love is different to different people, at different stages in their life.
I don’t regret it; we stayed together for over a year and split just before I found out I was pregnant with his son (cheeky chappy Sam).
But looking back, it is impossible for me to agree with my former self that I WAS actually in love with him. We were not well matched in the slightest, and disagreed on what I see as some of the most fundamental things in life. I really disliked some quite major aspects of his character, but somehow liked the fact I disliked them – he was mine, and I had decided I would love him regardless. They say love is blind…and if it wasn’t for the fact I question the presence of love, I would agree. I had decided I had fallen in love with him; and that was that. Full stop. Anything new I found out about him from that stage on did not matter to me in the slightest. I sound bitter, and indeed I am a little at my lack of judgement, and my ability to carry on with our relationship when it was clear to everyone around us that it was not right. I clung on tighter as we grew further apart and (thankfully – I can say that retrospectively) I think that is what ultimately buried the hatchet in our relationship. All that said, we had some fantastic times together, and, apart from a couple of incidents, he really was the loveliest boyfriend, and I count myself lucky that my first real boyfriend treated me well.
I will leave this post here (apart from anything else, I have just noticed how much Cardboardeaux I’ve sipped my way through this evening, and I am a little wary of what else I might divulge, and what I have already written that, sober, I would be horrified at).
One day in the far distant future, I will let Sam this blog, and I wonder how I will feel about him reading this post? I don’t want to give him the impression that losing his virginity is something that should happen on a whim; certainly not. I don’t know much about the opposite sex and how the male mind works, but I am willing to guess teenage boys aren’t as heartless and sex crazy as the media (and doubtless his peers) make out. Sex is a big deal for anyone at any age, and it confounds the problem that sex first becomes an interesting topic at puberty when your hormones are all over the place.
I hope that I will have a good communication with him; I am all for sharing feelings (you may have noticed I do far too much of it). I really hope that I am able to provide an easy forum for him to voice his opinions and what he is worried about; I think that once that block goes up with someone, it is really hard to knock it down.
How much do you think your age has played a part in things you’ve done? Or is age just a number?