Food, Sex, and the American Teen

Filed under: Opinions

My oldest daughter is nine years old and like so many other moms of nine year olds, I spend a lot of my time trying to protect her from a culture that beckons her to prematurely abandon her American Girl dolls for a preternatural sexiness. In my quest to preserve her girlhood by monitoring her television, clothing, and yes, even her friendships, I have occasionally been asked to consider if I am being too controlling.

Likewise, last week when I appeared on to discuss the recent FDA decision to make the morning after pill available to 17-year-olds without a prescription or parental permission, I was accused of being too controlling. After all, my opponent contended, it's not my business. Conservatives, he argued, are hypocrites who want the government out of everything but sex. Right back at you, I thought, liberals try to regulate everything but sex.

That is why a recent and thoughtful essay by Mary Eberstadt, titled "Is Food the New Sex?" caught my attention. In it, Eberstadt makes the case that over the last fifty years our culture "has taken long standing morality about sex, and substituted it onto food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasbord is not."

How many parents feel perfectly comfortable moralizing about "good" foods and "bad" foods with their kids, but are uneasy discussing the moral component of sex? These days, Eberstadt notes insightfully, the word "guilt" is more likely to be used in conjunction with a missed workout than with premarital sex.

Just think, the same people who have no problem imposing moral judgments on other people's kids' food choices (i.e. removing soda machines from schools, banning birthday cup cakes from classrooms, and instituting junk food lunch box inspections) consider it the height of impoliteness to impose sexual morality or judgments on these same kids by, say, demanding an abstinence program in schools that mirrors some families' moral code.

We sound off to kids regularly about the physical consequences of a bad diet (obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease), or even the emotional toll (low self esteem and depression). And while we talk to our kids about the physical consequences of sex (pregnancy, STDs, HIV/AIDS), too many of us are less likely to discuss with equal gravity the emotional damage (low self esteem, sexual jealousy, premature attachments, and post-abortion depression).

The truth is that as societal rules for adult sexual behavior have loosened, or rather, fallen away, we have become increasingly reluctant to impose and enforce sexual norms and standards for kids. Interestingly, as the sexual moral rules for teens and pre-teens come down, we are erecting new and stringent moral codes about our kids' food choices. The result is what Mary Eberstadt calls a culture of "mindful eating, and mindless sex."

Look, I'm a mom who makes home-cooked meals and shops organic. I'm comfortable making moral judgments about food – I just think that it should also extend to other areas of our lives, including the sexually saturated culture our kids and teens swim in. After all...we are what we eat.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.