The most important prevention is education, which should include abstinence education and teaching children that sex is not something casual. But it should also include other information about contraception. Look, I've got two daughters, nine years old and six years old. I'm going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at the age of 16. It doesn't make sense to not give them information.
Chris Dodd said something similar last summer, when he was asked about gay rights during a presidential debate:
My wife and I have two young daughters, age five and two. I'd simply ask the audience to ask themselves the question that Jackie and I have asked: How would I want my two daughters treated if they grew up and had a different sexual orientation than their parents? Good jobs, equal opportunity, to be able to retire, to visit each other, to be with each other, as other people do. I feel very strongly, if you ask yourself the question, "How would you like your children treated if they had a different sexual orientation than their parents?" the answer is yes, they ought to have that ability in civil unions.
I've got some issues with the specifics of what each of the candidates said. I'm disappointed that Obama equated "values and morals" with teen abstinence, and that Dodd opposed full marriage equality. But whatever problems I have with their policy stands, I'm impressed by the way they framed their responses.
There's a standard script that fathers of girls are supposed to follow when talking about their daughters' sexuality. Even today, even in New York City, I've grown accustomed to hearing winking comments about how I'll need to lock my girls up in a few years.
But that's not my script, and it's not the script that these two candidates were reading from.
Obama's youngest and Dodd's eldest are Casey's peers. As fathers, the three of us have some time to figure out how we're going to deal with what's coming. But our daughters are going to be sexual beings sooner than we can imagine, and it's not going to be long before we're going to be facing big questions of how we can help them stay safe, stay healthy, and --- yes --- be happy and fulfilled and assertive.
It's easy to say --- and it's not wrong to say --- that my daughters' sexual identities are none of my business. They're going to grow up and lead their own lives. But at the same time, I want them to understand that there's a difference between something that's private and something that's shameful. I want to pass along some of the stuff I've learned about sexual ethics and morality, and I want them to know that their mother and I are here for them if they need us.
I don't have much of a sense of how the specifics of all this are going to play out. A lot of it is going to depend on aspects of the kids' personalities, and of my relationships with them, that haven't emerged yet. But I know I want us to be talking, and I know that talking means I can't pretend that they're going to stay kids forever. And it's striking to me that Barack Obama and Chris Dodd --- serious candidates for the US presidency, cautious men living in the public eye --- are so comfortable with this stuff.
When Bill Clinton ran for president Chelsea was only a little older than Malia Obama is today. Can you imagine Clinton speculating in 1991 about the possibility that his daugher might grow up gay, or discussing what he'd want her to know about contraception and the prevention of STDs?
There's something going on here. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I think I like it.