Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The sexless state of Virginia

When I first learned about Conservative Teen magazine, I made it a point to lampoon the cover page of its abstinence story (pp. 24-26). Little did I realize that when I acquired access to the article itself, it would be so much worse than I’d ever imagined. And not in a silly way, either. 

“Abstinence education” is a joke. It’s as if a driver’s-ed class only taught you that a car is a scary monster guaranteed to kill you, and that your first time behind the wheel should be in the lot the day you buy your first brand-new car. Until then, kid, you don’t need to know what that big round wheel thing does.

Abstinence can’t be taught any more than you can teach someone to not ride a bicycle. Abstinence is simply the absence of sex, which is why all a sex-education teacher should ever have to say about it is this:

“Abstinence is the choice to refrain from sex. You have every right to assert that option, and no one should ever pressure you into changing your mind one way or the other. Now, here’s everything you need to know to be sexually educated and responsible.”

Teenagers who are abstinent don’t need to learn about abstinence, but they still need to learn about the realities of sex. Just like I had to learn algebra even though I took a vow of math abstinence that I have yet to break. OK, enough class analogies.

Apparently, article author Peter Sprigg has never taken a sex-ed class, or he would know that there’s so much more to it than learning to use a condom. Hell, I took sex ed in 7th grade — for a few weeks, anyway — and at no point did we see a condom demonstration. (I’m guessing it’s a south Louisiana thing, because my friend who’d transferred from Florida told me his sex-ed class watched video of a blooming erection. As if any adolescent boy needs to know what that looks like.) But my class did learn about the reproductive systems in both men and women; acts and consequences of sex; all the delicious varieties in the VD buffet; and sexual slang (“The scrotum holds the testicles. I think you guys might call it ... bag?”).

We also learned that sexual urges are natural, something else Sprigg apparently doesn’t realize. He says that the libido’s “proper channel” is marriage and procreation, as outlined in the Bible. See, this is what’s so hard to take seriously. The sex drive is a natural and powerful force that humans, like all mammals, possess. It’s one thing to make the (idiotic) argument that following some book can temper natural impulses, but it’s an altogether different level of lunacy to suggest that the book itself controls the human body. The singular obsession with marriage derails the entire argument in this article. If he’d simply said that long-term relationships make for better sex, he’d be on to something. The aphrodisiac power of a piece of paper and a vow to the Skyfather is harder to argue.

Anyway, your wedding night is not the best time to find out you’re sexually incompatible with your new spouse. First times often suck, and sexual chemistry is as important in a relationship as any other trait. Most people don’t marry the first person they bed, and that’s OK — or better than OK, if it means you’ve learned something along the way and/or found a partner better suited to you. Only someone who believes in a virgin/whore dichotomy would insist otherwise.

About that virgin-whore dichotomy — it’s CRAP. It’s a stamped ticket to Self-Loathing Land, especially for women. It turns sex into some kind of severe character weakness instead of a natural human trait to harness. When you’re raised to think of sex as filthy and vile, but then one day have it and like it, that messes up your mind in unfathomable ways. “I guess I’m a whore,” you might say. “But I enjoyed lovemaking. I see why there are whores.”

Oh, and sex isn’t caused by rap music or TV or pornography or liberal college professors — it’s caused by hormones. Hormones affected by close proximity with another willing person. Late nights. Dark rooms. Privacy. Sometimes even those things aren’t necessary. Abstinence education pretends that people can turn off those kinds of urges in every conceivable situation, and deserve all of the terrible consequences if they can’t. “Maybe you should have prayed harder.”

As for the assertion that schools don’t teach sex the same way they treat “drugs, underage drinking, tobacco use or violence,” well, there’s a reason for that — all of those are destructive things. Sex is not, unless we let it be. Learning of the dangers of drugs is not the same thing as scaring teens out of sex. But there is one parallel — any successful program will acknowledge that some people enjoy all of these activities. There’s no point in lying about that. A responsible program would explain the consequences that balance out or outweigh the benefits — in the case of smoking, drinking, drugs and violence, the drawbacks are powerful and unavoidable. Sex doesn’t inherently contain the same pitfalls.

It’s all but guaranteed to, however, if all we teach to teens is ignorance and shame about sex. How fitting is it that the very next page begins an article about abortion?

Too damn fitting.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Actually, our schools mostly do teach sex the same way they teach about drugs, underage drinking, tobacco use, and violence. (Well, OK, maybe not violence so much.) In other words, they adopt an "abstinence" approach to those subjects as well. Which goes a long way toward explaining the epidemic of drug use, underage drinking, tobacco use, and, maybe, violence. Rather than trying to scare the crap out of kids about the horrors of drug abuse, alcohol, and the like, far better to treat them dispassionately and logically. Explain what they are, explain what they do, explain why they're usually not appropriate for people of school age, and then work on strategies that the students can used when confronted with the desire or the opportunity to try those things--strategies that go well beyond the idiotically (and criminally) lame "Just say no" approach. Because as reams of evidence demonstrate, it just doesn't work.