I want to pre-apologize for this blog. I’ve been working on it for a week and it got a bit out of hand. It’s a big, messy issue that does not lend itself easily to my personal brand of deconstruction and answerless questions. Also, fair warning, I am absolutely not going to be objective. I ain’t even going to try. So, scatterbrained rant, ahoy!
Well, whatever. Moving on.
Last week’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was about sex education in America. If you haven’t seen it, you should (a lot of what I’m going to say kind of relies on your having watched it – and I need a choir to preach to here, friends, why don’t you ever click on the things?). First, I want to applaud Oliver and the writers for the educational video bit at the end. Genius. I hope people got that Mullally/Offerman/banana joke. I really do. Second, I kind of wish Oliver had chimed in even for just a second about what his sex ed class was like at an English prep school. I’d love to know, and it would have been somewhat relevant. Damn old journalistic detachment getting in the way of comedy.
I suppose my biggest question about the sex ed situation is: what are we so scared of? Why are we terrified to talk about something that we talk about all the time? What makes jokes and innuendo perfectly acceptable, but frank, open discussion taboo? I don’t understand what the roadblock is. Not that I consider myself overtly sexual. I mean, I make a decent dick joke from time to time, but I don’t sit around yacking about my bits in any Carrie Bradshaw kind of way. Last fall I said something to my buddy Kiwi about not being a particularly sexual person. She laughed in my face and said she thinks I’m very sexual because I’m comfortable with my body and with having an adult conversation about sex. I guess the real disconnect there is that I don’t think of myself as “sexy,” whatever that stupid word means (and please, seriously, I am absolutely not fishing for compliments here – keep it to yourself). It’s a weird kind of bias, I suppose, that I had always assumed that “sexual” stems from “sexy” and had thought of myself as an outside observer of that phenomenon. But does having a reasonable and honest conversation about sex make me seem sexual? Or just like a grownup human? I don’t know. I think this is one of those topics where language might fail me.
Anyway, not having a real discussion and relegating the subject strictly to innuendo and other dark arts of the unspoken word doesn’t do anyone any good. And I think that mindset is especially harmful to children. The more you talk about something without talking about it, the more “you don’t need to know” or “I’ll tell you later” that they hear, the more they want to know what the big deal is. Kids love a secret, don’t they? As soon as those brain chemicals and hormones start to change and their little bodies start getting weird, they should know what’s going on so they can deal with it. So they’re not afraid of it. I honestly can’t fathom why anyone in their right mind thinks that’s a bad idea. Is it like how mechanics won’t explain what’s wrong with my car so they can charge me more for fiddling with things I don’t understand? Maybe a little. If we can turn ignorance and curiosity into shame and fear, isn’t that a form of control over a vulnerable population? And it’s not just the grownups in their immediate vicinity. It’s every song, every tv show, every movie, every overheard conversation at the grocery store. My cousin recently told me that her young daughters (I forget their ages, maybe seven and ten? Ish?) were playing with their Barbies and had a whole elaborate scenario about them getting drunk and waking up “with each others’ boyfriends in their mouths.” What? That sounds like a sitcom script to me. A bit gross and lacking in some degree of technical understanding, but it could totally be on any number of dumb comedy shows. Point is, if you’re not talking to your kids about sex (or the kids in your life, I know we’re not all raised by parents), and you don’t want the school talking to your kids about it, they’re going to start out with some bad information, just sponging bullshit out of the ether. Like they do.
That’s just little kids, though. Teenagers are who really scare us as a culture, I think, and rightly so. Adult bodies with child brains, zero experience points, and almost no impulse control. They’re weird hybrid, mutant things, teenagers. Terrifying. And look, I don’t mean to shatter anyone’s delusions here or step on your personal experiences, but by and large, on average, teenagers are going to have sex. It’s been happening since the dawn of time. Giving them information they need to do it safely and stay healthy is so, so important. To say that sex education class makes young people want to have sex is like saying that explaining gravity makes people want to jump on trampolines. We want to jump on trampolines because it’s hella fun, but knowing how gravity works might make us think for half a second before we go and try to jump off a roof, yeah? This analogy is falling apart. You know what I mean. Teenagers want to have sex for any and every reason. A strong breeze makes teenagers want to have sex. Teaching them how to be safe and responsible is not going to make them notice that sex exists. They know.
Which is, of course, not to say that we should tell them to go around screwing their little unformed brains out. But we could definitely do with less “your body is telling you to do evil things,” I think. Where does that even come from? Teaching abstinence has its place. It’s the only foolproof way to prevent both pregnancy and disease, sure, but that’s not the only thing to recommend it. You want to tell young people to wait until they’re married or in a committed relationship to have sex? That’s great. I support that. But not because of purity or ownership or that “why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” thing (which always seemed really transactional and gross to me). No, I think it’s a good thing to teach only because one should be absolutely comfortable with someone during sex, when you and they are at their most vulnerable. Especially at the beginning, when you’re naked and defenseless and easily embarrassed by all the unexpected fluids and noises and muscle contractions you’ve never had before. It’s a lot like taking LSD. You should only ever trip or have sex with people who you trust to see you at your weirdest. Life advice from Nessa, folks. Just dropping some science on you.
However, to say that abstinence until marriage is the only way to live your life is a little absurd. It presumes that marriage is everyone’s goal, first of all. Secondly, I wonder how many dumb teens have gotten married just to get laid? Seems silly. How is it that signing a piece of paper suddenly makes sex sacred? Considering that our divorce rate is so high? That doesn’t even make sense. Maybe if we taught them to understand and respect, rather than subdue and ignore and even fear, those perfectly natural inclinations, we wouldn’t have this weird sociocultural idea that sex is the end-all be-all of human experience. I understand there’s some instinctual thing about replicating our DNA, sure, fine, but it is goddamn embarrassing to me that so many people blindly assume that the endless and relentless pursuit of nothing more than sticking your dick in a wet hole is the primary motivation of my culture and my species. That’s how we end up with Charles Manson and Elliot Rogers and Roosh Vorek, you guys. It’s pretty fucked up.
And while I don’t want to go off on yet another tiresome rant about gender politics (I really don’t, it’s exhausting), I feel like there’s an undue burden put on girls in the abstinence-only sex ed structure. There’s the idea that consent is solely their problem, that they’re some sort of gatekeeper. That is some bullshit. Consent is everyone’s right and responsibility, and that should be the first thing taught in sex ed. But I kind of see that as a given and a basic requirement for being a good citizen of the world. No, what really bugs me is that tape/sneakers/chewing gum comparison. The problem with those analogies is not just that they imply “uncleanliness” or whatever, but the inherent implication is “who will want you?”. As though being wanted is our highest measure of value. Physically speaking, teenagers have enough weird body shit going on to worry about. And psychologically, it puts their merit outside of themselves and cedes it to someone else’s standards. Fuck that. This thing about “purity” bothers me. The virgin bride is still the ideal, apparently, in some people’s minds. But men have the opposite problem. If they decide to abstain for any reason and talk about it out loud (presumably the exceptions being in an abstinence-based sex ed discussion or in church), they’re seen as weak or damaged or not manly or, worst of all, “girly,” a “pussy.” Man sex equals power, while woman sex equals filth, but in a culture that prizes heteronormative sexual relationships, one would think this would be more in balance. That’s some bad logic, ‘Muricuh. The fact is that sex existed long before the concept of sacredness. The idea that sex is sacred is simply beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big deal and it’s important, but to talk about it like it’s a gift, to tell someone who’s done it outside of anyone’s parameters but their own that they’re dirty or used up, to reinforce hypocritical standards that originated in Medieval European aristocratic society, seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? It’s not some holy act. It’s biology.
Furthermore, teaching abstinence until marriage does not mean we shouldn’t also teach other forms of birth control. It baffles me that people still think that getting married turns you into some magical fuckbunny who just wants to pop out cabbages until your junk dries up and then you die. If you honestly think that giving birth is the only reason sex exists, you are doing it wrong, my friends (and you should probably take a little look at the way you think about women in general). Even married folks need to know that and how birth control works. Maybe they’re waiting until they’re ready to have kids, or maybe they’ve had all the kids they want and they’re done now, or maybe they want to wait a while between kids, whatever. Teaching young people about birth control is just the responsible thing to do as adults, parents, educators, role models. But not with fear. You can’t say “every life is a miracle,” but at the same time use pregnancy as a scare tactic. Get your story straight, folks. And if you’re so virulently pro-life that you think birth control is as serious a sin, you really need to read up on some science. Birth control prevents abortion. Fact. Preach contraception, throw out free condoms from the fucking rooftops, and explain masturbation (to both sexes). The abortion rate will go down. We should really be on the same side on this one, pro-lifers. No one who is pro-choice is pro-abortion. I don’t think that gets said enough.
As much as we don’t like to think of ourselves as mammals since we stepped out of the food chain, we are. We’re monkeys in shoes. Apes, sorry. Apes in shoes. And why would we consider it anything but science? We teach science in schools because that’s what schools are for, right? Learning how all the things work. Things like sperm and eggs and penises and vaginas (“vaginae,” actually – fun grammar fact). We should understand their behavior before we try to approach them in their natural habitats. Simple as that. All the cultural stuff can come later. If we teach kids about sex in an honest, healthy way, we will naturally, by extension, mitigate some of the social and psychological pressure that they feel. Sex is weird and its repercussions can be complicated. But it is everywhere. Their culture and their bodies are positively screaming at them all day, every day. Just like driving or drugs or friendships, we should teach them about the bad and the good and trust them to make the choices that are right for them. That might include mistakes. Because they’re not going to be people someday. They’re already people. Remove the stigma and the fear and maybe hand them some responsibility. I think we think too little of our youth in general, really. Give them the information and let them use it properly, rather than sending them out into the world, blind and groping at the edges of humanity without a roadmap. Kids are absolutely going to do stupid shit because, for the most part, stupid shit feels good. The very least – the very, very least – we can do is make sure they do stupid shit with a condom on, just like a helmet or a seatbelt. Maybe then we can get on with the business of evolving, unencumbered and without these distractions. We have more important shit to do.