Sunday, May 4, 2008

Abstinence: It Doesn't Work

Me at 14

The problem is that sexual desire overrides everything.

Even if you learned in grade school that condoms protect you against pregnancy and STI's, even if you haven't had your partner tested, even if you swore to yourself you would never relive the scene of you taking a pregnancy test in a stall in the office bathroom while your co-worker coos words of encouragement: when it comes down to it, it still feels better without a condom. So you give in and he puts it in and you hope crossing your fingers will be enough to stave off impending babies and diseases.

Abstinence-only sex education doesn't work. It's a fact. They can have congressional hearing upon congressional hearing, but we all know the truth. We see it in Miley Cyrus' seductive gaze and the strip of skin exposed between tank top and low-slung jeans on Taylor Momsen. Teenagers fuck, and they fuck a lot, and they're not always responsible about it.

But who is? It's unfair to pin this beast on youth. I know women in their mid-twenties who continue to make the same mistakes they did when they were 16 and glassy-eyed in their boyfriend's moss-ridden basement.

All we can do is give them the tools they need to make their own decisions. Abstinence-only sex education refuses to acknowledge that not only are teenagers sexual creatures with enough hormones to drive anyone mad, but they are also mini-adults, growing and learning and fucking and fucking up. You wouldn't send a soldier to the front without training. You wouldn't take a test worth 75% of your grade without studying. So why should teenagers be forced to navigate their own desires alone, without an outreach mechanism, without the proper knowledge necessary to tackling this beast?

I have had my fair share of slip-ups and mistakes and scares, each encounter branded like a scar behind my eyes. The 17 year old who pinned my 14 year old body against my mother's paisley couch, his hands all rough and tumble, his breath reeking of garlic and turpentine. The field, the backseat of my father's car, the train ride home from New York. The boy with scruff and scarves, the chubby vegan waving tobacco fingers at me, the musician who thought more of his guitar than he ever did of me. The older Latin lover studying international politics at Berkeley, the boy who listened to Led Zeppelin with a straight face, the childish soccer player, the writer, the One Who Could Never Be. I do not regret any of them, though perhaps my liver does.

I am so against robbing teenagers of experiences necessary to their development as a person, a sexual being. It's ludicrous to pretend that girls at 14 don't think about boys and ulterior motives. I was flirting with thirty-somethings when I was 15, starved for attention in graying Philadelphia concert venues. I had my first make out session when I was 12 with a boy whose bed was swathed in snowman sheets. I lost my virginity in a field a few years later. Each one I thought I loved, but that's part of growing up, too, isn't it? Learning what love is by learning what it isn't.

Not everyone has to entertain the same notion of "right" and "wrong" sex. My Grandmother would think I'm a slut for even thinking about the state of teenager sexuality. My father would turn a blind eye. My friends have most likely come to expect it. But the thinking behind abstinence-only sex education honestly just doesn't make sense to me.

The world is complicated enough. I know about how dangerous STI's can be, and how ridiculous it is I'm not on birth control, and that when my ex-boyfriend begged to put it in bare just for a little while it was hypocritical for me to even consider obliging. The point is, I know about the dangers and I've dealt first hand with the anxieties. I've always been very safe, but it was no easy task. I could never expect teenagers to make the same difficult decisions I've made. I could never expect a girl to stop her boyfriend from entering her because he forgot a condom: there is insecurity involved (I don't want him to stop liking me), there is shame (why don't I just go on the Pill?), guilt (should I really be doing this?), but most of all, there is lust (fuck this feels good). If teens who know the consequences of their actions can't even necessarily make the decision to just use a condom, how do we expect those who know nothing about contraception to even attempt to protect themselves from diseases and pregnancy?

It's unfair to shove your kids into this hypersexualized society with little-to-no preparations about what they're going to encounter once they're out there. My parents gave me The Talk, but I know tons of my friends adopted their sexual vernacular from bathroom stalls and overhearing boys' conversations in the cafeteria. Women are ashamed of their bodies, mostly because they don't know how they work. I'd be wont to admit that half my girl friends probably don't even know how to make themselves come, let alone what would happen if they used the pull-out method (that shit does NOT work).

My point is that it's impossible to expect teenagers to forgo natural sexual experience in the name of respecting their parents, or even in the name of religious beliefs. All those girls with promise rings are just taking it in the back door instead.

It's hard enough for teenagers to make decisions when they are informed about the consequences. But we should at least give them the information they need to make the decision at all. Otherwise, the sexualization of teens is in small part our fault.



Marshall said...

The 11th grade attempt in health class to deal with the female orgasm was actually interrupted by our gym teacher Mr. Muskett, who was probably probably doing so on purpose after observing from a hidden camera.

LOLSAM said...

Thank you so much for using STI instead of STD. At this point everyone knows we're supposed to be using STI, and some people don't because "well they can't keep changing things up!" Except, they can, and they have to, and they do, and we need to follow suit.

STD is one of my pet peeves.

I knew a girl who wanted to stay pure until marriage, so she had been having anal sex since she was 15 (she lost her vaginal virginity 2 months ago to a member of a crappy band). If you're taking it up the butt, are you really still pure? If you're giving blowjobs in the back of the bus on the 10th grade ski trip, are you really still pure?

Thanks for writing this. I love it.

Anonymous said...

I like that thing you said about taking an exam without studying. =)

Hannah Pechter said...

I remember those snowman sheets -- glad you do too.