Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Willful Ignorance

"The lack of public, comprehensive, and complex sex education in this country contributes to this toxic sexual culture on most college campuses."

Willful Ignorance is Courtney Martin's insightful analysis of the true consequences of abstinence-only "sex ed" (because abstinence-only "education", once and for all, is NOT education its zealotry).

I happened to write about an amazing coalition that formed last year in Washington state (my home) called The Healthy Youth Alliance (see my post below) on Reproductive Health Reality Check this week. I may just continue the conversation for my piece next week...But back to Ms. Martin...

She's absolutely right, of course. Who decided that my children don't need information on how to communicate about sex? For god's sake, they are four and almost eight and they ask about sex, sexuality and their bodies quite a bit. Why do they talk about sex at such young ages, you might ask?

Here's the list:

1. They are exposed to thousands of advertising messages each day that essentially teach them that SEX sells. ("Mama, why does that poster show a woman's boobies sticking completely out of her bra?")
2. From the time they could talk, we taught them that their bodies were their own. We taught them that sex was a beautiful, positive, amazing experience between two people that loved each other. This, of course, inspires them to ask questions about what sex is and who does it.
3. Bratz dolls (have you checked out the Bratz horse? My 4 year old daughter does NOT need a plastic horse that's looking at her with "sexy eyes")
4. Clothing for girls. Can you tell me again why I should buy my daughter an eensy weensy mini-skirt and a belly shirt?!

Our children are naturally curious about their bodies, how babies are made, what sexuality is about because it's NATURAL. As they get older, they become more curious. If we release them on the world with no information about what sex and sexuality is about, how to talk about their own sex and sexuality and how to negotiate sexual relations, we're dis-abling them.

Because we are not giving our young people the information they need to navigate their sexuality, college campuses are teeming with repressive young adults. College students are essentially receptacles of raging hormones and spotty sexual information. Throw in the fact that most of those young people are living independently for the first time - and young women and men are paying too high a price for society's fear of sex.

...Of course the differences in the ways this lack of sexual knowledge manifests itself in young women and men can be vast. And Martin doesn't seem to much focus on this fact. She refers to the fact that abstinence-only zealotry doesn't teach either men or women to talk with each other about their sexual needs:

"The abstinence-only sex education that most young men and women receive does not teach them how to articulate their own sexual needs and respect those articulated by their partners."
But then, she writes:
"One study found that 75 percent of the males and 50 percent of the females involved in college campus acquaintance rapes had been drinking when the incident occurred."

Somehow I don't think that young men raping women on college campuses are just having a difficult time articulating " their own sexual needs" and respecting "those articulated by their partners." I absolutely understand her hypothesis that alcohol plays a definitive role in young people's abilities or lack thereof to handle their own sexuality. But when she talks about rape on campus, she says:
"All parties involved can be hurt by a failure to properly delineate and stick to boundaries."

Well, Courtney, yes that's true. But there is a vast difference between the way men are "hurt" when they choose to rape a woman and the way a woman is hurt when they become victims of rape.

I think Courtney has written an excellent piece and I agree completely that the effects of abstinence-only zealotry is much more deleterious than we realize. It's depressing but here's an upside:

See my post below on the Healthy Youth Alliance - working to ensure that comprehensive, science-based sexuality education becomes a reality for teens in Washington state.
Also, check out the blogosphere for more fabulous commentary on Courtney's article:


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