Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sex Advice for Teens

It's great when 'sex advice for teens' emphasizes the importance of making "the decision that's right for you", but then when it goes on and on about all the reasons why waiting is a good idea, it makes me think this whole 'prevent teen pregnancy' thing is a ruse for 'prevent teen sex'. This sentence totally gives the game away:

"Not having sex is the only way to guarantee you won't make the wrong choice - and the best protection against unplanned pregnancy and STDs."

Protection against unplanned pregnancy and STDs is ultra important. But not having sex isn't so much protection as it is avoiding the risk altogether. And a statement like this seems to completely ignore all the reasons FOR having sex, like as if sex were just this biological impulse we have and that the only thing we can get from it is - not pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment - but disease and unwanted babies, and so of course you should resist the temptation.

A lotta young people hold off on having sex - I did. But a lotta young people don't, and plenty of young people plan on it and end up doing otherwise. The best protection from STDs and unplanned pregnancy is NOT abstinence, but education about birth control and safe sex practices, whether you're sexually active or not.

But the most egregious part of the sentence I quoted above is actually the first half:

"Not having sex is the only way to guarantee you won't make the wrong choice"

What - does choosing to have sex not count as a choice? Or is it just that whoever wrote this sentence (or put their stamp of approval on it) couldn't conceive of deciding to have sex ever being the right choice? Read the sentence again. It suggests that choosing to have sex can be the wrong choice - which is true - but it also implies that choosing not to have sex can never be the wrong choice.

What is choice, anyway, if it's not something you decide for yourself? The emphasis should be on having sex because you choose to, or not having sex because you choose not to. Anything else is proselytizing. "We want you to make the best choice for yourself, so choose abstinence, because we think it's the best choice for you." It has nothing to do with agency and freedom of choice, and everything to do with, "we're educating you" [via our propaganda and selective statistics] "so as to influence you to make the specific decision we want you to make."

One of the underlying assumptions made by this particular worldview is the very Christian idea about the purity of virginity. Virginity is sacred. You may decide you want to lose it, but once you do, you can never get it back. As long as you have it, you can always make the decision to give it up (although, not realistically, if you've been convinced that it's really something worth keeping), but once you lose it, you can never get it back. And if that happens, and you change your mind in the future and decide that you want it again (which probably means that you've decided there's something valuable about it after all), you won't be able to get it, and you'll necessarily feel like a fallen woman as a result (forgive me, but this whole discourse is rampantly sexist).

Do you see how clearly this dovetails with the whole culture of slut-shaming? Virginity can only be valuable if sexual initiation is an indication of depreciated value. A virgin cannot be placed on a pedestal without raising her above the heads of non-virgins.

One of the devil's favorite tricks is to mix lies with the truth. You hear the truth, and it puts you off guard, making you more receptive to believing the devil's lies. This works in advertising, too: mix good advice in with the bad. People will hear the good advice and be more inclined to believe the bad advice is similarly reasonable. And if anyone calls the ad out on account of the bad advice, they are seen to be attacking the good advice, and their position is instantly deemed unreasonable.

Unplanned pregnancy (as distinct from planned teenage pregnancy) and the transmission of STDs are serious issues and absolutely deserve to be confronted. But they do not presuppose, as the abstinence framework tries to suggest, asexuality as the One True Path. What's far more important than whether young people are deciding to have sex or not is whether those young people are properly educated about how to engage in safe sex practices, why it's important to do so, and are being encouraged to make responsible decisions about their sexual activities (and praised when they do).

That doesn't always mean abstaining from sex. That could mean having safe sexual intercourse with a close romantic partner while on birth control. Or it could mean engaging in flirty behaviors that express one's sexual identity without the risk of pregnancy or disease - for example, sexting. In every sexting case I've heard about, the blame is always heaped on the girl for 'exercising poor judgment'. I can't understand how that is anything but slut-shaming. Where is the outrage for the people openly bullying this girl for expressing her sexuality? The most I've heard is sympathy for the trauma she experiences (that sometimes even leads to suicide), but even then, her decision to 'sext' is condemned. This can only happen because a sexually 'promiscuous' girl is a slut, and deserving of condemnation, for not keeping on the path of purity.

Think about it. The reaction, "it's bad judgment to sext, because people who sext get shamed for sexting" willfully ignores the fact that shaming people for sexting is wrong. I would support a plan to educate teens about the dangers of sexting, in the hope that every teenage girl who ever considers sexting realizes that there is a non-trivial chance that her sext will be shared with everyone she knows, even if she trusts the person she sends it to completely, and accepts that risk and is mature enough to take responsibility for her actions and deal with the repercussions before she makes that final decision to hit 'send'.

But only if this education initiative is paired with an awareness campaign of the evils of slut-shaming (and why that absolutely applies to teen sexting). Because otherwise, all you have is people saying "I don't want you to sext, here are all the bad things that can happen to you if you sext, and if you sext, I will make sure those bad things happen to you, because people who sext deserve to be punished, and god forbid we should give anyone the idea that sexting can be a healthy expression of sexuality, properly defended by the Constitution, that won't be severely punished if found out." See what I mean?

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