We Need to Talk about Sex

 

“Ironically, it may take greater intimacy to discuss sex than to engage in it.”

It is hard to talk about sex. It is hard for educators to speak about it with children, and it is hard for medical professionals to talk about it with patients. It is hard, often, for people engaging in sexual activity to talk about it with their partners. It is hard for religious institutions to know how to talk about it. While this is an issue in most settings, the one I’d like to focus on is the lack of sexual education for children.

SHAME THROUGH SILENCE

Listen, while I would love to live in a world where children are safe from all harm, that world has yet to be created [through social discourse, the destruction of the patriarchy, and political activism, but that’s another conversation for another day]. Evidence has shown that teaching children correct anatomical terms for their body parts is a key part of abuse prevention. Teaching children these parts of the body and covering topics like privacy, consent, and respect, encourages children to understand what kind of touch is appropriate and what is not. It also teaches children that they are allowed to talk about their body–to tell people “no” and to tell a trusted person if someone touches their body. A child who knows the anatomical name for their body parts, and understands good and bad touch, can accurately report this to a parent or teacher.

Elizabeth Smart has openly discussed how her “sex ed” prior to her kidnapping greatly impacted her self-worth when she was raped. She had been told that sex was like gum: once a piece of gum was chewed up, it was disgusting and no one would want that piece of gum again. Even after she had been rescued, she sat through another such lesson: you’re a beautiful fence, and every time you hammer a nail into the fence, it looks less and less beautiful. Many such analogies exist: a piece of tape loses its stickiness (its worth) over time. A pizza can only have so many slices removed (its wholeness). A cup filled with many different juices cannot be enjoyed (its value). A white cloth can only have so many stains and dyes on it before it will get thrown away (its purity). No one, especially children, should be told that their self-worth should be tied to their sexual activity. For victims of abuse, it tells them that they are worthless or dirty even though they were not responsible for what happened. For people who willingly engage in sexual acts, it tells them that they cannot talk about these experiences and that they are somehow impure or not whole because of this.

INCREASED MEDICAL ISSUES THROUGH MISINFORMATION

Mean Girls, 2004

Somehow, in this progressive country we live in, the concept that teens will not have sex if we tell them not to still exists. I’m going to let you in on a secret: PEOPLE ARE STILL HAVING SEX. In fact, in states that teach abstinence-only sexual education, teen pregnancy rates are the highest. Abstinence-only sexual education has been promoted in schools throughout the country with the understanding that if we simply teach teenagers the immorality and fear of sex, they will abstain from it until marriage. There is a federal Title V that funds states choosing to teach abstinence-only to their students,which operates on eight principles regarding sex ed, including that “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”  Numerous states have opted not to buy into this policy and instead create their own guidelines for teaching sexual education. Ohio, for instance, did not take the Title V funding, but the state policy reports that sexual education does not have to include scientifically or medically sound information, including providing information on the use of contraceptives.

A study released this week by the Center for Disease Control reports that the rate of STDs is at an all-time high. Those highest at risk? Young people and men who have sex with men. Young people are developing sexually transmitted infections and diseases because they are not being taught about proper protection during sexual acts–and are often unaware that STDs can be contracted through oral sex, or (in the cases of herpes and HPV) can be contracted through any skin-to-skin contact.

Get jiggy with it, but safely.

INADEQUATE AND INACCURATE EDUCATION

There is a myth that if we teach children about sex, they are more likely to engage in it, and therefore more likely to contract an STD. In fact, the opposite is true: schools that taught comprehensive sexual education saw that this did not increase the likelihood that teens would have sex and saw a significant reduction in sexually risky behaviors. So by not talking about sex, people are literally feeding the monster that they are afraid of.

Comprehensive sexual education informs teens that the safest way to prevent STDs or teen pregnancy is by abstaining from sex. But then, because it also understands that wishing does not make it so, it also provides medically accurate information on how to have safe sex in order to reduce the chances of pregnancy or STDs.

What’s the solution to rising STD rates, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and shame and guilt surrounding talking about sex? LITERALLY BY TALKING ABOUT SEX! We need to properly train teachers and educators on how to teach this information to their students, as 80% of teachers report that they don’t feel properly trained in this area. We need to start teaching comprehensive sexual education that includes information on proper anatomical terms, consent, medically accurate information regarding STDs, and safe sex methods such as contraceptive use.

Talking about sex can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s start the conversation at a younger age, and teach children that they can freely ask questions and know body parts and be curious and that those things are normal and natural and good. And let’s allow that conversation to bleed into our religious institutions, doctor’s offices, and bedrooms.

Ads and the isms

Isms in ads is/are an issue that has/have irked me for many years. I understand that ads are supposed to catch your eye, because that’s what makes a product stick in your mind. I totally get that. But I am curious as to why a company would want a product to stick in someone’s mind as “WOW that company is super sexist/heterosexist/elitist and I never want to buy their products!” Let me throw out some examples (be aware that I put the links to the ads on here with extreme reluctance because I don’t want people to watch them, but want you to see what I’m talking about and what exactly irks me).

Because we don’t need to sell hair products like this. Seriously, when did the world decide that sex sells products that don’t have anything to do with sex. Shampooing hair should not lead to an orgasm, unless the individual has trichophilia. And while we’re talking about fetishes selling products, let’s also throw out this one about shoe fetishism. Or there’s this ad that objectifies men, or Tom Ford ads that objectify everyone (I am not providing a link because they are way beyond pushing the envelope and I already feel vile enough posting the rest of these).

Because we don’t need to sell cars like this. And may I also say that this commercial frightens me an exceptionally LOT because it glorifies 1) Lust, 2) Wrath, 3) Envy, 4) and Pride. It thumbs up treating women like objects, violence perpetrated by anger, the Want of Better Shit, and “yep I’m better than you.” Whaaaat.

Because we don’t need to sell cars like this, either. This is classism, white male privilege, and “the American Dream” that isn’t actually achievable for the majority of the American population. But no, you go ahead and sell your car like that, guys. Freedom. ‘Murica.

(There isn’t really an ad depicting this, but it should also be noted that companies like General Mills actually get backlash for making commercials like this [know why people were mad? Hint: skin color. I wish I was joking] or when Nabisco gets in trouble for making commercials like this [locate the problem this time? Hint: same-sex relationships. Again with the wishing I was joking]. People throw fits about Cheerios and Honey Maid graham crackers but don’t blink twice about SEXSEXSEX commercials? Seriously, that’s where we are right now?)

Those of you who know me enough to have suffered through my speech about how Unilever unnerves me with their two-facedness can skip this next part, ’cause that’s what this is. Unilever owns Dove, the company that’s been doing all of the ‘remarkable’ ’empowering’ “Real Beauty” ads recently. They’re great. Really. They’re all like, “Hey, the media is presenting terrible images of women and we’re all buying into it” and “Hey women, you’re beautiful despite what you see in yourself,” and that’s great, really. Those are really good messages. UNFORTUNATELY Unilever also owns Axe, one of the most remarkably sexist objectionist products that I know of. Axe both objectifies women as sex products, as bodies to be viewed, used, and discarded, and objectifies men as only ever wanting sex. A lot of Axe commercials get banned worldwide, which is great, but guys, they’re trying to sell their products this way. This is what they want to be known for as a company. Here’s one ad that was banned, as well as all of these (not for those who think that women shouldn’t be objects/sex shouldn’t sell products/men shouldn’t be seen as only desiring sex). Unilever is telling women that they are worth more than just their physical bodies, and that those bodies should be treated with care and they should see the beauty in themselves, but they are telling men that women are Things that can be manipulated, as Objects that can be lusted after, as Prizes to be won. They are telling men that they are allowed to give in to their animalistic instincts (I am NOT saying that men have animalistic instincts and that men are just looking for a thumbs-up to use/abuse women) and wantwantwantneedneedneedhavehavehavetaketaketake.

Last week a male went on a shooting rampage; while we can speculate whether or not he was mentally ill, whether or not he felt entitled, whether or not he was a narcissist, what we KNOW (because he told us through videos) is that he blamed women for rejecting his sexual advances. That’s why he was killing people. And people pitied him. That’s misogyny. That’s a view of women that starts with the belief that they are for the taking. That belief didn’t come from nowhere, that is something that is being taught–or at the very least is not being admonished–by society. He was completely responsible for his own actions, but society is responsible for helping create the thoughts behind those actions. Belief: Women have a responsibility to men to fulfill their sexual desires. That’s. So. Wrong. (I’m not going to talk right now about how misguided society is about what feminism is or how there’s an actual thing called “Men’s Rights Activists” and how terrifying it is to be a woman a lot of days, that’ll be another blog another day, but suffice it to say oh WOW life is scary.)

People pretend that media does not have an effect on anyone. If that was the case, companies would not spend their money making commercials or billboard/magazine/internet ads. WE ARE EFFECTED. WE ARE AFFECTED. We buy products because of advertising, because of what the company promises us about the product. Companies that sell products based on the isms that are rewarded by having their products sell will keep on selling products that way.

Think before you buy. Find out about companies, and think about the message that they are sending through their advertising (whether or not you think they’re aware of it). [This is also not a blog about buying natural, local products or avoiding certain chemicals or anything like that, but those are good things, too, and I do encourage you to do so!] I am an idealist. I believe we can change things through conversation. So let’s talk.