Friday, January 02, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

YKW pointed me to this article, "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds" which points out,

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.
It is of little surprise that in a country so schizophrenic about sexuality, our children would not emerge from an information vacuum/scared straight approach to learning how to be sexual beings with healthy approaches to a central part of human life.

Should children be having sex? No, of course not. But neither should they be designing bridges, yet we teach them math. The goal should be to ultimately create people who have safe, satisfying sexual lives and that requires much information and thoughtful discussion, neither of which we want to provide our kids. We believe instead in Plato's the noble lie approach where we demonize and vilify sex, placing it next to drug use in the "just say no" category in which catchphrases and denial are supposed to be legitimate substitutes for actual preparation for one of the most intricate, complex aspects of being a person. Freud may have been wrong about a lot of things, but he was absolutely right that sexuality is tied inextricably into many of our deepest insecurities and repression reveals itself in unexpected and unhealthy ways.

Of course, it need not be like this. There are other models that are more effective. Barbara at Mahablog has a wonderful discussion where she points out:
The fact is that in spite of all our puritanical shudderings about sex, the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The lowest? For several years running, it’s been the ultra-liberal Netherlands. And it’s a big difference, too. The teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. is 44 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls per year. In the Netherlands, that number is 5.

In other words, the little country infamous for legal drugs and prostitution does a better job of keeping its teenagers from getting pregnant than the good ol’ USA, Land of Sexual Repression. I believe the Netherlands also has the lowest rate of STDs among young people on the planet.
If it works better why not adopt it? If it would make the "we're number 1" crowd happy, we could steal it and claim it was ours first. But no. Why not?

It is not about stopping teen pregnancies, it is not about stopping STDs, it is not about stopping abortions or gay marriage, it is about stopping sex. It is about a radical strain of Christian dogma tied to a hyper-anti-physical metaphysic in which anything bodily, anything pleasurable, takes one away from the Divine. It is in our Protestant work ethic, it is more deeply in our odd love/hate relationship with making love. Not all Christian doctrine is like this, there are many very healthy Christian approaches to the body, but the one that has the power is the one that equates most sexual expression with sin.

Of course, this approach only makes it more desirable and warps it in unhealthy ways. When John Ashcroft -- former Senator from Missouri who lost to Mel Carnahan...after Carnahan died -- became the first Attorney General under George W. Bush, he announced that pornography was going to be a central priority. I could not understand why he would take his eye off of real crime, real problems. Then, we drove through Missouri. I didn't want my kids looking out the window. Every third billboard was for a "Gentleman's Club" and should have been wrapped in brown paper. By setting off on this wack-a-mole strategy of denial, it only reappears in strange ways and undesirable places.

They push the bizarre line that sexuality has one and one purpose only, procreation. No doubt it does have that function, but it has a huge number of other functions as well, some are beneficial like bringing intimacy to a relationship, satisfying physiological needs, maintaining a sense of playfulness between partners, stimulating the chocolate industry; others not so much like instantiating power relationships or facilitating manipulation. The problem is that by keeping our kids metaphorically in the dark, they don't learn how to thrive when they are literally in the dark. By allowing the anti-sexual lobby to define how "people with values" view human sexuality, we have harmed ourselves and our children by giving them a distorted, unwholesome picture of what should be an incredibly joyful part of life.

Barbara could not be more tragically correct when she writes that, "Our teens wrap themselves up in so much denial some of them probably can’t admit to themselves they have sex even while they are having it." I've seen this with some of the students I see, students who want the intimacy, who want the pleasure, who feel the need to be sexual, but who have been so thoroughly stunted in their psychological development about their own sexuality that very bad things happen to them and their unwitting, inexperienced partners. We leave them to bumble through what would under the best circumstances be exhilarating, but exasperating moments making mistakes that do not need to be made, mistakes that change lives, often not for the better in terms of pregnancies, STDs, and legal proceedings.

We are animals, we have urges and those urges are going to begin to be felt at a time of life when we do not necessarily want them expressed because we have so much to learn, so much to do, so far to go to become adults who can flourish in many ways. We are animals, but not merely animals; we are complex social and psychological beings living in a time in a place when we have many projects, when we mature and create ourselves through what we do and who we love. And, also, we create ourselves through how we love, something our children are not learning well, something we are failing as a culture in conveying to them.