When it comes to making policy decisions, science seems less and less popular these days. David Nutt was sacked as the UK government’s chief drugs advisor for publicly stating what science had already proven: that tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than marijuana, ecstasy and LSD.
Too often our society lets fear dictate how we deal with our children’s inevitable exposure to sex and drugs.
In an ideal world, teenagers would wait until they were more firmly settled psychologically before experimenting and making adult decisions about sex and drugs – due to the complications and risks that such decisions inevitably bring with them. However today’s reality is a culture where children are exposed to adult themes at younger and younger ages.
In America we teach abstinence-only education in the hope that by not teaching kids harm-minimizing techniques such as birth control and contraception, they will simply not have sex. Unfortunately, there is now concrete evidence that this doesn’t work. Studies show that, following a decade-long decline ‘U.S. teen pregnancy rates have increased as both births and abortions rise.’
As a teenager most of my friends’ parents were strong abolitionists. If any of them had found out their son or daughter were smoking the occasional joint or having sex, they would have permanently grounded them or even kicked them out of the house. Needless to say this didn’t stop them. So what can parents and teachers do to help teens mature into young adults who make responsible decisions?
Maybe if someone taught them how to minimize risks when imbibing mind-altering substances in the same way one learns about units when drinking alcohol. Maybe if schools taught about emotional and physical intimacy (and of course, contraception) alongside lessons on physiology and sex.
What passes for ‘sex education’ in America is, frankly, disgraceful. For over a quarter century, the federal government has supported abstinence-only education programs that censor information to youth. America still has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world, 1.5 times the teen pregnancy rate of Britain (the highest in Europe.)
The United States’ teen pregnancy rate is over five times that of the Netherlands, over four times that of Germany, and over three times that of France. The obvious explanation is that young people in the United States are significantly less likely to use contraception than youth in these European nations.
These statistics come as no surprise when you look at the number of programs that teach abstinence-only-until-marriage: an unrealistic, morality-based agenda that ignores the fact that virtually all Americans have sex before marriage (a fact that has been true since the 1950s). Amplify Your Voice, a sex-education and youth-education organization, has published several videos featuring animated bears discussing real abstinence-only lessons being taught in classrooms. Losing one’s virginity as a girl can be difficult enough, never mind with lessons like these at school:
The organization says the “chewed up candy” exercise is from AC Green’s Game Plan, an abstinence-only program endorsed by the former basketball star that is used in many public schools in Illinois. The “Spit in a Cup” exercise is from “Why Am I Tempted,” a program which received funding under President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) to be taught in schools in Florida.
These programs censor information about contraception and condoms while stigmatizing and shaming students who have already had sex. Never mind the fact that they discriminate against LGBT youth by at best ignoring them altogether – or worse, promoting homophobia by teaching students that homosexuality is deviant and immoral.
“Until recently the dominant approach was Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a programme developed in Los Angeles in 1983 and quickly exported to the rest of America. Cops would arrive in schools, sometimes driving cars confiscated from drug-dealers, and tell 11- and 12-year-olds about the dangers of illicit substances. They drew little or no distinction between marijuana and methamphetamine. Teachers liked DARE because they felt uncomfortable tackling the topic themselves, and because they got a break. Parents liked it because they felt their children would listen to police officers. Unfortunately, they did not. ”
Studies are constantly conducted to see if drug education is effective in preventing drug use. Maybe researchers are asking the wrong question. Accepting that the urge to alter one’s consciousness is actually a universal human (and animal) drive, we should be looking at how that can be accomplished safely. If kids were taught about harm reduction, the potential for compulsive use and addiction, how to make sure you don’t exceed the correct dosage, etc. would we not stand a better chance of eliminating unnecessary deaths from drug abuse?
But of course when it comes to drugs, we’re even farther away from this ideal than we are with sex. For at least most people agree that it’s natural for teenagers to want to start experimenting sexually, whereas our society can’t seem to accept drug experimentation in adults, never mind teens.
This mindset, based on stigma, judgement, stereotypes, and puritanical denial of basic human urges, can do nothing but make the situation worse. Teens see the hypocrisy of adults drinking alcohol and then telling them not to ‘do drugs’. They see their friends getting stoned and not turning into junkies. They find out their parents once experimented too.
So it’s their turn to experiment – and that’s exactly what they do. During this naive experimentation kids consume impure substances purchased on the street, combine drugs that shouldn’t be mixed, overdose because they didn’t know how much they were taking. But who was there to teach them?
At the same time, young adults inevitably explore their sexuality, either with or without guidance from the adult world in regards to physical precautions that can be taken and the emotional implications of becoming intimate with another human being.
Parents’ strict prohibitionist attitudes backfire as they’re no longer on the list of people their kids can talk to about these new and sometimes overwhelming experiences. They lose touch with their own children. Their ability to retain influence and stay involved during this crucial time in young adulthood all but disappears.
At the end of the day, the problem is that the majority of adults are not comfortable with their own sexuality or history of drug-taking, and they’re certainly not comfortable imagining their kids doing the same thing they did when they were younger. If parents don’t start growing up themselves, why should they expect their kids to?
America is a country of great contrasts. The country that invented the popular ‘Lingerie Bowl‘ – an annual pay-per-view football game during the Super Bowl, featuring only scantily clad females. Home of phenomena like ‘Bikini Baristas‘ who work at ‘Sexpresso’ stands for those who like their coffee with their kicks. We export a hyper-sexualized MTV culture around the globe in one of the most powerful forms of cultural colonialism to date. Yet right back at home, we struggle to keep our sex laws in even the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first.
It would seem that progress is slow. It took the Supreme Court ruling of Lawrence v Texas in 2003 to finally strike down the sodomy laws that remained on the books in many U.S. states. You’ll be pleased to know that as of 2005 pre-marital sex is finally legal in Virginia.
But not all states are ready to accept the new precedent of sexual privacy set by the Lawrence v Texas ruling. As recently as last November (2009), Alabama upheld it’s criminal ban on sex toys. This was the latest decision in an eleven year legal battle brought to court by Sherri Williams, owner of a sex toy store called Love Stuff in Hoover, Alabama.
The judges ruled that the Constitution does not include a right to sexual privacy when it comes to purchasing sexually stimulating devices. One might ask what kind of morality judges gun ownership as a God-given right but masturbation aids as a threat to society.
Alabama is one of the easiest places in the U.S. to buy a gun. There are no state laws requiring licensing, registration, child safety locks, a mandatory waiting period or a limit on the number of weapons that can be purchased at any one time. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Alabama has the 4th highest homicide rates in the country.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Alabama’s law in 2007, saying that the state could regulate commerce that it considered ‘harmful to the public’. I suppose that means dildos are officially more dangerous than firearms in the eyes of the law – and maybe even harder to acquire?
Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act prohibits, among other things, the commercial distribution of ‘any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value.’
Some sex laws in America are simply antiquated and un-enforced, but not in this case. This law was put on the books in 1998 (yes you read that correctly), making it illegal to buy or sell sex toys for anything other than ‘medical purposes’. Your first offense can get you a year in jail and a $10k fine; your second offense can earn you up to ten years in prison. There are similar laws on the books in Georgia and Mississippi.
As others have noted, a few select vegetables should probably be banned as well, not to mention massaging shower heads. Maybe just amputate women’s fingers altogether as we really shouldn’t risk someone somewhere giving themselves pleasure (especially without the aid of a man!)
Taking her cue from Charlton Heston’s famous speech to the National Rifle Association, Sherri Williams isn’t giving up: ‘My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand.’ she said. Love Stuff will continue to sell sex toys; however, customers must sign a form stating that they are buying the toys for one of the permitted reasons.
In the meantime men, have no fear. Viagra is of course still legal in Alabama. Ah, the sweet smell of patriarchal hypocrisy.
♥ Let’s start with a story of trivial magnitude that I still found fairly unbelievable: ‘Oshkosh Police Arrest Las Vegas Woman For Prostitution After Viewing Posts For Services On Websites’. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been living in the UK too long. But the idea of government money spent on an ‘undercover operation’ to arrest a single independent woman advertising sexual services on the internet seems unreal to me. No excuse of stopping trafficking, coercion, soliciting – just good old-fashioned moralizing on the exchange of cold hard cash (versus presents and dinner?) for sex. She was only living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin temporarily – a pretty harsh wake-up call to the fact that our Dorothy wasn’t in Las Vegas anymore!
I have no idea how common these kind of police operations are, tracking working girls on the internet. If you have any further info, please feel free to post in the comments below.
♥ On to some discrimination on a much larger scale. Queerty has been bringing CBS’s ridiculous hypocrisy to the public eye with regards to it’s Superbowl ad choices.
First we hear that ‘The Super Bowl Welcomes $2.8 Million Ad Buy From Hate Group “Focus on the Family”‘. Which is fair enough, until you remember CBS’s own policy that does not allow any ad that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance”. This quote is from a letter to the United Church of Christ, whose ad campaign of inclusiveness (“Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We.”) was rejected for broadcast in 2004. So much for CBS’s ‘long-standing policy of not accepting advocacy advertising.’ No one’s seen the Focus on the Family ad spot yet, but from what the group has said publicly, it is going to be very clearly pro-life.
♥ Next, to the BBC reporting on how ‘Sanitary pads help Ghana girls go to school’. “Schoolgirl absenteeism in Ghana could be cut by half by providing free sanitary towels, a study has shown.” So easy to take things like that for granted in life. Somehow I think this is the kind of study that only gets done when it’s women on the research team!
♥ The NY Times had an interesting article called ‘Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret’ on the number of gay partnerships that are open sexually, and how they negotiate that understanding. I find it fascinating not just in itself, but as a model for straight couples as well. There needs to be a certain amount of trust, lack of jealousy, etc. – but these are things that often make relationships stronger. Some studies show that open gay relationships last longer than closed ones. As Joe Quirk, author of the relationship book “It’s Not You, it’s Biology”, put it: “If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.” Here, here!
Nine out of 10 children aged between eight and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures.
I clearly remember attempting to visit the website for the US government and making the unfortunate mistake of typing in whitehouse.com rather than whitehouse.gov at a very young age. But I would imagine that as we see children dealing with adult themes earlier and earlier in their lives, a lot of this viewing is not unintentional.
We mustn’t make the assumption that children viewing sex at a young age is necessarily harmful – however, the problem is that most popular pornography is a very skewed and one-dimensional portrayal of sex. As a teenager, I personally thought of sex as something one does because men like it – that was the impression I had gotten from my exposure to porn on the internet. It wasn’t till years later that I would start to understand female sexuality, and then my own.
It would be great if our education system could provide sex education that taught more than just the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. How about teaching our children something about sexuality as an important way humans express intimacy and sometimes love?
I agree with Walter when she writes that:
“If the rise of pornography was really tied up with women’s liberation and empowerment, it would not be increasing women’s anxiety about fitting into a narrow physical ideal.
“…women are still encouraged much of the time to concentrate on their sexual allure rather than their imagination or pleasure.”
Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there, as she goes on to attack the sex industry across the board.
I was disappointed to see the conflation of the entire industry with the intimacy-less portrayal of sex in much popular porn and culture.
Walter completely ignores the shifting trend in the sex industry away from the “porn-star experience” (PSE) prostitute in favor of sex workers who offer the “girlfriend experience” (GFE). Many men are not interested in paying for sex without intimacy. The highest paid call girls in the industry are those who provide more personal interaction – not just completing a sexual act, but focusing on things like kissing, cuddling, foreplay, and conversation.
Walter claims that “women are scarred by the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice” citing two girls who worked in the sex industry as examples. But when she refers to the bestselling memoirs of prostitutes such as Belle de Jour, she completely ignores the validity of their experiences as empowered sex workers. Denying women’s agency and subjective experiences – is that not typical misogyny?
He’s compared himself to Rosa Parks, but don’t laugh. Read what 25 year-old “Markus” has to say in his interview with Details first.
Markus is America’s first legal male prostitute after Nevada finally changed it’s health codes in December. Male prostitutes were previously unable to qualify under these codes because they specified that prostitutes must undergo “cervical” testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Talk about confirming the assumption that the word prostitute always implies a female worker!
It’s great that Markus is a political crusader who wants to make a point through his employment:
“This actually isn’t about selling my body. This is about changing social norms.”
Having empowered straight male prostitutes who work legally in Nevada will probably help build the case for de-stigmatisation and legalisation of sex work across the country. Somehow the fact that he’s so heteronormative stops people from reverting back to a prostitutes-as-victims discussion.
However, as Gawker pointed out, his business plan is a bit flawed. For now, women who purchase sex are a serious minority in the sex industry, and the competition is rough. Judging from the fact that he’s not much to look at, he probably stands a better chance in the world of gay prostitution, a market with a higher demand. Society seems to allow men the right to pay for sex, so prostitution is more accepted among free-thinking homosexuals.
So unless he’s the charmer of the century, he may have to reconsider the idea that his “sphincter is not for sale”. Even if he only wants to service women, how about all the potential clients who enjoy pegging?
Funny how we pick and choose which social norms to deconstruct, eh Markus?
That’s right, police in Washington D.C. have the right to arrest anyone suspected of sex work – and carrying three or more condoms has been used as proof of intent to sell sex.
In any sane society, you’d think the police would be relieved to find prostitutes carrying condoms. After all, sexually transmitted diseases are one of the most common ways we tend to stigmatize prostitutes.
As you may have noticed, there’s been a hell of a lot of writing about prostitution in the last week following Belle de Jour’s coming out on the cover of the Sunday Times. Here is the Daily Transmission’s pick of some of the more interesting articles and commentary from this past week:
Of course, there will always be some who manage to call themselves feminists and yet deny the validity of a woman’s account if she dares to claim an experience that doesn’t suit some feminists’ political agenda. Here’s a classic example:
I first felt a man’s erection at the tender age of fourteen. On my daily commute to school on the subway in New York City, a crowded train provided cover for unsolicited dry-humps from strangers behind me. I suppose this was my sexual awakening. Not particularly romantic.
This first experience was not shocking in the context of teenage pop culture. I was already dressed for the part, in my mini-skirt and high heels. I just needed to learn the moves. Watching MTV, the instructions came in loud and clear. Even at my uber-nerdy school of math and science geeks, the point needed no clarification. Nelly told us to ‘take off all our clothes’, Xtina got ‘Dirrty’, and even not-so-innocent Britney showed us how to make high school hallways and school uniforms more palatable. From music videos and movies to school discos and prom, sexier was always better. In this period I had a moment, an awakening which occurs in many young women’s lives, that maybe I should start wearing more skirts, putting on the lip gloss, and learning to flirt.
Becoming ‘sexy-conscious’ I unknowingly entered a world of delicate balancing and complicated hypocrisy. Looking back, I’m sure I’m not the only one who cringes at memories of too much makeup, skirts that were too short, and heels that were too high. I quickly became attuned to the effects of dressing provocatively. Cat calls from builders, comments on the street and special treatment in shops became regular occurrences – which, in a funny way, I soon found myself reliant upon for constant reassurance that I was, indeed, attractive to men.
Even then I remember feeling confused as to the point of it all. I knew I didn’t want to follow through with all the attention I was attracting, but I was also secretly pleased I was getting it. It meant I was sexy – in the world of high school, a ‘hot chick’. Then there were times when I’d manage to get my way with a male teacher, and I had no illusions as to why it was happening. It seemed to me that flaunting my assets finally had a payoff. But there was disapproval. These tsk-tsks were the early precursors to the all too common ‘she-slept-her-way-to-the-top’ syndrome – where both men and women belittle or disregard a woman’s accomplishments if it turns out she was once a glamour model or slept with her boss.
One has to wonder why don’t we look down on the men in these situations for thinking with their ‘second brains’? It seemed to me they were making fools of themselves, leaving themselves easy targets to be manipulated by a wink of an eye or a hint of cleavage. But feminism tells us that I was the one ‘cheapening’ and ‘objectifying’ myself by actually using the sexuality we’d all earnestly aspired to flaunt (after much social instruction). Had I been completely mistaken in feeling empowered?
This, it would seem, is the confounding legacy of the feminist revolution. We’ve whittled down the principles and ideals of our foremothers – burning bras has long been out of fashion. Sexy is the new black, it never goes out of style. But we still look down our noses at those women who choose to capitalise on that sexual power – or at least when done with purpose or agenda.
Maybe it’s time we stopped to ask ourselves, who does this benefit? I think back to school discos at ex-strip clubs (podiums, cages and all), where we bumped and grinded our way up the social ladder to the captain of the football team. We dressed to tease and please, and were in awe of those girls who had mastered the arts of seduction and fellatio – not those who had learnt to give themselves an orgasm. We competed by out-doing each other on the ‘hotness’ scale, looking for crucial signs of approval from guys, our own self-esteem hanging in the balance. But we also waited like sharks in the water for the first girl to follow through with the tease, who could then be publicly humiliated for being a slag.
This trend continued on from high school into the ‘real world’. I became aware that those women whose careers were reliant on their sexuality (lap dancers, strippers, prostitutes and so on) are widely looked down upon. It’s as if that fact undermines any other qualities they may have – or indeed, that the career choice itself reflects a lack of other options, brains, or talent. Women in more ‘serious’ careers who are seen to use or even express their sexuality risk losing their colleagues’ respect altogether. But those who don’t often find themselves being labeled as ‘ball-breakers’ or ridiculed by men for lacking feminine appeal. A bit of a catch twenty-two.
We’re expected to hone our sexual power but not to use it. Whether we should be using it or not is another question, but surely our current raunch culture has nothing to do with female liberation. Personally, I’d have felt more emancipated if I’d at least been saving up a college fund, charging men for all the free bumping and grinding I did in the subways and at the school prom. I laugh when I hear people refer to pole dancers and topless models as ‘cheap’. Because in the end, what’s cheaper than giving it away for free?