Post 3.11 - Education

There has been an ongoing debate, especially during the Bush Administration, regarding sex education with respect to whether it should be offered in the public schools and what it should cover. At this point, there seems to be less controversy over the former, as a majority have accepted that it has a place in the curriculum for at least some students. The primary battles have been over abstinence, sexual orientation, and safe sex/contraception.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, going to high school in New Jersey. HIV/AIDS had hit by 1982, so during the time I was in high school, venereal diseases were an entirely different level of concern than they are even now. AIDS was not effectively treatable at that time, even if the more common afflictions of gonorrhea and syphilis might be. Even with this wrinkle, I feel I had a very progressively oriented sex education curriculum for the time period.

We did discuss the basics of reproduction and sexual health, but much of the content of "protection" was surrounding the pill - including what drugs were used in its composition over time - and everybody's favorite go-to, the condom. Because of the increasing seriousness of the AIDS pandemic, there was a new level of fear surrounding sex, sexual expression and sexual orientation, so condoms were always recommended no matter what else you might be using. Even by college, as a resident assistant, our "safe sex" seminar was almost entirely around condoms and dental dams.

While I am not saying that any of this was wrong, and I am certainly not in favor of the incredibly short-sighted "abstinence only" education, I think there were key pieces missing: we didn't talk about respecting ourselves or our partners, and we didn't talk about how things would evolve. The very human elements of emotion, maturity, and psychology continue to be ignored, based on what I experienced and what I read now.

I can't say what the right age is for a person to lose their virginity. There are a lot of factors, most especially the emotional maturity of the individual, as well as that of the partner. It may be one position to say, "wait until you're married", but that isn't realistic for most people. In my case, I'd still be waiting. And I'd be very cranky.

When you're young, it is very difficult to take a step back and look at a situation objectively, especially when your hormones are screaming for physical expression and driving you to mate. It isn't all that much easier at times when you're older, either. But part of that self respect is looking at yourself and saying, "why do I want to do this?" And of course, knowing what the right answers should be. The physical drive is always a part of the equation, but part of what makes us thinking, rational beings is our ability to consider other factors.

At some point, after the majority of the virginities were lost by everybody, sex became... easier. It wasn't just a sense of confidence or knowing what you were doing, but everything seemed to happen faster. It didn't mean you were any more ready to have sex or that you should be, but we all moved into a place of being less able to set boundaries because of our partner's expectations as well as our bodies'. We all seemed to move through a phase of being less able to really relate to each other on a cerebral level because we were so willing to rely on the physical chemistry.

And let's face it, physical chemistry isn't really that difficult to conjure when you're 18 or 20 or 22.

And there is also the novelty of, "oh cool, we can do THIS now, and it feels really good!"

Casual sex isn't necessarily bad, if that's what everyone in the situation wants and can handle emotionally - it doesn't make anyone a slut or immoral or anything, as it's actually very human. I think sex with a solid emotional foundation is better, as I think most people do, but sometimes, life doesn't happen that way, and people shouldn't be made to feel like they've done something wrong if no one has gotten hurt.

It is not so simple to say that "guys always want sex" or that "girls need to protect themselves" or any of those trite things that we all hear when we're young. Girls have sex drives, too, first of all, and guys are getting gonorrhea and syphilis from their girlfriends, not just generating it spontaneously out of their maleness -- so everything happens on both sides of the equation. And this is before we introduce the varieties of sexual orientation and sexual experimentation that occur for a lot of people, which can definitely complicate the map.

But I remember this impression that girls (women) needed to be convinced to have and/or enjoy sex, while guys were always going to be up and ready to go, or at the very least, should be. Aggressive girls were sluts, and guys who were less interested so immediately had to be gay or otherwise broken in some way, because they should really be unable to control themselves around a beautiful woman.

And these misconceptions continue today. I read in the last week of a politician bringing up the old, already discredited notions that suggestively dressed women are "asking for it". I had to check my calendar to make sure it was 2011.

I am still hoping that our children and future generations will slowly become sexually healthy people, in that they will understand all the complexities of sexual expression and sexual engagement, and that such things are really okay when done safely and for the right reasons. There are no expectations anyone has to satisfy except to do no harm to another person or to themselves.

Have a question or a suggestion for a future topic? E-mail me at facetsblog@gmail.com.

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