Last week I was handed a stack of surveys for my students. Some of the questions were about their sexual practices (or lack thereof). I sort of hated to touch the things, even blank. They suggested to me that our assembly the next day would be about sexual practices (or lack thereof), the tail of the parade of abstinence-only sex ed funded by the Bush administration.
Then I was kind of let down, in my pugilistic heart, when, after enduring the hour sitting on the hard bleachers, the assembly hardly mentioned sex. I couldn’t get riled up about any wild fictions that our visitors were perpetrating (although the majority of abstinence-only curricula have contained inaccuracies*). Except for saying that most people have STDs, by which they means HPV, I guess, the facts seemed solid. (Some studies show 80% of adolescent girls have it, and 50% of adults have it, but happily the immune system usually fights it off to no ill effect.)
A lot of it was about building up their self-esteem and encouraging future planning, which I suspect is better achieved through long-term relationships with family and teachers and other mentors, rather than with a one-time assembly of a hundred kids in a gymnasium with a screechy PA system.
They did get around to saying that girls and boys needed to defend each other from their desires, and that girls shouldn’t “allow” sex unless and until a boy “put a ring on it,” referencing Beyonce, which I found a little unfair. I think she was saying, “I dumped you because you wouldn’t marry me after all this time, you fool!” Not, “I refuse to put out because you won’t marry me.” Poor Beyonce. So misunderstood.
All this probably didn’t mean a lot to our gay students (especially in the state of Missouri). And considering puberty starts around 10, and average first marriage hovers around age 25, I could only imagine a trail of false, broken engagements resulting from the strategy. I’m sure it will work just fine for a few kids.
We don’t set our curriculum up to serve a few kids, though. We build it like a net, to catch as many students as possible.
The reason you had sex in the first place is often related to the even more dangerous part of adulthood: love. All the other emotions that masquerade as love. Affection disappearing and returning. Marriage can’t always contain it. Not even for people who are desperately devoted to the institution and each other. A ring won’t necessarily save you, before, during, or after sex.
Avoiding erotic love means you’ll probably spend more energy loving your platonic friends, which will mess you up, too. They will betray you, or ignore you, or you’ll grow apart.
It’s too disturbing to tell high school kids the truth, which is that their teachers and parents are almost as messed up in the head about sex and love as they are. That desire and emotion and commitment are too mysterious to be described in any textbook or given any prescription by any teacher.
I asked a few of them what they thought of the assembly, and they just rolled their eyes, the way teenagers should, and sighed heavily. We didn’t need to tell them the whole thing’s a mess. They already know.
Aside: I’ve been really interested in the recent struggle that some Christian evangelicals are dealing with, looking at the data for sex before marriage (apparently a little under 80% of conservative Christians have some kind of sex before marriage) and struggling with the risks of early marriage as a solution to the daunting challenge of practicing abstinence. Here’s a link:
*Oh, and here’s the abstinence only lack of facts business: