John Oliver on Sex Ed

John Oliver covers the sex ed situation in the US fantastically. Our youth deserve better.

“There is no way we’d allow any other academic program to consistently fail to prepare students for life after school. Human sexuality, unlike calculus, is something you actually need to know about for the rest of your life.”

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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Recommended Reading: Conservative and Progressive Views on Sexual Morality

I’ve considered weighing in on the Josh Duggar situation and the conservative reaction to it, but this post does such a fantastic job, and explains why that reaction makes sense from a conservative mindset, so I won’t add much to it before sharing the link.

To give you some background, Josh Duggar is known to have molested five girls, some of whom were his sisters, when he was 14. He is now 27. He never faced criminal charges for it, and the conservative reaction has been fairly supportive of him, whereas progressives are frustrated that his transgression was swept under the rug for so long, and that there has been no justice for his victims. The Young Turks go over the details in this video if you want the full story.

As a former homeschooler with pretty harsh feelings towards families like the Duggars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, this scenario only increases my frustration with this family and the conservative celebration of their backwards, antiquated, sexist lifestyle. I have a hard time looking at it objectively, but Libby Anne from Patheos, in a blog post that was shared on the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog, was able to take a step back and examine why conservatives have reacted with so much support for Josh Duggar and so much frustration and even harsh language towards progressives. The post is titled “Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes” and can be read here.

If you have conservative, religious friends and family members with differing sexual mores and have trouble talking about these things with them, this is for you. And them. Maybe they should read it too.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Age of Consent and Age of Purity Pledging

Not old enough to give consent? No worries. Make a purity pledge!

I’m lucky enough to have been raised by a family that didn’t really push purity pledges until I was in high school, which, if you’re going to make one, isn’t horribly early for most people. The thing is, they also failed to give me adequate sex ed while I was homeschooled, so I didn’t learn about sex until I was 15, which, coincidentally, was after I’d already made a purity pledge a year earlier.

While consent is hard to define, and is often defined by the situations in which a person cannot give consent rather than the ones in which someone can, I suspect most people can agree that consent should be informed. That means that the people involved have to know what they’re agreeing to in order to say yes to it. I think that’s a fair requirement, since there can be lots of negative consequences to saying yes to things one doesn’t understand. Don’t understand how loans work? Don’t get one. Don’t understand sex? Don’t have it. Don’t understand the rules of the road? Don’t drive. (Please, please don’t. That one has the added problem of endangering others as well as yourself.)  

But then you have my situation. Can a student who doesn’t know how sex works truly make a binding promise to not do it for an extended period of time? Now, granted, it was a promise to myself and God, not a legal document or an agreement to have my genitalia mutilated. But I was 14. There are girls who make that pledge at age 9, or younger, at ages when they’re not able to fully understand what they’re agreeing to. They may be told they’re agreeing to be “pure,” which certainly sounds positive. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to abstain from sex if that’s something that you think is a good idea for you. It’s certainly the safest option, but if you don’t understand it, is it fair to expect you to make that promise?

Then there’s the issue of the way many of these purity programs are run. If you’re put into a room with 100 girls, and told, “Here’s a piece of paper. Write down a promise to yourself to be pure” (which is basically what happened to me), you’d be very weird if you stood up and said, “No thanks.” So not only are you being encouraged to make this promise, you’re being pressured to do so by the crowd around you. To me, that seems less personal and less binding than a promise made to oneself based on an informed decision, and also made without outside influence. I’ve made multiple purity “pledges” in my life, and in the end, none of them was binding to me. When I became informed, and eventually met someone who was attractive and kind and with whom I was seriously considering having sex, I made a decision not to because I wasn’t ready. But when I eventually became emotionally capable of it, I decided to study my earlier pledges. Were they binding? The first one, the one I made at 14 without any information, was not. But the later ones? They were all made in a similar situation to the first:  on retreats where girls were taken into a room to write letters to themselves. That was nice, but there was considerable peer pressure involved. Sure, I could have written nonsense and signed Micky Mouse, but what if someone had noticed? I wasn’t a rebel back then. Even if I had objected to the pledge, I would have written it down, and signed it, just like everybody else. That peer pressure, to me, makes it no longer binding. You can argue that I’m rationalizing it, but it’s not a legal document, and the only person I promised besides myself is a divine being whom I no longer believe in, so at least in my case, the only person I’m disagreeing with is my younger self–and she and I would disagree on a lot of things, not just sex.

The whole peer pressure issue doesn’t just apply to sex in my opinion, and I may get some disagreement on this, but I’m not fond of marriage proposals made in crowded places, especially with any kind of camera or spotlight involved. Football games, Hockey games, Baseball, Basketball–I don’t care, I would be thoroughly pissed off if someone proposed to me at one. Just think about the pressure! All eyes in the packed stadium are on you, and if you say no,  what started as a sweet moment has ended with labeling yourself a cold bitch. The audience wants you to say yes! If you say no, you’ve disappointed them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people say yes, and then say no when they’re in a private place. I’d say that sucks for the person who proposed, but he or she should have considered the large public pressure before deciding to propose in that place. Granted, there are some cases where the couple has already agreed to get married, and the public proposal is just their way of publicly declaring their engagement–that’s fine by me. But to do it in such a public way without any warning is extremely inconsiderate, and frankly, manipulative. It’s a big decision to make, and when you consider how easily people are influenced by what they think the people around them expect, it makes peer pressure all the more problematic.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if teens or young adults realize that they want to have sex, and decide to, they’re going to rationalize that decision. Don’t want to let them do that? Then encourage them to make a promise in a way that they feel is binding, not in a way that involves peer pressure, or pressure from adult authorities. In the end, the decision to remain pure is up to them, and while choosing to have sex is a big decision, choosing to avoid it is too.

What Movie Romance Teaches Us About Sexual Assault and Manipulation

We’ve all seen them:  the scenes where the guy hits on the girl, who rejects him. Then he rushes to her, spins her around, and plants a big sloppy kiss while squishing her body up against his. In movies, this is love, passion, and a sign of things to come:  the start of a happy relationship. In reality, this is called sexual assault. This kind of behavior should never be condoned in real life, and boys and men alike watching these scenes get the wrong idea about how romance works. Worse, sometimes they act them out in real life. These scenes can also give girls an inaccurate idea about love, and even render them incapable of recognizing sexual assault when it happens.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault in the past, I can’t help but cringe a little at these scenes, even in iconic movies and musicals that I’ve loved since my childhood. I’m not going to argue that sexual assault (or rape for that matter) shouldn’t be shown in films or books–it should. But I’d like for it to be presented as what it is, and for the characters involved to have to at least discuss what one did to the other so that they can have some semblance of a truly healthy romantic relationship in the end, rather than a hastily scripted wedding scene.

Take this scene in Guys and Dolls, for instance (if you don’t mind the singing). If you want to skip most of the singing, start watching at 3:16. You’ll get the idea.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/415266/Guys-And-Dolls-Movie-Clip-I-ll-Know.html

Sky and Sarah are one of the show’s lead couples, and–you guessed it, at the end, they’re married. Even though Sarah is clearly repulsed by him, and not at all interested–heck, she freaking slaps him–the hero gets the girl. What kind of world do we live in where even a violent act like smacking someone in the face as hard as you can doesn’t mean no, and isn’t taken as a sign that things won’t work? Granted, in the plot of the story, Sky has a lot of money riding on his bet that he can take prudish Sarah on a date–but still, she rejected him multiple times. This is not the start of a beautiful romantic relationship; it’s a crime. While she does eventually fall for Sky, that isn’t the point. She’d rejected him, and once a person is rejected, he or she needs to back off and leave the rejecter alone. The only person who can turn that rejection into a date is the rejecter. If that person changes his or her mind, then yay for the rejectee! But in reality, that doesn’t happen often.

Scenes like this one have perpetuated the idea that the key to successfully getting someone to date you is persistence, not, you know–asking politely and letting the other person make their own damn decision. While yes, persistence can eventually get someone to do what you want, it’s not acceptable to beg that person until he or she just wants you to stop. Besides, do you really want someone to date you just so that you’ll shut up and stop hitting on them? Wouldn’t you rather have that person date you because he or she is attracted to you and wants to date you? I’m going with the latter reason.

Not to mention the fact that sexual assault is ILLEGAL, and morally objectionable. Just because there’s no penis-in-vagina action doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. There’s a reason consent is required in relationships. Both parties have to decide they want to do something, and pressuring that person until they give in is not true consent.

An important part of the concept of consent is that if one of the parties involved is not emotionally or physically capable of saying no, they can’t give consent. All participants need to 1) understand what they’re doing, and 2) know that at any time they can say no, and that no will be respected. I once saw my brother hitting on a girl who was maybe 13 at the time. He was about 14, and much taller than she was. I could tell she was trying to shrug his arm off her shoulders, and her body language told me she wasn’t interested in his advances, but she wasn’t saying anything with her words, and he was still, well, advancing. My brother’s very bad at reading social cues from body language, so I wasn’t surprised by this. I was maybe 16 at the time, and I said to her, “He’s not responding to your body language that you’re not interested. You should tell him verbally.” She responded, “No, it’s ok, I don’t mind.” Granted, this was in front of him. Had I been older, I would have taken her aside and said this to her privately, but I still stand by my observation and the words I said to her. The girl probably didn’t understand this, but it is clear to me that at the time she was not mature enough to give consent. If you don’t feel comfortable verbalizing your no, then your yes doesn’t mean anything. Which brings me to another scenario where movies are at fault:  manipulation.

There’s this scene in The Notebook that reminds me of my sexual assault, and it sucks that this is considered the start of a great movie romance, when really, it’s manipulation.

This is the beautiful Ferris Wheel scene, where Noah threatens to kill himself to get a date with a hot girl he’s never met.

Let me repeat that. HE THREATENS TO KILL HIMSELF TO GET A DATE. And she says no at first, until he drops one of his hands and dangles, pretending to slip. The girl below them yelling at him has to be my favorite character in this scene. It’s been a while since I saw the movie all the way through, but this scene always stuck with me. I thought at first it was romantic, and a beautiful image of the persistence that proves that Noah loves her. Frankly though, it’s actually proof that Noah is a manipulative jerk who knows he’s getting a pity date, and doesn’t care. He’s convinced himself that if he can just get a date with her, she’ll fall for him. It happens to work out that way for him–just as Sarah’s one date with Sky happens to work out for Sky too, but in real life, that’s simply not the case.

She seems to be thoroughly turned off by Noah’s irrational, immature behavior. The only thing she’d be thinking in real life is, how do I get this guy to leave me alone and get off the Ferris wheel? Noah is not actually suicidal, and she doesn’t like him, so there is no reason for her to date him. She should say no, or, if she says yes, should say no once they’re back on the ground. So she does something immature to retaliate? It’s funny, but pantsing someone doesn’t make up for the manipulation.

Having been sexually assaulted by a guy who threatened to kill himself so he could get alone with me, and have my undivided attention whenever he felt like it, I can honestly say that this is a tactic used in real life by real douche bags–and listen–whoever’s reading this:  DON’T BUY INTO IT. It’s one thing if a close friend reveals his or her depression or suicidal thoughts. If it’s someone you know well, it may be legitimate, but when a person you don’t know well does it, there are 2 reasons they could be doing it for, and those are for your attention or pity, both of which can be used to manipulate you.

As a young woman who watched these scenes growing up–and saw many others just like them–I didn’t recognize my sexual assault until well after it happened. I knew I had been touched, often against my will by that manipulative loser, but I didn’t understand consent. I thought my absence of a no was giving him consent, but in reality, I only let him touch me because I was afraid he would kill himself if I did anything that would upset him. Even after I broke off my relationship with him, I still thought he was genuinely suicidal. It took the convincing of some very close friends, one of whom had legitimately struggled with depression, to get me back on the path to safety and healthy thinking–and guess what? That “suicidal” asshole? He’s still alive, even though I broke it off. He had no intention of killing himself, but man, did he milk it for the attention. This is not to say depression is not real–it is. I’ve known people who’ve suffered from it. But usually, they don’t talk about it to people they don’t know well, and when your distant acquaintances start telling you what sound like their most intimate, dirty secrets for absolutely no reason, after conversations that you could barely call deep or intimate,  you should be suspicious. They’re not telling you because they’re your true love. They want your pants off, and your shirt too.

Happy thinking my fellow daters.