She scratched her head for a second and slowly placed her hand back on the table.
“I guess the most important thing that I’ve learned is that Feminism isn’t about hating men, but…well…more about equality of the sexes.”
The process of interviewing had been long and tiring but here, at last, was what I had been waiting all day for. Finally, as some might call it, was the breakthrough moment when this student understood that something that she had learned had actually changed the way in which she viewed the world. I left the interview room happy that this student had come to a deeper understanding about a subject but didn’t think much about our conversation for a couple of days.
Then, while catching up on e-mails, I happened upon a news story where a group of men marched against domestic violence. “Great!” I thought, “It’s always nice to see males take on this issue.” But as I looked further into the event I realized that the primary focus of the march was to end domestic violence instigated by men on women.
Okay, sure, if you play the odds, male on female violence probably represents the cases that you hear about most often. However, the question that I had was, “Why did it matter?”
While I certainly don’t want to imply that any type of domestic violence is necessarily less deserving of attention than any other, why is it that we are so eager to get fired up about protecting women but not about protecting men from females? Or even from other males for that matter? Can you make a case where a male is physically able to defend himself from a woman and therefore doesn’t need outside help? What about non-physical abuse? If so, what does this say about your assumptions about gender roles? What happens to this argument when the aggressor and the victim are of the same sex? Is this any worse or better than an assumption about Feminists?
For me, sex education is not just about the act itself but also the host of things that surround the deed; gender roles, gender stereotype, and perception of gender all engender inform the various ways that we interact with our sexual partners. How do our expectations for our partners (or others) depend on our preconceived notions of their gender? For that matter, how do our expectations of ourselves hinge upon this?
Sometimes I think that it would be easier if we had been assigned roles in life—we would know our job, our lines, and our costume. The other way to think about it, though, is that we now have the freedom and the opportunity to define ourselves as we see fit. Instead of asking ourselves “Who should I be?” we get to inquire “Who will I be?”
A remix of “Summer Love” played out of my car’s speakers as we drove toward the airport. It had been a long day and I didn’t feel like getting into my usual playful argument with Scott about this subject. Although close, we are completely opposite in many ways and music was definitely an area in which we had our occasional disagreements. I could not help but get caught up in his enthusiasm at times, but I felt a much greater appreciation for the music of the 1960s.
Something fantastical happened in the 1960s: political, social, and cultural change swept the globe in a way that has not been seen since. While the decade seemed marked by vast periods of turmoil and upheaval, the Sixties also changed the way that we viewed the world around us. Of particular relevance was the shifting nature of the music industry—it was during this time that record labels first recognized teenagers as consumers. So, while Scott might argue that *NSync was of great musical importance, I would always contest that the original boy bands had a much more profound impact.
Over the past decades, companies have begun to market directly toward children (there are even consultants out there to help your business target kids watching Sesame Street!) and while the appropriateness of this topic is larger than the scope of this entry, the interesting thing to note is how the pharmaceutical industry has not only adopted the tactic of marketing directly to consumers but also marketing to consumers who are not yet adults.
Once upon a time, representatives from the drug companies would attempt to woo doctors to tell them why a particular product was a good option for patients. Now, you find media littered with ads for various pills and shots telling the public to consult with their doctor for treatment. While I certainly am not against individuals obtaining information, the cynical side of me can’t help but kick in.
Take, for example, the series of television advertisements for Gardasil. The government just released a study showing that approximately 25% of teenage girls in the United States have received the Gardasil vaccine. But what does it mean that only one company is making the vaccine and that the same company is running ads to tell teenage girls to be “one less” person who gets cervical cancer? Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s great that we have a weapon against the disease, but why does the main proponent seem to be the entity that has the most to gain? Should the ads also mention that Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the thing that Gardisil is supposed to counteract, is the most prevalent Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)? Should the ads mention that the same precautions that work for other STI’s also works against HPV?
For me, the biggest problem seems to be that the advertisements operate on individuals’ inherent fear of cancer. Instead of helping people to more fully understand the role of the vaccine in the context of sexual health education, the commercials cause people to think, “If I get this shot, I won’t get cervical cancer.” While it might be true that the vaccine is effective, should a company that is making such a product feel the responsibility to educate their constituents on the bigger picture? And, finally, are we as a society saying that those who cannot afford the vaccinations somehow deserve to be at risk for cancer?
The car engine hummed underneath me as I pulled away from the terminal, questions swimming through my mind. Various thoughts ran through my brain as I searched for answers, but, in the fading afternoon light, I found myself reminiscing about the simplicity of a summer love.
Earlier, I wrote about the first time that I had sex and how I didn’t really remember much of what happened. While I could probably make something up (who would really know the difference?), and try to make the process of losing my virginity exciting, I think that I should instead tell the story about the first time that I had good sex.
Now, for me, the best sex isn’t just about a mind-blowing orgasm. Sure, I’m not going to pass if one happens to come my way, but there were times that sex just felt right. I don’t think that everyone wants the same things that I do, but I hope that people don’t settle when it comes to sex. Figure out what you want, figure out what’s important to you, and don’t lower your standards when you lower your pants.
The following recounts the first time that I realized that I had not only the sex that I wanted, but that I was in the type of relationship that I always wanted. Regardless of the type of sex that you have, or who you have sex with, I hope that you feel the same way about it that I did: safe, secure, and comfortable.
“Well, not really. I say I am…”
“…But you aren’t.”
“No, no, wait. Really…”
“It’s okay, really, I know.”
“You don’t have to explain.”
The floor creaked as we made our way through the hall—you always forget the spot on the floor even though I’ve told you so many times over the years—and annoyance colored your words, but I knew that you were smiling.
“Why do we have these arguments? You know I always win.”
“I’m just saying…”
I slid my finger into your waistband and pulled close. The smell of you made me pause. Through the fabric I felt you stiffen for just a second and then let go; your breath came hard as I began to exhale on the back of your neck. I ran my chin along the curve of your shoulder and bit down.
The words came out and lingered for a second before they were swept away by the hum of the fan. I had intended to say them louder, but I could not speak above a whisper.
“I thought that you always win?”
“Maybe not this time.”
In that space, I gave you everything—I gave you me. The arguments that I had prepared caught on my lips and faded away into the empty air. I knew that although I never failed to prove my point, you would always triumph in the things that mattered.
You sat at the foot of the bed staring off into your thoughts. You stood up slowly and began to undress—you knew I liked to watch. We fell down together and I saw alarm cross your face.
A finger across your lips and a smile told you that everything was fine. We began to move to the sound of the wind outside, to the rustling of the leaves on the lawn. Swollen lips. Finger tips. Flushed cheeks. A flash of light. Don’t stop. Your face buried in the pillowcase. Your waistline dancing with mine. Don’t stop. Don’t stop until our backs arch and our toes cross. Don’t stop.
Fingers cradled your head and felt the smooth coolness of your hair; I loved the way your scent lingered long after we’re done. I smelled the sweat and I felt the heat. There was a time when I needed to hear you say that you loved me—that was before I knew. My hand wound around you ear and down your body, settling on your stomach. We talked for a while, about what I can never remember. Tomorrow seemed so far away and yet morning came all too soon.
Around me, plasma televisions glowed with images of champions and triumph, but all I could see was you. In front of me sat someone who was desperately trying to be normal—whatever that means these days—but whose heart was probably beating as quickly as it ever had. In front of me sat someone who I’d known for years but maybe never really knew at all. In front of me sat someone who had recently learned that he had HIV.
Months have passed since you first told me, and I have to admit that I haven’t thought much about your life until this week. While watching some of my favorite television shows, I came across the season premiere for Private Practice. Normally, I would describe the storylines as metaphorical anvils for the main characters but something about this viewing was different. On the screen in front of me was a teenager struggling with the decision to have sex, not knowing that he was HIV positive. Of course, because this was television, the teen engaged in intercourse with his girlfriend only to find out about his status after the deed was done.
All of a sudden, I was forced to yet again confront a young person with HIV. I had read the stats, but the spread of HIV among American youth was something that I still wanted to avoid thinking about. I did not want to consider that teenagers were dealing with the responsibilities of sex and its occasional consequences. However, somewhat ironically, in this respect I was an adult who still had some growing up to do.
Although there are times that I wish that the trend wasn’t happening, it’s increasingly apparent to me that teens are maturing at an earlier age. Young people are becoming more sophisticated about media, clothes, college, and, of course, sex. It seems as though individuals are now faced with choices that I never had to deal with in high school and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done my part to equip teenagers with the tools that they need in order to make the right choices for them.
Restless in my bed, unable to sleep, I kept coming back to the television show and to you.
I couldn’t say this to your face at the time because you needed a friend more than you needed a lecture, but I was mad at you for contracting the disease. Sure, it was a rash judgment on my part, and your situation certainly wasn’t your fault, but I could not help but be upset that this happened to you. Why weren’t you more careful? Why didn’t you know better? Why? I was angry because I was heartbroken and scared; you had the rest of your life to live with this extra burden to bear. In my head, I knew that things would be fine and that this would most likely turn into nothing extraordinary, but I couldn’t get over the thought that, in some way, this was preventable.
I wish that I could go back in time and tell you things that you already knew: use a condom every time, talk to your partner about your sexual history, be mindful of how your judgment might be impaired, learn how to get out of risky situations. Most of all, I hate that I didn’t tell you how important safe sex is to me; it might not have made a difference but what if it had? I can’t save everyone, but I might have been able to save you. I am sorry.