I have passed many milestones in my life—times that marked my existence into distinct “before” and “after” periods—that include my 22nd birthday, discovering coffee in fifth grade, and the Jonas Brothers. As an old man, I think that I will think back fondly on my years and appreciate the time when I did not know who this trio was. Tonight, however, I was unwillingly exposed to their presence once again.
In her post-Oscars special, Barbara Walters sat across from the band and asked them, among other things, about the reconciliation of their religious beliefs and touring lifestyle. For their part, the boys came across as typical teenagers but what struck me was their declaration that they would wait to have sex until after marriage.
That worked out so well for Jessica Simpson.
In all seriousness, I have nothing against abstinence (if that’s the route that you choose to go, then I hope that you own it and don’t let other people make you feel shame for a choice that you made), but I am concerned about abstinence-only sexual health education. While, there’s certainly a moral argument to be made about why you would wait to have sex until you are married, I don’t think that this choice necessitates that you should merely have access to abstinence-only education.
In January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in the national teen birth rate, which has fueled a discussion on national sexual health education policy. Both camps (abstinence-only vs. comprehensive) have been blaming the other side for this new development. I would venture to say that they’re both wrong, in a sense, and that we have a long way to go in helping our young people to become more comfortable, and proficient, with sex.
What it boils down to, I think, is a general lack of education in many types of sexual health programs. Before we make any other major decisions, we tend to research our options to the best of our ability—we check out prices before buying a car, a house, or a new television; we get referrals for schools and daycare; we become informed about the positions of our political candidates—so why should it be different when it comes to sex, which is a pretty significant choice? I strongly believe that young adults should be presented with the widest array of options available and then be counseled about how to pick out the plan that makes the most sense for them. We should teach young people about how they can make the choices that are the best for them and how to deal with the responsibility that results from poor choices. I certainly don’t believe that a solid sex education foundation is going to cause teenagers to go out and have intercourse like bunny rabbits (any more than they already do) and, if adults really feel that abstinence is the way to go, I think that it would then be their job to educate their young people as to why this was the better choice for them. I think that, in some ways, Conservatives tend to try to use fear to dictate behavior—fear that stems from a lack of education. Of course the unfamiliar is going to be scary; of course you are going to tend to want to stick with the safe and secure. But I also think that you then get into trouble when you are in an unfamiliar situation because you are suddenly thrust into a scenario that you are unequipped to handle.
In the end, I think that we can all agree that our goal is to keep the next generation happy, healthy, and disease-free. If this is our objective, then we owe it to young people to continually evaluate our methods and see if our sexual education programs are really doing what we think they should.
Kim and I were relaxing on the couch after an informal birthday dinner watching a casting special for Make Me a Supermodel.
“Wait. Is that…a boy?”
Sure enough, in front of us stood a body that was obviously male but with a head that could easily be mistaken for female. The inclusion of such a person on a modeling show did not surprise me much as androgyny certainly has its place in fashion. What amazed me, however, was the idea that this individual derived joy from his ambiguous nature.
For the last two years or so, one of the things that I have noticed in television is the trend of the token transgender person. I think that we’re all familiar with the movement, so I won’t go into too much detail but media has continually tried to be representative of cosmopolitan culture by including minorities—only these “token” additions are often characterizations of what the majority imagines the marginalized to be. From African Americans, to Native Americans, to Asians, to immigrants, Jews, Indians, and gays, American society has purported to be accepting of others—as long as they fit into a neat box.
Shows like Ugly Betty; Dirty, Sexy, Money; and America’s Next Top Model have all prominently featured transgender individuals (both pre-operation and post-operation) in recent seasons and while there’s certainly something to be said for acceptance resulting from exposure, the cynical side of me can’t help but think that those who are different are used as a type of stunt casting. We, the audience, are supposed to be shocked or marvel at how progressive a show is because it includes some kind of heretofore-underrepresented type of person. Perhaps it’s not such a big deal if both sides are using each other for their own ends and each is getting something out of the bargain?
I’m inclined to applaud the integration of transgender identity into mainstream media. I think that part of the reason that I was initially uncomfortable with the concept stemmed from the fact that I had never acknowledged any trans people while growing up—I didn’t even know anybody who dressed in drag so transgender individuals were definitely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t understand what was going on and so my natural reaction was to label instances of cross-dressing and transgenderism as “Other” and fear them accordingly. Had I been exposed to the practice at an earlier age, I think it would have been much easier for me to see these people for what they were—human beings.
Yet, with every step forward, it seems like we take a step back. How are we as a society supposed to accept those who identify as transgender when we refuse to let go of our distinctive notions of “male” and “female”? For me, things like Madea, Norbit, White Chicks, and Mrs. Doubtfire serve to reinforce the notion that men who dress up as, or become, women (and especially large women) exist to be laughed at in our culture. These characters are not respected, and their existence encourages the audience to chuckle at the implicit awkwardness of a man trying to take on a female role. After all, why are any of the Madea movies funny? Would anybody see those films if they were just about a real Black woman acting sassy instead of Tyler Perry dressing up in a suit?
In the end, as uncomfortable as it might be, I think we owe it to ourselves to become familiar with those who are different from us. I don’t think that we have to necessarily end up liking, or agreeing with, everybody but we have two options when confronting the dissimilar: learn from others or shut ourselves out.
I believe that education is always the answer.
Which is most useless: dating or girlfriends?
My colleagues and I were sitting around on a Friday night playing a game called “Apples to Apples,” where you essentially had to guess how another player would associate words.
“Who put ‘dating’?” asked Ross as he leaned toward the table. “Yeah, screw you.”
The thing that I enjoy about my job is that the people in my office are not just coworkers, but also good friends. I spend a significant portion of my waking hours with these individuals and would still hang out with them every day of the week and twice on Sunday (sometimes literally).
We continued playing throughout the early morning, eventually drifting out the apartment door and onto the street. I, as always, savored the drive back home after a night out as the cool air and city lights gave me a chance to clear my head for a bit. In the darkness, nothing existed outside of my car and I began to mull over my thoughts.
Throughout my life, I have generally been able to understand what my friends are thinking (part of the reason that I did fairly well in the games); I was highly confident that Ross would have thought that, given the two options, “girlfriends” were ultimately useless. Yet, as I talked to Kim the next day over coffee and an issue of Cosmopolitan, I realized that my knowledge wasn’t really intuitive but was due to the fact that I ask people questions.
When I’m with someone in a sexual relationship, I naturally want to know things like: “What are your fantasies? What’s the hottest sex that you had? What’s the craziest sex that you’ve had? What are you willing to do (and not do)? What turns you on?” Cosmopolitan seemed to think that the only way to get the answers to these questions was by playing a game of “Truth or Dare” with your partner—something that I vehemently disagreed with. (I also don’t understand the ever-present article touting “100 Ways to Please Your Man” because I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just ask your boyfriend what he wanted you to do.) Perhaps it is my slightly different connection to sex, but I tend to ask these kinds of questions early in the relationship and I think that it’s important for me to share my answers as well.
Talking about sex is something that I do regularly (and for this blog!) and so it seems odd (but understandable) to me that others have difficulty mentioning these sorts of things. To me, the challenge that many young people face in this process is the judgment they might receive from their partners or from their friends. After all, anybody who has more sex than you is a slut and anybody who has less sex is a prude, right? But it’s important for me to talk sex even though it might make me occasionally uncomfortable because I believe that communication is part of a healthy relationship. I refuse to be embarrassed about sex and I have just come to own it. I also don’t have time to waste having bad sex.
I have mentioned the idea of discussion before, but I keep coming back to it because I feel that it is incredibly important. I believe that in order for young people to have a positive association with sex, they must first be able to talk about it without fear or shame. So, while the majority of the information on this site concerns sexual health education, which I think is valuable, I also feel that it’s not enough just to have information. Knowledge might be power, but people also have to feel empowered. I understand that the process is difficult, but talking about sex is sort of like sex itself—it’s awkward at first but the more that you do it, the better you’ll be at it.