There are times, I think, when all of this just seems overwhelming. With a new section each week, we are asking each of you to grapple with things that you may not have encountered before and I completely understand that this may not be easy.
But, then again, who said it was going to be?
Although you have to find the balance with this, some part of me believes that, as investigators, we should be a little overwhelmed for it is in this moment that we begin to grasp just how large the problem really is. What was once so clear becomes infinitely murky and we struggle to find a foothold. The issues that Asians Americans face are complex and seemingly never-ending. How do I go about dismantling the myriad problems that we encounter every day? Will I even make a difference? Should I even try?
It’s taken me a few years to get to where I am now but I have to come to believe that the answer is a resounding “Yes.” I get called out for being impractical because I’m not as interested in deliverables, action items, and long-range plans; instead, I’m interested in the transformation that occurs on an individual level when one decides that he or she is capable of making a difference.
And the thing that they never tell you in school is that you don’t have to change the world in a grand way on your first go. Making a difference isn’t about spectacle and scale so much as it is about intent and meaning. There a million ways in which one can change the world on an everyday basis that have profound and lasting implications and it is these sorts of actions that I often think about when we come to issues of sexuality and gender in CIRCLE.
By now, all of you have gone through the exercise where we attempted to place ourselves in the mindset of someone who does not identify as straight. Although our session exhibited moments of laughter and sympathy, I hope that the exercise also went beyond this to generate a feeling of empathy. I get that it’s a bit heavy to think about some of these things on a night when you are coming off of class and looking forward to homework, but I would challenge my session to think about how they would react if they couldn’t just go home after all was said and done. How might you feel if you really had to tear off the corners of your star?
The thing that we strive to teach our students in CIRCLE is that all of these issues are linked (and, yes, messy) but that you can also apply what you’ve learned from one week to another. What if you thought about sexuality like you think about ethnicity? Students in our session can’t just stop being Asian American—just like other students can’t stop being GLBTIQ. How can you map your need to justify your worth as an Asian onto things like gender or sexuality?
But even if that’s a bit too heavy for you, I do want to mention something that I brought up at the conclusion of our session. Issues of gender and sexuality figure heavily into what I do, along with my experiences in college admission and psychology. I spend a lot of time thinking about self-harm/mutilation, eating disorders, depression, restlessness and projects like It Gets Better (which I can happily discuss the faults of). I spend a good deal of my time trying to think about ways to change educational policy to help students to recognize and feel of worth; I think about bullying in schools but also bullying on Perez Hilton, TMZ, and even by Dan Savage.
One of the things that I have learned in my years of college admission is that an increasing number of students are suffering from something that I call “floating duck syndrome”—on the surface, students are serene and perfect but, underneath the water, their legs are churning. Needless to say, students have some issues. I don’t mean to imply that students will not be able to overcome these things, but I must admit that I was shocked to learn about what they were dealing with.
However, I should also mention that I am incredibly hopeful for the generation of students that is following in my footsteps. I am hopeful that students will learn to brave the dark places of themselves, secure in the knowledge that friends and family will always be there to draw them back. I am hopeful that students will come to understand who they are and accept themselves for that. And, I am hopeful that students will learn to step outside of themselves in order to offer their help to those in need. I am lucky to be in a situation where I can empower future students to realize that, although occasionally overwhelmed by adversity, they are all survivors in some respect: any person who has ever been teased, ridiculed, outcast, or made to simply feel less than is a survivor and can embrace that. And, because you are a survivor, you have been imbued with the power to tell your story to others in similar situations in order to pull them through. Ultimately, I am also hopeful because I have learned that young people are incredibly resilient and innovative—you can accomplish some amazing things if given half a chance.
And one of those amazing things is to realize just how much power you have. As I mentioned before, you don’t have to change the world overnight but I challenge you to realize that, just by being yourself, you possessed an incredible amount of agency: each and every one of you has the power to keep at least one point of that star intact. If they so choose, the you have the power to potentially save a life—and how amazing is that?
This week you were all given stars, but the thing that you need to realize—as cliché as it might sound—is that you are all, in your own way, stars. Go out there and burn bright. Shine like you’ve never had any doubt.
This week, our class continued to explore ideas of gender in the world of Caprica. Focusing primarily on the women, students began to contemplate the ways in which sexuality and gender intersect. Although I study this particular overlap extensively in respect to Horror, our class evidenced some interesting ideas in this arena and I will leave it to them to carry on the discussion.
Before proceeding, I should take a quick second to differentiate the terms “sex” and “gender”: I use “sex” in reference to a biological classification while I see “gender” as socially constructed. Although patriarchal/heteronormative stances have traditionally aligned the two concepts, positioning them along a static binary, scholarship in fields such as Gender Studies and Sociology has effectively demonstrated that the interaction between sex and gender is much more fluid and dynamic (Rowley, 2007). For example, in our current culture, we have metrosexuals coexisting alongside retrosexuals and movements to redefine female beauty (the Dove “Real Beauty” ads were mentioned in class and their relative merits–or lack thereof—deserve a much deeper treatment than I can provide here).
Although a number of students in our class focused on the sexuality ofAmanda Graystone, Diane Winston poignantly noted that the character of Amanda also invoked the complex web of associations between motherhood, women, and gender. Motherhood, I would argue, plays an important part in the definition of female identity in America; our construction of the “female” continually assigns meaning to women’s lives based on their status as, or desire to be, mothers. (Again, drawing upon my history with gender and violence, I suggest that we can partially understand the pervasive nature of this concept by considering how society variously views murderers, female murderers, and mothers who murder their children.) In line with this idea, we see that almost every female featured in the episode was directly connected to motherhood in some fashion (with Evelyn perhaps being the weakest manifestation, although we know that she has just started down the path that will lead her into becoming the mother of young Willie).
Amanda, the easiest depiction to deconstruct, voices a struggle of modern career women as she feels the pressure to “have it all.” Although Amanda tells Mar-Beth that she suffered from Post-Partum Depression, and explains her general inability to connect with her daughter as a newborn (the ramifications of which we have already seen played out over the course of the series thus far), she later informs Agent Durham that she circumvented Mar-Beth’s suspicions by lying (we assume that she was referring to the aforementioned interaction, but this is not specified). For me, this moment was significant in that it made Amanda instantly more relatable—something that I have struggled with for a while now—as a woman who may have, in fact, tried desperately to connect with her daughter but simply could not.
Both Daniel and Amanda, it seems, had trouble fully understanding their daughter Zoe. While Amanda’s struggles play out on an emotional level, Daniel labors to decipher the secret behind Zoe’s resurrection program (a term charged with religious significance and also resonance within the world ofBattlestar Galactica). Here we see a parallel to the female notion of motherhood–Daniel, in his own way, is giving birth to a new life (he hopes). Yet, as the title alludes to, Daniel experiences a false labor: his baby is not quite ready to be let loose in the world. Moreover, like his wife, Daniel attempts to force something that should occur naturally, resulting in a less-than-desired outcome.
For Daniel, this product is a virtual Amanda, who was discussed by some of our class as they pointed out stark differences in sexuality and sexualization. Although the contrast between the real and virtual versions of Amanda holds mild interest, the larger question becomes one of the intrinsic value of “realness.” Despite Daniel’s best attempts, he continues to berate the virtual Amanda for not being real, much to her dismay as she, through no fault of her own, cannot understand that she is fundamentally broken. Although not necessarily appropriate for this course, we can think about the issues raised by virtual reality, identities, and reputations along with our constant drive for “authenticity” in a world forever affected by mediated representations. Popular culture has depicted dystopian scenarios like The Matrix that argue against our infatuation with the veneer—underneath a shiny exterior, some would argue, we are rotting. Images, according to critics like Daniel Boorstin and Walter Benjamin, leave something to be desired.
Sub-par copies also appear in Graystone Industries’ newest advertisement for “Grace,” the commercial deployment of Daniel’s efforts, along with a contestation over image. Daniel quibbles about his virtual image (which is admittedly similar to the one that Joe Adama saw the first time that he entered V world) but doesn’t balk at selling the bigger lie of reunification. (Exploring this, I think, tells us a lot about Daniel and his perception of the world.)
On one level, what Daniel offers is a sort of profane/perverted Grace that is situated firmly in the realm of the material; although it addresses notions of the afterlife and death, it attempts to exert control over them through science. Drawing again from my background in Horror and Science Fiction, we can see that while Daniel’s promise is appealing, we can come back “wrong” (Buffy) or degrade as we continue to be recycled (Aeon Flux). Media warnings aside, I would argue that the allure of Daniel’s Grace is the promise of eternal life but would ultimately be undermined by the program’s fulfillment. In a similar fashion, religion, I think, holds meaning for us because it offers a glimpse of the world beyond but does not force us to contemplate what it would actually be like to live forever without any hope of escaping the mundanity of our lives (Horror, on the other hand, firmly places us in the void of infinity and explores what happens to us once we’ve crossed over to the other side).
Perhaps more importantly, however, the reunited parties in the commercial for Grace reconstitute a family: after panning over a torch bearing two triangles (which, if we ascribe to Dan Brown’s symbology lessons, could represent male/female), we see a husband returned to his wife and children. Needless to say, the similarities between the situation portrayed and Daniel’s own are obvious. On one level, the commercial has a certain poignancy when juxtaposed with Daniel’s low-grade avatar but also subtly reinforces the deeper narrative thread of the family within the episode.
Picking up on a different representation of the family, classmates also wrote about the contrasting depictions of motherhood as embodied in Mar-Beth andClarice. Although some students focused on the connections between genderroles and parenting, others commented on the divergent views of Mar-Beth and Clarice concerning God and family. One student even mentioned parallels between Clarice and Abraham in order to explore the relationship between the self, the family, and God. Culminating in a post that considers the role of mothers and females in the structure of the family, this succession of blog entries examines family dynamics from the interpersonal level to the metaphysical.
Although we each inevitably respond to different things in these episodes, I believe that there is much to gain by looking at “False Birth” through the lens of the family. For example, what if we look back at a relatively minor (if creepy) scene where Ruth effectively tells Evelyn to sleep with her son? Much like Clarice (and arguably Mar-Beth) is/are the matriarchs of their house, Ruth rules over the Adamas. Since we are exploring gender, let’s contrast these examples with that of the Guatrau, who holds sway over a different type of family—how does Clarice compare with Ruth? Ruth with the Guatrau? How does the organizational structure of the family in each case work with (or against) religion? We often talk about the ability of religion (organized or lived) to provide meaning, to tell us who/what we are, and to develop community—and yet these are also functions of family.
Hinted at by the inclusion of Atreus, whose story is firmly situated in family in a fashion that would give any modern soap opera a run for its money, we begin to see a pattern as the writers continually reinforce the connections between family and the divine. The short version of this saga is that Atreus’ grandfather cooked and served his son Pelops as a test to the gods (and you thought Clarice was ruthless) and incurs wrath and a curse. After Pelops causes the death of his father-in-law, Atreus and his brother Thyestes murder their step-brother and are banished. In their new home, Atreus becomes king and Thyestes wrests the throne away from Atreus (after previously starting an affair with his wife). In revenge Atreus kills and cooks Thyestes’ son (and taunts him with parts of the body!) and Thyestes eventually has sex with his daughter (Pelopia) in order to produce a son (Aegisthus) who is fated to kill Atreus. Before Atreus dies, however, he fathers Agamemnon and Menelaus, two brothers with their own sordid history that includes marrying sisters (one of whom is the famous Helen). As most of you know, the Trojan war then ensues and Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia; although Iphigenia is happy to die for the war, her mother, Clytemnestra, holds a grudge and sleeps with Aegisthus (remember him?) and eventually kills Agamemnon out of anger. The son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Orestes, kills his mother in order to avenge his father and, in so doing, becomes one of the first tragic heroes who has to choose between two evils. If we want to take this a step further, we can also examine the resonance between Orestes and Mal from Firefly, to bring it back full circle.
The name of Mar-Beth may be an allusion to MacBeth (although it is entirely possible that I am reading too much into this), which is also a story about power, kings, and family. Although I am most familiar with Lady MacBeth and her OCD (obsessed with her guilt, she is compelled to wash invisible blood off of her hands), I would also suggest that Lady MacBeth overlaps with Clarice and the relationship between the MacBeths is similar to that of the Clarice and her husbands.
As much as our class does not focus on institutional religion, a background in the Christian concept of Grace provides some interesting insight into Daniel’s project. Although I am not an expert in the subject—I very much defer to Diane—I think that we could make a strong argument for the role of Grace in Christianity and its links to salvation as thematic elements in “False Labor.” Building off of my reaction post, we might think about the role that Grace plays in Daniel’s life and how Joe’s words to Daniel on the landing of the Graystone building speak to exactly this concept.
There seems to be an interesting distinction developing between notions of the earth/soil and the air/sky. The Taurons/Halatha, as we have seen before and continue to see in this episode, evidence a strong spiritual connection with the soil (and are also called “Dirteaters”) as Sam utters a prayer before he is about to be executed. We also see the Halatha grumble when the figure of Phaulkon on a television screen, whose name can be associated with flying and the sky. Moreover, in their ways, Daniel and Joe embody this duality as they both show concern for their families but attempt to resolve their issues in different ways–Joe, as is his want, concentrates on the material while Daniel looks toward the intangible.
To this day, I still remember the first time that I rejected Gender Studies as a valid area of concern: in college, a friend had joined the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and I had declined an invitation to attend. I was, at the time, sympathetic toward women but still too caught up in notions of second wave feminism to identify with a cause in any formal way (well, that and the challenge to the already fragile male ego made joining such an organization an impossibility for me at the time). I am not proud of this moment, but not particularly ashamed either—it was what it was.
How ironic, then, that issues of gender have become one of my primary focuses in media: the representation, construction, configuration, positioning, and subversion of gender is what often excites me about the texts that I study. Primarily rooted in Horror and Science Fiction, I look at archetypes ranging from the Final Girl and New Male (Clover, 1992), to the sympathetic/noble male and predatory lesbian vampires of the 1970s, to the extreme sexualities of the future.
In particular, I enjoy the genres of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction because they allow us to grapple with deeply-seeded thoughts, feelings, and attitudes in ways that we could never confront directly. And, unlike traditional religion, which often attempts to tackle “the big questions” head on, media can provide a space to explore and experiment as we struggle to find the answers that we so desperately seek. The challenge for our students is that so much of American culture is steeped in traditions that reflect underlying aspects of patriarchy; from economics, to religion, to politics and culture, America’s values, thought, and language have been influenced by patriarchal hegemony (King, 1993). All of a sudden, we begin to question what we have been taught and wonder how history has been inscribed by men, afforded privilege to males, restricted the power of the female, and subjugated the female body (Creed, 1993).
And, the female body, as a site of contestation, provides a solid point of entry for a discussion of gender issues; gender is inextricably linked with sex—Clover, for example, argues that sex follows gender performance in Horror films (1992)—and also inseparable from discussion of the bodies that manifest and enact issues of gender. Consider how women’s bodies have traditionally been tied to notions of home, family, and reproduction. The basic biological processes inherent to women serve to define them in a way that is inescapable; as opposed to the hardness of men, women are soft, permeable, and oozing. On another level, we are treated to an examination of the female body through depictions of birth gone awry: from Alien, to possession (and its inevitable consequence of female-to-male transformation), to devil spawn, we have been conditioned to understand women as the bearers of the world’s evil.
Issues of birth also raise important notions at the intersection of science, gender, and the occult. Possession movies, in particular, have an odd history of female “victims” that undergo a series of medical tests (evidencing a binary that our class has come to label as Science vs. Magic/Faith) and feature male doctors who typically try to figure out what’s wrong with the female patient—they are literally trying to determine her secret (Burfoot & Lord, 2006). Looking at this theme in a larger context, we reference the Enlightenment (which was previously discussed in our course) and La Specola’s wax models as examples of scientific movements in the 17th century (and again in the 19th century) that sought to wrest secrets from the bodies of women, evidencing a fascination with the miracle of birth and understanding the human (particularly female) body. (La Specola as a public museum had an interesting role in introducing images of the female body into visual culture and into the minds of the public.) Underscoring the presence of wax models is a desire to delve deeper, peeling away the successive layers of the female form in order to “know” her (echoes of this same process can assuredly be found in modern horror films). It seems, then, that the rise of Science has coincided with an increased desire to deconstruct the female body (and, by extension, the female identity).
In similar ways, we saw echoes of this mentality embodied by Daniel Graystone as he struggled to understand Automaton Zoe’s secret earlier in the season. Speaking to a larger ideology of Science/Reason/Logic as the ultimate path to truth (as opposed to emotion/intuition), we again see an example of the female body being probed. And although Automaton Zoe is not a cyborg in the strictest sense of the term, we can understand her as a synthesis of human/machine components–this then allows us to incorporate previous readings on the presence of the female cyborg in Science Fiction.
Given our class’ focus on faith in television, however, we can also consider how female transgression has roots in Christian tradition as demonstrated by the story of Eve (which is also a story about the consequences of female curiosity in line with Pandora and Bluebeard)—how many ways can we keep women in check?
Restricting depictions of female sexuality and pleasure represents one such method according to Kimberly Pierce, director of Boys Don’t Cry (Dick, 2006). Tied to a morality influenced (in America, at least) by Christianity, we have come to consider sexuality (in general, and female sexuality in particular) as something sinful and worthy of shame. We see sex as something grounded in the material, or indicative of lust; sex, necessary on a biological level, can cause tension as we fail to reconcile its presence in our lives.
Addressing this notion, Gary Laderman argues that we might benefit from a reconsideration of our moral position on sex and religion, likening an orgasm to a religious epiphany or ritual. In essence, Laderman suggests that, as we climax we are released from the concerns of this world (even if for just a moment!) and exist in a timeless space where our individual sense of self melts as we commune with an entity/feeling that is larger than ourselves (2009). Put simply, we transcend. Further, as we continue with issues of the sacred and sex, we begin to see that the relationship between religion and sexuality becomes more complex as we look to Saint Teresa (as popularized by Bernini’s sculpture) and Saint Sebastian with an eye toward BDSM. Here, we have religious ecstasy depicted in visual terms that mirror the orgasmic andcontend with issues of penetration with respect to male and female bodies.
Picking up on the discrepancies between male and female bodies, our class began to note ways in which traditional gender archetypes of male and female were challenged by “Things We Lock Away” (here, here, here, here, and here) while others chose to examine the ways in which lived religion was embodied by females. Are these particular manifestations of lived religion typical for women? To what extent does the show support traditional gender norms and it what ways does it challenge them (if at all)? We can argue that Zoe takes charge of her life, but she does so by ascribing to the role of “Woman Warrior,” a role that might be viewed as empowering, but is, in fact, degenerative as aspects of femininity are stripped away–in becoming a warrior, the female transforms her body into that of a male through the use of force. (We can also certainly talk about the imagery conveyed by the sword as Zoe’s weapon of choice.) Women, in short, are powerful when they emulate men. Contrast this with portrayals of the “new” female hero as seen through the eyes of Miyazaki (Spirited Away) or del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and we begin to understand just how much Zoe ascribes to traditional notions of masculine/feminine.
But all is not lost. “Things We Lock Away” saw the birth of Chip Zoe (in reference to Chip Six from Battlestar Galactica), who, like her namesake, represented a manifestation of the divine born out of a connection with that which makes us human. Recasting power in terms of self-acceptance and love, the truly progressive feminist heroes and heroines are the ones who tap into the strength that we all have, showing us that we all have the potential to become more than we ever thought that we could (think Buffy before and after the end of Season 7 minus the Slayer Potential birthright).
But, as we all know, braving the depths of ourselves and coming back alive is no easy task–we need only look back at “There Is Another Sky” in order to understand just how fraught this path is. And so, throughout the episode, we see examples of people suppressing and repressing their base instincts: running to V world and indulging in illicit behavior in order to remain “civilized” in Caprica City; the lingering shot of Daniel’s floor, upon which Tom Vergis’ blood will forever be inscribed (notice the one at peace is the one who acknowledged the brutality of the situation at hand); Amanda and Lacy allaying their guilt over their acts of betrayal; Tamara clinging to her human identity as the only sense of self that she’s ever known. When it comes to our humanity, we hide, protect, obsess over, and fetishize the best and worst parts of ourselves; if only we could take a page or two from the new hero and realize that the answer has always been–and will always be–love.
“It’s funny,” I said as I sat down on the couch, “I took a shower after I got home yesterday and there was still more sand that appeared this morning.”
I was on the second leg of a marathon weekend that included hanging out with my newly adopted West Los Angeles Alumni Club and working on a fairly extensive presentation. To blow off some steam, a group of friends decided to watch the delightfully bad 80’s movie Teen Witch.
While mostly innocuous, the film seemed to have some fairly large holes in its plot—but, then again, it’s an 80’s movie themed toward young girls, so it doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense. One scene in particular, however, caused my inner “sexual health education monitor” (you know you all have one) to perk up and take notice.
In what I could only presume was a Home Economics course, a teacher began to talk about how she had been asked by upper administration to talk about Sex Ed—but in a way that made it evident that she was not comfortable doing so.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my years working with young people, it’s that kids are half-decent fibbers and even better lie detectors. Although I don’t have any hard science to back me up, I would guess this ability is due to the fact that childhood is all about learning to evaluate yourself in the context of your peers; individuals learn to be observant.
Luckily, I am fairly comfortable talking about a lot of things in the area of sex, but I also know how to fake it fairly well. As educators, our job is not to be judgmental or presumptuous but to listen to what our audience has to say and then fill in the gaps.
As I thought about the movie more, I realized that I didn’t really understand why the film included mentions of condoms and birth control pills. Was someone trying to do children a service by introducing these items into heir consciousness? Why did both scenes featuring birth control result in embarrassment for multiple people? Was the director reflecting the way that teens reacted to these aides or was he merely misinterpreting it?
Certainly not everything made for public consumption has to talk about the subject of sex or sexual health, but it seems like if one is going to do it, one should do it correctly. The problem is that I’m not sure that we as audiences want to hear the truth—it’s much more fun to make fun of the subject and pretend as though the subject doesn’t really affect us in a meaningful way.
Next time you go to see a movie, think about what you are being told about sex (don’t even get me started on the many ways that The Hangover is detrimental to our efforts to embrace sexuality). How are you supposed to react to it, talk about it, or have it? Do you agree with these messages? Why or why not?
Sitting down at my computer, time freezes for a second as I began to feel a sense of quiet desperation. We have become so much more savvy as audiences—most of the scenes in Teen Witch wouldn’t work because people wouldn’t buy them—but are still stuck in some well-worn ruts. I am hopeful that one day we will get to where I think we should be, I am hopeful that we will one day be on better terms with our own sexualities, and I am hopeful that I will eventually get to see this movie in my mind.
I will be the first to admit that I watch a lot of television. I mean, my DVR is always threatening to delete an episode of The Amazing Race or Project Runway (don’t judge, you know you watch it as well) because it needs to make space for yet another show that I have added to the queue. I have long since come to terms with the idea that I am sacrificing hours that I could actually be outdoors (what good is sunlight?) but I do think that television has a lot of valuable lessons to offer if we just take the time to consider about the messages that we’re being presented with.
A study[i], published last week in Pediatrics, reported it more likely for teens exposed to a high level of sexual content from television to experience a pregnancy in future years compared with peers who had lower levels of contact. I would, in an attempt to avert the whole “media is corruptingAmerica’s youth” notion, point out that the study also mentions that a variety of factors contribute to teen pregnancy, including social, individual, and environmental influences. Still, the idea that young people pick up something from television programs seems worth exploring a bit further.
Observational learning posits that an individual can acquire knowledge simply through the act of watching an example (e.g., most people who have never fired a gun could probably take the correct grip due to their exposure to firearms on television). Taking this idea a step further, it seems likely that people who see sex on TV would naturally garner ideas about the act based on what they saw.
In retrospect, it seems quite obvious that American youth begin to formulate their ideas of sex and sexuality from things that they see on television. In our country, sexual activity is not something that is discussed in any real terms amongst most teenagers, and therefore it seems only natural that young people are getting their information from any source that they can.
For me, the problem arises when teenagers get a skewed sense of sex due to their television exposure. Sure, there’s an element of sex that is exciting (partially because it possesses a verboten quality) but what happens when young people are not exposed to the responsibilities that come along with having a sexual relationship? I get that every instance of sexual contact can’t be “A Very Special Episode” (or 7th Heaven for that matter) but does television have a responsibility to instruct its viewers in all aspects of sex? Is there a way to do this without losing others’ interest or making a big deal about it?
More than anything, this study brings about the idea that television, or media as a whole, cannotbe the only way that young people learn about sex. No matter what your feelings on the topic, it seems prudent to instruct young people in the matter so that they can make the decisions that are right for them. The challenge as parents (although not a parent myself, I’ve been exposed to many families through work) is that it’s scary to let your children go and hope that you’ve equipped them with the necessary tools to make good decisions. As adults, it seems all too easy to forget that we were once curious youth who did the best that we could to make our way in a world that constantly sent us mixed messages; looking back as people who have made it through the harrowing journey of adolescence, it seems all to easy to dictate the correct path as we have our answers readily at hand.
[i] Chandra, Anita et. al. Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings from a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Pediatrics 2008; 122; 1047-1054
“I’m not really a writer.”
These words echoed in my head as I sat down to make my first entry for the website. I’ve never been paid for what I had to say (not that I am now), been published, or ever produced something outside of a term paper or two in school. I pride myself on being somewhat articulate and can edit someone else’s creation with no problem, but to come up with my own construction is something else entirely. Now, I have a few days until my first deadline and the pressure is not sitting well with me.
A walk around the block and a fun-size bag of M&Ms later, I’m staring at the computer screen. Diet Coke? Check. Slow rock music that’s not mainstream or so indie it’s pretentious? Check. Let’s do this.
How else to start a series about sexual health than to talk about how I learned about doing the deed? With any luck, my parents will never read this and will forever assume that I am a virginal youngster who has no idea what the word “sex” even means.
Back to my junior year of high school and my first real relationship…
Eventually things developed to the point where I felt like I was ready to take the plunge and have sex for the first time. I predictably stressed over the matter and wondered if this girl was the right one to lose it to but I was also dismayed to discover that the video of “Where Did I Come From?” that I had seen in third grade had been completely wrong! There was going to be a whole lot more to this whole thing than two bodies just rubbing up against each other (although, to be honest, at that point it would have probably been enough for me).
I hadn’t seen much porn at that point in my life and certainly wasn’t shown by anybody else how to go about my business, so how was I supposed to know what to do? Sex wasn’t something that I talked about with my family and as my friends had known each other since kindergarten, we certainly did not want to hear about each other’s sexual exploits. I was also much too embarrassed to ask for help in this situation and even if I felt like confiding in someone else, who would I go to?
Luckily, at this point, two things kicked in: the confidence that my parents had instilled in me to do what I felt was right and the ability to think for myself. As much as I might have periodically hated my parents while I was growing up, I do have to say that they did teach me how to stand up against things that I didn’t believe in. Sure, I caved into peer pressure on occasion, but I also learned that doing things that I wasn’t comfortable with was never a good idea. These principles guided me to make what I thought were smart choices about my relationship and about sex.
A few minutes and a failed attempt or two later, it was over.
Looking back, I am fully confident that my first time did not represent my best work. Not even close. As big a deal as I made it out to be, I honestly can’t even recall what happened, when it happened, or where it happened. Does that mean that it wasn’t great and special? Hardly. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t as monumental as I thought it was going to be.
It has been years since I’ve lost my virginity and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. Talking to friends, the media, and even making a mistake or two has shown me that while I still don’t know everything there is to know about sex, I know a whole lot. As I’ve matured, the notion of sex has gotten increasingly complicated but I thoroughly enjoy the fact that there’s always something else to discover. Now, instead of just worrying about having an unplanned pregnancy, I have to also consider infections, timing, performance, and even what lurking bundle of crazy I’ll release by sleeping with someone.
In future articles I will explore different aspects of sex and sexuality, some funny and some serious (some might even be both!), in order to make the unfamiliar a little bit more familiar. I am not an authority, but perhaps simply talking about things will help others to be more comfortable. You are welcome to come along as I delve a little bit deeper into understanding how we interact with sex…and undoubtedly learn about myself along the way. To me, this is not about preaching, mandating, or even simply health education, but sharing the knowledge that I’ve acquired with others.
I stared at that last paragraph as I thought about how to wrap up my first attempt at a formal article. I’ve managed to get my words down and now I just had to sit back and wonder if other people would read what I had written. Or even care. Could I have produced something better if I was a trained writer? But then again, maybe writing isn’t necessarily about a title, but being able to open up just enough to show a little bit of yourself to the world; writing just might be about the willingness to explore the dark corners that you’ve kept hidden for so long. Perhaps writing is the ability to create something personal that comes from a place of truth, yet is also inclusive enough for others to see themselves reflected.
So maybe I am a writer after all.