I am interested in an overall reversal of course when it comes to preparation for sexual intimacy, that thing we now reduce to “sex ed.” I would stop almost all the sex ed that goes on now because it is ineffective. It tries to achieve a widely unachieved “abstinence,” as well as being widely mocked by students. I want to prepare our daughters for an intimate sexual future that is violence-free, pleasure-present and children-chosen.
By intimate sexual future I mean helping girls to stay pregnancy-free until they choose to have a child and have the education and money to do so. That is a positive goal: to have children when we are ready and resourced. The “punishmentalists” (I cannot yield to them any term having “fundamental” in it, since I see “fundamentals” as a good thing) mean something negative and different. Their intention is in stopping teenage sex because they think it is wrong, morally, and should be punished. Sometimes sex between young people is wrong, and sometimes it is not. Wrong: when there is lack of consent, or an STD or HIV as a result. Right: When protection is used and consent prevails. Unfortunately, for many years, the judgments and fears of the punishmentalists have also been in control of sex ed for the young. Instead pragmatic use of protection could be encouraged.
For the sake of the argument, let me assume that I have ten “hope” dollars to spend on my daughter’s – and your daughter’s – intimate sexual future. I don’t have a hundred dollars, which is what it might take to assure her the kind of sexual freedom available to men. Still, I have some money to spend and I want to spend it wisely. How to use it?
Invest in Sexual Futures and Smarts
I see an intimate sexual future as meaning fun sex and smart sex conjoined. I mean freedom from the girl/boy thing in the sense that girls can have women partners, men partners and more than one partner without wondering about her “normalcy” or what others think of her as a ‘bad” girl. I also mean things that make women feel good: security, trust, positive attention and recognition for their individual qualities. I mean freedom from violence, from being raped, or imagining it is her fault if she is raped.
I will surely spend two of my budgeted ten dollars on giving girls the smarts to know how to not get pregnant – and the means and access to act on them. That self-protection will be a consequence of my positive program, not its destination. I will give away free condoms in every high school, and free birth control, as well. I would encourage enough education that various forms of birth control could be chosen, intelligently, by the couples using the methods. That will cost me some of my budget, but much less than its long-term absence. And I will get to add to my budget because I will fine boys for their refusal to use condoms and fine girls for not using birth control. Why pay for the diseases and children they get otherwise, at much higher costs for them and for society?
I raised three children: girl/boy twins and a single boy, two years their elder. Once while driving in our van, I tried the “talk” -- again. They were 13 and 11 at this time. They thought I was obsessed with sex because I constantly brought up the matter of whether they were prepared for what their hormones were telling them to do. They would whine: “Don’t you know we learned all that stuff in school since the third grade? Don’t you know how stupid it is? Have you seen the people who teach it?”
On this occasion, I suggested that I offer a quiz. I asked if they knew anything about a girl’s period. They did not. They thought menstruation (a word but not an experience they knew) was so ridiculous that it couldn’t quite be possible. The conversation lurched on. That was when my 11-year-old son Jacob told us all about a thing he misconstrued as “the dot.” He thought periods were dots. He was wrong, with a self-assurance that only showed how wrong his sex ed had been.
Confront Rape Publicly
Next, I will spend money from my budget on getting guys emotionally educated enough to deserve a girl’s physical and emotional affection. Encouraging lesbian relations for as long as possible would surely create capitalism’s favorite incentive -- competition. Assisting girls’ culturally in withdrawing affection if a guy doesn’t talk to her will be another. We can also encourage masturbation and certainly applaud chastity, for those who choose it. Chastity is not the “good” option; it is simply an option some people choose for themselves. They need not be ridiculed for it.
As for a boy’s negative behavior, I will spend some money on teams of women who confront or ostracize men who think date rape is funny, or worse, do it. Large fines for that type of behavior by men will be levied.
Whenever a woman is raped, or experiences something close to it, inside or outside her family, I will spend some of my funds in buying newspaper space in the local school newspaper and on the radio. I will insist that there is no shame for the girl – the shame is for the man or boy who violated a girl. The girl’s shame is connected to the boy’s shame, especially if she doesn’t make a lot of noise about what he did to her. I will require police to release the information publicly, to tell the stories out loud in all their detail. Privacy is not helpful where sexual violence is concerned.
Instead of putting women who have been victims of sexual violence in far away, hidden shelters, I will put them in the middle of cities where any man who tried to come to avenge will be seen by the world. This is the approach taken at a state-of-the-art shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts. The shelter, connected to the YWCA, is wide open, next to a police station, in the middle of the town.
Better Sex Ed is Better for Women
As you can see, even with my small budget, I will teach that sex is dangerous only when the wrong principles about it are taught by the school, the culture and the parent. Consequentially, children, teenagers and adults do things that are potentially harmful in the name of an orgasm.
To reverse course, I will teach that sexual intimacy is good, not bad. Sex is safe, not dangerous. Sex is not just reproductive; it’s also recreational. As a minister, I see sex as Godly, not evil.
The principles that apply to this course reversal are initially pragmatic. What we are doing now is not working. It does not reduce “problem pregnancies,” one of the most awkward phrases in the English language. Pregnancy is indeed a problem if people have to live with their parents, can’t afford strollers, or freedom or childcare. But acting as though pregnancy is only a problem adds to the sense of “bad girl/bad boy” that many younger people foolishly choose as a way to prematurely separate themselves from their youth. Getting pregnant is now a rite of passage to adulthood for some. We can find better rites of passage.
My second set of reasons is theological. The “punishmentalists” have reduced what I see as the sacred joy of human sexual association to a bleak moralism. Mercifully, no one, not even their own children, listens to them. Whenever punishing theology interferes with the joy of human life, those who spew it create dangerous conditions for human life.
If women are more in charge of sexual intimacy, babies will come when parents are ready and resourced. Lots of people will have lots more fun with less danger attached. People will be less afraid of blood and “dots.” I will do this within my limited budget, and along the way, everyday life will be more enjoyable and more women-friendly.
The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City and author of Grass Roots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activism.
Also see Teaching Daughters About Lollipop Politics by Margot Mifflin in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
Also see Common Enemies: LGBT, Abortion Share Foes by Pam Chamberlain in the Spring 2009 edition of On The Issues Magazine.