The Misogyny Inherent in Abstinence-Only Education

Sex education in the United States is a clusterfuck; this is news to no one.  Each state creates its own guidelines, meaning that students in different states receive wildly different variations on sex ed – if they receive any at all.  For example, only thirteen states require their sex ed programs to be medically accurate, and five states dictate that homosexuality must be framed negatively if discussed at all.

Last July, the Department of Health and Human Services told organizations which receive five-year grants through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that their funding would be cut off this coming June – two years early.  Several of these organizations sued HHS in federal court in order to keep their grants, and many of them won their cases this spring.

While the FY 2018 budget bill maintained funding for the TPPP, HIV prevention programs, and PREP (the Personal Responsibility Education Program, which also gives grants to organizations providing comprehensive sex ed), it also increased grants for abstinence-only education programs.

There is a ton of research studying the efficacy of abstinence-based programs versus comprehensive sex ed programs; while I encourage you to do a deep dive into those numbers, that’s not what I want to focus on.  I wrote my master’s thesis on the impacts of abstinence-only education and would like to impart two things:

  • States that stress abstinence in their schools have higher teen pregnancy and STI transmission rates, and
  • The explicit and implicit messages to young people in abstinence-only curricula are incredibly harmful.

I’d like to expound on the second point.  These programs don’t just tell students not to have sex; they tell students that people who have sex before marriage are damaged.  For my thesis, I got my hands on the teaching materials for three different abstinence-only curricula*; the words risk, life-threatening, promiscuous, addictive, depression, guilt, and shame are used repeatedly throughout these texts to describe young people who have sex.  They describe sexually young women specifically as feeling cheap, used, empty, and full of self-loathing.  One says that abstinence means “freedom from guilt, disappointment, losing respect, and compromising values.”  The curricula that mention sexual harassment, coercion, and rape are chock-full of victim blaming; one even tells girls that “provocative dress is disrespectful to the man you’re with.”  One doesn’t mention sexual coercion at all.

They frame abstinence as a choice, but having sex as a lack of will power. Gender and orientation spectrums are never addressed.  There is no mention of divorce, adultery, or any family structure that’s non-nuclear (making several student populations invisible).  Don’t even get me started on gender roles: According to abstinence-only education, women are weak, emotional victims who need “hours of mental preparation” for sex, while men are irresponsible, predatory liars who “see intimacy as competition.”  The teacher’s guide for one of these programs directs the teacher to “ask a girl” to read the part of a rape victim and to “ask a guy” to read the part of a porn addict.  They tell young people that women need to be provided for and that male partners shouldn’t be criticized because men need to feel competent in order to feel loved.

These language choices are NOT a mistake; the funding guidelines for receiving Title V grant money for abstinence-only programs state that the materials must teach that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity” and that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical affects (italics mine).”

AO curricula also frame sex as something to be given and taken, which brings me to one of many reasons why comprehensive sexuality education is so important: Abstinence-only programs are incredibly misogynistic and lack any component regarding communicating about wants, needs, boundaries, and agency within relationships.  AO curricula reinforce a lot of the shit that members of misogynist movements believe – and that’s a big fucking deal.  A lot has been written about these movements in the past few weeks; what I’d like to contribute to that conversation is that abstinence-only education programs back them up by posing sex as transactional, by propping up binary, stereotypical, and dangerous gender roles, and by saying that women provoke men into predatory sexual behavior.  Detrimental messages about gender roles aren’t just propagated by the media and held up by people we know; some of them are directly taught in schools.

Congress funds AO programs at more than $100 million / year.

In order to survive, PREP and TPPP need a lot of public support, especially now; if you live in the United States and write or call your members of Congress on the regular, you might want to mention this the next time a budget bill comes up. If you don’t, please start.  If you are a parent, please, PLEASE tell your school board that you want your child to receive comprehensive sexual health education.  Not just STI and contraception information, but conversations about healthy relationships, gender, sexuality, and media critique.  It is absolutely imperative that young people have access to curricula that validate their families and lived experiences, that humanizes them, that gives them agency, and that gives them tools to critique the world around them and communicate with love, compassion, and clarity.

Want to know what kind of sex education is taught in your state?  You can find out on the SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US) website.

 

 

 

*DM or email me if you want the names of the curricula I read.

 

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Orgy of the Dolls

I recently found a bunch of old Barbies in my basement; before giving them away, I thought I’d have a bit of cheeky fun taking some remarkably inappropriate photos of them.  I hope you all find this as hilarious as I did!!!

And a scissoring photo for good measure:

Happy April Fool’s!!!

Sinful Sunday

Privates of the Caribbean*

“Babe, can I talk to you about something?” asked The Engineer in a small and hesitant voice on the phone yesterday.  As this particular tone is normally reserved for times when he’s feeling anxious, hurt, or insecure, I automatically said, “Yes, of course.”  And then he dropped something completely out of the blue on me: He’d just gone on Twitter to delete his account, and he noticed that Twitter had recommended my blog account to him as a potential account to follow.

He knows that I write a sex blog; I send him what I write about us before I post it, and though I’ve told him that he’s free to read it, he’s chosen not to as he doesn’t want to read about my past partners in graphic detail.  He’s been careful to respect my privacy, so being confronted with my Tweets freaked him out a bit – and completely fucking unnerved me.  Not because it’s him, but because… how the fuck did my blog account show up on his Twitter?!?!?!?!?  It left me wondering: Since I’ve been using the same browser for both my personal and my blog email (a mistake which I have since rectified), is Twitter trawling my personal email account for contacts unbeknownst to me?  Who’s next?  My close friends?  My family?  My coworkers?

Secret, Top, Stamp, Spy, Army, Military

I got my first smart phone after I started writing the blog; I remembered early on in blogging that Cammies had posted a Tweet about how Twitter automatically sent out a suggestion to follow her blog account to every contact on her phone when she used it – it was at that point that I knew I would never, ever use my phone to do anything blog-related.  I use strict privacy settings on my browsers, I don’t use Facebook at all because I’m anxious about my privacy, and… for some reason I didn’t bother to check the privacy settings on Twitter when I signed up for it.  I’ve since marked that I don’t want my account suggested based on email, but I’ve also found out that Twitter makes suggestions for accounts to follow based on physical proximity, meaning that I was likely suggested to The Engineer because I was blogging at his apartment when I went to visit last fall. And if so… does that mean that anyone who opens Twitter on their phone at my house will see my blog account recommended to them?  That seems super fucking creepy and invasive.

As you may know if you follow sex news, teachers are routinely fired for being normal human beings with personal lives.  I love that there are sex bloggers who are completely out, but if I want to continue being an educator of young people, that’s not an option for me.  Since I started writing the blog, I’ve always felt pretty safe about avoiding being discovered by people I don’t want discovering me, and well… I don’t feel safe anymore.  If you blog anonymously, what do you do to protect the privacy of your identity?

 

*First of all, GOD I HOPE THIS IS A PORN TITLE.  Second of all, I know the post title has nothing to do with the content, but since this week’s Wicked Wednesday theme is pirates and I’m not writing a piece of pirate-themed erotica, this was the least I could do.  😀

I write this blog

because of bullshit like this.  And just when the Catholic church was starting to change its image a teeny, tiny bit thanks to Pope Awesome.  

By the way, one of those “gravely evil acts” is using birth control pills.  Guess I know now why mom dressed me as Satan for Halloween that one year! 

We should get a bunch of sex nerds together for a huge meetup and call it EvilCon.

Heavy Sigh

So I’m at a party last Saturday night, and this reoccurring thing happens.  I’m mingling and talking about dating girls, and the person I’m talking to is like, “Oh, you’re queer?!  What’s your type?  (I start to stammer, and said person doesn’t actually let me think about this long enough to answer the question.)  He asks if I have an age preference; yes, I tell him.  I don’t want to date anyone under 27 or 28.  He completely ignores this and says, “What if it’s not dating?  She’s 25, but she really just wants to have a lot of sex.”  He whips out his phone and starts showing me pictures of his best friend, who admittedly is cute, but I know nothing about this girl, and this guy knows nothing about me.  He leaps gaily (see what I did there?) forward and says, “I’m going to give you her number.”  “No,” I say, confidently.  “I’d be pissed if someone gave out my number without my permission.”  “Okay!” he says, and calls her to ask her permission.  After a minute of talking to her, he hands the phone to me so I have to have an awkward conversation with a stranger on the phone in the middle of a party.  No pressure or anything.

What makes me so frustrated about this scenario isn’t the fact that he didn’t give me time to answer him or that he basically set us up without really waiting for my consent OR her consent; it’s that he just assumed that I would be a good match for this girl just because we both happen to be into women.  What the fuck is that?  Can you imagine if you were at a party and someone said to you, “Oh, hey — you’re straight!  I know this other straight person!  You guys would be PERFECT together!”

What the actual fuck?

An Introduction to Sex: Flowers in the Attic

“Christmas wears me out because of the incest.”
    -My mom circa 2001

What she’d actually meant was that her eyes get tired in church on Christmas Eve because of the incense, but it’s hilarious, no? 

It’s Christmas in the US right now, and as I so often do at this time of year, I’m thinking of a hot (and vaguely troubling) scene in a book series that I loved as an adolescent.  The first books I ever read that mentioned sex, sexuality, and sensuality were those in the Dollanganger series (Flowers in the Attic et. al.) by V.C. Andrews.  When I found them (in my attic, of course) at the age of twelve, they opened up a whole new world to me — and to several thousand other adolescent girls, I imagine.  A damaging, fucked-up world. 

If you’re not familiar with the series, it begins with the tragic and accidental death of a father of four children (a teenage boy and girl and young twins).  In a state of shock, their mother whisks them away to live with her parents in Virginia and promptly locks them in the attic for years while trying to score a rich husband.  Their super crazy fundamentalist grandmother tries to kill them all because she considers them the spawn of Satan (their father is their mother’s half-uncle), but in the end, three of them escape (one of the twins dies) after three and a half years of being imprisoned.  During this time, the eldest son, who is a boy genius studying medicine, falls in love with his sister, who practices ballet in the attic, and sorta kinda rapes her.  Aaaaand that’s just the first book. 

When I was a twelve year-old girl reading these books, I of course never stopped to analyze the nature of the relationships or the gender roles in the book… I just reacted to the fact that all the male-identified characters seem to be mesmerized by Catherine and her magical feminine powers.  They all desperately crave her and can never imagine loving another woman after meeting her.  As a middle school student, I was like, “Hell, yes — I want the power to captivate men!”  It was my first introduction (to be continued by several books, television shows, movies…) to the incredibly destructive and ridiculous narrative that if the person a woman gives her attention to doesn’t have this reaction to her, she’s failing as a woman.  Never mind the fact that the first romantic relationship this character has is with her brother, the second is with an abusive and manipulative husband, the third is with her adopted father, and the fourth is with her mother’s ex-husband.  Seriously.  V.C. Andrews’s characters and plots are the zenith of clusterfuckery.  Also, the writing.  Oh, god, the writing:

Where was that fragile, golden-fair Dresden doll I used to be?  Gone.  Gone like porcelain turned into steel.

So. Awful.  She also uses the phrase “rigid male sex part” at some point. 

This book series is a revenge fantasy, and much like male-centered revenge stories propagate harmful gender narratives by focusing on a heroic and hyper-masculine protagonist who lives by a code and uses his dark cunning, grit, and brutal strength to leave a trail of bodies behind him on his quest to extract a morally unambiguous revenge, Andrews does the same in this female-centered revenge story by creating a femme fatale character who uses her body and her sexuality to seduce men and emotionally destroy them on her quest to get a horrifying revenge on her mother (who was willing to kill her own children for inheritance) and her grandmother (who was willing to kill her own grandchildren to maintain the family reputation).  And you thought your family was dysfunctional. 

Anyway, back to the steamy Christmas scene.  Cathy and Chris are laying with their heads underneath a Christmas tree, looking up at the lights like they used to do when they were children, and then they have a super hot three page-long makeout session wherein they want to have sex, but they know they shouldn’t because they’re related, but they’re both so completely overwhelmed by their desire for each other that they just can’t help it.  I know it’s wrong on so many levels (the abominable writing being more disturbing than the incest: “We melded in a hot blend of unsatisfied desire — before I suddenly cried out, “No — it would be sinful!”  “Then let us sin!”), but twenty years later, reading this scene still turns me on.  Something about the taboo of wanting someone you’re not supposed to want or can’t have a physical relationship with, the sexual tension that builds from that desire over time, and the release of said tension is crazy hot.

This was supposed to be a funny one-paragraph post about this one scene. Oops!  I think that the second book in the series that contains this scene was just made into a TV movie, so if you’re up for a few laughs, I’d suggest watching it with friends and a bottle of bourbon.  Take a shot for every time something inappropriate happens.   

Actual responses I got from a recent CL post…

… in women for women, the last sentence of which was, “If you are a man, please respect my boundaries and yourself by not replying.”

Hello
Im from Sweden….35 years old, fit, friendly and open minded.
Im interested being a guy in the room watching you and your gf….
Im attractive (hope you think so….) and not pushy [italics mine] so Im fine not participating. Im free the whole day so if you want to invite me just let me know 🙂  Also, I have some toys that you might be interested in using!!

Hi. H r u?
Im from middle east krn citizen ..I live here about 15 yrs ..I can speak krn well ..can we meet on Saturday?

Hi, How are you doing? I am a cute, handsome and tall guy. I am a PhD student at Korean university. I would love to hangout with you :). I like to watch movies, traveling; hang out with friends and learning new things in life to broaden my horizons. I would love to read, writing scientific articles, gym, sports and walking round the beach and city for fun. I am 5’11”, athletic, brown-skinned, dark hair. I am friendly, easy going and love meeting new people.
Thanks
(At least this one contains complete sentences.)

Hey i saw ur ad on cl. Seem pretty cool. Wanted to chat and see whats good. If ur ibterested i can send a pic so let me know. Kakao ———— or email me bak

And my favorite: 
Are u still looking?

I fear for humanity.  

PSA for Men

The night started out so well.  I had an hour-long conversation with a good (male) friend about sex, love and relationships.  It was insightful and we spoke with consideration.  I was feeling pretty good, and then just after midnight I got hit with a cocknado that left me feeling the need to write a PSA.  

Incident #1:  I ran into a guy that I’ve met a few times.  We’ve always gotten on really well, had good conversations, and laughed our asses off when we see each other.  The last time we were in a bar talking, I was flirting with him a little bit, and he suggested we have a fling.  I found the idea intriguing and told him as much; we shook on it, texted  each other with a fun goodnight note later that night, and left it there.  You can imagine my are-you-fucking-kidding-me? face last night when I saw him and gave him a warm hello, and he couldn’t remember my name.  “It starts with an… wait, I know this.”  Boner lost.  I wouldn’t tell him; he looked it up on his phone and then tried to hit on me later a few beers in. 

Incident #2  A male friend of mine accidentally spills beer on me; he says, “Oh, let me dry that off for you,” and starts patting my breast, laughing.  Of all the these incidents, this one actually bothered me the least because I know this guy really well.  We’ve been friends for years, and he did it without any sexual implication.  I laughed pretty hard, but I have some female friends who would have been horrified by this. 

Incident #3 Another male friend of mine calls me over to the bar – “Jo,” he says, his words slurring, his eyes glassy.  “I need to talk to you.”  This should be hilarious, I think, and wander over to the bar to talk.  He then proceeds to tell me that he really likes how honest I am about everything, and how open I am about sexuality, and how he really likes me, and then starts saying how I need to meet his girlfriend because she would really like me too, so I just need to talk to her, right?  Because she really likes girls.  THEN he starts telling me how they each made a list of people that “would be good” and I’m at the top of his list.  (Wow!  Congratulations to me!)  He’s hemming and hawing without ever actually saying what he wants to say, so I ask him: “Are you asking me to have a threesome with you and your girlfriend?”  He doesn’t answer me directly, just starts talking again about how his girlfriend is really into girls and I should really talk to her, because he really likes me and I would be perfect.  I then tell him that I think we should carry on this conversation when he’s sober; that I have good advice to give him if he and his girlfriend are looking to open up their relationship or experiment, but that right now we can’t have a real conversation about it because he’s so shit-faced.  “Am I drunk?” he asks.  Yes.  Yes, you are drunk.  I then proceed to tell him that by the way, I have no interest in fucking him and his girlfriend since I know them and see them all the time.  I try not to fuck where I eat.  He looks pretty shocked by this piece of information, so I then say: “You know that in order to have sex with someone, you need their consent, right?  Well, you don’t have mine.”  At this point, his girlfriend comes over and tells him she’s going home.  I tell him he should go home with her and sleep it off, but he stays at the bar while she leaves, obviously upset.  Two things about this scenario blow my mind: One, that this guy seems to have decided all on his own that I was going to sleep with him and his girlfriend and then told his girlfriend this while obliterated, which is the WORST IDEA EVER.  Two, that he presented it to me as though it were a gift.  Like, “We want to have a threesome, and we choose you!”  Like I’m a fucking Pokemon.  Like I’m supposed to be honored because I have the opportunity to fuck him.   

Incident #4:  This guy who I’ve seen at the bar a bunch of times (and who’s hit on me a couple of times, in the midst of hitting on all the other women there) comes over in the middle of a conversation and grabs my arm to look at a tattoo.  He then touches another tattoo on my body and says, “Oh, I really like this.  Where are you from?”  I answer, but I give him a look that says Why-the-fuck-are-you-interrupting-my-conversation? and look back at the person I was talking to.  He asks another question, which I answer curtly, and he gets it; he walks away.  Later on that night, as I’m leaving the bar, he grabs my arm, pulls me over and says, “Hey, do you have Kakao?”  “Nope,” I say.  This is an honest answer.  I don’t.  “Facebook?” he asks.  “Nope,” I say.  “I want to have dinner with you,” he says.  “Can I have your phone number?”  No, I tell him.  He looks confused, so I continue: “You’re a man in a bar who’s hitting on me.  I don’t know you.  So — no.”  He actually asks me to repeat this, which I do, slowly.  “No offense to you,” I say.  He nods, and I walk away.

Incident #5:  I go into the smoking room to have a cigarette; I ask a friend for one, which he gladly gives me.  The guy next to him says, “You have to show us your tits if you want one.”  I hand the cigarette back and say I don’t need it.  He then says, “I was just kidding.”  “Yeah,” I say.  “Sexual harassment is pretty funny.”  “I was joking,” he insists.  Whatever, dude.  I want to go into a whole rant about how comments like that promote rape culture and hurt men and women alike; how it’s comments like that that serve as a catalyst for a privileged twenty-something kid to say, “Women owe me sex by the very existence of their being and they’re not giving it to me, so I’m going to kill a bunch of them.”  But by that point in the night, I don’t want to talk any more.  I’d be pretty happy not to see a male-identified person for awhile, period. 

A Public Service Announcement from Teachers Have Sex:

1.  Just because I’m putting a P in my V now doesn’t mean that I want to fuck you.  I don’t. 
2.  Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean that you have the right to touch me.  I’m not public property.  In addition, just because I have a tattoo doesn’t give you express permission to touch me.
3.  Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean that I want to have threesomes (I mean, I do, but not with you). 
4.  If you’re interested in the idea of having a threesome with your girlfriend and another woman, you need to hash that shit out in several conversations before you start looking for a partner.  Following that, don’t make assumptions that any woman you happen to know is up for it. 
5.  Actually, here’s a general rule of thumb: Don’t make any assumptions.  Period.