It is a pathetic comment on Western society that this is even still controversial. The cited study contradicts previous ambivalent findings about the effectiveness of sexuality education. But then there’s blast from the past that Courtney E. Martin recounts, and will surely resonate with many:
As the middle-aged gym teacher in a track suit stands in front of the class and reads a health book out loud in a monotone voice — “Intercourse can lead to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, such as …” — a couple of girls swap the latest issue of US Weekly and a Gossip Girls novel, all the juicy parts underlined in pink pen.
It is a chicken and egg problem. In order for people to have healthy and sensible attitudes about sex, they need guidance that isn’t laden with shame.
According to the government’s most comprehensive survey of American sexual practices to date, more than half of all teenagers have engaged in oral sex — including nearly a quarter of those who have never had intercourse. Regardless of this reality, health teachers from Nacogdoches, Texas, to Newark, N.J., are taught to emotionlessly repeat — as if pull dolls of the Bush administration — “The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence. The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence. The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence.”
Even without the “superior” mind/”inferior” body dichotomy that Jack Holland, in Misogyny, blamed for a repression of women, Martin writes that “the message to young women is also resolute: Your body is dangerous. Control it. Ignore it. Don’t ask any questions. Teen girls are cast as asexual princesses happily trapped in towers, guarded by their Bible verse-spouting fathers.”
Martin might not point precisely to the dichotomy that Holland derived from Plato, but she points to dichotomies nonetheless, “between pornified culture and purity balls, in between the slut and the virgin, the stupid, lascivious dude and the knight in shining armor, in between the messages directed at young women — your body is your power vs. your body is dangerous — and young men — your gaze is your power vs. your gaze is dangerous.”
And for me, it all still leaves unanswered a single question. When sex makes us all feel good, why did we ever accept a paradigm that both stigmatizes it and casts it as a temptation?