“A is for Abstinence” Reaction Essay

Honestly, I don’t really get the obsession a lot of people my age have with sex. I guess it doesn’t really fascinate me or seem like the world’s most important thing. That being said, I am getting really tired of BOTH kinds of sex ed. The kind that pushes abstinence as the only acceptable option just ignores the fact that there’s an overwhelming amount of pressure both from your peers and from your body to have sex, and that you need to know how to do it safely. It also ignores the fact that teens won’t be teens forever, and the possibility of STIs, non-consensual experiences, coercion, pregnancy, and that supercharged heartbreak you’re supposed to experience if you feel like you’ve given something up to someone who doesn’t value it like you hoped do NOT disappear when you turn 18 or when you get married. Wedding rings are not magic, and neither are the candles on an 18-year-old’s birthday cake. On the flip-side, I’m not really digging most of what sex-positive sex-ed has to offer. A lot of it seems to suggest the following things:

1. Literally 100% of people like sex and 100% of teens are just horny sex machines.

2. Sex is inevitable for all human beings. This erases the asexual experience completely.

Instead of making an abstinence list, I decided to watch Laci Green’s “A is for Abstinence” video today. She makes some good points (mostly the same neo-liberal “let’s stop shaming sex” argument I’ve seen a billion times on Tumblr, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today). I wanted to react specifically to some of her points to reflect on what I’ve been taught/learned in the past.

Laci Green mentioned how people usually learn about STDs in school. She correctly reports that health textbooks tend to show the grossest, most terrifying pictures of diseases and infections available. I remember once looking at this health textbook where a person’s back looked like a freaking pizza. If you actually bothered to read the caption, you’d know that whatever it was he was sick with was something that didn’t get THAT BAD unless it went untreated for 10+ years. In other words, if that guy had gotten the same disease but gone into a clinic to have it treated ten years sooner, NONE OF THAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

The idea presented in health textbooks is that your life is pretty much over once you’ve contracted an STD. Most STDs can be cured or at least treated, so it ends up looking like a lot of fear-mongering. Any disease can be made terrifying with the right extreme image. Heck, skin tags are 100% harmless and fairly easy to remove, but you can find some DISGUSTING pictures of them on Google Image search.

I disagree with the assessment that “look at this disgusting thing” type education is all about shaming people for having sex. I’ve actually noticed that a LOT of things are taught about that way. My guess is that whoever chooses the pictures for health textbooks has the mind of a 13-year-old boy and is sitting there plotting ways to ruin peoples’ lunch. Have you ever received education about Gingivitus? It kind of goes like this:

Kid Dentist: YOU BETTER BRUSH YOUR TEETH TWICE A DAY AND FLOSS AND DON’T EAT SUGAR BECAUSE IF YOU DO, YOU’LL GET GUM DISEASE AND YOUR GUMS WILL TURN RED LIKE THE SINFUL SPIRIT OF SATAN AND BLEED ALL OVER YOUR SHOES!!!!

Adult Dentist: Ah, that’s just a little gum disease. Take this mouth wash and go home. We probably want to schedule you for a cleaning, but don’t lose sleep over it or anything.

A similar thing happens in driver’s ed. Nobody seems to think that driving can be effectively taught to teenagers without us having to see at least 4 horrifically mangled bodies on the side of the road with doom-saying captions about how driving will DEFINITELY make you dead, so do it safely (not that they bother telling you how to do it safely rather than just yelling at you pointlessly).

In other words, there’s a grossness trend in teaching literally ANYTHING people are possibly scared of.

The one thing she said that I don’t really like is the part about how it’s okay to not be “ready.” She’s totally right that you don’t have to be ready, but readiness isn’t the only model for understanding sexual disinterest in my opinion. I think talking about not being “ready” for sex can have some troubling connotations – like that the loser who’s pressuring you for it is “ready” whereas you’re immature/somehow childish compared to that person. You might just not want it, not be interested, be asexual, have been through sexual violence, etc. People can’t assume it’s this inevitable thing that you’re either “ready for” or planning to postpone. It’s not like debt where you have to do it eventually to make the big, scary number go away.

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