This very good article
on nerve.com (via Feministing
) got me thinking about the whole teen sex issue. In a purely socio-political way, of course.
Lately, there have been a lot of editorials about how over-sexed our culture is. Here's a prime example
from the venerable New York Times
' Editorial Observer, Dec 29th:
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They don't smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. ''Don't stop don't stop,'' sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. ''Jerk it like you're making it choke. Ohh. I'm so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.'' The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
The author, one Lawrence Downes, is shocked, shocked
, to discover that sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are sexual beings
. Imagine that! A thirteen year old who has gone through puberty and is using her sexuality to get attention! I'm sure that's never been done ever before in the whole history of the human species! What a freak of nature! Call the New York Times
Editorial Observer! Call the fuckin' Guiness Book of World Records
Usually, these articles focus on the scandalous behavior of young teenage girls (out of concern for their well-being, I am sure). Somehow, no one seems to give a shit if a 15 year old boy
is a sexual being. Boring. But those girls, oh my! These guardians of prudery lament thongs, decry "grinding", and claim that civilization is being destroyed by the blowjob (never mind the reduced risk of STDs and very reduced risk of pregnancy as compared to a certain other act).
Part of me sympathizes with these laments. I too, am scandalized by the bare midriffs, the provocative eye makeup, the cleavage, etc. Isn't that the frickin' point
, though? To get attention from your peers and shock the old folks? (If the old folks are even on their mental radar screens, which is doubful. How much time did you spend thinking about 30-somethings when you were 13?) What amazes me is that all these writers talk about this as if it was a brand-new phenomenon, like text messaging or hybrid cars. It is as if they are the first generation of people to be scandalized by the mores of their offspring. For Chrissakes, this is the oldest lament of all time. People thought waltzing
would be the downfall of Christendom. And yet somehow, civilization has survived waltzing, the novel, Elvis, and rap music.
Here's what bothers me the most: All of these scolds never seem to get around to saying what these teenage girls should
be doing with their sexuality. They all just seem to hope it will go away until they are 26 and married or something. It's like fundamentalists and homosexuality: If you pray hard enough, God will remove this horrible affliction from your soul
. Do any of these people remember what it was like to be 14? I think amnesia must be a prerequisite for this particular kind of hand-wringing. Maybe you didn't get to see girls gyrating in mini-skirts when you were 14, Mr. Downes (I didn't), but don't tell me it wouldn't have worked
The nerve.com author I link to above, Ada Calhoun, subtitles her article "A resolution for 2007: no more punditry about our "oversexed" culture". I add a corallary to that: No more complaining about teen sexual behavior unless you put forward a serious, viable alternative that teens can engage in. I do not consider "abstinence" a sufficient substitute. Yes, you can abstain from sex, but you can't abstain from your sexuality.
There is a huge "sexuality gap" in our culture: biological puberty hits somewhere around 12, but "civil puberty", i.e. being in an emotional, social, and economic position where one can sensibly get married comes much
later. It varies by subculture, but for me and my peers it would raise eyebrows if any of us got married before our mid-twenties. That leaves a gap of at least ten years where our society doesn't really have any institutionally condoned way of being sexual. People are sort of left to fumble about on their own, so is it any wonder that popular culture has rushed in to fill the vacuum? If you don't want girls to gyrate to Janet Jackson at talent shows, you gotta give 'em something better to do. Frankly, I think a lot of teenagers would welcome some guidance on this matter (I certainly would have), but all of the institutions that might be in a position to help teens figure this out (church, school, family, government, etc.) are either too chickenshit or puritanical to be of any real use.
Here's what would really impress me: A mainstream church, non-profit group, or other respectable institution coming up with recommendations for teenagers to constructively, lovingly, and safely
satisfy their sexual needs. I'm not talking about education (though that is certainly necessary and in many cases sadly lacking). I'm talking about how to get it on and get off
(in a way that minimizes negative consequences, of course): A Presbytarian Guide to Masturbation
. UNICEF presents: How to get a lover and what to do when you get one
. The New York Times Guide to Sex for Teens
. Give the pornographers and pop stars and tawdry TV shows some competition
, for once. Or just shut up
, because by scolding and hand-wringing you're basically yielding the field to those who, whether for reasons of altruism, narcissism, or greed aren't scared of addressing the issue head-on.
The idea of these institutions jumping into the sex game of course strikes me as absurd. But this just shows how far we need to come as a society before we can even to address this issue in a serious way. But it is work that needs to be done, because I didn't particularly like having my sexuality nurtured by the dysfunctional dyad of puritanical repression and crass commercial exploitation (though given the choice, I think the crass commercialism is by far the healthier option). And I suspect there may be others who are feeling the same way right now.
Bottom line: until some else steps up to the plate, Janet Jackson is what we got. "Ohh. I'm so stimulated. Feel so X-rated." I challenge Lawrence Downes and others with his concerns to give us something better. Until you do, no complaining about gyrating 7th graders.