Thursday, December 21, 2006

Breaking News: Having Sex is Normal

This news was released yesterday, a study about how commonly Americans engage in premarital sex:

"According to Finer's analysis, 99 percent of respondents have had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage.

Finer said the likelihood of Americans having sex before marriage has remained stable since the 1950s, though people now wait longer to get married and thus are sexually active as singles for extensive periods.

The study found women virtually as likely as men to engage in premarital sex, even those born decades ago. Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex by age 30, he said, while among those born in the 1940s, 88 percent had done so by age 44."

I am loving this study. What evidence could be more clear that this country's bizarre attitude toward sexuality and sex education is completely out of whack? Premarital sex is RIDICULOUSLY COMMON. And yet a huge amount of people are terrified of addressing the issue and admitting that, horror of horrors, maybe having sex outside of the holy bonds of matrimony is TOTALLY normal and has been totally normal for DECADES.

I grew up in Utah where I both did not learn about evolution because my science teachers just didn't want to deal with the hysterical parents who were sure to call if they talked about it, and was given absitenence-only sex education. According to popular myth, she could not even utter the word condom without getting fired. And let me tell you, for all the hype I've heard recently with liberals getting livid over teaching kids creationism in public schools, I think one of these conservative teaching strategies had a much more detrimental impact on the student body. Can you guess which it was?

When they took our class picture at the end of Senior year, one of my classmates brought her tiny newborn baby to the picture with her. There was a giant parental uproar over that baby being in the picture and the school actually photoshopped the infant out of it for those who were upset enough to want a Senior photo with the truth removed. When I look at the picture now, the one that wasn't photoshopped, I think about the whole situation as an interesting microcosm of the schizoid relationship America has with sex. I mean, here is this girl who was brave enough to confront everyone by bringing her baby to the picture. I didn't know her, but I often think about the kind of guts it would have taken to do that, especially at my obnoxiously conservative, suburban school. Row upon row of the picture, with so many of my peers looking pretty, smiley, white-washed, inoffensive. Everyone was ready to project a certain image encapsulating what their high school experience was supposed to mean, but here was this girl who yes, had sex and yes, got pregnant, a situation which was probably not made any better by our terrible sex education. There's a quote from My So-Called Life where Angela is talking about how terrible the yearbook is, "Because if you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book." Which is a good summary of the difference between what actually happens in this country, what people actually do, and what people prefer to pretend goes on, especially when it comes to teenagers.

I am also loving the findings that women are just as likely to engage in premarital sex as men, although that fact has been curiously absent from a lot of the coverage I've seen. Looks like a whole lot of the people out there are liars and hypocrites! What's tragic is that since the 50's, women in this country have grown up feeling extremely isolated while grappling with what their sexuality means and how their choice to have sex supposedly reflects on their character, their womanhood, and their worth. We've been forced to find the information we need to make good choices on our own from a whole host of independent sources, ranging in quality from Our Bodies, Ourselves to gossip in the girl's bathroom. I like to think that with the internet becoming steadily more accessible it will be easier for women to find accurate information through Planned Parenthood and other feminist organizations, but it's hard to say.

And when I talk about good sex education, I don't mean just educating people about contraceptives, but educating them about a whole host of other issues that are crucial to having positive sexual experiences. We should be encouraging teenagers to think about what they want and learn how to communicate that. We should give them information about the diversity of sexual preferences and pleasure, and mainly just stop making people feel ashamed all the time about everything they do.

And as a radical feminist, it's not just about the fact that it's probably a good idea for any human being to learn about this stuff before they become sexually active. In my mind, it's also a crucial step in combatting sexism and the thriving sex industry. Call me naive, but I believe if people were given better opportunity to express their sexuality in healthy, positive ways, instead of constantly being told that their innate sexual impulses are dirty and forbidden, pornography and prostitution would lose much of its appeal. Over the course of her research for Love for Sale, the historical book I mentioned in an earlier post, Elizabeth Clement found that before dating became acceptable prostitution was hugely popular in America. But once women entered the workforce during the industrial revolution and were finally allowed to have more independence through dating, the popularity of prostitution plummeted. I believe we would see similar patterns today, if we could remove the stigma sexuality carries with it, especially women's sexuality, and admit how absolutely, bone-shakingly normal it is.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I'm in the Market for Shoes Made Out of Soapbox

So, due to a lot of stupid reasons I would summarize as old-car-smash-and-go-boom, I've spent the last week trying to buy a car. Early on in this whole process my mom made a comment about not liking one of the car dealers we went to because she knew him in high school and he traded his wife in for a "newer model" a few years ago. It struck me how in our capitalist world, I can draw some weird parallels between buying a car and choosing a significant other. There are a lot of factors to consider about the car/person you want. Some people have snazzier features than others, some people are more high maintenance and less reliable, some are more attractive while others have more substance, some will fuck you up more than others if you get in an accident. But then I felt kind of gross. If people are like consumable products, no wonder divorce rates are so high.

It makes me wonder if maybe anti-capitalist activism is a more important component of the radical feminist agenda than I usually want to admit. It seems to me that if women are seen as consumable, if porn, prostitution, sex clubs, and plain human trafficking is big business, maybe that is all part of the larger fall-out of a system where people build their identities based on the objects they buy and perceive the people in their life as defined by the objects they buy. At what point do people stop being people and become things? When does the character of what we own, characterize us altogether? In a certain light, it's a good example of identity politics at its worst. And I think that its a large part of what fuels the modern boycotting tactics that I see used with so much frequency among my peers.

To me, boycotting something is not an effective or particularly impressive form of activism because it rarely, if ever, is successful unless it is organized on a massive scale. And even if it does manage to accomplish some of it's goals, I'm still unconvinced that the best way of acting out politically is by abstaining from an action. It seems to me that you'll do more for sweatshop workers by organizing a campaign to send them aid or to lobby congress than by refusing to buy ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING from insert-outrage-of-the-week-here, only shopping at thrift stores, or dumpster diving all the time. But thinking about boycotts in the context of our consumer-identified culture, I realize that often it's not about helping workers or changing the system at all; it's about identity. By NOT owning or consuming product X, you and your identity can somehow stay untainted of the blood that is on this entire country's hands. The logical fallacy in question? If you are what you buy, what you do NOT buy is what you are not.

To be fair, I realize that it's really difficult to deal with the guilt, frustration, and powerlessness of being an American with a conscience. There are definitely times when I feel totally demoralized about my ability to do anything about where this country is going. Sometimes I wish that I could drop out of it entirely, stop buying, stop eating, stop existing, stop stop stop. I want to shut my eyes and lock my door and pretend that if I don't do anything, well at least I won't be hurting anyone. The truth is though, other people, the planet, animals, fucking FUNGI suffer because of things I do on a daily basis. I can only boycott so much and the general population isn't willing to give up hardly any of the comforts they enjoy. I don't blame them. We are raised feeling entitled to them. We can no longer really conceptualize our lives without them. And knowing these things, I feel like the only way to push out of the rut we're in is to be pro-active, to DO, to give time and effort and money and not just withold those things when we come across something we don't like.