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.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vicky,

Love the post, but I think you're walking a fine line regarding pornography and prostitution. I think that saying 'sex is a normal activity' (which is painfully obvious, as you pointed out) but then demonizing acts of sex wherein economic exchange occurs starts to head for some type of gray area (of contradiction). Kind of like Rich's tirade about the evils of pornography in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence". She calls for a more inclusive definition of lesbian experience (i.e. the lesbian continuum) but then blasts certain sexual acts as 'intrinsically' evil/bad for women. I do recognize that prostitution and pornography generally benefits the "not women" population -- but wouldn't that primarily be because women have been subjugated throughout time? If women controlled the sex industry/industries then would it be an issue?

I guess I'm just curious where the line is drawn (wow that's really cliche... sorry) -- when does sexual activity become unacceptable?

Personally, I could see pornography and prostution as healthy sexual activities. I think it's a stretch given the current socio-economic-political environment, but it could be.

5:25 AM  
Anonymous witchy-woo said...

Well I didn't see any "demonising" of anything going on in Vicky's post. I just saw a straight-forward approach to non commercial, human sexual activity and an acknowledgement of the fact that, without the commercialisation of human sexual desire and the commodification of the female body by patriarchial capitalism, we'd all be a lot better off in human terms. But maybe that's just me.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sup?

7:09 PM  
Anonymous pignut said...

"I am also loving the findings that women are just as likely to engage in premarital sex as men"

Well, it takes two to Tango :-)

3:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to see prostitution back to what it was in ancient times. when men came to the temple of women (Venus, Aphrodite) gave money to worship the Goddess and the Priestesses taught those men how to "love". Let's have the men worshiping at our feet again, oh and paying us for the time we have to spend teaching their slow dumb asses. i see nothing wrong with that!
_Essence_

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Pignut said...

-essence- I often hear about how wonderful temple prostitution was in the past, but it's still around today in India. It's mainly exploited young Dalit women ("untouchables" strange how men can't "touch" them but can have sex with them), It's male priests acting as pimps.

7:10 AM  
Blogger JusticeForAll said...

I couldn't agree more with educating people about healthy sexuality. Have you seen any of the work that Advocates for Youth does? I've recently become involved (very peripherally) with some of their projects, and I find them a breath of fresh air.

Jonathan
http://justspeech.blogspot.com

6:42 PM  
Blogger Generation Next said...

Just found your blog. Love this particular post. I work PT at Planned Parenthood, so I see the effects of bad, abstinence-only education. I look forward to more reading.

I also thought studies that said things like this "women are just as likely to engage in premarital sex as men" were so strange, because DUH, men are having that premarital sex with someone--ie, women!

9:29 AM  

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