It’s still not quite socially acceptable for women to express the desire to use birth control. To do so is to run the risk of being labeled a ‘slut’ — or worse. Forget all the sexual exploitation and objectification of women that’s all over the Internet and the entertainment industry — what’s really offensive in some quarters is the idea that women desire to have sex without having babies.
For more than 25 years, the federal government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs that have mostly proven ineffective (and even misleading). The United States has a rate of teenage pregnancy that’s significantly higher than other developed countries, and roughly half of all American pregnancies are unplanned.
That figure soars to nearly 70 percent when we’re talking about unmarried women under the age of thirty — and these numbers, too, are significantly higher than those in other developed countries.
By some estimates, 40 percent of unintended pregnancies are ended with an abortion.
As a teen, I was taught abstinence-only sex education. I pledged purity, and I made it known to all the boys around me. In my freshman year of high school, I was even voted “Most Likely to Wait Until Marriage” by my peers. The very next year, at age 15, I became pregnant.
Today, nearly half of American high schoolers, aged 14 to 18, are sexually active, according to a Centers for Disease Control survey. Even Christians aren’t waiting until marriage. Among unmarried adult evangelicals under 30, 8 in 10 have had sex.
Somebody has to say it: Our approach isn’t working, and it’s time to rethink “the talk.” It’s time to expand the conversation into territory where many evangelical parents dare not go.
I’ve written before about the seemingly contrasting messages we offer to young people in church about sex and sexuality:
Sex is dirty; save it for someone you marry someday.
Umm, what? Granted, we walk a narrow rhetorical tightrope when discussing sex with our kids. If we tell them it’s actually pretty awesome, and then tell them they can’t do it, that’s a setup for failure. On the other hand, if we focus on the negatives, we risk scarring and shaming them into a life of emotional conflict and struggle when it comes to sexual intimacy.
What we end up with, often times, is a vacuous silence when it comes to the real, difficult issues of sexual identity, impulse, and expression. Add to that the Christian emphasis on marriage, and the result in many cases is scads of unhealthy, sexually awkward young people, married far too early with no idea why.
On April 5-12, the University of Tennessee hosted “Sex Week,” organized by the student organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee. The week’s activities, ranging from discussions on virginity to workshops on oral sex and a search for a golden condom, sparked the concern of easily provoked and immensely quotable State Rep. Stacey Campfield (he of “Don’t Say Gay” bill fame).
With apologies to Campfield’s ever-vigilant protection of Christian sensibilities, the real problem here is not that mandatory student fees are being used to promote sexual education and awareness. The problem is that our tithes aren’t.
Imagine with me, if you will, what would happen if “Sex Week” came to First Baptist Church . . .
If local congregations joined together to dedicate a week to the promotion and exploration of Christian ethics expressed through sexuality, gender, and embodiment, what might the offerings look like? Perhaps these would be a good start.
“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of Half the Sky as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.
Sadly, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.