October 2, 2011 by Katie.
Hey, all! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve updated here but I have been writing. The lovely lovelies over at Met Another Frog have kindly allowed me to grace their pages with a post or two. Here’s the latest one, inspired by their September prompt: “What do you wish you learned in Sex Ed as a kid?” In true Read A Book Please style I gave a shout out to my fav dead-gay-boyfriend Michel Foucault so you will have book link at the end of all this (don’t you worry!).
Read it there, or see below:
I don’t mean for this article to take a political or overly intellectualized stance (which is ironic, given some of my conclusions)…but it can’t be helped. It must begin there. The one lingering bitterness I have over my sexual education is this:
No one ever told me sex was okay.
And by “okay” I mean: natural, normal, healthy…hell, I’d even take inevitable (though I suppose that’s what they were all implicitly sandbagging against in the first place).
Between the abstinence-based Sex Ed of the 1990s and my religious upbringing in a pseudo-evangelical youth group that – from my limited research – was not all that uncommon an experience for many, there was little place for positive sexual images. We learned that marriage was the safe haven of and appropriate place for sexual bliss but those conversations ended up being more about geography – WHERE sex could/should occur – rather than bliss or naturalness – WHY sex is. Really, no one ever said: Sex is great! Sex happens! You have these feelings, these thoughts…and as you should, you are human, it is all good.
Nope. Didn’t hear it once.
And, really I think that is what fucked me up most. Because all I ended up feeling was guilt and weirdness associated with any carnal act.
Now, why is this political? Well, I think it’s obvious but I will shout out my stand: We shouldn’t be basing sexual education on abstinence. And why do we? Because religion is in the schools. Moreover, religion is in our culture. I don’t deny it a place there. But, I do want to shine a spotlight on a history we’re all pretty familiar with; Puritanism (and now modern-day fundamentalism) still dictates America’s sexual more in many ways.
That being said, it’s another debate that our culture is hyper-sexualized. All parents worry that their kids are discovering “too much,” too young. I’ll even admit…there are some third graders in the school I work for who…well…know too much. Even for my liberal taste.
But this doesn’t mean we are less weird about sex.
Teenagers are still getting pregnant; young kids are still getting STDs, and it’s not only because they’re having sex; it’s not only because they see sex glamorized on TV. It’s because we, as a culture, refuse to educate them properly. We refuse to introduce them to the natural side of sex, to its normalcy. We glamorize and hide sex (even when we shouldn’t) because, really, as a culture, we’re all still really uncomfortable with it. Sex – and our bodies for that matter – is okay only when it’s hyper-sexy or when it’s hidden. We’re all constantly in a state of rebellion or taboo.
An illustrative example of an alternative attitude is my experience growing up around guns. My Dad was a police officer so we always had guns in our house. Any time my Dad had to clean them, however, he did it out in the open, he explained them to us, he let us touch them (unloaded, of course), he told us the rules about to handle them safely, all under a watchful eye. Even when we were very young he allowed this to happen. (Side note, they were locked up otherwise.) Consequently, guns never held the allure for me that they did for my peers. I grew up to be “indifferent” to guns (dislike them, even). My sister, however, loves guns and shooting them for sport, but she reports the same disregard as a child. The point is we were comfortable with guns. We didn’t find them sexy but they weren’t hidden. They were just there; guns were a part of life. We didn’t take them lightly – we knew you had to be responsible; but they weren’t forbidden fruit. As a result, both my sister and I came to have our own individually healthy opinions and actions regarding them once we grew older.
Shouldn’t this be how we think about sex?
Michel Foucault’s seminal book The History of Sexuality, Vol. I addresses both of my points brilliantly. He discusses the “repressive hypothesis” which states that we are weird about sex because the powers that be refuse it to us. It isn’t allowed. Therefore, in an act of rebellion, some of us (a lot of us!) decide to discuss sex constantly (hypersexualize!). There you have it: taboo or rebellion. What Foucault points out, however, is that this hypersexualization really does nothing to eliminate power structures or normalize sex. In fact, it produces potentially extraneous desire(s) just as effectively as silence. The dialogue about sex, far from being normalizing, is studious, scientific, and meant to reveal deep inner truths. That’s a lot of pressure!
Foucault is mostly interested in the dynamics of power and dialogue more than he is in offering any solutions. I will, however, presumptously venture to the border of that territory with some thoughts. What if sex is like the weather? It’s always happening, it’s inseparable from our world, but unlike the weather, there are never massive phenomenon affecting everyone all at once. Everyone has their favorite type of weather, we all learn how to dress appropriately for and behave responsibly in various kinds of weather, and we all have to deal with the weather environments in which we reside. And, sure, we talk about the weather all the time! But, usually only casually and in passing because it’s mutually interesting, because it’s something we can all relate to and share. Not because we’re trying to fight the man or find out some deep truth about ourselves.
Maybe all of our discourse of taboo and rebellion is the “problem,” is holding us back from the deep truth we’ve spent centuries denying from every angle: despite how awesome it feels and how fun it is and all the power(s) we give it sex isn’t all that special. It’s simply part of our world.
Sex is just: OKAY.
Foucault, Michel: The History of Sexuality, Vol I