Wouldn’t it be awful if young women were sexually active and didn’t end up with HPV and cervical cancer? Sure, but it would be even more awful if young women learned how to figure out with they could have sex without a huge risk of pregnancy. And there’s only one way to make sure they don’t figure it out. Make sure they know as little about their bodies as possible, and whatever you do, don’t let them read any books on how their bodies work.
Should teenage girls be taught to recognize the physical signs that indicate when they are most likely to become pregnant? Health educator Toni Weschler — author of the 1995 bestseller “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” — thinks so, rallied by hundreds of letters from women who read her book later in life and wished they had had such information earlier.
Consequently, Weschler has published a version for teens. Titled “Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body” (HarperCollins), the more recent work has sparked controversy — and not just among supporters of abstinence-only education. Some comprehensive sex education advocates are asking: Is this too much information, too soon?
… Expert reactions to the book tend to track political views on comprehensive sex education vs. the abstinence-only approach. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, takes the line that better-informed teenagers make better decisions: “Time and again,” she says, “research has shown that giving information to adolescents about reproduction and sexuality will not lead to promiscuity and will only arm teens with information that they need whenever they decide to become sexually active.”
But Janice Crouse, senior fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, disagrees. “I think it is inappropriate. Instead, I think that we need high ideals for our teenagers, to teach them the value of self-control because those are disciplines that you need for your whole life. Providing this type of information says that teenagers are hostages to their hormones.”
Hmm. Hostages to their hormones? I admit I was about as randy as as any teenage boy, the only difference was that I didn’t have any possible outlet for it. (And nothing was likely to do was gonna get anybody pregnant). But I wouldn’t say I was a “hostage to my hormones.” Still, they were pretty strong, and had I an opportunity … you better believe I would have. And that’s no matter what kind of information I had or didn’t have at the time.
And that’s the point. Kids are gonna have sex if they have the opportunity. Many of them, will anyway. Teenagers have been having sex since there have been teenagers. Do people really think keeping them ignorant is going to (a) stop them or (b) prevent pregnancy or STDs? Haven’t we already figured out that that almost nobody abstains and that ignorance doesn’t work?
“Purity Balls” abound. Purity, however, does not.
The event shares all the hallmarks of a wedding: Vows are exchanged, a white cake is served and there is even a first dance. But at the beginning of the event instead of fathers giving away their daughters’ hand, they’re holding on tight.
The event’s purpose is to celebrate father-daughter bonding, but the main focus of the evening is for the fathers and daughters to exchange pledges in an elaborate ceremony. Fathers vow to protect the girls’ chastity until they marry, and the daughters promise to remain abstinent.
… Young women and some young men sign virginity pledges at churches, rallies or programs sponsored by groups such as True Love Waits, and the movement is growing. This is partly fueled by government support. The current Bush administration’s annual funding for abstinence initiatives has more than doubled to around $200 million.
But critics say if these girls are only learning abstinence, they’re not being taught important information about STDs and condoms.
In fact, 88 percent of pledgers wind up breaking their pledge and having sex before marriage, according to a study by Peter Bearman, the chair of Columbia University’s Department of Sociology, and Hannah Bruckner of Yale.
The study examined the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents and found teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don’t pledge abstinence.
Here’s a somewhat more detailed description from a San Francisco Gate article from last year.
It begins. At some point the daughter stands up, her pale arms wrapped around her daddy, and reads aloud a formal pledge that she will remain forever pure and virginal and sex-free until she is handed over, by her dad (who is actually called the “high priest” of the home), like some sort of sad hymenic gift, to her husband, who will receive her like the sanitized and overprotected and libidinously inept servant she so very much is. Praise!
Would that I were making this up.
The dad — er, high priest — in turn, stands up and reads his pledge, one stating that he will work to protect his daughter’s virginal purity that he has so carefully and wickedly drilled into her since birth, since she was knee-high to a disturbing dogma, that he will protect her chastity and oversee it and help enforce its boundaries, which might or might not involve great amounts of rage and confusion and secret stashes of cheap scotch, although his pledge claims it’s with honor and integrity and lots of bewildering Godspeak. Which, in many households, is essentially the same thing.
It’s true. Purity Balls are happening, right now. And yes, you have heard this all before. Particularly from the conservative Right, especially from America’s rigid and pale fundamentalist “core.”
Premarital sex is evil. Female sexuality must be, as ever, contained, repressed, shoved deep down lest it tempt men to sin like gleeful pagans licking ice cream from the pierced nipples of the devil. Girls do not know how to handle their own genitalia and therefore must be taught — by their fathers, no less — how to dilute their sexual power in order to attract a sexually unqualified, God-fearing husband. You know, same as it ever was.
The rather creepy “date/marry dad” vibe is bad enough, but these events represent a dangerous combination of ignorance and wishful thinking. And if you consider that after making such big deal over purity balls, vows with dad, and signing pledges those who fall short are unlikely to share anything with their parents regarding their sexual activity, there’s a heaping dose of dishonesty in the mix too.
Kids aren’t better off knowing less and neither are parents .
If I have a daughter, I won’t take her to a Purity Ball, though I might buy her Weschler’s book or one like it. What I will do is sit her down and tell her the same thing I’ll tell Parker. I would prefer that my kids wait to become sexually active until they are old enough, mature enough, and/or independent enough to handle the possible consequences.
However, if they are sexually active, then they’re going to learn how to protect themselves and their partners. That means we’re going to talk birth control, and make a trip to the drug store for condoms. One box for him, and one for her. And they’re going to learn how to use them, and they’re going to always have some with them (for her, in case the guy doesn’t have one; for him, even if the girl says she’s on the pill).
Because I’ve seen enough to know that what you don’t know can not only hurt you, but it can seriously fuck you up.