Monday, June 8, 2009

Abstinence on prime time

Abstinence has made prime time a few times lately:

1. ABC's the Goode Family. Pilot episode: Daughter of liberal vegans thinks of taking a purity pledge. Even though everyone in the family agrees with the sentiment, they are completely wigged out by the trappings, such as the purity ball, purity ring given by father, etc., the fact that it's held in a church and done by primarily religious people. The father is an academic administrator and says he can't be seen in a church or he risks credibility at work.

Perhaps the most insightful message I've seen on abstinence in entertainment: everyone agrees on abstinence, but disagrees on style and how to talk about it: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Ultimately I wouldn't be surprised if the inclination to favor "abstinence only" or "plus" were one of the hard-wired political issues that the neuro- political science folks are picking up on brain scans. Teaching birth control feels wrong. So you end up with political stances like Sarah Palin's as governor being in favor of "Abstinence only" that of course teaches birth control. Just can't say the words "comprehensive" or even "abstinence plus" because those evoke the extremes. (Not to pick on conservatives. The opposite also holds: some start to think about the Taliban and "she was asking for it" rape when the issue of modest dress comes up, even if it's minimal standards that everyone adheres to in professional settings without thinking about. As soon as it's called "modesty" instead of "professionalism," the hard-wired instinct kicks in.)

The show is terrific otherwise as well. My favorite non-abstinence part was a fictional animal rights group called "Animals or Else!"

2. Little Mosque on the Prairie had an episode where the fiance of a woman who wears a hijab (headscarf) asks to see his fiancee's hair, but they decide to wait until marriage for him to see her hair. Very little tension throughout this non-touching relationship, but it's a sitcom with only 22 minutes to an episode, and that's not their focus so they don't have to be realistic. Still neat to see the prism of abstinence from a slightly different perspective. I wonder how many viewers without a cultural background that involves hair-covering have an intuitive feeling about this issue. How many think that it's no big deal to show her hair, versus how many feel shocked at the thought.

3. The Jonas Brothers on South Park: "Purity rings are how we sell sex to little girls."

An outrageous thought, and yet the qualitative research finds that until adolescents can conceive of physical intimacy, they have no conception of abstinence, so both abstinence and sex are foreign thoughts to their mind. Telling pre-sexual teens about abstinence is as much of a foreign idea as telling them about sex. Presumably the same holds for telling them about abstaining from drugs or alcohol before they are in a social world in which people take drugs or alcohol.

My neighbor taped it for me , but I haven't gotten down to watch it with him and only saw the 2 minute clip on youtube, so I don't know what else it has.

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