Thursday, August 21, 2008

Short abstinence updates

Catching up on some of the abstinence news while I was away:

1. A WSJ article tells of a teen vampire series with a large and burgeoning readership enraptured with the characters' intense restrained abstinent romance. The WSJ review of the actual book, however, is skeptical: "The most devoted readers will no doubt try to make excuses for this botched novel, but [author Stephanie] Meyer has put a stake through the heart of her own beloved creation."

2. Abstinence is not merely not-having-sex, but is apparently seen by some teensas a step towards having sex. Before sex is salient, not having sex is the default, and there's no thought of doing otherwise. Abstinence doesn't become a conscious choice until sex is an actual possibility. How this should change abstinence-focussed sex ed is a good question.

A new online sex ed campaign

The Portland Oregon Planned Parenthood created a new campaign for teens which manages to be both informative and dripping with irony. Or perhaps I am overinterpeting the irony.

It amplifies the weird stilted moments of any sex ed video where a creepily earnest adult pops up, uses overly slangy and very dated slang, and creates what any normal teen would find an uncomfortable moment. In the usual sex ed videos in my experience, the teens seem unfazed and take in the information. In this one, they just look uncomfortable, and in some cases walk away. These are more over the top than the usual ones, but also might feel more genuine because of that especially because the kids are responding as real kids would if a sex ed video inserted itself into their lives. An example of an overly stilted moment: in the abstinence episode, a girl (who in a past episode was afraid she had an STD) tells her friends that she can't go to a party because she plans to spend the night masturbating.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dating as casual sex

An interesting piece in Salon purports to be ``In defense of casual sex.'' In fact, it is a defense of dating widely, the old-fashioned form of dating. For instance, this book advocates that its evangelical audience should date as many people as possible, even people they would never picture themselves marrying such as the secular, in order to learn about themselves and their relationships.

The only difference between the Salon author's dating and the old-fashioned version is how the date ends.

The Salon author acknowledges both versions of dating as valid, but thinks that people should be able to choose which path they take. She says that the abstinence movement "prescribes a particular path, rather than encouraging young women to blaze their own trail." which is a weird criticism of a conservative religious movement, which by its nature prescribes and proscribes. That's its job. Congregants can choose whether to listen --- as in the case of Catholics and birth control --- but a conservative religious movement by its very nature would never endorse fully open choice about anything.

Her premise that the abstinence movement is a unitary entity with a single path is also wrong, just as conservative religious movements' sweeping criticisms of "secular culture" as if it were a single entity. Our culture is just so divided that the two sides aren't aware of each other.

A sociologist studying dating among evangelical Christian young adults could probably find half a dozen legitimized paths towards marriage, ranging from courtship to wide dating with some sexual involvement. More importantly, they would also find another half a dozen of actual paths that people take, and I'm sure some are similar to the Salon author's path. Sexually active conservative Christians have had a handful of sexual partners by the time they finish college, and the handful of conservative Christian dating books that I've read all acknowledge that. I've seen none that speak of using sex as a carrot, though I don't deny they exist; they do speak of setting sexual boundaries as an exercise that will help in maintaining a marriage.

There's very little new to be said about dating and relationships, and much shared ground, as people would know if they would talk to each other. After acknowledging the shared ground, they can talk about the differences. The conservative authors already acknowledge that they are putting young adults in a difficult position, and that many young adults don't hold to the ideal. In this theoretical conversation, the parties could talk about whether more partners or more intimate relationships are better for developing one's sexuality, whether sex takes up time that might be better spent on more varied activities that would reveal more about the relationship, and whether making sex transgressive even though most conservative Christians have premarital sex causes problems.

Ironically, the author's ending is quite conservative, as she ends the article telling how she met her significant other. First-date-sex aside, she lives happily ever after in a monogamous mutually respectful relationship, just as the evangelical dating books want their readers to.