Shame Teens Away from Sex, Because THAT Works

abstinenceShame, as a verb, is a strange. It’s generally considered to be a pretty awful thing, yet is used openly as a tactical maneuver to gain control, often in seemingly benign, civilized circles. Shame is typically accepted and implemented by conservative cultures and/or religions under the guise of promoting a certain moral code.

Shame is an ugly and it creeps up often in unexpected places…like a high school Sex Ed classroom. I was browsing the Feministing blog over lunch today and found this article, Awesome Professor Live Tweets Her Kids Abstinence Sex Education Class. It’s a quick read and it’s both hilariously entertaining, and pretty disturbing.

The Gist of the Alice Dreger Tweets

The gist of it is, this professor Alice Dreger, sat in on her 15 year old son’s sex ed class after he eluded to some shenanigans going on in the delivery of the class material. Dreger, whose beliefs mirror my own (sex is fun, sex is healthy, sex is normal) was pretty peeved to say the least and openly lambasted (you know, in a good way) the course material in real time via Twitter. It went viral.

Now, I’m all for abstinence, particularly when it comes to young minds that haven’t fully developed, but I draw the line at Fear-based “teaching”. The class went from bad to worse.

I nearly crawled out of my skin (reading the tweets) when the course administrator reduced a woman’s entire worth down to the status of her virginity. His attempt to scare kids into abstinence resulted in this shame-filled misogynistic distortion. My first thought: this teacher must be in cahoots with some professional organization for therapists because our girls are going to be spending a lot of time and money working out their issues later when it comes to self-esteem, sexual health, and depression. BUT DON’T WORRY—as long as their hymen is intact, that’s all that matters.

Woo! Let me reign it back in because, after all, this isn’t about conservative sex education, it’s about shame. The point is, you can’t stop kids from having sex because their physical bodies are biologically programmed to want it and their brains are feverishly working to develop social bonds and understand the nuances of relationships. In other words, teenagers are the perfect storm for sex. The only two options we (society) have are either to:

  1. Scare the ever-living shit out of them. Throw everything you’ve got at them…hell-fire, damnation…nothing’s off the table.
  2. Teach them that sex is part of our overall health. We take care to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, manage stress and yes, maintain a healthy sex life. 

To many of us, Option 2 seems perfectly reasonable. Kids just need guidance to make good choices. We could even teach them about abstinence. I don’t disagree that it’s the safest, even preferred option. The problem, once again, is shame. People who choose to shame kids with fear are people who feel shame themselves. Sex has been taboo in our society for a long time. Shame has infiltrated it and because much of it has been tied to religion, it’s extremely difficult to shake.  The irony is, I don’t think God cares all that much about sex. It doesn’t get much air time in the bible compared to say: greed and corruption, which as a society we’re generally pretty ok with. I’m not sure why religions put so much importance on sex shaming. Maybe it’s because sex shaming is heavily focused toward females. If girls weren’t held back by shame, they may very well not be held back by anything.  They might even start to question the divergence between the spiritual texts they read and the interpretations pressed upon them by patriarchal conservative (often religious) institutions.

I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I linked Twitter and high school Sex Ed to millenniums of female suppression. Not bad. All in a day’s work, as they say. As always, share your comments below. ∞

Follow Alice Dreger on Twitter.


5 responses to “Shame Teens Away from Sex, Because THAT Works

  1. I like your point about God talking about other stuff more. I think we gloss over that sometimes, because it’s easier to pick on certain sins than others, especially when you aren’t suspect of sex outside marriage (being married), but your kids aren’t past that yet. If you spoke about greed or feeding the helpless, that means you’d have to do something about it yourself. There’s actually a christian lady-writer who talks about this, because she’s seen the damage caused by putting too much emphasis on abstinence, to the point that girls who get married and have sex have to deal with all sorts of guilt issues and how to deal with their bodies.
    That being said, I grew up in a Christian house where my parents never preached, they just lived out their faith quietly. This included sex ed. They were confident, I think, that if we had moral conviction and purpose, we would do what was right. My boyfriend and I both had that purpose and conviction, and without any real outside pressure, waited until we were married for kissing/sex. But again, that was because of our relationship with God, not because of people shaming us into looking like we were doing right. That can be really hurtful.
    🙂 thanks for the follow!


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