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March 21, 2016

NY Times Writer Asks: 'When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?'

NEW YORK CITY—It's been common knowledge for years that, sadly, a lot of people get what passes for sex education by looking at porn: in movies, on the internet, even some magazines. But so far, the mainstream media has generally avoided dealing directly with why this is the case—until now. On Sunday, The Times published an essay by contributing writer Peggy Orenstein (apparently no relation to Wicked Pictures owner Steve), adapted from her book Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, titled "When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?" In it, she deals with the problem of "abstinence education," about which she rightly notes, if parenthetically, that, "research has shown repeatedly that the nearly $2 billion spent on it over the past quarter-century may as well have been set on fire." The essay was apparently inspired by an email Orenstein received from a college senior who lamented that thanks to the "abstinence-only" curriculum she received in grades 6-12, she had no idea how to talk openly about sex. After reporting that a recent survey of British college students revealed that while 60 percent look at porn "as though it were an instruction manual," 75 percent of those nonetheless understood that what happens in porn movies is about as realistic as pro wrestling—i.e., women don't really have sex with the pizza delivery guy—Orenstein stated that even "honest conversations between adults and teenagers" generally avoid "the biggest taboo of all: women’s capacity for and entitlement to sexual pleasure." "Even the most comprehensive [sex ed] classes generally stick with a woman’s internal parts: uteruses, fallopian tubes, ovaries," Orenstein explains. "Those classic diagrams of a woman’s reproductive system, the ones shaped like the head of a steer, blur into a gray Y between the legs, as if the vulva and the labia, let alone the clitoris, don’t exist. And whereas males’ puberty is often characterized in terms of erections, ejaculation and the emergence of a near-unstoppable sex drive, females’ is defined by periods. And the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. When do we explain the miraculous nuances of their anatomy? When do we address exploration, self-knowledge?" A good question, considering that while the vast majority of teenage boys masturbate semi-regularly, only about one-third of girls 14-17 do, according to a study by researchers at Indiana University—and less than half have ever tried it. Orenstein's own researches have revealed that girls are generally willing to leave clitoral stimulation to their "boyfriends," who often expect blowjobs in return. (Also from the Indiana U study: While just 16 percent of women aged 20-24 admitted in 1992 that they had tried anal sex, nowadays, nearly 40 percent admit they have.) "We are learning to support girls as they 'lean in' educationally and professionally, yet in this most personal of realms, we allow them to topple," Orenstein concludes. "It is almost as if parents believe that if they don’t tell their daughters that sex should feel good, they won’t find out. And perhaps that’s correct: They don’t, not easily anyway." For Orenstein, the solution is to talk to kids more about sex, to "normalize it, integrate it into everyday life and shift our thinking in the ways that we (mostly) have about women’s public roles," since studies have shown that "the more frankly and fully teachers, parents and doctors talk to young people about sexuality, the more likely kids are both to delay sexual activity and to behave responsibly and ethically when they do engage in it." She also celebrates the fact that President Obama, in his 2017 budget, is trying to eliminate all federal funding for abstinence education—much as conservatives in Congress will undoubtedly have conniptions about it, even though only 23 states require sex ed at all, and only 13 require that education to be medically accurate. Anyway, it's an excellent article—and one that more people who support abstinence ed should read and take to heart.

 
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