Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sex Ed

I just read a new book from the library, The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. Our library puts stickers in the front of books that say "read it and rate it," and there are blanks for your "grade." I never do this, because I've had enough of evaluations that consist of only five categories (ABCDF). But on this book, someone has written in a note rather than marking a grade: "The author says this is a work of 'fiction.' Not true. I know every one of these people and there are few happy endings." So I began the book curious to see if I knew any characters like these. Luckily for me, I don't, or at least I'm not aware of it.

But wait--one of my daughter's friends, Kinsey, an extremely nice and polite girl from some kind of very Christian family, asked my daughter a list of questions last year before she could be allowed to come over to our house. The questions included whether my husband or I ever got drunk and passed out, and whether my daughter ever heard "any noises" from our bedroom at night after we had gone to bed. (!!)

We talk about sex with our kids whenever it comes up (the last time was when we were watching the movie of The Cider House Rules and Tobey's character suddenly and unexpectedly makes love with Charlize's character--we all noted that they probably didn't stop to think about birth control, even though they both really, really knew better. In mother-mode, I had to say "see, this is why you've got to think about it before your emotions take over."

I'm not sure that I'm entirely in favor of required sex ed in public schools (there are so many other time-wasting classes, like "technology skills.") But clearly, some kids need it, because they're not getting it at home. Our high school requires everyone to take a "health" class. This makes my daughter laugh and quote the health teacher in the movie Mean Girls--"Don't have sex. You'll die."

The sex ed teacher in the book is required to teach an abstinence education course, complete with information that is, at best, disingenuous. Her breaking point comes when her 10-year-old-daughter's soccer coach, a very Christian man--like Kinsey's family--leads the team in prayer on the field. She thinks:

"In a way, she was grateful to Maggie's coach for making the situation so clear. Until she'd seen those girls, those beautiful young athletes, sitting on the grass in the sunshine, being coerced by adults they trusted into praying to the God of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the Republican Party--the God of War and Abstinence and Shame and Willful Ignorance, the God Who Loved Everyone Except the Homosexuals, Who Sent Good People to Hell if They Didn't Believe in Him, and Let Murderers and Child Rapists into Heaven if They Did, the God Who Made Women as an Afterthought, and Then Cursed Them with the Pain of Childbirth, the God Who Would Have Never Let Girls Play Soccer in the First Place if It Had Been up to Him--until then, she'd allowed herself to succumb to the comforting fiction that her quarrel with the Bible Thumpers was confined to the classroom, to a political dispute about what got taught or didn't get taught to other people's children. But now she understood that she'd been fooling herself. This wasn't just professional; it was personal. They'd already messed with her job, and now they were coming for her kids."

Maybe I should be taking this more personally than I already do, as a member of NARAL since my teens. On April 3, Maud Newton has a post entitled "Because when you can't get information about abortion, unwanted pregnancy rates drop!" The situation she was alerting people to has been rectified, but since I didn't even know about it before it was fixed, I suspect it can't be the only attempt by well-meaning and probably very nice Christian people to spread ignorance. As I've said before, I'm not in favor of willful ignorance. Maybe I need to do something like what I tell my students to do when we read the Laramie Project--find out how many of their friends and acquaintances are gay. Maybe I need to find out how many of my friends and acquaintances are the kind of Christian that tries to keep things from children.

You know, I don't exactly keep it from my children that their father and I have sex. But they definitely weren't as aware of it (I don't think they listened for it!) before Kinsey asked the question.

No comments: