Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 12 May 1997

ABSTINENCE: SEX-EDUCATION--- "CHURCH LADY" STYLE

by Jack Nichols


 

The same intense struggles between differing approaches to living occur and reoccur. From decade to decade they seem to resurrect. One returning bugaboo re-invokes our nation's notorious romance with sexual suppression. And repression. Not homosexual repression, but sexual repression. Gore Vidal informed Mike Wallace in a March, 1967 CBS documentary--The Homosexuals-- that America is regarded with astonishment in other nations where sexuality--in its varied forms-- hasn't been allowed such worrisome top-devil status.

There was something else Gore Vidal said in that 1967 documentary making him, in my view, one of America's foremost gay liberation pioneers. As David Scott Evans puts it--in this week's personality portrait (People) of Vidal, the great writer might soon react as startled if he were called a gay lib pioneer. Pity. Because that's what he is, like it or not. Yup, he sat right there with Mike Wallace in '67--two years before the Stonewall uprising-- and defended same-sex erotic responses with dignity and with passion, while Wallace slammed forward with stupid, now-discredited psychiatric gobbledygook about homosexuality-the- psychopathology, old-fashioned views which Wallace himself has since rejected.

"Homosexual behavior," Vidal told him, "is perfectly natural."

"Say's who?" challenged the Mike Wallace of 1967.

"I say so," Vidal replied authoritatively, embodying individualism in action.

Vidal, regarded by many as America's foremost historical novelist, and perhaps its greatest living essayist, has a wide-ranging knowledge of world-wide sexuality. He knows that strict sex control, an aspect of the Skygod religions, has stifled many natural sympathies. Approximately a decade ago, the enthronement of prudishness--or, rather of abstinence, as the goal of high school sex-education classes nationwide seemed a possibility with a future.

Surely sex education, the sanest thinkers hoped, won't become a casualty of such church-state manipulators as Jerry Falwell, Phyliss Schrafley, James Dobson and Pat Robertson. But what, since those scary days, has transpired in sex ed class?

Lets leap across the decade, from January, 1988 to the present--May 1997. Congress has just recently been offering millions to the states if they'll simply teach public school students that the only thing--the singular thing-- they must know about sex is simply that they must abstain. No talk of condoms is to be permitted. Though teen-pregnancy is rampant, there must be absolutely no talk of birth control either. Abstinence alone--saying NO to sex-- will save the day, dream these fundamentalist-type-congresspersons. Just Say No ??? Fortunately, educators from coast to coast are, for the most part, loathe to take the citizenry's tax-payer offerings to promote this abstinence business as the only answer to the nation's longtime sexual dilemmas. It isn't an answer, they rightly seem to feel, that's practical.

Almost a decade ago, a Gannett newspaper, Florida Today, published (1/16/88) a scathing editorial I wrote critiquing the stupidity on a particular under-fundamentalist-control-school board.

Beginning with an observation that the School Board was behaving with hell-paved good intentions and with ignoranace, I explained how it was also waltzing in wonderland as it foolishly congratulated itself on a compromise: "condom use is not planned to be discussed by teachers in the classrooms" even though class videos will give some information about these unmentionables.

"What if a student who is sexually active asks for details about condoms? Is the teacher sworn to silence? If condoms have a ten percent failure rate, must the teacher bow before the Far Right's mistake and insist that 90% protection is bad and that there should be none at all for these sexually-active youths? Is the School Board unwittingly a participant in a scheme of fundamentalist retribution for sex by death?"

I pointed to the rising AIDS toll among youth.

"It will take smaller towns time to catch up but with AIDS incubation (five to ten years) we can look ahead to our present day youths dying like flies."

Whether fundamentalist religious-political activists liked it or not, this particular area's culture had always been laissez faire about sex. We're living, I wrote, in a climate hospitable to its (sex's) allure. Large segments (of this area's population) are "youths much given to premarital posturing."

"Will we send them into the arms of AIDS followed by the non-sound of our foolish silence?" I bellowed. "Will we then think kindly of our own lack of foresight and the School Board's decision: that condoms are not to be spoken about by respectable teachers?"

"Or could it be," I ventured with my wickedest question, "that we will see the School Board's NO condoms decision as one by 20th Century primitives who compromised with witchdoctory and perished as a result?"

"Because of Far Right agendas that view all sexuality as a major threat, the teaching of comprehensive self-protection is being murderously thwarted. Is this sanity?"

I raved on: "Sad contrasts loom wherever sex and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. Our TV soaps focus for weeks on half-nude bodies in bed. Advertising pushes even the lowly toothpaste tube as the path to more passionate kissing. On the other hand, the School Board is willing to adopt this bizarre plan whereby it piously asks young people to abstain from acts of passion glorified for them daily from dawn to dusk.

"Very well then ,let their plan--Abstinence from Sex--reign supreme. It is a plan devised by those who have forgotten what it is like to feel the tantalizing flames of sexual desire coursing through veins.

"Do they not know that youth imagines itself immortal? Are they not familiar with the 'denial factor' which sees AIDS always as 'their' infection, never 'ours?' The USA has taken too long to learn that this kind of denial is whistling in the dark. 'There is no them,' wrote the brilliant (Growing Up Absurd) anarchist educator, Paul Goodman, 'there is only us.' "

And now, a decade later, what is happening across America demonstrates the sound good sense of people in the heartland, except, of course, in the voting booths. Their Congress--has (because of loony Religious Reich folk) set aside $250 million, in a little-known provision of welfare "reform,", to tempt local school boards everywhere to insist that only abstinence will be taught in sex-ed classes.

In an unexpected turn-of-events-- the states have not been fast to accept such sex-hush- money, according to The New York Times (May 8).

To be eligible for this money, local governments would have to agree to teach, among other matters, that pre-marital sex "is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects."

States, according to the Times, have only two more months to make claims on the $250 million, but educational officials are clearly worried about undermining more practical efforts to teach safer sex. The local people are smarter in this instance, in other words, than the Congress.

"The limits on what you can say are so restrictive that we decided we could not use the money for classroom programs or anywhere else where there was face-to-face contact," said the director of Maine's health department. It might be wiser, she surmised, to use the abstinence money to make public service announcements. Obviously, however, teachers sense they'd make themselves objects of ridicule if they were to refuse to talk of facts with which students are already familiar, facts, for example, like the existence of condoms.

Similar reactions have come from educators and public school health specialists across the country, a sign that citizen awareness is growing slowly but surely. There's hope. Yes

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