exactly that

Dear Prudie over at Slate Magazine has some very jacked up opinions on pre-marital sex (why are we still using marriage as a litmus?). Her answer to a person (who in the letter printed neither disclosed  ou’s gender or age) who wrote in for advice on whether or not to engage in sex with ou’s boyfriend leaves me wondering if Prudie should give advice to people on matters involving sex. (Last question on the first page.)

The letter writer asks: My boyfriend and I are in a loving relationship and we have been dating for eight months already. He has been wanting to have sex, but since my parents are very against pre-marital sex, I have been really hesitant. Personally I want to, and am telling him that once I get a chance, to we can do it. I feel nothing wrong with having sex before marriage at all, but I feel morally conflicted by having to lie to my parents.

This, to me, is an all-too-common situation for teenagers exploring their sexuality, something that is healthy according to many developmental experts on child and teen development. Sex is a part of growing up, and teenagers are sexual beings (as are, surprise! children). It doesn’t mean they are raging balls of hormones running around sexing it up with anything that moves; rather they are curious about the way they feel with their bodies doing the things that bodies do.

Here, this letter writer describes a situation of a committed relationship in which ou feels safe. Ou wants to have sex. Both parties are consenting. The only problem I see here is that the letter writer doesn’t seem to have a trusted resource to turn to to make sure ou can be safe when making this decision.

Like it or not, parents really aren’t the ones who ultimately get to make the decisions about teens bodies, or at least that is how it works in a perfect world. They are not property. Rather, they should be trusted guides and not arbiters.

Prudie’s answer, it should go without saying, leaves a lot of room for the “are you effing kidding me” reaction.

Now that’s some shocking news: Your boyfriend would really, really like to have sex.

Wow, Prudie! Way to perpetuate a harmful myth about young men, without really knowing anything about him except that he is willing to engage in consensual sex with a partner. We put this pressure on young men to be sexual creatures, and Prudie is already implying that the letter writer, whom I gathered she has assumed is a girl, is the gatekeeper.

Are you 16 or 26?I It makes a difference. I’m against premarital sex by high-school students. I’m not against pre-marital sex by responsible college-age people.

So, a little ageism here. Prudie has decided that there is no way that a 16 year old could possibly be prepared to make the decision to have sex with ou’s partner. The simple act of being in college (did Prudie set a threshold? Does the magic of responsibility begin the day you walk onto campus or do you have to reach a milestone?) suddenly makes one a better judge of whether or not sex is right for that person.

I don’t think so.

There are plenty of teenagers who have the resources available (though not as many as I would like) to engage in sex responsibly, and even the ones who don’t have the access to things like doctors and birth control still have the reasoning to weigh the pros and consequences of having sex. There are still plenty of college age people (as if college-aged people and teenagers are mutually exclusive groups!) who lack the reasoning to make this decision.

I know many adults who should probably just watch television.

But the point is that we don’t and shouldn’t have control over the bodies of other people, and just because Prudie feels icky about the idea of teens having sex, it doesn’t give her the pass to imply that a teen is by default ill-prepared. Instead, here, she could have advised this letter writer on ways to ensure that ou was making a safe choice.

(In fact, I can’t imagine marrying someone one hasn’t had sex with.)

Oh, well, then. I guess that married 15 year-olds are just fine? Wait…Prudie…make up your mind? What are the bounds of your moralizing?

However, if you are making this decision based on how your parents would react, that tells me you aren’t really old enough to start engaging in sex.

True or not true. You don’t really know, do you, Prudie? Because, we don’t know anything about this letter writer’s home life. This person could have abusive parents who would really not take the idea of a sex talk well. This person could really have good reason to be afraid to approach the topic of sex with ou’s parents. They could be ultra-conservative and extremely religious, and ou could have been exposed to intense slut-shaming all of ou’s life, and only now is ou beginning to make an independent decision based on what ou wants.

Needless to say, I completely feel that Prudie is falling flat on her advice to this person. I find it incredibly moralizing and condescending, as well as incredibly privileged and presumptive. Feel free to read the rest of her advice, but it pretty much follows this same vein of shame.

Prudie had an opportunity here to advise this person to be sure that the sex was consensual, to find good channels for safe people to talk to about this decision, and for good educational resources (like Scarleteen) and places to access birth control if it is needed and contraceptives to protect against STIs.

But she failed to do that in the name of finger wagging.

What say you?

Comments on: "Some Moralizing Advice to Set You On the Path to Safe Sex" (1)

  1. The ageism is what smacks me the most. Really, so there’s this mythical unicorn-bridge experience between “teen” and “college-aged” (which as you point out, is hardly mutually exclusive, and in my opinion is also institutionally-skewed, relegating youth development to external forces that put them in boxes of their grade level) when someone can automatically be equipped to make good choices?

    Also the idea one shouldn’t get married unless they do the deed first – as if a handful of sex experiences is some kind of litmus for the work and experience of a partnership one is usually hoping to maintain for a lifetime or many years – is a bit off.

    In summation it seems Prudie has this very narrow but also oddly vague and insubstantial sets of rules/principles he/she is promoting. I’m guessing that’s not super-helpful for anyone needing assistance.

    Scarleteen is awesome, BTW.

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