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17 Lies We Need to Stop Teaching Girls About Sex
April 28, 2014 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Whether it's the constant fretting over Miley Cyrus' influence on school girls or the growing (and troubling) tradition of Purity Balls, it's clear that society has a fascination with young women's sexuality — especially when it comes to controlling it. But what are we actually teaching today's girls about sex? Fueled by outdated ideals of gender roles and the sense that female sexuality is somehow shameful, there seem to be certain pernicious myths about girls and sex that just won't die. That sex education in America has gaping holes in its curriculum hasn't helped much, either; in a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report just 6 out of 10 girls said that their schools' sex ed program included information on how to say no to sex. This lack of personal agency was reflected in a forthcoming study by sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University as well, which found that many young girls think of sex simply as something that is "done to them." Knowledge is power, and we can promote a healthier relationship with sex by encouraging a more open dialogue, teaching girls to feel comfortable with their sexuality and, most importantly, emphasizing that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone.
But first, we're going to need to stop perpetuating the following 17 myths about female sexuality.

Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse
Despite high rates of gendered violence among youth, very few young women report these incidents to authority figures. This study moves the discussion from the question of why young women do not report them toward how violence is produced, maintained, and normalized among youth. The girls in this study often did not name what law, researchers, and educators commonly identify as sexual harassment and abuse. How then, do girls name and make sense of victimization? Exploring violence via the lens of compulsory heterosexuality highlights the relational dynamics at play in this naming process. Forensic interviews with youth revealed patterns of heteronormative scripts appropriated to make sense of everyday harassment, violence, coercion, and consent. Findings inform discussions about the links between dominant discourses and sexual subjectivities as we try to better understand why many regard violence a normal part of life.
posted by Blasdelb (120 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a pretty good start on a list at least. Honestly, there are days I think about a third of adult Americans should be on a pedophile watch list considering how much time they spend apparently obsessing on the sexuality of girls/young women (and, to be fair, boys/young men but in different ways). And, yeah, ridiculous (if they weren't so tragic) ideas of purity are to blame.

For the second part, is anyone surprised that girls don't speak up about coercive sex considering the treatment of those who do?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:18 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Well, I can get behind that list. I know this stuff can be taught in sex ed too, because I was taught it then. I did the About Your Sexuality course (now replaced by the Our Whole Lives course) at my UU church, and it covered all those myths and more.

It's stood me in really good stead, over the years. I imagine that for the young women in the class, for whom the world is a more sexually dangerous place compared to the young men, it was even more valuable. Good sex ed is a super good thing.
posted by Scientist at 9:23 AM on April 28 [17 favorites]


I am a 43 year old woman who has spent all of my life in a major metropolitan area (Los Angeles) and I thought about 7-8 of those 17 lies were true until sometime in my mid-30's. No one ever talked to me about consent or agency.

Damn, fucking shame.

Also, my first time "having sex" was being raped. So when girlfriends in college would ask, "when did you lose it?" questions; they were really complicated for me to answer. Did I want to be the one who brought up rape, or did I want to count the rapist as just another sexual encounter or should I just exclude that one time and pretend to be a "virgin"? Kinda gross all the way around.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:30 AM on April 28 [45 favorites]


To be fair, if they got the "education" I got, lots of girls weren't taught these myths because they weren't taught anything at all besides "don't do it till you're married!"

If I could punch every doctor who ever made the "hot dog down a hallway" comment to convince women to have a c/section (I have heard this from at least three women), I would. If you've got valid medical reasons to recommend surgery over vaginal birth, fine, but that bit of ugly, non-medical misogyny needs to die and die now.
posted by emjaybee at 9:34 AM on April 28 [15 favorites]


A mix of myths and, well, things that don't stop being somewhat true just because we wish they weren't. Namely, sexual violence and harassment are commonplace and yes, normal. We can teach girls to report them but we should also acknowledge that it's often a bad decision to do so.

Oh, and it's not like boys aren't involved in any of this. Sexual assault and harassment aren't solvable by teenage girls, one of the least powerful demographics that exists in the US.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:37 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


If I could punch every doctor who ever made the "hot dog down a hallway" comment to convince women to have a c/section

Wait, what, this is an actual thing in the US?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:40 AM on April 28


my mom, after being torn asunder by a 10lb baby when she was 17, was told by her doctor that he had put in a couple extra "love stitches for your husband." when she gave birth a year and a half later, she ripped even worse because of that.
posted by nadawi at 9:43 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


Wait, what, this is an actual thing in the US?

Anecdotally yes, though of course not universal.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:51 AM on April 28


There are a couple of important confusions in there...though I know that this article is for cheering about, not for analyzing. For example, if sex is real--that is, if there's a real difference between having sex and not having sex--then virginity is real. Someone who hasn't had sex (with someone else, anyway) is a virgin. There's a vague difference between having sex and not having sex, so there's a vague difference between being a virgin and not being a virgin... But lots of real differences are vague differences. As long as there's a clear case of one and a clear case of the other, that's sufficient for there to be a real distinction. So, though virginity doesn't seem to be a terribly important nor interesting property, that doesn't mean that it isn't a real property. Better to teach kids the truth--that it's real but not important--than to teach them something that they'll probably see to be silly.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:53 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Also, my first time "having sex" was being raped. So when girlfriends in college would ask, "when did you lose it?" questions; they were really complicated for me to answer. Did I want to be the one who brought up rape, or did I want to count the rapist as just another sexual encounter or should I just exclude that one time and pretend to be a "virgin"? Kinda gross all the way around.

Seconded. Thankfully I didn't get it much, due to another myth – it was one of the rare periods of my life I was grateful for being the earnest nerdy girl who everyone assumed was a virgin.

Wait, what, this is an actual thing in the US?

It's called the "lovers' knot" or "happy husband stitch" and was also a thing in Western European countries until recently. Web searches bring up more. In French it's "le point du mari" so I imagine other languages keep with the husband-centric language. Sigh.
posted by fraula at 9:54 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


It's called the "lovers' knot" or "happy husband stitch" and was also a thing in Western European countries until recently.

Oh, Western Culture, whenever I need to make a WTF face, you are there for me!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:57 AM on April 28 [33 favorites]


As long as there's a clear case of one and a clear case of the other, that's sufficient for there to be a real distinction.

But is there one? What is "real" sex and who defines it? Who defines what value there is (or has been lost) to having had it?

Depending on how heteronormative the definition is, I might be a more-than-40-year-old virgin!
posted by rtha at 9:58 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]


what is sex? when does it become sex? fingering? oral? penetration? what about just the tip? are rape victims virgins or not virgins (a quandary i've personally dealt with)? do any of the answers change if we're not discussing heterosexual sex? can someone lose their gay and straight virginity?

the concept of virginity is far too hetero-normative and fuzzy to be real in any meaningful sense.
posted by nadawi at 9:58 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]


MartinWisse, I actually heard the hotdog-comment story this very weekend from another woman about her c-section. Even people who have medical degrees and ought to know better say the damndest shit to women about their bodies.
posted by emjaybee at 9:58 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


This list should be the curriculum in every public and private school in the United States.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


i was the promiscuous one in my group of very progressive friends, and i flat out flabbergasted a couple of the women when i assured them i was still super tight. they were positive that with that many partners i would have "stretched out." these were women in long term relationships who had sex on the regular. it finally clicked for them when i asked them why having sex with 30 different guys was any different with regards to stretching than having sex with 1 guy 30 times.

i've also surprised guys because they assumed that my height/bone structure/wide set hips would somehow correlate to the elasticity of my vagina.
posted by nadawi at 10:03 AM on April 28 [16 favorites]


The fact that sex is real doesn't make physical virginity a thing. Waffles are real, but that doesn't make it meaningful to separate the world into people who have eaten waffles and people who haven't.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:04 AM on April 28 [43 favorites]


How about we advocate improving sexual education for everyone? I think trying to turn a complicated topic into a "list" does little to help the cause, but certainly many of the items on the list ought to be taught to both girls and boys and everyone that falls outside in both gender and age.

Perhaps the title should have been "Lies We Need to Stop Teaching People About Sex" and make it a living document, a kind of tvtropes for sex.
posted by ruthsarian at 10:13 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


I was raised Catholic, and my parents were WAY too shy to have any kind of discussion about sex with me when I was growing up (they gave me factual information, but through books and such; my mother would ask me to watch a TV show or something and then nervously ask "do you have any questions?" and then be visibly relieved when I said "no"), so the messages I got about sexual ethics came all from the one special girls-only session that my church had with my youth group.

Nevertheless, I managed to end up being sex-positive and well-informed in matters of health, ethics, consent, equality, and tolerance pretty much from the very beginning of my being sexually active, and even when I was only 19 I would have called out all of these myths as being total bullshit. I have no idea what cosmic powers helped ensure that happened, but I thank them daily.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


They're only barely touching on this with the "boys buy the condoms" one, but my GOD, they are tiptoeing around the fact that IT IS NOT ONLY UP TO A GIRL TO ENSURE A SAFE, COMFORTABLE ATTITUDE AND EXPERIENCE ABOUT SEXUAL MATTERS.

I mean, the number of times I should have given my HS boyfriend the Look of Death and a "...REALLY?" or simply questioned a sketchy plan... but no. Especially not when he was a little older, more experienced and had a better house to hang out at and screw in. And this is a guy -- and his family -- that I care for and trust almost implicitly to this day.

Another thing that would have been really helpful to realize, even at age 27: guys are often even more insecure than girls. NOBODY tells you this, and it harms the guys too.

It's not just about saying no, or refusing the big things. It's about the ability to reject the stupid male bills-of-goods that we seem to think are inevitable. We laugh about them with friends, but then we put up with them anyway because we're told that that's just the way it is.

But it isn't.
posted by Madamina at 10:18 AM on April 28 [27 favorites]


Seconding Scientist: Our Whole Lives is a really excellent sexual education curriculum (and, what's more, the facilitators at my UU church did a lovely job of creating a safe space to learn and talk about issues relating to sexuality) that I wish more young people had access to.

The fact that these attitudes even still exist in our culture is terrible and to-an-extent astonishing to me.
posted by beryllium at 10:26 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


How about we advocate improving sexual education for everyone? I think trying to turn a complicated topic into a "list" does little to help the cause, but certainly many of the items on the list ought to be taught to both girls and boys and everyone that falls outside in both gender and age.

Absolutely. There are plenty of other myths out there pertaining to boys and men's sexuality, and those myths end up affecting women because men believe them and a lot of men partner with women.

For example, lacking a first period as a marker of adulthood, a lot of boys come to think they aren't men until they lose their virginity, which gives them one more reason to seek sex before they're ready, and thus to pressure young women or girls into sex before they're ready.

The lack of attention to the pitfalls of male sexuality from the male perspective is as much of a mistake for feminism as it's lack of attention to male on male violence, which is the majority of violence in the world, and which is often the source of the trauma that leads men to be violent toward women. When we disconnect the progress of genders, we do it at the peril of all genders.

The other thing that seems to be left out of a lot of sex ed is that sex is really really great, especially if you're actively interested in communicating about it and learning to do it better. I hear people complain about bad sex all the time, and while it's certainly politically non-viable for sexual technique and communication to be taught in high school, first semester college classes would be totally legal and appropriate.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:27 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


There are a couple of important confusions in there...though I know that this article is for cheering about, not for analyzing. For example, if sex is real--that is, if there's a real difference between having sex and not having sex--then virginity is real. Someone who hasn't had sex (with someone else, anyway) is a virgin. There's a vague difference between having sex and not having sex, so there's a vague difference between being a virgin and not being a virgin... But lots of real differences are vague differences. As long as there's a clear case of one and a clear case of the other, that's sufficient for there to be a real distinction. So, though virginity doesn't seem to be a terribly important nor interesting property, that doesn't mean that it isn't a real property. Better to teach kids the truth--that it's real but not important--than to teach them something that they'll probably see to be silly.

It's time for another round of Let's Nitpick A Small Verbal Point And Ignore The Larger Substantive One, I guess.

"Virginity" as a concept may exist, but only as a convention, and it isn't a convention based on any physical reality, but only on what people agree it to be, which is how people can claim technical virginity because they didn't do whatever they believe is the thing separating virginity and lost virginity. The definition of "sex" is fluid; so must be the definition of "virginity." That's what meant by "virginity doesn't exist," and the article makes that clear. That's what it says the kids should be taught.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:30 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


I find that list utterly depressing. Many of the things on it would have been laughed at when I was a teen in the seventies. It seems like we haven't merely failed to progress in these matters but have actually gone backwards.
posted by Decani at 10:31 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


The lack of attention to the pitfalls of male sexuality from the male perspective is as much of a mistake for feminism as it's lack of attention to male on male violence

I've called Feminism to alert them of this major oversight.
posted by gorbweaver at 10:31 AM on April 28 [64 favorites]


It's time for another round of Let's Nitpick A Small Verbal Point And Ignore The Larger Substantive One, I guess.

Ignoring, as well, that even very concrete-seeming classification systems break down at the edges of categories, and infinitely more so when so much of the "classification" is based on subjective experience and expectation (as discussed in the article). Having "clear cases" says nothing about the muddled space between those cases. This is especially important when we are going to go build moral and/or legal structures on top of that muddled space.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:37 AM on April 28


lacking a first period as a marker of adulthood

what? many girls get their first periods at 10 or 11, certainly nowhere near adulthood. i don't know any women who felt that was the line from kid to adult, even with all the aunts exclaiming, "you're a woman now!"
posted by nadawi at 10:39 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


what? many girls get their first periods at 10 or 11, certainly nowhere near adulthood.

You're right (I was not quite 11, definitely not an adult!), but I understand what Meanwhile is getting at - first menarche *is* a marker, and boys don't have such a thing, or at least don't have one that is culturally acknowledged as such. For boys, it's something external to them - something they must *do*, and not just a biological fact that occurs.
posted by rtha at 10:44 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Another endorsement for the Our Whole Lives curriculum. And though they are generally held at and sponsored by UU churches, the courses are generally open to be taken by people of any or no denomination or religious background.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:44 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


i dunno - guys are told that when they sprout chest hair or facial hair they're becoming men, which tracks fairly closely to menstruation (and is why so many jr high boys swear up and down they're growing mustaches).

i do agree we need to teach boys differently, but i don't think all conversations have to include them to be worthwhile.
posted by nadawi at 10:46 AM on April 28 [15 favorites]


rtha: You're right (I was not quite 11, definitely not an adult!), but I understand what Meanwhile is getting at - first menarche *is* a marker, and boys don't have such a thing, or at least don't have one that is culturally acknowledged as such.
I believe Kinsey defined a boy entering adolescence at first ejaculation.
posted by chinesefood at 11:02 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I get a seriously heavy Eyes Wide Shut vibe from the images of that Purity Ball.
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:17 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


But what are we actually teaching today's girls about sex?

Who is the "we" in we? Shouldn't this be addressed to parents, who have the primary responsibility for teaching this stuff?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 AM on April 28


I believe Kinsey defined a boy entering adolescence at first ejaculation.

Yeah, but there isn't a whole culture around first ejaculation with special products designed to help clean that "special laundry" or a male-empowerment faction that has, like, drum circles around "first spurting" or anything like that. Menstruation is a weirdly public topic in some ways - it's not something everyone talks about, but the people who do REALLY do - so it's more in the forefront of people's minds as A Thing That Happens Even If No One Talks About It. Wet dreams aren't quite the same thing.

Actually, now I'm thinking what a First Spurting ceremony would actually be like and it is making me giggle.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


> I believe Kinsey defined a boy entering adolescence at first ejaculation.

I think you're correct, but that's something that (as far as I know) isn't regarded culturally (or at least, male culture as it's seen in the U.S.) as "You da man now!" in the way that having intercourse is. A girl's first period may be marked by other women (especially in her family) as a sign of womanhood, but I'm pretty sure the same is not true for the men in a boy's family.

On preview: what Empress said while I was typing.

Who is the "we" in we? Shouldn't this be addressed to parents, who have the primary responsibility for teaching this stuff?

The reality is that an awful lot of parents totally fail at this, and letting kids drift along in ignorance because their parents failed at it is a terrible idea, so I think "we" in this context applies to as many people as possible, ideally.
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


I wonder to what degree celebrating a young woman getting her first period is signaling behavior for "now there's another reason our community needs to protect this woman."

Just a thought.
posted by atbash at 11:29 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


The problem with "virginity" as culturally defined strikes me as two-fold. First, along with it comes the myth that having had intercourse of the penis-and-vagina flavor that both participants are irrevocably changed physically and psychologically. That's not necessarily the case.

And of course, putting that at the center allows for some people to game the definition ala Bill Clinton, and alienates those people who don't consider penis-and-vagina intercourse to be the ultimate act of human sexuality. Putting that form of intercourse at the center, puts every other form of sex into varying degrees of deniability and unreality.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:30 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


even very concrete-seeming classification systems break down at the edges of categories,

This is really the important thing – teaching that classifications are always somewhat arbitrary and don't always break down neatly, and that people are complicated and don't always fit well. The large majority of women are born with vaginas. Some aren't. The majority of people are attracted to people who present as being of the opposite sex. Some people aren't. People who don't fit the majority patterns don't deserve ridicule or shaming or hatred or anything less than full human respect and dignity. That is the bottom line that especially kids should be taught.

Virginity is a little different, because it's not a biological fact like a vagina is. It's a social construction, and since the norms it relies on are no longer universal it makes less and less sense. For technical reasons in a patrilineal society, virginity as a concept makes sense; in such a society it is desirable for men to marry women with intact hymens in order to ensure that any children are the man's genetic children, and property is passed along from biological father to biological son. The further you move from that form of society, the less the idea of virginity actually matters. Even the idea of male virginity doesn't make sense given the reason we have the concept in the first place.
posted by graymouser at 11:34 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


(Note: the above doesn't endorse a patrilineal society where property is passed from biological father to biological son; it only looks at it as the model from which we get our concept of virginity.)
posted by graymouser at 11:36 AM on April 28


The fact that sex is real doesn't make physical virginity a thing.

Virginity, historically, is a family knowing with certainty that when their daughter-in-law conceives, the child she bears will be their own blood and heir. So perhaps it could be argued that virginity isn't even a state of never having had sex, it's a state of it being known and agreed that you've never even had an opportunity for sex. (The woman would know for sure that the child she bears is hers, so male virginity didn't matter so much on a practical level)

Ima take this view: Virginity isn't a thing, because paternity tests are.
posted by anonymisc at 11:39 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


I wonder to what degree celebrating a young woman getting her first period is signaling behavior for "now there's another reason our community needs to protect this woman."

What? It's not like a rapist is going to stop and ask his victim if she's had her first period yet or not.
posted by elizardbits at 11:39 AM on April 28


It's not like a rapist is going to stop and ask his victim if she's had her first period yet or not.

yyyyeah, but it's also generally understood that first periods happen by the age of 12 or 13 or so, so there's a difference already between a rapist and a rapist-who-is-also-a-pedophile.

I mean, I hear you, but I think the "won't someone think of the children" is already in place to protect prepubescent girls, and "now she is a woman" is where she transitions into a different kind of overprotective fretting going on, is the thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on April 28


i don't think all conversations have to include [boys] to be worthwhile

I think this one does. The myths boys get told reinforce the ones in the article: e.g. "sex will hurt sometimes"/"real men don't use lube---if you do you're a failure for not being sexy enough"; "good girls don't like sex"/"if she sleeps with you, she's a slut"; and so on.

I'm convinced teenage sex-ed has to talk to all genders, together, simultaneously. Segregation on this, for the past century or more, has done huge damage to everyone concerned. Partners need to learn instead how to communicate and empathise. Segregation leads to internalized norms and separate rules for girls and boys.
posted by bonehead at 11:45 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Who is the "we" in we? Shouldn't this be addressed to parents, who have the primary responsibility for teaching this stuff?

But it's society in general that perpetuates this stuff. Yes parents, but they and the children themselves are influenced by the media they consume, the things their friends/colleagues/misc acquaintances say and do, the law and how it is enforced, etc. I guess if all kids got repeated age-appropriate science-based sex ed from their parents instead of being completely educated by rumor and inference, maybe society would also true up to biological facts after a while, but I think this is one of those village things.

And even if we had an excellent comprehensive parental sex education thing going on, kids still aren't going to always believe their parents, especially about the stuff that even when true sounds like complete bullshit. They're always going to cross-check with peers and media, and they're always going to invent some myths and accidental truths.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:56 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I really don't think it's a "but what about the mens!" derail to say that it would be in everybody's interest for teenage boys as well as girls to hear some of this stuff from a woman's point of view.

I sure know that the majority of any clues I have about treating women like human beings come from listening to women.
posted by straight at 11:57 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


Seems like #1 and #2 could have been combined into one item, but maybe they like prime numbers.

The concept of "It's normal and OK if you do want to have sex AND it's normal and OK if you don't, is a really tough one for young people to accept. So much of their social reality for years has been drumming it into them that there's only one normal, acceptable way to be on every matter, and that Variation = Bad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:12 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Virginity, historically, is a family knowing with certainty that when their daughter-in-law conceives, the child she bears will be their own blood and heir. So perhaps it could be argued that virginity isn't even a state of never having had sex, it's a state of it being known and agreed that you've never even had an opportunity for sex. (The woman would know for sure that the child she bears is hers, so male virginity didn't matter so much on a practical level)

On an idealized level, possibly. On a practical level, history seems to record an abundance of first children well within nine months after the wedding. Puritans often get criticized as anti-sex, but their midwives talked about orgasm, recorded a lot of healthy early infants, and apparently the practice of bundling among betrothed youths wasn't quite as innocent as was claimed by my history teachers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:14 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


i don't think all conversations have to include [boys] to be worthwhile

I mean, they do insofar as dismantling these myths has to go both ways. Boys need to be taught that the male-centric myths about sexuality and the general narrative of the patriarchy is also shitty for them. Just as it's imperative to educate young girls that virginity isn't some black and white concept/some weird "gift" or whatever they can only give once/something they lose and then everything is ruined, so boys need to be taught that virginity isn't something to be "taken," having sex with "virgins" isn't some kind of grail, etc. I mean there are always two sides to this coin. Women need to be told that saying no at any time is okay, and boys need to be taught the same. Men who grow up to have these notions about sexual dominance, a sense of deserving sex (because of being a man or buying dinner), of women's vaginas "stretching out" - they were taught this from a young age. Empowering young people means in part teaching them they don't have to do anything they don't want to - and this goes both ways. Girls can be taught to say no, boys can be taught that it doesn't make them less of a man or whatever to not be a neanderthal.

I grew up in a culture where I basically had 0 sex education. Every year my parents would write a note to my school and pull me out of sex ed. I would sit in the library for those weeks and do reports on science-y stuff instead, which okay, science is good, but the major downside is I never learned about sex. All I learned was that it was bad, the absolute worst thing, and you had to save it for marriage. Promise rings, True Love Waits, etc abounded.

This led to things that were actually kind of tragic at the time but sort of funny looking back. I remember a friend of mine (also an Evangelical and pulled out of sex ed), telling me how he "beat off" one day by slapping his erection (literally beating it) until it was numb, and this is what we thought it was to masturbate (this is when we were well into normal masturbating years for most young boys). We were told never to marry a girl who wasn't "pure," though it was never exactly clear what that meant. Babies came from marriages - that's it. When you got married, God would just magically bless you with a child if you loved each other enough. When my buddy asked his dad what an erection was, all his dad said was that it was "for better aim." I mean, these aren't horrible explanations when you're five - but when you're a teenager?

In high school I finally convinced my parents to let me take sex ed, and I passed out in class the very first day from an anxiety attack when a diagram of a vagina was put on the overhead. I never returned to sex ed.

Luckily for me, I ended up dating a very progressive and much more sexually educated/liberated girl in high school, who was very patient with me and taught me everything I missed. Getting my sex ed from her perspective was actually amazing in a lot ways, as I never got a lot of the weird myths and was able to start with a sort of tabula rasa and just discover things. Losing our virginity was a big deal when it happened, but we didn't have a bunch of expectations about pain and blood and whatever. I never expected her to be waxed or worried about stretching her out or whatever.

I'm not sure exactly what the point of this story is other than sex ed is just so fucking important. It really is. And not just any sex ed but sex ed that dispels these myths and teaches boys that sex isn't power or manliness and teachers girls that sex isn't the thing they need to use as social currency. Of course, some lessons in anatomy, including the fun bits, should probably be thrown in as well. I think generally internet porn is not helpful either for this whole thing, and, because kids will definitely watch porn, there should be some sort of "also sex is not like porn" lesson in there.

I'm really not convinced this is the sort of thing that should be left to parents. Because it won't happen, is one reason, but also because parents are too invested, they have too much emotional baggage in the whole thing. And while I never really got the "talk," I've always wondered who wouldn't want to leave that to the teachers? Seems like it would be a relief to have a third party go over the specifics.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:15 PM on April 28 [35 favorites]


I'm utterly amazed that this fpp hasn't been brought up yet. Basically, most of what you hear and is spread around as The Good Word on female bodied virginity is bullshit.

Yeah, I really don't think it's a "but what about the mens!" derail to say that it would be in everybody's interest for teenage boys as well as girls to hear some of this stuff from a woman's point of view.

I sure know that the majority of any clues I have about treating women like human beings come from listening to women.


Yea. I mean, i went to a weird alternative high school and was homeschooled before that. All my friends at that time, and most of my friends through high school were weird compared to your average everyday person and we'd talk about a lot of stuff people usually weren't as open about.

My intro to the actual scope of how weird boys are raised to be came from girls, and young women i knew talking about the shit they constantly had to put up with.

Our sex ed/health class was pretty awesome, they had us put condoms on dildos! it also addressed it from the perspective of teaching everyone about the hetero and homo stuff(and i've heard they've now graduated to also including "woman != vagina, man != penis" sort of stuff too).

But, it completely skipped over the "here's how to not be a shitty dude and realize how you're existing programming thusfar about male sexuality and being a dude in society has some bad stuff and holes", and the flip side of "you don't need to do XYZ to be a woman either" which is like... yea... desperately needed.

A lot of people are finding that stuff out on their own online, but that's obviously a small minority because shit doesn't seem to be slowing down in the suck department.
posted by emptythought at 12:19 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


the problem is if it's insisted that every single conversation, not just the overarching conversation, has to include men, the concerns of women get pushed to the side. there's a reason why we know exactly how men's genitals work and we're still learning what the actual shape of the clitoris is. i'm not saying only change sex ed for girls. i'm saying this thread which as a specific focus should be able to keep that focus.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 PM on April 28 [12 favorites]


It would help end the myth about virginity if in the article that started with ending the myth about virginity didn't end by perpetuating the myth about virginity "for lack of a better term." It is pretty easy to ask people when they first had consensual sex and allow them to define what constitutes sex.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:27 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


While it's true that boys need to be taught this stuff, too - no one should expect properly sex-educated women to put up with dangerous, bullshit-addled men - to my eyes, the point is taking up an awful lot of space in a thread about the sex myths taught to girls.

On preview, what nadawi said.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:27 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I think generally internet porn is not helpful either for this whole thing, and, because kids will definitely watch porn, there should be some sort of "also sex is not like porn" lesson in there.

Internet porn is actively detrimental. You want to teach boys not to be shitty towards/objectify girls? Lots and lots of internet porn is teaching them the exact opposite.
posted by kgasmart at 12:39 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


to my eyes, the point is taking up an awful lot of space in a thread about the sex myths taught to girls.

Sure, but one strong implication of this article is that teenage girls expect sex to be bad, and see harassment and assault as normal. What is the point of telling them otherwise like the problem is their ignorance? Are they harrassing themselves? Focusing solely on girls' and women's behavior is a common approach to "counteracting" rape culture, and it's a sexist approach.

Had this stayed in the realm of debunking sex myths I would not feel this way, but it starts by talking about assault and harassment.

Tell me, how is a 15-year-old girl "knowing" that she can say no during sex going to stop boys at her school from harrassing her? Or stop her boyfriend from ignoring her preferences anyway because he feels entitled? It's a listicle with social justice pretentons, but it falls far short of the mark. A girl should be able to be profoundly ignorant about any number of things without being subject to an atmosphere of normalized sexual violence. They have little to nothing to do with each other.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:40 PM on April 28 [29 favorites]


that study by sociologist heather hlavka in the fpp is some incredible reading - especially the section where 13ish year old girls talk about how they're treated and how they brush it off because it's just something that happens to everyone. i remember getting confusion from the boys and girls in my 9th grade class when i objected to the way one of the popular boys would feel all the girls up and make harassing, sexually explicit phone calls - "oh, that's just travis. just hold your backpack in front of you when you pass him" with a certain undertone of, "what, do you think you're special?"
posted by nadawi at 12:41 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


the post is much more than just the list and answers some of those question, the young rope-rider - a big problem as identified in the study linked seems to be that girls aren't calling things they're experiencing harassment or assault even though it fits all available official definitions - they're so conditioned to acquiesce that it doesn't occur to them that they can report the behavior. i agree that women can't stop men harassing or assaulting them, but there is still value in teaching them to name what is happening to them - which is part of what debunking the myths is about.
posted by nadawi at 12:44 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Tell me, how is a 15-year-old girl "knowing" that she can say no during sex going to stop boys at her school from harrassing her? Or stop her boyfriend from ignoring her preferences anyway because he feels entitled? It's a listicle with social justice pretentons, but it falls far short of the mark. A girl should be able to be profoundly ignorant about any number of things without being subject to an atmosphere of normalized sexual violence. They have little to nothing to do with each other.

You know, I think I'm walking back at least a little bit from my last comment, but this is a good point.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:45 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


The once you start having sex you aren't allowed to stop thing seems to be really true and disturbing. And luckily has never been something I personally bought into.

But god it's amazing how many stories I've heard from friends about god awful or painful sex and every time I'd be like, what he wouldn't stop when you told him to stop and/or it hurt? Every time, they neither told the guy to stop or that they were in pain. Hell I've known two friends who got mad when the guys stopped on their own accord after they could tell something was wrong and they got mad because they felt like they had failed for not seeing it through. So bizarre and I think leads to a cycle of bad sex because people aren't speaking up when something is wrong or they just aren't enjoying themselves.
posted by whoaali at 12:45 PM on April 28


The definition of "sex" is fluid; so must be the definition of "virginity."

I think it would be awesome if losing your virginity was redefined as when you first had great sex (consensual and mind-blowing-ly pleasurable for both [or err, all] parties). "You're not a man until you've lost your virginity" takes on a whole different tone. Still a virgin? Keep on practicing, you'll get there.

And man, if slut was re-defined, as someone, who has and is able to have great sex with a lot of different parties, well, it'd be like the old kung-fu grandmaster system. People would be lining up to learn/improve their sexual craft from these grandmaster sluts.
posted by comradechu at 12:49 PM on April 28 [11 favorites]


the post is much more than just the list and answers some of those question, the young rope-rider - a big problem as identified in the study linked seems to be that girls aren't calling things they're experiencing harassment or assault even though it fits all available official definitions - they're so conditioned to acquiesce that it doesn't occur to them that they can report the behavior. i agree that women can't stop men harassing or assaulting them, but there is still value in teaching them to name what is happening to them - which is part of what debunking the myths is about.

If someone reports violence or harassment, then what? I firmly believe that people have a good grasp of their social environment, and that likely they are right to assume based on the culture of unchecked aggression that reporting will have only downsides for them, or that they have "nothing" to report.

If my daughter were raped I would want her first phone call to be to me, not the police. That's not because I'm ignorant. Rather the opposite. It is more than clear to me that the police cannot be trusted alone with a victim of sexual assault and that reporting a rape can have serious downsides.

Likewise, while girls should absolutely know that harassment and assault are wrong, they are absolutely not in need of education regarding its normalcy in the context in which they live. It is normal. Abhorrent, and completely normal. How will educating them change that? Will they suddenly be empowered to hand out suspensions? Sentence people to juvenile hall? Get the rape kits tested? Oh, none of those? I thought knowledge was power! Turns out, it's not; DNA evidence and video proof are barely power when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

Maybe once these behaviors are unacceptable in reality and not just in theory, girls' attitudes towards them will change. A boy getting kicked off the football team for snapping a bra strap would be one hell of a lesson, wouldn't it?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:08 PM on April 28 [17 favorites]


Puritans often get criticized as anti-sex, but their midwives talked about orgasm, recorded a lot of healthy early infants, and apparently the practice of bundling among betrothed youths wasn't quite as innocent as was claimed by my history teachers.

Yes, many cultures that have officially proscribed sex before marriage have made exceptions for engaged couples, even retroactively.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:13 PM on April 28


Okay, since now three people have brought it up, I just I'll chime in on this

[About the UU sex ed program] It's stood me in really good stead, over the years. I imagine that for the young women in the class, for whom the world is a more sexually dangerous place compared to the young men, it was even more valuable. Good sex ed is a super good thing.

While I do feel like I got a lot out of getting comprehensive sex ed early through the UU church (especially in terms of biology and safe sex etc.), it is not in all ways a perfect solution, especially for young women. Succinctly put, I feel like my experience getting taught really liberal sex ed early was that I was completely blindsided by the Way the World Worked when I matured in highschool/college. They offer the curriculum early -- like 12 or 13 years old -- which is good in some ways, but also I think has the effect of being one of the first things that young women learn about sex. Or at least it was for me. And all of the "sex is great" "everyone is sexual" "you are not less of a human being for enjoying sex" etc. talk I think can be powerful, but it's hard to hear that without being exposed to what that message is reacting to. Because the truth of the matter is, mainstream culture still subscribes to most of the 17 myths listed in the article, and will absolutely punish young women who refuse to. I'm not saying that young women shouldn't refuse -- because that stuff is wack as hell -- but that it's also important to give women a healthy understanding that the world is still very hostile to them, and basically they need to watch their freaking backs. I get that that is a downer, and I imagine that would be a fairly scary thing to say to a 12-13 year old young woman, but it is essential as hell.

That being said, I got exposed to the UU sex ed program in is infant stages, so maybe it's gotten a bit better about that since.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:19 PM on April 28 [12 favorites]


i think there's great value in telling girls that it's not ok the way they're treated and teaching them the words to describe it and letting them know they're not alone. it might not fix the whole broken system, and it might not give them the power to punish the boys, but i survived my teenage years by finding the words to describe the rape, assault, and harassment i suffered.

you say you want your daughter to call you if she's raped - what the linked study is saying is that it's possible, and even likely, that she won't because she won't even know that's what just happened.
posted by nadawi at 1:22 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


i should also say, i really agree with much of what you're saying, the young rope-rider - just that there's a lot going on with all of this and part of that is helping girls find the vocabulary and support until we find a way to untangle the ratking of patriarchy.
posted by nadawi at 1:35 PM on April 28 [10 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: Yeah, but there isn't a whole culture around first ejaculation with special products designed to help clean that "special laundry" or a male-empowerment faction that has, like, drum circles around "first spurting" or anything like that. Menstruation is a weirdly public topic in some ways - it's not something everyone talks about, but the people who do REALLY do - so it's more in the forefront of people's minds as A Thing That Happens Even If No One Talks About It. Wet dreams aren't quite the same thing.

Let's start selling ejaculation pads. I look forward to brainstorming the TV ads to go with them.
posted by Joh at 1:37 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Those ads are going to feature some anonymous blue sludge aren't they. Like, a half cup of it or something. Oh man I can't wait.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:41 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Let's start selling ejaculation pads.

SweatSock Brand, I hope.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:56 PM on April 28


I like the collegiate effort to rebrand "the walk of shame" as "the stride of pride."

Because, seriously. You had sex with someone you liked -- what shame can there possibly be in that? You RULE!
posted by jfwlucy at 2:01 PM on April 28 [14 favorites]


I really wish I'd had someone in between the abstinence only sex ed ad reading Dan Savage's columns, with all of their transphobia, misogyny and general denial of asexuality, because they made me feel like there were certain acts I was obligated to do in order to stay in a relationship and that I was weird/damaged goods/etc if I didn't want to do them. There's some good stuff in a lot of sex-pos educational material but a lot of it swings so far on the "everyone is sexual" thing to "not being sexual or not wanting to engage in some sexual experiences is weird/bad", and that sort of stuff had me believing a lot of stuff about sex that wasn't true and that kept me engaging in sexual activities I didn't want and staying with a coercive partner because I thought I had to.

It's the sort of stuff that could've maybe been prevented if I'd had someone teach me about consent and my personal right to refuse anything. The social convention of men wheedling/women pushing back, especially with "pushing back" being something that "good girls" do, is a big part of rape culture and something that I, at least, was given very little tools against.
posted by NoraReed at 2:13 PM on April 28 [27 favorites]


likeatoaster, as it happens I work with a UU church that is doing O.W.L., and would be interested in hearing more about what might have helped you/didn't help; I can pass it along to our instructors and maybe we can add to the materials a bit (or see if it's already been improved since you took it). Feel free to memail me.
posted by emjaybee at 2:24 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I really wish I'd had someone in between the abstinence only sex ed ad reading Dan Savage's columns, with all of their transphobia, misogyny and general denial of asexuality, because they made me feel like there were certain acts I was obligated to do in order to stay in a relationship and that I was weird/damaged goods/etc if I didn't want to do them. There's some good stuff in a lot of sex-pos educational material but a lot of it swings so far on the "everyone is sexual" thing to "not being sexual or not wanting to engage in some sexual experiences is weird/bad", and that sort of stuff had me believing a lot of stuff about sex that wasn't true and that kept me engaging in sexual activities I didn't want and staying with a coercive partner because I thought I had to.


Yes, I feel very ambivalent about "GGG."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:30 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


One of the things I don't think that sex-positivism does well is the idea that sexuality changes over long periods of time and "yeah" this year might be "nope" next year or "huh?" the year after that. To be fair, Bright wrote about a period of extended celibacy. But when it comes to frequency of sex in relationships, a lot of people strike me as awfully conservative in saying that not putting out on a weekly basis is a sign of a moribund or abusive relationship.

At middle-age, I think I'm entitled to my dry spells. I also think I'm entitled to a certain degree of self-awareness that there are things I like, things I hate, and things I'll go along with for my partner.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:04 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Those ads are going to feature some anonymous blue sludge aren't they. Like, a half cup of it or something. Oh man I can't wait.

And don't forget walking on the beach in white trousers, inexplicably leading a horse.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:11 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


walking on the beach in white trousers, inexplicably leading a horse

Okay, wait a minute. What's the character limit on usernames?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:13 PM on April 28 [19 favorites]


I like the collegiate effort to rebrand "the walk of shame" as "the stride of pride."

I think it's cooler to say you just had some hot hot shame and you need to take a shower because your hair is all messed up.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:28 PM on April 28


Joh - I look forward to brainstorming the TV ads to go with them.

May be apropos - Elaine and Mason's Misters
posted by asok at 3:32 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I was talking to some straight women I knew in college once about sex and they started in on the pain they had with penis-in-vagina sex. I asked them why they had sex in ways that hurt them and they stared at me and made clear that this wasn't a question they had ever thought to ask.

I've also been in way too many conversations where straight people thought it was their business to define what constituted "sex" for the rest of us.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:08 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


When I think about sex ed, I remember a couple of summers ago, sitting down with my very dear friend (forty-ish, as am I) and her niece (age 14) following the niece's outing at a camping/drinking/bonfire/redneck overnight function. The niece had consumed multiple beers and then fallen asleep/passed out alone in the back of her grandma's car. We were concerned and furious about this behavior for the obvious reason.

We sat there, at the kitchen table, over omelets and scrapple, because we had to explain to a fourteen year old girl that the reason it wasn't a good idea to get totally plastered while at social functions of this nature wasn't that there was a drinking age or that her parents would be mad or some similar reason. (Those were good reasons but not the real reason.) The REAL reason one didn't drink too much and then fall asleep/pass out in grandma's car at this sort of function was that there existed dudes, some of them rather grown up and icky but also some who looked like nice guys, some who were not spottable among the general run of men and boys, who would take a passed-out her as available and willing for sex. Despite the fact that she was fourteen. Despite the fact that she was passed out. Despite the fact that these people were allegedly friends, or at least people she knew socially. Despite the fact that other people were around. Despite the fact that she might wake up and be all "No, stop!" And at three in the morning, when everyone else had stumbled off to campers and tents and horse trailers and so forth, there would be nobody to hear her scream. Welcome to rape culture, kiddo.
posted by which_chick at 4:43 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


Adding this: the G-Spot is not a myth [mostly technical but probably nsfw].
posted by nickyskye at 5:09 PM on April 28


I am really uncomfortable with the way virginity is discussed, primarily because the drive to make it entirely about 'good sex' or 'applicable to each and every sort of gender and sexual encounter' missed the really quite pertinent point that without either serious bad luck + ejaculate on and around a vagina, penis-in-vagina sex does move you from the '0% chance of pregnancy' to 'some % above 0 chance of pregnancy' group. Yes, I know, that doesn't apply to penetrative sex between two people with vaginas, or penis', and there are blurry edge cases, with intercrural heterosexual sex, and anal sex, and birth control, but dismissing the concept entirely strikes me as just another way gender neutralising something completely invisibilises the female body.

In short - before I had a penis in my vagina, I had 0 chance of pregnancy. Afterwards, I had some chance. That does make a difference in terms of self I think, but also in terms of risk and responsibility. As a standard it doesn't map well outside of a very specific sexual congress, but I don't think ignoring the way in which that risk changes is helpful either.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:22 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


By that logic, virginity should be restored every time you menstruate.

The fact is that virginity as a social construct is a social leftover from a world that required firm control over women's sexuality so that men don't accidentally give their inheritance/names to kids who aren't theirs. And that's shitty for many reasons, but the major ones are that it denies women agency and control over their own bodies and treats them as objects to be controlled/owned/protected by men, it erases queer people, and educating people based on it means that they don't get good information about protecting themselves from STIs.
posted by NoraReed at 5:41 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


missed the really quite pertinent point that without either serious bad luck + ejaculate on and around a vagina, penis-in-vagina sex does move you from the '0% chance of pregnancy' to 'some % above 0 chance of pregnancy' group

Then we really need a new/different way of talking about someone who has moved (even once!) from 0% chance of pregnancy to something more than 0%, and surely we can do that without making it about this antiquated and really unhelpfully non-specific concept of "virginity." Maybe instead we could talk about penis-in-vagina sex, which is a phrase that to me is much superior because it's very much not a euphemism or a metaphor for anything else.
posted by rtha at 5:46 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


We could call it "crossing the Procreation Possibility Barrier" or PPB.

"Oh man, it was intense, we went from our usual to crossing the PPB last night."

"Did you use protection?"

"Uh, I had my IUD put in last year, dumbass, remember, you went with me?"

"Oh yeah. Man, I was so hungover that day."
posted by emjaybee at 6:11 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying I *like* the term, but that as a personal concept going from 'no chance' to 'some chance' of being pregnant and all that entails is...heavy duty. I know, for some people it isn't, and all of that, but I think we do kids a disservice when we try and flatten our discussions of sex to overtly gender neutralised and sexuality neutralised concepts without also accepting and discussing the embodied ways sex is different. We can't use a blanket term like 'sex' if we're going to include oral sex in the category as PIV sex, and expect it to make sense. The particular genitalia and how it's used are vital to the conversation and talking about there being 'no difference' to a woman before and after the first instance of PIV sex is inane for want of a better word. Yes, actually, that changed me because I went from being not at risk of pregnancy to being at risk (even using birth control because that shit fails sometimes). That was a conceptual, physical and emotional change for me, one that has some really intense consequences, and lolololol hungover IUD dismisses that change and the intensity of the risks.

We're not talking adults here, we're talking teenagers, with all the hormonal and physical maelstroms that entails.

And, even though I have a mirena, there's a difference in the quality of late period freakout if I have had sex and if I haven't. The possibility of pregnancy is reliant on some fairly granular physical iterations, right, but that doesn't render it meaningless just because it doesn't apply if I have sex with a woman.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:39 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Ugh, sorry NoraReed, completely glossed over your comment there. The concept of virginity as the social thing that defines sex does erase queer sex and queer people, but flipping it over to deny the very specific risks and consequences of PIV heterosexual sex just then erases and denies female bodies.

I don't know what the solution is, I just don't think it lies in erasing female experiences because they can't be neatly expanded to include everyone in every other situation. Education that is specific and inclusive does make a difference, and I think that needs to include the ways in which PIV sex has a set of risks that are not equivalent in other forms of sex.

I know it gets a little, I don't know, spiritual I guess (with shades of vile preacher misogyny that I'm trying to avoid) but possibilities of pregnancy can change us as well. Going through the thought exercise of abortion, or adoption, or how will this change my life, or that realisation of 'oh god I never want to parent with this person who may have fertilised an egg inside me', or any number of things like that, have ongoing and sometimes wide ranging effects on a person. It's not like possible STI, or rumour mills, or whatever - it's the possibility of creating a child with a person and that has a different set of difficulties.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:47 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


None of that would be reduced in meaningfulness if we had certain associations with PIV sex without associations with virginity. I'm not a virgin if I have sex with 1 man once or a thousand ten times but I'm a lot more likely to get knocked up in case of the latter. I'm not saying that possible pregnancy doesn't matter or should be eliminated; I'm saying that putting that emphasis on *one sexual interaction* is fucking ridiculous.

Also, women aren't the only people who have pregnancy risk; some trans men do as well.
posted by NoraReed at 6:53 PM on April 28


I think it would be more fun if your virginity was a persistent thing. If you give your virginity to someone else, you lose it but it doesn't magically vanish; they gain it! Then if someone takes that person's virginity (which used to be your virginity) then that third person now has it instead. Your virginity could travel around the country, much like a dollar bill. Would it stay in town, close to home, being swapped back and forth, or would it travel the world, making love in exotic distant lands?
Could you give it a Facebook account and check in on it every now and then to see how it's doing and where it's at?

Having it merely vanish seems like a waste of the concept. :)
posted by anonymisc at 7:04 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


NoraReed: "Also, women aren't the only people who have pregnancy risk; some trans men do as well."

That's part of my point I guess - our definitions and experiences of gender are changing, and in ways that mean talking about PIV sex and pregnancy need to change as well, and some of the ways they've changed are not encompassing reality which is a penis in a vagina, regardless of the gender of the genital-having people, has a risk set that is different to, say, a man and a woman having sex (if we're including oral, or both the man and the woman have vaginas/penis' and so on). And the risk of pregnancy from PIV is a socialised risk as well - a man having sex with a transwoman who has had surgery may or may not know her risk for pregnancy, but the assumption is that she will have that risk, regardless of her own individual factors. It's something that falls on both women and people who have vaginas, even when their own risk factor for pregnancy is nil (infertility, surgery, menopause and so on).

I mean, now I'm thinking about 'well, what if your first experience of PIV sex is post-menopausal' and getting sort of metaphysical about it, but the desire to make a granular rule that applies to every single person everywhere individually is impossible, at the same time that it's important to talk very explicitly about penis' and vaginas and not just women/men/people. For all that I did exactly that like an idiot, using 'female' as shorthand for 'having a vagina'.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:13 PM on April 28


Yeah, but lots of experiences change us. Losing a parent is a big one, for instance, but there's not a word that really means "someone whose parent hasn't died" so that we can divide up the world by labeling people that way.
posted by jaguar at 7:21 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


likeatoaster: ...I think has the effect of being one of the first things that young women learn about sex. Or at least it was for me. And all of the "sex is great" "everyone is sexual" "you are not less of a human being for enjoying sex" etc. talk I think can be powerful, but it's hard to hear that without being exposed to what that message is reacting to.

I think I'm a bit younger than the other people who have chimed in on this thread about the sex ed curricula developed by UUs (I took OWL in 2002-3), and my understanding is that this has been modulated considerably in the transition from AYS to OWL: I remember hearing both sides of "it's okay to enjoy sex" and "it's okay not to"; there was a lesson where we anonymously shared and discussed experiences of sexual harassment we had observed; and there were some discussions/roleplaying situations, I think? about how to deal with situations in which one was pressured to have sex. There are also now versions of the curriculum for all ages, including for elementary schoolers, for high schoolers and for young adults and adults as well as for middle schoolers, so it's possible for the course to be offered earlier or later in life if that's a helpful thing.

I think it was a good thing for me to have as early as I did (also age 12-13) and I feel like it gave me almost as good of a grounding in attitudes toward sexuality as I can reasonably imagine. However, I think, even as a woman, I've had much less direct exposure to the ways in which society is hostile to women than most young women do due to various life circumstances, so I may not be the best person to speak to how it prepared me. But it does seem to me to be very much better than pretty much anything else out there I know of, even if it could always use additional improvements.

(I think I remember hearing that the curriculum has recently been being revised but now I can't find evidence of this. The two things I personally would want to see covered that weren't very much back in 2003 are gender identity and trans* issues (I think these might have been touched on briefly, maybe, but didn't make a huge impression? I know they could be done really powerfully and I hope they are now) and asexuality (even just knowing that this was a thing and that there are actually people who never experience sexual attraction and still have totally rich and fulfilling lives would have been helpful), but I suspect both of these were a function of the time and are probably already in the process of being fixed.)
posted by beryllium at 7:22 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


The following is hideously reductivist and probably just plain wrong on any number of counts and I would never attempt to seriously defend it. It is only an attempt to follow a line of thought all the way to its conclusion, without stopping for anything.

anonymisc: "Virginity, historically, is a family knowing with certainty that when their daughter-in-law conceives, the child she bears will be their own blood and heir. "

Bingo. The concept of female virginity (and its relationship to marriage eligibility) is an obvious gambit to establish the paternity of the children born to the legitimate husband. In the absence of any reliable paternity tests, the only way for a male to be absolutely sure that the children he is raising and supporting are biologically his is for him to have exclusive sexual access to his mates; women, on the other hand, can be assured that they are the biological mothers of all their children, by default.

This is true across animal ecology, and would be a simple truism if not for the fact that it drives so much of reproductive behavior. You can see it play out in insects (spermatophores that glue the female's ovipores shut), reptiles (mate-guarding behavior in Anolis lizards), and primates (monogamy, "virginity") and almost anywhere else you look. On the whole, it crops up more in species where the males invest lots of energy in their offspring, and where opportunities for males to reproduce are limited.

The thing is, it's not always in the female's best interest to allow a single male exclusive sexual access to her – if you're going to have multiple children it often makes sense to sample a broader slice of the overall gene pool, rather than so-to-speak monocropping your offspring. Nor do females need to have exclusive access to males in order to know they are putting their investment into their own genetic progeny; even reciprocal monogamy is less valuable (all else being equal) to them than it is to males.

Set it up in a highly intelligent but pre-lingual hominid where the males are physically stronger than the females, have them invent language and culture, stir, and there you have it: The Patriarchy.
posted by Scientist at 7:31 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


In norma klein's late 70's It's OK if you don't love me (set in Nyc)Jody and her sex ed classmates have a discussion about the right to say no. I can't remember if she attends a public or private school.
posted by brujita at 7:44 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


jaguar: "Yeah, but lots of experiences change us. Losing a parent is a big one, for instance, but there's not a word that really means "someone whose parent hasn't died" so that we can divide up the world by labeling people that way."

I'm obviously not being very clear, probably because I'm still musing on it all, but I don't think it should be something that a culture uses to divide up the world but as something internal we acknowledge. Or at least acknowledge that it can be absolutely momentous, instead of trying to devalue any emotional associations the individuals doing the fucking might have - which is what 'virginity is a dumb social construct because men think their penis has the power to change a woman' does. It implies, as does likening having had sex to having eaten waffles. When waffles can saddle me with an unwanted pregnancy at an age that it's dangerous, get back to me on how 'useless' the social construct of virginity is.

Does it makes sense to divvy up the world based on who has put what where? No. Does it makes sense to emotionally and physically and intellectually discuss the risks and what said putting of things in places means? Yes. Taking the first step - virginity is a social construct rooted in fertility control, patriarchy and misogyny - is useless without the second step of - but there is actually a difference between sex that includes PIV and sex that does not. And to me that includes addressing the emotional impact of phantom pregnancies (you know the ones, where you spend SO MUCH TIME on this possible embryonic thing only to get your period slightly late) and that's why PIV can be a bigger deal, emotionally and physically, than other forms of sex.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:50 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


that's why PIV can be a bigger deal, emotionally and physically, than other forms of sex.

Can be, certainly. But I think you're extrapolating here in ways that may not be useful. I'm a hetero woman, and (a) I have never had anything close to the experience you're describing, and (b) I could be wrong, but I suspect that for gay people, their first same-sex encounter may be just as momentous emotionally as you're describing.

Yes, of course, pregnancy and pregnancy risks should be discussed in sex ed. But those have nothing to do with virginity, and I think that assigning all the emotional meaning you are to PIV sex exclusively is problematic. Not because women's experiences aren't important, but because they're so varied that putting all sorts of automatic meaning onto one experience is almost always going to miss the mark for a lot of women -- and when it does so while simultaneously holding up patriarchal ideals, I think it's worth discarding that narrative and rethinking what we actually mean.
posted by jaguar at 8:57 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


I mean, anal sex caries the biggest risk for HIV transmission, so there are tremendous risks there, too, plus there can be enormous emotional consequences when you factor in homophobia, patriarchal notions of penentrated vs. penetrator, etc. You could almost word-for-word write your last description about anal sex -- does that make it "a bigger deal, physically and emotionally, than other kinds of sex"? Or does it just mean that different forms of sex may have different meaning and weight for different people? (And I absolutely think that point should be addressed in sex ed.)
posted by jaguar at 9:01 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Re: the question of rape as a sexual experience, here's this from Sexual Assault on Campus: The Problem and the Solution by Carol Bohmer and Andrea Parrot (1993):
Linda Sanford, author of Women and Self Esteem, says, "If I hit you over the head with a rolling pin, you wouldn't call it cooking, would you?" In the same way, if a penis is used to commit violence, it does not make the act sex.
posted by bryon at 10:23 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


5 Offensive Analogies Abstinence-Only Lessons Use To Tell Teens Sex Makes Them Dirty
posted by homunculus at 10:39 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


In a Bizarre 1976 Comic Book, Spider-Man Fought the Villain of Misleading Sex Education

posted by Joe in Australia at 2:15 AM on April 29


I'm not saying I *like* the term, but that as a personal concept going from 'no chance' to 'some chance' of being pregnant and all that entails is...heavy duty.

The risks of pregnancy are primarily a matter of behavior not status. Women who have been sexually active and are making informed choices regarding sexual behavior and contraception appear to be at lower risk for pregnancy than self-defined virgins trying tying to game the definition.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:08 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


5 Offensive Analogies Abstinence-Only Lessons Use To Tell Teens Sex Makes Them Dirty

i have heard the used tape, chewed gum, and damaged rose all in (mormon) church - and two they didn't list - the wrapped present and the licked cupcake.

the lessons were all the same - the young women would take the object, see how damaged it got with handling or licking or chewing, and then we were told that's what we were doing with the "gift" the lord intended for our husband. through other lessons it was reinforced that rape removed your purity and you'd have to repent and find a very special man who would take a damaged gift.

recently i learned that the young men received similar lessons, with one major change - instead of being told they were defiling themselves, they were told they were mucking up another dude's gift and asked how sad would they be if they got a licked cupcake, and to remember that feeling to keep from going too far with a girl.

elizabeth smart, when discussing why she didn't run, had this to say -
"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
posted by nadawi at 5:46 AM on April 29 [17 favorites]


That is, it would be weird to say that my risks of becoming involved in a motorcycle accident tomorrow are higher because I owned a motorcycle over a decade ago. And I think we need to be clear that the risks are associated with sexual intercourse rather than non-virginity because human beings seem to be predisposed to wildly guestimating and rationalizing when it comes to risk.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:33 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


The concept of female virginity (and its relationship to marriage eligibility) is an obvious gambit to establish the paternity of the children born to the legitimate husband.

I don't buy this. All you would need to do to ensure paternity is wait one or two menstrual cycles. It doesn't matter if she has had none, one, or five hundred partners in the past; a few cycles and you know there is no question of paternity.

We give such huge weight to virginity for other reasons (I'd say it is more about ownership and purity -- untouched is unsoiled and given how women have been commoditized, has higher value), with the paternity thing being a pseudo-scientific excuse for other cultural baggage.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


All you would need to do to ensure paternity is wait one or two menstrual cycles. It doesn't matter if she has had none, one, or five hundred partners in the past; a few cycles and you know there is no question of paternity.

Maybe I'm not caffeinated enough yet, but this doesn't make sense to me. Unless you've got her locked in a tower that only one man has access to, there's always a question of paternity, regardless of its legal establishment by marriage. Even for girls/women who have never had sex, because every hymen is different and some don't bleed when they're broken anyway.
posted by rtha at 7:24 AM on April 29


That's exactly what I meant. If you are (literally) paternalistic and all you cared about is paternity, that is solvable by keeping her under observation/seclusion for a couple of months. The virginity connection is a red herring, with other baggage attached (for a fully mixed metaphor).

For the record I am not suggesting this at all, just pointing out that the paternity/virginity connection is spurious.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 AM on April 29


Some of that would depend on a society's understanding of menstruation, though, and I'm having a hard time finding decent explanations of what was known when about how women's reproductive cycles work.
posted by jaguar at 8:18 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


If you are (literally) paternalistic and all you cared about is paternity, that is solvable by keeping her under observation/seclusion for a couple of months. The virginity connection is a red herring, with other baggage attached (for a fully mixed metaphor).
posted by Dip Flash

Some of that would depend on a society's understanding of menstruation, though, and I'm having a hard time finding decent explanations of what was known when about how women's reproductive cycles work.
posted by jaguar


Seconding jaguar. Paternalism and "virginity yay" has its roots way the hell back in pre-history, back when people were only just beginning to get that "hey, wait, babies don't just spontaneously happen because women are magic - fucking is involved."

Also, a woman's menstrual cycle can be thrown all out of whack if her diet isn't caloric enough; so there were probably a lot of women who didn't menstruate every month anyway as it was, just by virtue of maybe not eating enough on a regular enough basis.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I don't buy this. All you would need to do to ensure paternity is wait one or two menstrual cycles.

I'd think you need more than that when betting the family fortune. She also needs to be childless, so as not to be devoted to the well-being of some other family's children. One way to enforce childlessness before marriage looks pretty much identical to the institution of virginity, especially in a world without safe surgery. And when/if that institution fails, then if the social expectations are rigid, she would be of less marital value to other families, such that her family's best shot may be to enforce marriage if the father-to-be can be established.

Even today, on OKcupid, the effect of having kids vs not having kids vs having had kids but they're not around, is very pronounced, and this is a permissive flexible society compared to those that enforced the institution of virginity.
posted by anonymisc at 10:28 AM on April 29


(I'm not sure how far back the virginity thing goes. It wouldn't surprise me if it predated a time when enough of society understood and trusted that menstrual cycles were proof that no previous partner could have contributed to the child. Reproductive knowledge has wildly uneven distribution in society, particularly among patriarchs. Even today, rulers of society are saying things like "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down")
posted by anonymisc at 10:37 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how far back the virginity thing goes. It wouldn't surprise me if it predated a time when enough of society understood and trusted that menstrual cycles were proof that no previous partner could have contributed to the child.

Well, it's at least as far back as the Old Testament....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on April 29


I don't buy this. All you would need to do to ensure paternity is wait one or two menstrual cycles. It doesn't matter if she has had none, one, or five hundred partners in the past; a few cycles and you know there is no question of paternity.

The two impediments I see to that are these:

1. Is every family going to have the resources to do that, and,

2. That creates a limbo period between betrothal and marriage, in which the bride-to-be is living in her future husband's household being monitored by his family before marriage. I can see where a lot of families, certainly ones of lower socioeconomic rank, wouldn't be willing to take on this extra expense.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:47 AM on April 29


I'd think you need more than that when betting the family fortune. She also needs to be childless, so as not to be devoted to the well-being of some other family's children.

Just ask Elizabeth Woodville.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:59 AM on April 29


I really wish I'd had someone in between the abstinence only sex ed ad reading Dan Savage's columns, with all of their transphobia, misogyny and general denial of asexuality, because they made me feel like there were certain acts I was obligated to do in order to stay in a relationship and that I was weird/damaged goods/etc if I didn't want to do them. There's some good stuff in a lot of sex-pos educational material but a lot of it swings so far on the "everyone is sexual" thing to "not being sexual or not wanting to engage in some sexual experiences is weird/bad", and that sort of stuff had me believing a lot of stuff about sex that wasn't true and that kept me engaging in sexual activities I didn't want and staying with a coercive partner because I thought I had to.

I really wish a lot of people did. Because i mean, full disclosure, i grew up in seattle where the stranger is in a newspaper box on every street corner and his word is like that gigantic screen from the 1984 commercial.

The effect of this is that a lot of people go from shitty sex ed to reading that at the end of high school/beginning of college.

He constantly spews stuff like "Oral comes standard, any model that doesn't include it is defective and should be returned to the dealership for a full refund"

He has said an awful lot of shit like that, which is like the opposite of a good thing. It's actually worse than saying nothing, since it's contributing energy to making the world a shittier place instead of just being ambivalent and letting it rot like the lack of sex ed in general does. And yet everyone treats him like some golden god like George Takei who is the hero gotham needs.

I mean i'll stop because this is a bit of a derail, but this sort of thing is really being assaulted not just from the opposing teams side of the fence, but from within what at least claims to be the peoples team of sexual liberty and gnosis.
posted by emptythought at 1:18 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


So there are other people who had this bad experience due to reading Dan Savage mixed with poor quality sex-ed!! Wow. I know this might be a slight derail, but I have some friends who still love his work and I can't even express why his name makes my jaw clench.

I feel very lucky that I'm in a place now where I can firmly say no to anything I don't want to do (I don't care how fucking "normal" or "standard" it is), but goddamn are there some memories I really wish I didn't have.

There really needs to be a myth #18 about his blasted GGG crap, because when you mix it in with all those other myths you get a big pile of steaming shit.
posted by Dynex at 3:53 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


In taking Scientist's tack further with the same disclaimer, "sex" in the biology domain the thing that organisms do to exchange genes. Fellatio and butt-sehks don't count by that measure, they are using the tools of sex to experience the reward that engaging in sex brings about (sex hackers!)

One could argue "you're applying a strict jargon science definition to a word with a broader meaning" but at the same time, the people who believe that "sex" is a shorthand for "PIV intercourse" broadly outnumber the rest, unless the issue is male adultery c.f. Bill Clinton. It is fluid though, yes, like magma...get your mind out of the gutter!

And sorry for being all hurf durf gender-hetero-white-dude-normative, I'm just being tack-y and self-aware of it and realize it's far more complicated than that, but acknowledge the uphill battle involved in transforming these notions. Just reading about the fluidity of virginity here started another one of those MetaFilter-instigated mind shifts (and I have zero attachments to virginity at all, emotionally or whatever the fuck, but I had to grok this hard) as I experienced with several other subjects here.
posted by aydeejones at 8:39 PM on April 29


i.e. a lot of folks like to call this horizontal sex instead of horizontal gene transfer or conjugation. Dorky but accurate or is it...I dunno, school this honkey, I got memeplanted with a multitude of bacterial notions from Lynn Margulis awhile back. Microcosmos FTW
posted by aydeejones at 8:42 PM on April 29


If you marry a virgin, you have no proof that she's able to bare children. If your primary concern is producing 100% "legitimate" heirs, that seems like a fairly big risk to take, or at least it seems like a much bigger than the risk that the woman might have already been impregnated in the 0-4 weeks since her last period.

The cult of virginity is just one front on an apparently endless war over who gets ownership of women's bodies.
posted by rue72 at 9:19 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Women in many ancient societies (and even some modern ones) were basically treated like prisoners: they had their own part of the house and they were expected to stay there until they got married. At that point they went to their own part of a different house. They couldn't go out unchaperoned or form any relationships with men outside their household. Under these circumstances, it was a really big deal for an unmarried woman to not be a virgin. It implied that she had evaded the controls put around her. I think this is why you had these ceremonial displays of bloody sheets: they demonstrated that the woman in question was compliant, was trustworthy. In the absence of this proof, how could her husband trust her? She had secretly broken her confinement once; why wouldn't she do it again? 1

I don't know how this purdah-like system evolved; I presume that it did so on more than one occasion. The idea that compliance with such a system is a sign of virtue begs the question, but it seems to have gone largely unchallenged. None the less, it wasn't true of all ancient societies, or even all classes within those societies. I find it quite interesting that some women in the Bible, for instance, were effectively kept in, but others (of a different period, different place, different class, whatever) were out conducting business.

I think this is the position we are in today: we have a historical assumption that female virginity is the sign of a "good girl", but we've lost the rationale for it. Virginity previously implied that a woman was compliant, but now it implies what? That she has a prudent regard for the consequences of her actions? That she has had a boring life? That she doesn't like men? None of these are necessarily true, nor are they things that come to mind when describing What Men Want. So virginity itself doesn't have a social role: all we have is the absence of virginity, as a way of criticising and controlling other people.

1 This, incidentally, is why I find Purity Balls so creepy. They imply that women should live under their father's thumbs until such time that they are under their husbands.2

2 You can put an apostrophe at the end of that sentence if you like.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:56 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


They imply that women should live under their father's thumbs until such time that they are under their husbands.

They don't imply it, they state it right up front.
posted by emjaybee at 8:36 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


If you marry a virgin, you have no proof that she's able to bare children. If your primary concern is producing 100% "legitimate" heirs, that seems like a fairly big risk to take

Seems like, but isn't. Firstly, you're conflating a system to prevent impostor heirs with a system to produce heirs. Secondly, under the kinds of societies where guaranteed heir producing would be the primary concern, they seem to end up with officially-sanctioned work-arounds to the situation you describe, (usually, I suspect) leaving that risk primarily with the bride's future, more than the propertied family's future.

The cult of virginity is just one front on an apparently endless war over who gets ownership of women's bodies.

Of course. And these factors are some of the why.
posted by anonymisc at 1:52 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


‘Stripping Was the Easiest and Quickest Solution’
posted by jeffburdges at 10:39 AM on May 18


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