Monday, September 04, 2006

Reducing risk is reducing risk, even for sluts

An article in Slate discusses the rise in teenagers engaging in oral sex, and while it's a passable argument - kids are having oral sex so they don't get pregnant - it seems to ignore some other important factors. Specifically, check out this stat:
National statistics on teen fellatio have only recently been collected, but the trend seems to be real. Johns Hopkins University Professor Jonathan Zenilman, an expert in sexually transmitted infections (and father of former Slate intern Avi Zenilman), reports that both the adults and the teenagers who come to his clinic are engaging in much more oral sex than in 1990. For men and boys as recipients it's up from about half to 75 to 80 percent; for women and girls, it's risen from about 25 percent to 75 to 80 percent.
That's a three-fold increase in oral sex recieved by teenaged girls, whereas teenaged boys have seen only a 50% increase. I would submit that popularized attitudes about female sexual empowerment (Cosmo does occasionally run some form of its' "have multiple orgasms" article, after all) as well as a general demystification and destigmatization of oral sex might be having something to do with this trend.

And for the record, these stats also show that Caitlin Flanagan's hand-wringing about her little girls giving just any random guy a blow job mischaracterize things just a little bit. Yes, her daughter is more likely to give head in high school than she was - but she's also much much more likely to recieve it. Things have changed, but I don't think that what's happened is that our little girls have turned into self-hating sluts.

I have heard on more than one occasion that liberals turn conservatives off by not wishing to put forth a unified sexual ethic that (for example) encourages monogamy and discourages casual sexual encounters. I think this is a completely backwards assessment of the difference between conservatives and liberals on sexual morality. Liberals refuse to let the possibility of being physically, emotionally or financially maimed (through unplanned pregnancy, slut-shaming or disease) stand in for an ethical framework through which sexual behavior can be negotiated. Between opposition to contraception, to the HPV vaccine, or any kind of public display of female sexual pleasure, conservatives have not argued for any kind of decision-making apparatus to be passed on to our children. If nothing else, take a look at the ever-raging blow job wars, and you'll see that liberals do engage in heated debate over what behavior in regard to sex is ethical.

Even more simply, without the somewhat random attachment of physical and financial harm to sex (which randomly affects women more than men), many with a more liberal attitude toward sex have come to realize that a sexual ethic works the way as all ethics do - treat the opinions and self-determinism of others with respect, and don't ask for special treatment. Any new advancement in sexual health - emergency contraception or the HPV vaccine, for example - is met with hand-wringing that kids will think sex is safer, and therefore have more of it. Well, duh, it is safer with these things. A reduced risk is a reduced risk, even when it comes to sexual behavior.

What is unethical is standing in the way of the reduction of human suffering so that parents and all sexually active people in general don't have to examine their beliefs about sexual morality. There is no honor in sacrificing the flesh and blood of others so that you don't have to say the word "ejaculation" in front of your kid, or drive them to the family planning clinic to pick up birth control. I would ask any opponent to Plan B, to the HPV vaccine, or to the distribution of condoms in Africa to compare the pain of blushing when saying "penis" to what a mother dying of AIDS thinks of when she imagines her impoverished children's orphaned future.

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