The Other American Dream

My first job teaching in a community college was in a small North Carolina farming town.  The entire public school district was housed in single building, and I taught college level religion, sociology, and psychology courses to the juniors and seniors.  Added together, there were about twenty-five.  The district was so tiny that teachers knew the names of every student in the system.

My psychology class took place in the home ec room.  Twenty-five eager young minds waiting for enlightenment, surrounded by sinks, cupboards, two ovens, a refrigerator, and sewing machines.  It sort of felt like teaching at home.

During the week on sexuality, while talking about STDs, I mentioned that oral sex can transmit disease.  A girl raised her hand.  She was sitting with five other teenaged girls and motioned me to approach.  I walked over and leaned down on the table.  “How can I help you?”  All the girls also leaned in, and the one who raised her hand whispered, “How can you get sick from oral sex?”

For a brief moment, I thought, “damn.”  This is my first teaching gig.  A teen girl is asking me to explain blow jobs in a rural, Bible Belt community where everybody knows everybody.  What are the chances someone tells their folks, “Guess what we learned in school today?,” and I’m fired by the end of the week.

At the same time, I thought, maybe they’re asking because the entire table has been providing blow jobs to the local talent believing oral sex to be harmless.  There’s a little bit of goo, but the boys are really grateful.  So I went ahead and told them, in a confidential tone, “When you give blow jobs, you get semen in your mouth, and semen can carry disease.  If you have any kind of sore, say you bit your cheek badly, it is possible for that disease to get into your blood stream, and it’s downhill from there.”

They thanked me for my clarification.  I returned to my post and explained how you can’t get HIV from toilet seats, shaking hands, or even from oral sex, if you take precautions.  And, to my surprise, the principal never said a word.

I did learn a lesson from the young woman’s question.  I make sure to always tell my students about oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, and any and all sexual topics that Americans have trouble discussing in a frank and honest fashion.  When I ask my students how many have had sex explained to them, completely, fully, in all aspects, including the things considered dirty, by their parents or a duly-empowered teacher, about ten percent raise their hands.  Most of them learn what they know about sex from their friends and the internet.

I’ve never seen comparative surveys done of a culture’s sexual ignorance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Americans place near the top, and have the results to show for it.  The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in the industrialized world, at about four times the rates found in Europe.  You have to travel to third-world countries to find higher percentages.  The next time we want to brag about being exceptional, I suggest we start there.

Let’s look at the facts.  Despite prevailing norms to the contrary, close to three-quarters of America’s young people are having sex by the age of nineteen.  According to a 2010 nationwide study, about sixty percent of high school seniors admit to having had vaginal sex.  Sixty percent admit to oral sex.  Six to eight percent admit to anal sex.  And, of the forty percent claiming to be virgins, twelve to fifteen percent admit to oral sex, opting for the Clinton Exemption.  Add it all together, and close to three out of four young people are doing the bump and grind in some manner, shape, or form before they leave their teens.

When you look at it a little more closely, of women having sex by nineteen, forty-seven percent first had sex when they were fourteen or younger.  Seven to ten percent of teen girls first had consensual sex with a male at least five years older.  And fourteen percent of high school students have had four or more partners.

Our young people are doing more than playing doctor, and they’re doing it in a culture that pretends they don’t.  We act as if saying nothing about sex keeps it from happening, just as we seem to believe telling the truth will make everyone sex fiends.  Effectively what we’ve done is abandon our children to their natural sexual appetites, after subjecting them to years of confusing and provocative bullshit.

America uses sex to sell everything.  We produce Barbi dolls with 39 FF tits.  In ancient cultures, they were called fertility symbols.  We call them toys.

Beyond the marketing, however, we teach that sex is a shameful experience requiring secrecy and silence.  We keep it closeted, because we don’t want to let go of that other American dream, where chaste young people drink orange juice, work hard in school, respect their elders, and never play with themselves.

That dream is as dead as the first one, and we need to get over it.  Wishing doesn’t make anything come true.  The best way to reduce abortion and disease is to eradicate sexual ignorance.  If we don’t, there are lots of cool sites on the internet, from Animal House to Golden Showers, more than willing to demonstrate all they know.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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