One criticism of abstinence education is that it increases the chance of unplanned pregnancy. The idea is, teenagers who believe in abstinence will feel badly if they prepare for sex by arranging birth control, but feel less culpable if sex just happens in the heat of passion, because it isn’t “premeditated”:
(Aside: A nice contrast between American and Dutch views of sexuality can be found here.)
I have another criticism of abstinence education: It pushes adolescent girls toward having sexual relations with more aggressive, domineering, and borderline sociopathic boys. The idea is, teenage girls who believe in abstinence will tend to feel that sex is not something you do with “nice” boys. Girls who are taught abstinence will equate “goodness” among boys with diminished sexual expression and desire.
This pernicious idea, that a young man’s “goodness” is inversely proportional to his interest in sex, unfortunately extends beyond the purview of the fundamentalist. It’s in the background of our cultural consciousness, adopted in subtle ways even by those who consider themselves to be sex positive. A number of feminists, for example, seem to believe this, whether consciously or unconsciously. (A comical personification of this idea was played out by Greg Kinnear’s character in “As Good As It Gets”: A gay man with a heart of gold and apparently no carnal desires whatsoever.)
I remember back when I was in my twenties and was planning on a move to “the city” – what I considered the “big city” then. I was discussing my plans with a co-worker, a young married woman whom I knew. At some point, I mentioned there would be single women in the city I was moving to, and I was looking forward to that.
“Oh,” she said, “you’re interested in that?” She seemed disappointed. It was as though I’d driven to her house in a Rolls, then pulled her aside to discreetly ask about a bankruptcy attorney. She liked me, I liked her, and we got along well. So it was a terrible disappointment that I was interested in that.
What is interesting, however, is that my co-worker would not have expected me to be asexual. If I’d been at a party with her, and someone had made a joking allusion to a sexual escapade of mine (real or imagined), she would have laughed and thought none the worse of me. Because our society understands that men need to take care of their business and people get crazy and things happen.
What she found so disappointing is that my desire was premeditated. I was anticipating and hoping for sexual experiences with women. Our culture “tolerates” sexual exploration in youth. Even the fundamentalists make allowances. But when a man plans his experiences, the conspiratorial smile fades.