“Why don’t we just be honest with them [students] and be upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?” said Rep. Bill Holden (R) of the Utah House of Representatives.
I know I just wrote about this, but good God it just gets me so worked up.
In college, I had an English professor who taught a class on the short story. His favorite game was to ask the class to identify the most important word in a given sentence. It was never a powerful noun, or a juicy adjective, but was always some teeny tiny preposition. An “of” is different than a “by” is different than a “with.” When you expect one and see another, the effect on your comprehension is profound.
In Rep Bill Holden’s quote about sex education, the teeny tiny word that gets stuck in my brain, like corn silk or a popcorn kernel in my teeth, is the “is.” Two little letters, and yet it never ceases to infuriate me. Swap out the “is” with a “can be” and it’s a whole different sentence. I would not dispute that sex out of marriage can, in fact, be devastating. Has it ever been devastating for me? No. For people I know? Not that I’m aware of. But I can imagine the circumstances in which Holden’s statement might be true.
Without the conditional, though, this statement is pure patronizing presumption. No kind of sex is one single thing to all people. That’s the beauty of it! Sex is not for fun. Sex is not for baby-making. Sex is not a good idea or bad idea. Sex can be for fun. Sex can be for babymaking. Sex can be a good idea or a bad idea. Context matters.
And that’s the difference between my kind of people and Bill Holden’s kind of people. We don’t want to tell teenagers how to have sex or when to have sex or with whom to have sex. We want to arm them with information, agency, confidence and self-esteem. We want to produce smart, critically thinking teenagers who become smart, critically thinking adults. Some of those adults may decide sex without marriage is not for them. That’s cool, and I’d not try to talk them out of their beliefs. The idea of abstinence is not what upsets liberals, it’s the idea of prescribed abstinence.
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