*Sex holds a special place in our society and consciousness. It is at once the thing that we embrace to attract the attention of others and sell goods and services while at the same time being the thing that we fear for its potential to ruin us.
Sex is the thing that bumps a movie’s rating from PG to PG-13, from PG-13 to R. Animated films, which are generally for young children, frequently have scenes of violence and even death.
Yet they maintain their innocuous ratings and continue to be marketed to kids – think of The Lion King. But never are scenes included in kids’ movies where the characters engage in overly sexual behavior. Indeed although “love” is a theme in many kids’ movies, kissing is usually the extent of any mating sequence.
Young children should not be exposed to overt copulation in the movies. But neither should they be exposed to death. Sex’s special place in our society dictates that although allowances have been made for other types of adult themes to be included in children’s entertainment options, sex is remains taboo.
Over the past decade teenagers and young adults have also suffered from society’s double standard when sex is involved. President Bush advocated and federally funded an abstinence only sexual education program. Studies now find that youth exposed to these programs did tend to wait longer to have vaginal intercourse, but also that they engaged in riskier non-penetrative sexual activities. In addition people who came out of these programs were less likely to use condoms when they did have vaginal intercourse. This narrative is a result of a fear of young people’s sexuality and the attempt to deny its influence on young people’s decisions. Sex resides in a special place in the consciousness of the decision makers of our country where they cannot think rationally about the subject.
Acknowledging young people’s sex drive led to federally funded, comprehensive sex-ed programs during President Clinton’s tenure, along with lower teen birth rates, and lower incidences of AIDS. Accepting that teens want to and do have sex does not infringe upon one’s opinion that abstinence until marriage is the best possible sexual decision one can make. Likewise holding that opinion should not preclude an acceptance that the majority of young people engage in sex before marriage and should do so as responsibly as possible. Think Bristol Palin.
Adults in American society are bombarded by countless images of sexually desirable women and men (more so women) in an effort to convince the viewer that the object of their personal desire would succumb to their advances if they would only buy the product being marketed. The problem is that once you have that product, whether car, shaving gel, hairstyle, diet plan, etc. the attention garnered may exceed expectations and a sense of entitlement results in more than one mate. Sex resides in a special place in society in that it is seen as a gift and a curse. It is the thing that we (men in particular) seek all the while trying to control our desire for it so that we can abstain with those who are not our regular partner.
All of these situations arise because our society is afraid to treat sex as many other activities, and sexual attraction as many other feelings. In reality sex is another thing humans do that has the potential for disaster and should not be taken seriously. As an act sex deserves our healthy respect but not the reputation of automatically ruining those who engage in it. As a feeling sexual attraction deserves our attention, but not to the degree that we ignore other thoughts; ads that appeal to our logic should be just as ubiquitous as those that appeal to our loins.
As a society we must demystify sex so that it is understood, appreciated, and responsibly enjoyed. No, children should not be shown topless photos; no, teenagers should not engage in intercourse; no, sex has nothing to do with beer. Let us open a dialogue so that our society would not be illogical regarding this topic and so that we can incorporate it healthily into our lives.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected].