John Waters, the best known portrayer of sexual acts involving fecal mater, has done it again. Last night, I curled up on the couch with my sweetie to enjoy one of his more recent films, A Dirty Shame. I realize the movie has been out for a few years now, but like most of his movies, I have never actually ventured to a theater to see one. Despite Mr. Waters’ claim that his movies have no redeeming social value, this one, like all of his movies I’ve seen, definitely sends a message about accepting outcasts in society. It also takes a stab at the rather puritanical way we in America tend to view sex.
Now I know Hollywood is overflowing with movies centered around sex. All I have to do is turn on the TV at night to find scantily clad women hawking Victoria’s Secret’s wares. Flip to the WB and there are teens in various states of undress working their way toward the bedroom or backseat depending on which show it is. Another flip takes me to HBO where Big Love offers a very naked Bill performing oral sex on his third wife Margine while his second wife watched from her own home. The sex is so realistic, it rivals anything Skinamax shows after midnight. If we look no further than Hollywood, the members of Waters’ decency squad seem laughable and out of place. Even the basic 13 channels show that sex is a part of everyday life and depicts people in very non-prudish sexual undertakings.
Movies and television, just like most other art forms, tend to be where the more liberal minded people find solace. As Americans we may not mind sex, even some of the more “taboo” acts when they are splashed up on the big screen, but bring them home, into our subdivisions and neighborhoods, and the placards go up as the people start marching.
Last week, a friend and I were sitting at Lulu’s, once again drinking delicious non-coffee like drinks and discussing the world around us. She’d just finished reading a book (the title I don’t remember) talking about America’s recent return to prudishness. The book looked specifically at how we view children and sex. I don’t mean anything as reprehensible as kiddy porn, but rather how we judge young people who are having sex and how attitudes toward these teens (for the most part), seem to be shifting. We tend to look at teens who start having sex at an early age as somehow damaged. There is an assumption that kids who start having sex before they hit 18 as products of bad homes who have somehow been abused sexually. This angered her quite a bit as she lost her virginity a little before the national average. She came from a good home. She was well loved by her parents. She was never abused. She was a good student. She didn’t get into trouble. She wasn’t allowed to watch overly sexual movies or TV shows. She hadn’t felt peer pressure to do it. She had sex because she fell in love and she was ready.
My friend and I were products of a slightly different sexual generation than the kids of today are. Sex was not openly talked about nearly as much in the media, but interestingly, sex education was taught in public schools. Today, sex is available on every media outlet 24 hours a day, but at least in my provincial state, the only sex education my students get is: don’t do it. That’s right, we have abstinence only education. The logic behind this is that if kids are taught about contraceptives, they are going to start going sexing and soon every American teen will be on the pill or buying condoms. This is, of course, ridiculous. I am a product of sex education classes that actually taught us about contraceptives. Granted, in the midst of his talk about how effective condoms, the pill and a few other methods were, my health teacher made sure to point out repeatedly that the only sure fire way to avoid pregnancy and STD’s was through abstinence. We all got the message he was sending. It’s the same message modern classrooms are sending: “hey, you shouldn’t have sex.” Thankfully when I was in school though, the law also allowed him to add, “but if you’re going to do it, here are the ways to protect yourself.”
Despite the love of sex up on the big screen, the average American parent hates the idea of their own kid having sex. I’m a parent myself, I get this. I don’t want my kid having sex until he’s out of high school, preferably out of college, but I know there’s a good chance he’s going to. I want him prepared. The way things are going in our school systems, this means my husband and I will be sitting him down for “the talk” probably in sixth grade, and while it’s not something I look forward to, I like the idea of that a heck of a lot better than being a grandma in my 40’s.
I’ve got a newsflash for the delusional school board members and politicians across the country: teaching kids about contraceptives is not going to encourage them to have sex. Kids are going to have sex whether health classes have a sex ed unit or not. The difference is that with a sex ed program that actually teaches kids not only about the STD’s out there but also how to avoid them, there’s a good chance the number of kids contracting these diseases will go down. Same with pregnancy rates. If we want to stop teen pregnancies, and I’m assuming most people would like to see those rates declining as well, we have to arm kids with the tools they need to keep away unwanted pregnancies. I sat through those classes about condoms. I listened to them. I took notes on them. Guess what, I didn’t have sex in high school. Nothing my teacher said about condoms, made me think, “well, heck, I’m going to go screw the basketball team.” Were there girls who did just that? Yup. But again, here’s a newsflash, they would have done it anyway, even if no one ever mentioned the word condom to them. Why? Because they wanted to.
Unlike several of my classmates, I had a pretty solid moral upbringing. I’m not just talking about the hours and hours of Sunday school I attended. My friends, many of whom never went to church, also have good moral backgrounds. Where did we get these? From our families. My parents taught me early on that sex for the sake of having sex wasn’t a good thing. Sex was always equivocated with love in my household. My mom was pretty inflexible about the whole waiting until I was married aspect of it, but my dad was a bit more reasonable about waiting until I was in love. That is the philosophy I subscribed to. I didn’t have sex in high school not because I didn’t have several opportunities to, but because up until I graduated, I only seriously cared about two guys in my life. One only liked me as a friend, so he wasn’t an option. The other, I actually would have lost my virginity to had he been less of a gentleman and the Navy shipped him off just a bit later. What stopped me with the latter was a lack of a condom. I was not about to risk my future, even for what I though was the love of my life. I’d been taught better than that.
Sadly, many parents are not involved in their kids’ lives the way mine were. They aren’t going to get the talk at home. There is a good chance their parents won’t bring the subject up because a) they are uncomfortable about it; b) like everything else, they expect others to teach their children about it; c) they don’t have the time; or d) they aren’t good parents and just don’t want to. I see kids who fall into these categories every day. Several of them have ended up pregnant. If they aren’t going to get the information at home, schools have a social obligation to pass the knowledge along. I’m not talking about morality here. I’m talking about decreasing the number of STD’s and unwanted pregnancies, which if for no other reason than the burden they put on the economy should make them a priority for every citizen. Kids aren’t going to stop having sex. As much as parents would like to pretend they aren’t, they’ve been doing it for centuries. Sex is fun, why wouldn’t they want to? Instead we need to educate them so they know that with the fun, there are also serious risks, both physical and emotional. Maybe then they’d be better equipped to make decisions. Let’s face it, the only place many of these kids are getting their information is from the movies and each other. The movies neatly wrap up in 110 minutes, with few real consequences for actions. As for getting their information from their peers, kids are dumb. They actually believe things like you can’t get pregnant the first time.
Oh, and just because it helped me start the subject, I should point out that I did enjoy A Dirty Shame. Waters delves into the way Americans like to call anything that isn’t standard missionary position a perversion. His main character is obsessed with oral sex and is called a sex addict by the neuters in her neighborhood. While this is obviously ridiculous and his message is clearly about tolerance and the fact that these are not, in fact perversions as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else and are making people happy, I’m gonna have to say that the sexual acts involving poop are just gross and I could definitely do without them.