Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Abstinence Only

As I walked into the kitchen to pack my lunch this morning, I called out to b&c, "Hey! She's the commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard." It took him a moment, but most people who know me for any length of time get used to out-of-context remarks (By way of example, the last time I had dinner with a group made mostly of gay Republicans, I looked across the table at the putatively non-partisan journalist in the group and said, "So. Ronald Reagan. Still dead?"), so he quickly got it and chuckled as I loaded my turkey chili, Greek-style yogurt, and Sichuan cucumbers into their respective containers.

Hard as it may be for me to accept that the chief executive of our largest state can't figure out how to hook her oldest daughter up with some birth control, I have some insight into the mentality at work. I come from conservative families on both sides. On my father's side, we have what I call the Amish-Mennonite model of family planning. Sex is rarely discussed, but if it is discussed, it's in the context of the critical importance of chastity. Birth control is not discussed because it's not perceived to be necessary. The genders are kept as separate as possible for as long as possible, and, because it is better to marry than to burn, marriages happen early, and childbirth begins soon afterward. I was listening to a report about collegiate sexuality on NPR (it was maybe two weeks ago, and I am so doubtful of my ability to find a link that I'm not going to bother looking for one; sorry), and the researcher who was being interviewed reported that at evangelical Christian colleges, the ne plus ultra of chastity was a young woman who wanted her first kiss to be at the altar. (Marriage altar, that is, not the sacrificial altar. This country really started going downhill when we stopped sacrificing virgins.)

On my mother's side of the family, we have what I suppose we must now call the Palin model of family planning. Sex is rarely discussed, but if it is discussed, it's in the context of the critical importance of abstinence. Birth control is not discussed because to protect young women against pregnancy is perceived to be giving them permission to have sex. No one bothers to monitor the behavior of their children all that closely, and teenage women frequently end up pregnant, after which a marriage is hastily arranged.

The results of these two models are different only insofar as divorce carries a far greater stigma in the conservative Christian community. When I was in my twenties, on my father's side of the family, it was usual for my cousins to have two or three children by the age of 22. On my mother's side, it was usual for my cousins to have either two children by the age of 22 or to have one child and be on their second marriage by the age of 22. Nowadays, it's usual for my paternal cousins to finish college before marrying, and divorce is slightly less unheard of, but otherwise, things haven't much changed in the last twenty or so years. We're still talking about approaches that are fundamentally delusional (Amish-Mennonite) or hypocritical (Palin).

You'll hear a lot of posturing this week about how great it is that the daughter of the chief executive of our largest state is keeping her child and getting married, but does anyone really believe that it's a good thing for seventeen-year-olds to be marrying and/or having children? I mean, I suppose that if you've just, say, run over a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk, it's better to stick around and 'fess up to the police than to pretend that you didn't know it happened, but wouldn't not hitting the guy in the first place be -- by far -- the best option?

I know this seems off topic for me, but all of this is something to think about the next time that someone says or implies that we gays need to act more like the breeder community in our relationships and sexual mores. The breeders, at least in this country, have pretty royally fucked it all up. The reality is so far from the ideal that the ideal is not worth considering.

We'd all -- straights, gays, and everyone in between -- be better off with more openness, more information, and less prudishness. You may ultimately want to settle into an exclusive relationship with one person, but if you don't explore your options first, you'll have a lot more trouble remaining exclusive later. And if your open to arrangements other than complete exclusivity, you may find something that better suits both you and your partner.

And if not, at least you won't be knocked up.


franck said...

Hear hear.

Will said...

My family followed your mother's model. My father kept threatening to have a "heart to heart talk" with me over a period of about eighteen months. I knew what he was getting at but he, highly decorated WWII bombardier who had taken out oil fields, ball bearing plants and train switching yards from the Netherlands to Roumania that he was, never had the guts to get down to it.

I eventually went into the public library, pulled out the encyclopaedia, looked up Reproduction, Human and drank deeply. The next time he said we'd have that heart to heart "next weekend" I told him I had it covered and that he was off the hook. A happier man you never saw.

My mother's big advice when I was packing for college was "no decent woman wants a second-hand husband." As this was the 1960s, I was mightily amused--and on a different track anyway.