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What I Wish I Learned In Sex Ed

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I like to think I had a good education in sex growing up. I grew up in an area that heavily promoted comprehensive sex education and did not solely rely on telling horny teenagers to abstain. On top of that, my parents were very upfront and transparent on sexual issues. They did not lie to me and they did not avoid the issue whenever I asked them questions.

In that sense, I consider myself luckier than most. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about kids getting a form of sex education that’s downright damaging. At the same time, there are some things I wish my teachers and parents had taught me. I feel like it would’ve saved me a lot of stress, confusion, and uncertainty later on in life.

While some things can only be learned through experience, I think in matters of sexuality, insight goes a long way. It’s one of the few acts we’re biologically wired to seek. Even if we find something out on our own, we’re not always going to understand it and that often means making flawed assumptions. That can make things awkward, to say the least.

What follows is a list of minor, but relevant aspects about sex that I wish I’d learned more about growing up. Some of these issues are things my teachers probably couldn’t have mentioned in a health class without getting into trouble with parents, but that’s exactly why they’re worth putting out there. I think these are conversations worth having with young people, especially as we enter a new sexual landscape.


Number 1: What Orgasms Are And How They Differ With Gender

Looking back on my experience with sex education, this feels like the biggest oversight. I learned about male and female anatomy. I learned about pregnancy, contraception, and diseases. I even learned a little about healthy relationship skills. At no point in any of these discussions did orgasms come up.

While I knew what they were, no teacher ever said that word or even hinted that they were a normal part of sex. They either avoided the issue or pretended it didn’t exist. They described sexual function the same way my biology teacher described how animals digest food. This led me to wonder that adults were hiding something from me and my peers.

Later on, as I learned more about sex outside of school, it gave the impression that adults just didn’t want to tell young people about things that felt good. Never mind that orgasms have a lot of health benefits and are a great way for a couple to bond. Not even mentioning them just sent too many mixed messages that only get more mixed over time.


Number 2: Feeling Horny Is Natural (And Not An Affliction)

This was especially common in middle school. Granted, most teachers said that thinking about sex is natural. However, actually wanting it might as well have been the same as wanting to steal a car. In any case where someone might have wanted sex outside of marriage, it was framed as something deviant and wrong.

Again, this was not a religious school. This was a secular public school in a community that was not overly-religious. Even so, every health teacher gave the impression that being horny was no different than having a violent impulse to choke kittens. I’m thankful my parents did plenty to counter that, but it did leave me feeling more stressed than I already was as a teenager.


Number 3: The Sex You See In Porn Isn’t “Real” Sex

Most reasonable adults understand that the sex they see in porn isn’t supposed to mirror actual sex. That kind of sex is designed to be shot, edited, and exaggerated for erotic effects. The problem is that too many reasonable adults, some of which teach health classes to teenagers, assume that only adults are watching porn.

I knew what porn was when I was a teenager. I knew how to access it. Everyone in my class knew as well and anyone who claimed they didn’t were liars. While there were discussions about sex in the media, it never got beyond things like body image and peer pressure. They never actually explained to uninformed teenagers that porn is not a good representation of what sex is.

For men who think they’re supposed to hump for 40 minutes straight and women who think they have to hiss every half-second, it’s an important tidbit that’s worth sharing. It also doesn’t help that porn does a terrible job of depicting romance. Just a simple explanation at how exaggerated it was would’ve gone a long way towards developing a healthy understanding of what non-pornographic sex was.


Number 4: Not Having Sex Isn’t The End Of The World

This issue is similar to the issues associated with the DARE program that tried to convince teenagers to not do drugs. That program not only doesn’t work. It gave me and my peers a very flawed image of drugs for years to come. The way my health teachers talked about sex wasn’t much different.

Beyond skipping the joys of orgasms, they often described sex as this scourge that was spreading disease and misery to countless teenagers. If you weren’t doing it, then something must be wrong with you. At the time, I already had severe self-esteem issues that were compounded by a terrible acne problem that made me feel ugly and unloved.

While no teacher ever said that people who don’t have sex are somehow flawed. They only ever framed people who didn’t have sex as safer and less likely to get diseases. That’s not the same as saying it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s actually pretty common. That revelation may not seem like much now, but at the time, it would’ve made a world of difference.


Number 5: Sex Can Be Emotional, Intimate, And Fun

This is a bit more personal for me because I was a closeted romance fan. I’d been a romance fan before I was a teenager and once sex entered the picture, I knew there was a link. My health teachers just did a terrible job of explaining it. They talked about sex as though it was just a formality, like a wedding or a tax refund. Romance and intimacy never entered the picture.

Sex was either just a small part of human reproduction or this dangerous thrill sport on par with juggling chainsaws while wrestling a hungry grizzly. There was no emphasis on intimacy, romance, or just the fun of it all. Couples do have sex for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. My own parents even told me that. My health teachers, on the other hand, gave the impression they were completely unrelated.


Number 6: Some People Are Just Wired Differently For Sex

This may have been a product of my own teenage angst more than anything else. The way my teachers talked about sex made it seem as though everyone had this scary creature lurking inside them and a good chunk of our lives are spent keeping it at bay. Everyone had to do their part to tame their sexual demons. There was no way around it.

However, that’s not how peoples’ sex drives work. Some people just aren’t that sexual. They don’t get as horny as the average people. When they do, the things that satisfy them are wildly different than the things that satisfy others. Some people have elaborate kinks. Some are happy with a quickie in the shower twice a year.

This idea that everyone has their own sexual makeup wasn’t even hinted at. It made it seem as though everyone in the world, myself included, had the same sexual proclivities. Even though we can’t agree on gods, the afterlife, or pizza toppings, we’re all somehow in agreement on this. I know it sounds like common sense to an adult. To a teenager, it framed the world in a strange, overwhelming way that I could’ve done without.


Number 7: Not Every Woman Goes Crazy On Their Period

I know people don’t like talking about women’s bodies, especially when it comes to that time of month. They’ve been taboo for centuries and for a long list of frustrating reasons. When young men learn about what women go through during pregnancy and menstruation, though, they get the impression that their hormones turn them into meth addicts in withdraw.

Having grown up in a house with multiple women, sharing a bathroom, and just being around a lot of women in general, I know that most women don’t radically change when they’re on their period. Some do have issues. Most are understandable, treatable, and not a reason to fear an entire gender.

In the sex ed I got, I had multiple male teachers joke about how glad they were to not have to deal with periods. These teachers were married, by the way. It made me wonder whether they knew when to leave town or sleep in the basement during certain times of month. It also made me wonder if the women in my family were different because they didn’t seem to go crazy every month.

There’s certainly room to talk about women’s issues during sex ed, even among teenage boys. However, a little perspective would’ve gone a long way. It made being around girls more awkward than it already was. I was a teenager. There’s only so much awkwardness I could handle and I handled it poorly. I’m not saying better sex ed would’ve fixed everything, but it sure would’ve helped.

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When Waiting Until Your Wedding Night To Have Sex Fails

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One of the most important decisions anyone can make for themselves is when they choose to have sex. Some seek to do it the first chance they get. Some prefer to wait until they’ve found that special someone with which they want to spend the rest of their lives. Most people render their decision within that vast gray area in between.

While we like to think society has become less uptight when it comes to sex, there’s still some lingering prudishness from centuries of taboos, traditions, and general ignorance. We’ve made a lot of progress from the days when we believed that a woman’s womb could become displaced and that male masturbation causes blindness, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

While everyone is different in how they approach their sex lives, the idea of waiting until marriage is still held up as an ideal. It’s the standard championed by religious zealots, social conservatives, and parents who just don’t want to think too much about the sex lives of their children. It’s also the cornerstone of abstinence only sex education, which is often the only sex education young people get.

Now, I’m not going to bemoan the ineffectiveness of this type of education. Many people far smarter and more resourceful than me have already studied just how damaging this approach can be for vulnerable youth. Instead, I want to focus on the actual merit behind this ideal championed by so many. The education programs may be ineffective, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be something to this ideal.

Like so many other things related to sex and human nature, the answer isn’t simple or straightforward. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than the most religious conservative and the most lenient liberal will ever admit. That’s because people, in general, are complicated. The ideal that works for most people still won’t work for everyone. There are countless factors involved on whether waiting to have sex is a good idea.

You don’t have to look too far to find personal stories about people who regretted waiting until their wedding night to have sex. You also don’t have to look far to find stories from couples who claim waiting was beneficial. No matter what your sexual politics may be, you can find anecdotes supporting both sides of the spectrum and every point in between.

That said, there are a few common themes for those who regretted waiting and those who believe waiting benefited them in the long run. In the interest of simplifying the many complications that go into peoples’ sex lives, I think it’s worth highlighting the issues that made waiting the wrong decision for some couples.


Issue #1: They Waited For The Wrong Reasons

This is where religious and cultural influences often skew the decision. It’s also the issue in which shame, misplaced guilt, and taboos really warp a person’s attitude towards sex, love, and marriage. It’s one thing to want to wait until marriage because you’re not comfortable getting that intimate with someone too soon. It’s quite another when you wait because you’re afraid you’ll be punished by a prudish deity.

I’ve already noted before how religion can skew sexual attitudes to destructive extremes. There are more than a few stories about people who justified waiting with religion, only to regret it later on. This kind of impact tends to affect women more than men, but men aren’t immune from it either. Attitudes, believes, and misinformation can skew decisions regarding sex for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of the day, using religion as an excuse to wait is just that. It’s an excuse and not a reason. If it’s not in line with your actual desires, then it’s like trying to exercise by lifting bags of feathers. It’s not going to have the desired effects.


Issue #2: Expectations Not Matching Reality

Even without the religious or cultural influences, waiting until marriage is often framed as this big culmination for a relationship. It’s set up as this magical moment out of a fairy tale, albeit one that’s R-rated. Couples build up all this energy and anticipation, so much so that it skews the actual mechanics of sex.

This has led to more than a few awful wedding nights. Those issues are only compounded for people who didn’t get a good education on basic human anatomy. Not knowing what an orgasm or a clitoris is can be a huge liability for any couple wanting to have a memorable experience. Not knowing what a refractory period is can be just as awkward.

Beyond just making the first time anything but magical, it can negatively impact the course of an otherwise loving relationship. If all those expectations don’t pan out, then that undermines the confidence two people have in their relationship. For some people, it takes time and effort to develop a meaningful sex life and waiting can put them behind the curve.


Issue #3: Not Knowing (Or Communicating) Intimate Knowledge

This feeds off the issues that come with poor sexual education, but in a more intimate context. Even if you know how your partner’s genitals work and waited until marriage for non-religious reasons, there’s still a chance that the wedding night will end poorly.

This is where even comprehensive sex education comes up short. Those same teachers, preachers, and parents will say waiting until marriage is a good thing, but they won’t offer much advice on how to make it good after the wedding. The assumption is a couple will just figure it out and that’s a misguided assumption, to say the least.

Not knowing what your partner wants or even likes will make it difficult to have a satisfying sex life, even after the wedding night. Lingering taboos surrounding sex certainly don’t help. Maybe your partner finds out they like being on top. Maybe they like a certain position that’s awkward for you. Maybe they’re into kinky things that they didn’t realize.

Waiting until the wedding night to share this information can be a problem, among other things. It can also lead to a communications deficit between partners and that’s never good for a relationship.


Issue #4: Having Entirely Different Levels Of Desire

Say, for instance, one person has a veracious sex drive. They’re not going to be satisfied doing it twice a year on Valentine’s Day and their anniversary. They want to do it frequently and for extended periods of time. That’s just how their wired.

Now, imagine another person who is the exact opposite. They’re just not very sexual, by nature. They’re the kind of person who can have sex a few times a year with their partner and be perfectly satisfied. They don’t feel the need to do anything too elaborate. They’re just wired that way.

Given such disparity, do you think these two would be compatible lovers? Do you think it would help or hurt their relationship if they learned of their discrepancy in desire on their wedding night? Chances are that relationship will have some serious obstacles that may not be reconcilable.

Knowing your partner’s level of desire is a very important thing to communicate for any couple, married or not. Waiting until the wedding to even confront that issue is sure to compound those problems. If every functional relationship is built on good communication, then waiting in this context counts as a major oversight.


Issue #5: Not Understanding That A Good Sex Life Requires Effort

This goes right back to that magical fantasy that waiting until marriage is supposed to feed into. The idea that the first time will be mind-blowingly magical is akin to thinking you’ll play like LeBron James the first time you pick up a basketball. Like any skill or experience, you actually need to work on it. Just going over Lebron’s practice regimen is proof of that.

Thankfully, nature gives people plenty of incentive to practice making love. If orgasms and love aren’t good enough, then you’re just being difficult. However, for some couples who wait, the notion of practice almost seems strange. Those who end up having a bad wedding night tend to have negative expectations moving forward. Religious and cultural taboos only make it worse.

It’s odd how we understand the need to put in the work for so many other skills, but make this fanciful exception when it comes to sex. The idea of waiting until marriage and sex not being more meaningful just undermines the narrative. It makes for a nasty combination of flawed assumptions, inflated expectations, and intimate ignorance that make a satisfying wedding night next to impossible.


Even with all these issues, it’s still entirely possible for a couple to wait until their wedding night and still have a satisfying sex life. That certainly happens and I’ve even known some couples who took that approach. I’ve also known couples who didn’t wait until their wedding night, but still had a successful marriage.

Every couple is different. Every relationship is going to be subject to a wide range of complications and influences, be they cultural or personal. For some, waiting until the wedding night is the right decision. For others, it’s the worst decision they could make. Figuring it out is difficult and nobody wants to figure it out the hard way.

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Why Abstinence Only Sex Education Is Only Getting More Harmful

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There was once a time when it was possible, albeit cumbersome, for a parent to control the information and education their child received from the cradle up to and even a little bit beyond their high school graduation. Some even went further than that, attempting to control their children well into adulthood. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I’m not a parent yet so I’m not in a position to judge. I’m just saying it was possible.

A parent could, for the most part, prevent their children from watching certain TV shows, seeing certain movies, or reading certain books that contained information and messages that they didn’t want them consuming. Sure, every now and then one of their kids’ friends might sneak some “illicit” information past their guard, but they could still exert a fair amount of control over what and how their kids learned.

Without getting too deep into the logistics, it’s safe to say that those days are either over or numbered. In today’s world of ever-increased connectivity, along with cheap smartphones and easy internet access, kids are capable of accessing an unlimited wealth of information that no parent can hope to filter.

In many ways, that’s a good thing. Both the millennial generation and the emerging youth in Generation Z are the most educated cohort of people to have ever lived on this planet. Given that level of education, combined with access to so much information, why do some parents still believe they can keep their kids ignorant about sex?

I don’t deny that talking to children about sex is uncomfortable for parents, to say the least. It’s just as uncomfortable for the kids too. I still remember how awkward it was when my parents told me about sex. I still love and commend them for enduring that awkwardness because it made me more informed later in life. Other parents, however, insist on taking the opposite approach.

On April 23rd, 2018, there was a nationwide effort conducted by concerned parents who didn’t approve of how their children were being educated about sex. They called it “Sex Ed Sit Out” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Rather than directly deal with the information their children are being taught, they seek to prevent their children from ever learning about it.

The fact they’re doing this in an era where any kid with a smartphone can look up detailed information about anatomy, sexuality, sexual orientation, and transgender issues is pretty telling. The fact this is being done with support of socially conservative, sex-negative organizations like the Family Research Council and the Liberty Counsel should also be a major red flag.

The effort, itself, was instigated by a North Carolina mother who called herself “The Activist Mommy.” She’s an extremely religious woman who espouses extremely regressive views on any form of sexuality that doesn’t fall in line with what popes, monks, mullahs, and rabbis deem moral. What set her off, though, was what she found out her kids had been learning in sex ed at their school.

It wasn’t just that they were teaching kids about contraception, safe sex practices, and the radical notion that sexual desires aren’t some disease that need to be cured or managed. It was also the idea that these programs had the audacity to inform children about LGBTQ issues relating to sexuality. It even had the gall to ask kids to think about and question how those issues effect them.

Assume that last paragraph was written with the utmost sarcasm, but that was a serious issue for these parents. This isn’t just about information that may or may not conflict with their preferred holy books. Some go so far as to call it “graphic, gender-bending, promiscuity-promoting sex education.”

They frequently throw around phrases like “the sexualization of our children” to get parents really uncomfortable. They treat such education as though they’re a how-to guide, complete with drills and a maintenance schedule. In reality, that’s not how the program works and anyone with an internet connection can verify that.

It’s still not enough for these parents, though. I don’t doubt they love their kids with all their hearts, but I think they’re seriously underestimating their ability to control both the inherent biology of children and the dangers of trying to preserve ignorance in an era where information is so easy to access.

It’s because of that same access that anyone can learn that abstinence only sex education programs don’t work. It doesn’t just bear out through data in peer-reviewed studies. Those programs even fail the basic tenets of common sense and logic. To prove this, just think of all the instances when not knowing about something made it not exist. Outside Freddy Kruger movies, that just doesn’t work in the real world.

Beyond simply being ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money, taking that same abstinence approach to LGBTQ issues is potentially more damaging. It’s one thing to tell children that having a strong desire to be intimate with someone is immoral, dangerous, and may doom their soul to damnation. It’s quite another to instill the notion that they’re somehow damaged for not having gender-based attitudes consistent with 50s sitcoms.

Like it or not, human beings are complicated, diverse creatures with a wide range of desires, attitudes, and identities. The idea that something as inherently powerful as sex can fit into the narrow scope of a 50s sitcom requires a gross misunderstanding of the chaotic, unpredictable nature of sexuality and biology in general.

Granted, this sort of repressive ideology is nothing new. Religious organizations have been protesting sex education in public school for years, favoring abstinence instead of any information that might hint that sex could involve something other than just two married heterosexuals making babies that grow into devout church-going tax-payers.

However, the rhetoric from people like the Activist Mommy is getting louder as gender-driven conflicts enter the conversation on top of the sexual components. It’s more than enough to get parents worried, outraged, and even a little anxious about what their kids are learning.

Whatever their sentiments, sincere and well-meaning as they might be, the abstinence approach still doesn‘t work. It was already ineffective in the era before the internet, as evidenced by the rates of teen pregnancy over the past several decades. However, that same inefficacy may be more damaging now than it was two decades ago.

To understand how, think back to what I mentioned earlier about parents being able to control what their kids learned in the past. Outside extremely restrictive religious communities, that’s just not feasible anymore. Today, just as during any other time period in human history, kids are going to get curious and/or horny. Unlike past eras, though, it’s easier than ever find the information they’re looking for.

That’s not just dangerous to the extent those kids learn things their parents don’t want them to know. It’s dangerous in the sense that there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet, especially about sex. That doesn’t just extend to the unrealistic depictions and expectations in the average porno either. It’s disturbingly easy to find bias sources of information.

Even if that information is accurate, there’s still more damage to be done by abstinence. Once a kid learns that information, much to the dismay of their parent, it’s hard to unlearn it. At the same time, it may also reveal to the kid just how much their parents have been lying to them on issues of sex, gender, and their own bodies.

Now, I get that parents have to lie to their kids every now and then, but some lies are more destructive than others. If the lie is too big or egregious, then suddenly that kid has a valid reason not to trust their parents. First, they say sex you can get pregnant by hugging someone. Then, they expect you to believe them when they say driving after doing tequila shots at a party is dangerous?

As a general rule, if keeping a secret from your kid involves something that can’t easily be uncovered with a couple internet searches, then they’re going to find out eventually. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to protect your kid from this information. If it’s out there and they’re curious, they’ll find it. That’s just the nature of the age we live in.

A child may or may not be capable of understanding sexuality or gender issues at a particular age, but most agree that it’s healthy for a child to trust their parents. Most people, kids and adults alike, can forgive small lies. For bigger lies that can claim natural, healthy desires are a disease, though, those are much harder to overlook.

For the parents to participated in this sit out, I hope they come to understand that at some point. Their children, which I’m certain they love with all their heart, are going to learn about sex, gender, and everything in between at some point. When that point comes and it’s too late, then the damage might already be irreparable.

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Hard Lessons About Abortion And Society (From A Failed Communist Regime)

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There are a lot of sensitive topics that nobody likes talking about. They make people uncomfortable, anxious, and downright angry at times. Sometimes, that’s a sign that we should talk about them. Then, there are times when discussions on those topics have gone horribly wrong, resulting in important lessons that we would be wise to heed.

Chief among those sensitive topics is abortion. In the pantheon of uncomfortable discussions, abortion is in a league of it’s own. I try not to talk about it too often, but I don’t shy away from it when it reveals so much about society, sexuality, and gender issues.

At the moment, the abortion debate is ongoing, but somewhat stagnant. Sure, there are a few extreme pro-lifers who favor the death penalty for women seeking an abortion, which is an irony in and of itself. As it stands though, abortion remains legal in the United States, but efforts to limit abortion access are steadily growing.

It’s hard to know what the future holds for the abortion debate, especially as advances in contraception continue to emerge. Until we perfect artificial wombs and completely decouple sex from reproduction, the debate will continue. Arguments about the ethics of abortion and when life begins will still generate heated and passionate discussions.

While I’ve tried to contribute to these discussions in a reasonable way, there are aspects of the abortion debate that tend to get overlooked. However, they have less to do with the ethics and more to do with the logistics of abortion, fertility, and managing society. It’s in that part of the issue, though, where there are lessons to learn from history.

That history sometimes comes from unexpected places in parts of the world that rarely make the news. For the abortion debate, one place and time period that warrants extra scrutiny is Romania under its old communist regime. For those outside of Europe who never lived behind the Iron Curtain, this part of the world is an afterthought. However, its history with respect to the abortion debate is one worth learning from.

That history is not a good one, as if often the case with repressive communist regimes. Up until the late 1960s, Romania had fairly liberal abortion policies. Most women who wanted one could get one and since access to contraception was so limited, it was the most common form of family planning. To pro-life supporters, it’s basically the nightmare scenario they dread.

That all changed in 1967 when the communist leader of the country, Nicholae Ceaușescu, issued Decree 770. This didn’t just outlaw abortion in almost every instance. It effectively turned every woman’s reproductive system into the property of the state. Women were required, by law, to carry every pregnancy to term and by required, I don’t mean through impassioned protests.

This is a communist country. The Romanian government enforced this decree with the utmost force. It had the secret police spy on women and hospitals to make sure nobody tried to evade the law. It even adopted a birth-focused brand of sex education that are extreme, even by Texas standards. Basically, Romania went from a pro-life nightmare to the a pro-life paradise.

However, Decree 770 had nothing to do with the ethics of abortion, the sanctity of life, or any major concerns about sexual promiscuity. For Nicholae Ceaușescu, this decree was done purely out of concerns for demographics, an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant for some societies.

Ceaușescu had seen that the population of his country had stagnated in the 1950s. He couldn’t have a strong, robust communist country without a growing population of workers. Decree 770 was intended to change that. It may have even made sense at the time, at least from the perspective of a ruthless dictator.

People were still having a lot of sex, as the high abortion rate indicated. By making abortion illegal, the Romanian government would benefit from a fresh influx of young, native-born Romanians who would help build the country’s glorious communist future. Given the country’s current standing in the global stage, it should be obvious how wrong that turned out to be.

To say Decree 770 was disaster would be like saying Ebola is a mild stomach bug. Sure, it might have reduced the amount of legal abortions being conducted in Romania, but the terrible impacts it had on women, society, and entire generations are far beyond my writing abilities.

Women today who passionately protest their right to not be harassed or denigrated would be wise to note the experiences of Romanian women under this regime. In their world, they didn’t just have sleazy Hollywood producers harassing them. Under the Romanian government, they were basically state-sponsored breeders. Any role beyond that was considered criminal.

The punishments for subverting Decree 770 were as harsh as you would expect for a communist society. Women and doctors were thrown in prison. Since contraception was also banned, it forced women to resort to dangerous extremes that added even more suffering. Take this little anecdote from the Irish Times.

“Out of desperation, women would resort to insane methods,” Dr Elena Borza told the Inter Press news agency in Romania recently. “They would use salt, detergent, or any other substance which they thought could help them get rid of the baby.”

This policy was horrible for women, to say the least. However, it’s the many children they gave birth to who may have suffered the worst. Beyond the issues of having larger families in a country that later got hit with a severe economic crisis, this surge in birth rates led to a surge of abandoned children that flooded streets and orphanages alike.

The stories of these children are not the kind that would make it into a light-hearted Disney movie. The conditions that these abandoned children endured were nothing short of traumatic. There was abuse, exploitation, and violence of all types. When there are so few resources to go around, but more and more mouths to feed, it leads to conflict.

I don’t want to belabor just how awful things got for the generation that Decree 770 created, but if you want to learn more or are just a glutton for dark parts of our history, check out a documentary called “Children Underground.” It’ll describe and depict the horrors these children endured in a way that’s graphic, but real.

Even if abandoned children isn’t proof enough of Decree 770’s failure, consider how Nicholae Ceaușescu’s regime ended. He was not hailed as the ultimate anti-abortion leader. He was brutally executed by his own soldiers, some of which were likely children born as a result of that policy. Some might call that irony. Other’s might call that fitting.

Whatever you call it, the legacy of Decree 770 is worth scrutinizing because it provides a case study in what happens when you take anti-abortion policies to the utmost extreme. I’m not just talking about the potential links between abortion and crime, which is still very controversial. I believe a much bigger part of that legacy is how it reduced an entire society to state-sanctioned drones whose only purpose was to work and breed.

It removed agency from couples who didn’t want children. It removed agency from pregnant women. It removed agency from families. It led to terrible situations that resulted in parents abandoning their children. Say what you want about a policy, but when it leads to child abandonment, then that’s a clear sign.

In many ways, Romania still hasn’t recovered from Decree 770. The effects this policy had on an entire generation and their parents left some pretty significant scars, to say the least. Those scars, however, can be critical lessons when discussing issues involving abortion, sexuality, and child rearing

That’s not to say that the experience in Romania completely discredits all anti-abortion arguments. Remember, and it’s worth emphasizing, Romania was a communist country where individual rights, freedom of choice, and personal liberty aren’t established traditions. Its situation is unique and subject to some pretty brutal circumstances.

Never-the-less, the experiences and legacy of Decree 770 provide a critical insight into the complexities of the abortion debate. It shows what can happen when one side is taken to extremes with brute, uncompromising force without first convincing the population of its merits. It’s not just tyrannical. It’s damaging.

At the moment, attitudes towards abortion are fairly mixed, but stable. The majority of people believe that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. The nature and extent of those circumstances vary, but they’re rarely conducive to extremes.

That’s why whenever a particular side gets too extreme in this heated debate, it helps to remember the lessons learned from Decree 770. Regardless of whether it occurs in a communist country or rural Alabama, those lessons are important to recall. They’re also the kinds of lessons we don’t want to re-learn.

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Gender Equality, The Market For Sex, And How Prostitution Affects Both

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How do you put a real, tangible value on sex? I’m just not talking about the hourly rate charged by a prostitute. I’m talking about the kind of value that allows us to quantify an experience in terms of resources, market, and exchange. Sex already has an inherent value in that we need it to propagate our species. Just how far does that value go and how much does it affect our society?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that sex is the second oldest universal currency in the history of the human species after food. People have been using sex as a currency for millennia and not always in the sense of formal prostitution.

Parents marry their daughters off for dowries. Spies have used sex to extract valuable information. Then, there are teenagers who have sex in hopes of gaining popularity. This sexual exchange goes on all the time in the real world and in any number of movies. Call it prostitution if you want. Hate it all you want. It still happens.

The mere fact that it keeps happening, despite the best efforts of repressive governments, shows that the value of sex does a lot to drive our society. For better or for worse, the pursuit and exchange of sex is one of the most powerful driving forces in the overall human experience.

Given the extent of this driving force, it’s bound to affect how the genders interact with one another. Whether it’s ancient patriarchal societies or western democracies, the exchange of sex has an impact on how people relate to one another. It’s for that very reason that it’s worth pondering what happens when the value of sex is skewed.

This is where it really helps to look at the market value for sex in a libertarian context. Technically speaking, the free market approach is consistent with how sex was exchanged in the hunter/gatherer days of humanity. In that sense, it serves as a baseline of sorts for the market value of sex.

With that context in mind, sex exchanged for certain reasons by a particular gender will have a certain value. A man paying a woman for sex has one value. A woman paying a man for sex has another. A man paying multiple women for multiple sex acts over the course of several nights also has value, albeit a more elaborate one.

That payment doesn’t always involve money, either. Sometimes, the payment is in the form of loving intimacy, not unlike the kind I describe in my books. Sometimes, the payment comes in the form of a particular experience or fantasy, like groupies having sex with rock stars. The key to this exchange is that it is done freely and everyone involves gets the value they seek from it.

Ideally, that’s how the market for sex is determined in perfect libertarian world. Unfortunately, that is not the situation the sexual marketplace faces. Multiple social forces that include the law, social stigma, taboos, and media influences all coordinate to skew the market value for sex. As a result, it skews gender relations as well.

In fact, I would argue that the market value for sex has become more skewed over the past few years than it has in the past several decades. The emergence of the anti-harassment movement and the increasing stigma on certain aspects of male sexuality is inflating the sexual market in some places while crashing it in others.

At the moment, most people would agree that female sexuality is more valued than that of males. Beautiful women are used to sell pretty much everything from shampoo to fast food. It’s no secret that men seek the company of beautiful women. Their company is highly valued, both in terms of money and social standing. The late Hugh Hefner understood that better than anyone.

That’s not to say attractive men don’t also hold value. There’s a reason why men like George Clooney, Chris Hemsworth, and even the Old Spice Guy are celebrated and pursued. However, their sexual market value has less to do with how they look and more to do with what they can do. None of them can bear children, but they have unique skills that make them desirable.

Where the market gets skewed is when that libertarian free exchange gets taxed, so to speak, by a potent mix of laws and social norms. If you’re a beautiful woman, you rarely have to pay for sex. Even if you’re marginally attractive, chances are you don’t have to hire a male gigolo. So long as you’re not actively pursuing someone like George Clooney, you can probably put yourself out there and let the sex come to you.

The taxes, in this case, tend to hit the men seeking sex. Under the current law, they have only a handful of options with respect to seeking sex. They need to convince a woman to freely have sex with them without overtly paying her, which would get them arrested. That often involves indirect payments in the forms of dates, adulation, flirting, and attention.

You could claim that those indirect payments are still akin to prostitution, as some have argued, but that’s where the market gets even more skewed. In that situation, where there’s no option for a simpler exchange involving money and sex, the value of female sexuality doesn’t just go up. The cost for men goes up as well.

For most other goods and services, this creates the kind of premium that makes certain things harder for more people to purchase. There’s a reason why only rich, successful people have Rolex watches, stretch limousines, private jets, and gold-encrusted smart-phones. That makes sense for the luxury crowd. With sex, though, that premium has some unique caveats.

For most people, the desire for a gold-encrusted smartphone isn’t there. Most people can see these expensive yachts and fancy cars from afar. They might even admire them. However, admiring something isn’t the same as desiring it. Most people don’t desire a 100-foot yacht and all the responsibilities that come with it. Nearly everyone desires sex.

Regardless of your gender, you can’t turn off your sex drive. Every effort at doing so has resulted in some pretty damaging effects. People are still going to want sex. For those who lack the beauty, social skills, or charisma to get it, there are only so many ways of going about it. When some of those ways are restricted or hindered, there’s a disparity of unfulfilled desires and that disparity can breed problems.

At the moment, that disparity primarily affects the vast majority of men who aren’t rich or as attractive as Ryan Gosling. They have the same sexual desire that men have always had, but their outlets for that desire are fairly limited, more so now than ever before.

That’s not just because prostitution is illegal and simply being caught with a prostitute is subject to significant stigma. Female sexuality is so valued in wake of the anti-harassment movement that simply attempting to get sex carries a higher risk of being labeled a creep, a harasser, or worse. Women have the power to ruin a man’s life, even if the sex is consensual.

That power is directly linked to the inflated value of sex. By keeping prostitution illegal, the access is controlled and the cost goes up. That’s because, by having to operate in a black or gray market, the cost of doing business is subject to the black market premium. Anything on the black market is going to come with greater risk. With greater risks come greater costs and not always in terms of money.

In a sense, prostitution laws and limiting access to sex by a particular gender puts greater power in the hands of those who are wealthy and can subvert the base market. There’s a reason why rich, powerful people can hire prostitutes with relative impunity while the vast majority of those arrested for prostitution are poor or disadvantaged.

Again, if you’re attractive and have easy access to various resources, those laws don’t affect you. If you’re not, whether you’re a prostitute or someone seeking their services, you can be singled out and arrested. In that market, the value primarily benefits those at the top and I’m not just talking about rich people.

There are plenty of others who have a vested interest in inflating the price of female sexuality and limiting sexual outlets for men. It’s the high value of female sexuality that puts many women, from Hollywood to feminist circles, in greater positions of influence. That’s not to say it’s a full-fledged conspiracy. Like any form of market manipulation, though, it’s a way for certain people to maximize their value.

That manipulation may very well be escalating with the expansion of the anti-harassment movement and increasing efforts to regulate the porn industry. These efforts promise to further skew the sexual marketplace, making it so that those of limited resources will have to pay an even higher price to get sex.

The effects of that disparity are hard to predict, but the signs are there. The existing double standards that assume female victimization and male aggression are only compounding the cost of pursuing sex. At some point, the market can only stay inflated so long before it crashes.

Once again, I want to make clear that I’m not claiming there’s some feminist conspiracy looking to control all forms of male sexuality. In my experience, humans are exceedingly limited at carrying out conspiracies and history has given plenty of examples. That said, I do think those who benefit from female sexuality being more valued have a strong incentive to cling to that value.

In any market, those who have an advantage will work hard to maintain that advantage. That’s why I believe efforts to curb prostitution and the porn industry will escalate in the coming years. However, history also shows that sometimes, those efforts can backfire horribly.

Prostitution isn’t going away anytime soon, but efforts to control it will continue to skew the sexual marketplace and gender disparities, alike. If there’s one consolation, though, it’s that inflated markets have a tendency to correct themselves over time. It may take a while for the sexual marketplace to balance out, but so long as the human desire for sex remains strong, our collective libido will find a way.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, sex in society, sexuality

In Defense Of Hook-Up Culture (To A Point)

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There are certain cultural phenomena that are difficult to defend. Things like big businesses, the NFL, or the current president come to mind. However, some of those things are attacked, denigrated, or hated for misguided reasons. It’s not always the case that they should be defended, but there are times when a little balance is needed.

When it comes to a topic that’s easy to criticize, hook-up culture has a bigger target than most and that target has only grown in recent years. It’s one of those issues that has fronts for both the unceasing war on horny women and the escalating war on horny men. To defend it means fighting a two-front war, which has historically been a bad idea.

I’m still going to try, though, and not because I think hook-up culture in its current state deserves to be defended. There are certain aspects about that state that I find flawed, some of which I’ve discussed before. Even so, I do believe some aspects of hook-up culture should be defended. I still intend to pick my battles very carefully, though.

At the moment, hook-up culture has been getting attacked on multiple fronts. It used to be that only cantankerous old people whined about young people having more sex than what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks deem appropriate. These people saw hook-up culture as antithetical to the idealized nuclear family model that was glorified in every 50s sitcom.

Most people, these days, don’t take that kind of whining seriously. However, a new attack on hook-up culture is actually coming from other young people and otherwise educated people that are smart enough to recognize why those idealized 50s sitcoms were pure fantasy. Instead, they’re attacking hook-up culture as some inherently toxic manifestation that’s destroying men and women alike.

Make no mistake. This attack isn’t restricted to extreme conservatives who see hook-up culture as an affront to traditional values or liberals who see it as a tool of oppression that’s inherently objectifying. It’s not even restricted to man-hating feminists who think cat-calling constitutes assault or women-hating men who see every woman is a gold-digger who wants to ruin his life.

The attack runs deeper than that. Taken all together, these attacks reflects a sentiment that isn’t always hostile to sex, but treats it the same way most people treat a phobia. Regardless of political or agenda affiliation, sex from the attackers is almost always in a context of anxiety, fear, and hyper-vigilance. That phobia manifests in different ways.

If you’re a conservative traditionalist, hook-up culture evokes a fear that anything other than the nuclear family will destroy society and hurt those who participate.

If you’re a liberal progressive, hook-up culture evokes the fear that men will exploit women, using them for their own selfish reasons and subsequently contributing to their continued oppression.

To some extent, I can understand those fears. However, like most phobias that don’t involve spiders, those fear are not justified. They also reflect some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, intimacy, and romance in general.

Some of those attitudes play out in the sensationalized headlines surrounding hook-up culture. In these stories, it’s often portrayed as callous, bland, and overtly hedonistic. People aren’t getting together to fall in love, get married, and make babies. They’re just having sex the same way they would scratch an itch.

For some people, that’s unnerving, especially if they have children above the age of consent. There may even be a twinge of jealousy in that these young people are enjoying the kind of fun that older people didn’t get to experience when they were that age. While I suspect that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the root cause.

Beyond the cause, though, the attitudes feed the sex-phobic sentiments whenever there’s news that hook-up culture may be harmful. There has been research on the topic and while the American Psychological Association does not draw any sweeping conclusions, it does take the position that hook-up culture is often prone to complications.

Chief among those complications, which also provokes the sentiments of the liberal progressive crowd, are the instances in which people regret hooking up. This is especially sensitive for women. In one study, over 75 percent of the women who’d hooked up with someone regretted it.

For some, it was just an unsatisfying experience. For others, it was somewhat traumatizing. This has become especially taboo since the recent scandal with Aziz Ansari in which the line between regret and misconduct is difficult to see. If you have an agenda, though, confirmation bias will allow you to see these situations as either misogynistic assault or man-hating extortion.

That’s what I find particularly dangerous/revealing about these attacks on hook-up culture. It’s so easy to find instances where people have a bad experience with it or are negatively affected by it. By singling these instances out, whether it’s mental health issues or part of a major celebrity scandal, every side can point to hook-up culture to justify their various sexual anxieties.

It probably doesn’t help that these anxieties may very well contribute to the ongoing orgasm gap between men and women. It also doesn’t help that trends in social media have made hook-up culture even easier to pursue than ever before. By nearly every measure, hook-up culture has little way of defending itself.

This is where I come in and I’m already bracing myself for the criticism.

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When I take a step back and look at the intent of hook-up culture instead of the anecdotes surrounding it, I do see something that’s worth defending. I’m not going to discount the negative impact it might have on some people, but I think the sentiment behind hook-up culture deserves more merit.

To highlight that merit, I need only ask a few questions. I doubt I’ll get honest answers from everyone, but at least consider them when contemplating hook-up culture.

Is it possible that hook-up culture reflects some of the inherent flaws with our traditional approaches towards seeking love and sex?

Is it possible that those engaged in hook-up culture are actually looking for some casual intimacy and NOT just hedonistic indulgence?

Is it possible that men prefer hook-up culture because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of a relationship to get the intimacy and sexual release they desire?

Is it possible that women prefer hook-up culture because they just want to enjoy the toe-curling pleasure that comes with basic sexual intimacy?

Is it possible that some people just want to explore their sexuality without committing too much of their time, energy, and life to a relationship?

None of the questions above are rhetorical or factious in any way. They’re serious, honest questions that I think need to be asked when assessing the issues surrounding hook-up culture.

Regardless of whether or not hook-up culture exists, people are going to get horny. People are going to want to express their sexual desires. There’s no way to stop that. Religion, government, and culture has tried desperately over the years, some going to more extremes than others. All have failed.

This is what I think it hook-up culture’s best defense. It reflects and acknowledges the inherent need of people to express and explore their sexual desires without navigating the myriad of legal, social, and cultural rituals associated with it. In some respects, that reveals the inherent shortcomings in those rituals themselves.

I don’t doubt there are risks associated with hook-up culture. Disease and unwanted pregnancy are at the top of that list, along with instances of exploitation and assault. Focusing on those outcomes is like calling Eddie Murphy’s entire career a failure just because he stared in “Pluto Nash.”

There is a larger context to consider. Remember that study about people regretting their hook-ups? Well, science is rarely that definitive when it comes to matters of human psychology and sexuality. Later studies reveal that the extent of that regret isn’t very strong. It turns out that, like paying to see “Pluto Nash,” we tend to get over it. Most functioning human beings do.

Those same studies also make clear that the quality of the hook-up matters. If someone hooks up with someone for sex, but the sex isn’t satisfying, then of course there’s going to be some regret and anxiety later on. That’s what happens whenever our expectations aren’t met. Just ask anyone who got excited about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ failed Super Bowl guarantee.

This is where the extent of my defense of hook-up culture ends. While I think the various criticisms and anxieties about it are unwarranted, it does carry some baggage that makes all those unpleasant anecdotes so common.

Hook-up culture, in its current form, has all sorts of heavy expectations surrounding it. Whether it’s people actively engaged in it or those observing it from the outside, there’s this sense that hook-up culture is this non-stop party where everyone is enjoying the Caligula-style orgy and nobody leaves unsatisfied. That’s just not how human sexuality works.

Human beings are a passionate, social species. When hook-up culture becomes too dispassionate, which can happen, then it ceases to be a healthy expression of human sexuality. In that context, it’s basically glorified masturbation. As a romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can’t get behind that sort of callousness.

However, I think the attacks on hook-up culture are more misguided than hook-up culture itself. Men are seeing it as an agenda that beautiful women are exploiting. Women are seeing it as an agenda that misogynistic men are exploiting. Liberals and conservatives are seeing it as an affront to everything they deem good and moral. In attacking it, though, they all reveal their own sexual anxieties.

If our collective sexual attitudes are to improve, along with our overall satisfaction, we need to confront these anxieties. Hook-up culture isn’t going away because people wanting to enjoy sex with fewer strings is not going away. We can either learn from it or fight it, with the understanding that fighting it rarely ends well for either side.

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Teaching About Sex, Consent, And Relationships (Through Video Games)

Let’s face it. Most kids aren’t that eager to learn about the stuff that their teachers, parents, and school administrators want them to learn about. They’re not interested in knowing the skills that will make them healthy, productive, tax-paying consumers who will keep society running. They’re interested in the skills that will make them popular and/or get them laid.

The deficiencies of our education system are many and I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the experiences I had within that system. However, I don’t want to dwell too much on that this time. Talking about how much I hated high school is rarely that sexy.

Instead, I want to focus on something that most kids are eager to enjoy and how some people are using that to improve their understanding of sex, sexuality, and relationship. What could kids possibly excite kids that much to learn about something that they would rather not learn from the same gym teacher that makes them run laps in winter?

The answer is more obvious than you think. It’s video games. Admit it, that almost makes too much sense.

There’s no question that kids love playing video games more than learning about quadratic functions. According to a survey done by the MacArthur Foundation, approximately 97 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games. When it comes to statistics and surveys, you can’t get much more definitive without asking kids whether chocolate fudge tastes good.

Kids might not be able to agree whether Superman could beat the Hulk, which he totally could, but they agree that video games are awesome. So if kids love video games so much, why not use that love to teach them valuable lessons about sex, relationships, and consent?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not being facetious either. It’s not about the medium or whatever asinine controversies it may have. It’s about working with what kids already love and using that to help them in valuable ways. It’s not that radical a concept. Hit movies have been made about it.

When it comes to teaching kids about sex, though, I wouldn’t expect Edward James Olmos to star in a movie about that. That doesn’t mean the concept is entirely flawed. Teaching kids about sex is hard enough. Teaching them in a way they’ll remember and take seriously might be beyond the power of Hollywood.

That still doesn’t stop some from trying. In a story by Kimberly Lawson at Vice, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University has helped create a game called PlayForward: Elm City Stories. It’s a fairly straightforward, two-dimensional role playing game that is less about killing aliens or Nazis and more about guiding players through a narrative, showing how their decisions affect them along the way.

That’s not quite as radical as it sounds. Role-playing games represent a large chunk of the video game industry. Major game franchises like “Mass Effect” and “Final Fantasy” are built around the idea of having players make choices and face repercussions of those choices. Take away the aliens and the monsters, though, and you’ve got a solid basis for understanding real life choices.

PlayForward: Elm City Stories plays less like Dungeons & Dragons and more like the classic board game, Life. In it, you play as avatar in a fictional, but fairly realistic city where you have to navigate a variety of activities and make choices along the way.

Some of those activities involve who you your friends are. Some involve going to certain events and parties. Some even involve whether or not to make out with a cute girl. It may sound mundane, but like most RPGs, the appeal is diving into the world of the character and leading them through it. Here’s how Vice describes the experience.

Players have to make important, life-changing decisions, including whether or not they should go upstairs to make out with someone, if they should use a condom or not during sex, and whether they should accept pills found in someone’s grandmother’s medicine cabinet. At any point, they can fast-forward to the epilogue to see what their character’s life looks like at 30, based on the decisions they’ve made.

Through that experience, players learn about more than just saying no to the guy on the street corner offering a free hit of crack. They experience both the short-term and long-term impacts of their decisions. Given the notoriously short attention spans and limited foresight of kids, that kind of insight in indispensable when teaching them about sex and relationships.

It’s no “Super Mario Brothers,” but the lessons it conveys are more valuable than any princess. It puts the players in a position to choose the right and wrong path. It shows them just how right and wrong those paths can be in the long run for their character and themselves, by default.

Beyond just consequences, the game gives players a chance to explore situations involving intimacy, consent, and relationships. Their choices help forge the relationships they have throughout the game. To get a better outcome, they actually need a better understanding of intimacy and consent. The fact that gives them tools to apply those lessons in the real world just a pleasant side-effect.

In a sense, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is coming along at the perfect time. We live in a world where sexual harassment and sexual assault are heated issues. We, as a society, are not as willing to turn a blind eye to these sorts of indiscretions anymore.

Just punishing the Harvey Weinsteins of the world isn’t enough, though. We need to teach the emerging generation that there’s a time and a place to show a beautiful woman your genitals. Knowing those circumstances will be the difference between having a great sex life and being sued into oblivion.

Kids aren’t going to learn those skills through lectures, after school specials, and cute puppets. Some of the most effective learning methods involve active engagement with real activities that offer real rewards. In that sense, video games are the perfect medium for that kind of teaching.

While I doubt that PlayForward: Elm City Stories will win any game of the year awards, it sets an important precedent that is worth building upon. Saving princesses and shooting killer aliens is still fun, but learning about relationships, consent, and sex will take a player much further in life.

Kids, and people in general, learn best when they don’t know they’re learning something. Video games may still have a nasty reputation in some circles, but it offers opportunities to teach valuable skills that aren’t easy to teach, especially to hormonal teenagers. We should take advantage of those opportunities and hopefully, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is just the beginning.

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