Sex, Sex , SEX, SEX , SEX, SEX , S-E-X! There, ave I got your attention? Actually, I’m not doing anything that Madison Avenue doesn’t do with us every day with commercials and advertisements. But even that stuff, which we seem to tolerate rather well, does not engage us the way SEX + Youth seems to. Then we, especially those of us with children and grandchildren, really begin to take notice, because we have a big problem with sex and youth this country, especially if we are from the political and religious right side of the political continuum. That side likes to pose the problem as one of morality, which they see as dropping faster than a drunken girl’s panties at a high school after the prom party. Mostly, they see this as having been brought on by those hippie liberals who were dropping LSD and their underwear, and dodging the Draft, while “real” Americans were dropping napalm on that other country that never attacked us. Free love, women’s lib, abortion rights, gay and lesbian marriage, the religious right considers them all a part of the national descent into debauchery, a further distancing from the biblical way of doing things.
So, when a middle school on Portland, Maine decides to make birth control pills and devices available to kids as young as age eleven, we can pretty much expect the walls of Jericho to come tumbling downon the heads of the religious right. he logic of the school board’s decision in Maine is the same one that used to apply to sex education in general. The sex-ed rationale was that it was better for youth to know their biology, and at least they could make informed decisions. The current decision is a recognition that many youth have made decisions to have sex, apparently as early as age eleven,  and that it is better they be protected from HIV and teenage pregnancy. Of course, we all know the religious right’s response—if you tell youth about sex and show them how to use condoms and such, you are encouraging them to have sex. To them knowledge equals action, which does nothing to explain why and how ignorant people seem to have higher rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.
That argument is not going to be settled anytime soon. The Religious Right may know their scriptures, but they don’t know the sociology of their Bible very well, and they certainly don’t know much Sociology at all. If they took a look a biblical history as much as they do to the scripture they would realize that the “youth” of biblical times were already engaged in sex by the age today’s youth are in junior high. Even today, in many undeveloped countries that remains the case. Girls in Nigeria might marry by age 11, and have children shortly thereafter.
In developed countries the major difference is that youth go to school, often from age five to age twenty-five. Consequently, they are economically dependent upon their parents during those years, a circumstance that places them in an ambiguous social status between youth and adulthood. Yet, their biology is no different from what it has been since biblical times or what it is for Nigerian teens. So, in Maine, by age twelve or so, their bodies are telling them that it is time to start having sex. But in Maine it is also an age at which their parents are telling them to turn off their iPods, clean their rooms and study for that algebra exam. This “in-between” period of life, one that in many respects is a creation of the latter half of the 20 th century, became the “teenage” and brought with it new, but largely unanticipated, challenges and problems. Among these has been what to do about “kids” desiring to have sex or, put another way, wanting to be “adults” when socially they are still regarded as “kids.”
Like many new social challenges to humans the reaction has been varied, and often neither very intelligent nor effective. Most recently, living in the age in which religious authorities have undue influence upon social policy we have seen the downright silliness of the religious right. Hundreds of millions in George Bush’s “faith based initiative” moneys have been expended on school programs to get kids to “just say no” to sexual intercourse and pledge themselves to celibacy until marriage. There is probably no way of verifying the extent to which these pledges are being honored; but there has been at least one curious response. There have been reports of large increases in oral sex among teens in various parts of the country. TheInternational Herald Tribune reported in September 2005 that “ . . . oral sex is very much part of the teenage sexual repertoire. According to the survey, more than half of all teenagers aged 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex – including nearly a quarter of those who have never had intercourse.” Oral sex, it seems, has become parsed out of the “sexual intercourse ” equation. If reporting by some teens of behaviors in a Massachusetts prep school (where they should be taught to be more facile with the language, shouldn’t they?) young women, referred to as “dirty pretty things,” are performing Lewinsky-like services on their male classmates with not more emotional attachment than would a handshake. So, in much the same way in which Mr. Clinton questioned what sex “is,” some youth might be consigning oral sex to a category outside the definition of “intercourse.” What irony that a man so despised by the morally righteous might have provided a technicality that allows the intercourse pledge to be “honored” but does not spoil all the fun.
This is not leading to a blanket endorsement of the Main Middle School approach to the realities of biology in the 21 st Century. Teenage aboriginals lived in far more simple and otherwise socially regulated societies that do today’s young people—and they die and continue to die at much younger ages. For many, life was, and is, “nasty, brutish, and short,” and there is not much time for the honeybee to visit the flower. The answer might not lie in giving in to the “human sexual response,” but neither does it lie in moralizing on human behavior from scriptural references that clearly disconfirm their anthropological relevance.
©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 10.29.2007)
 Man, that does seem early.