On Surviving and Sex Ed

[Trigger warning for sexual violence.]

In addition to the assault on reproductive rights in Republican-held state legislatures across the nation, there has been a resurgence of interest in mandating abstinence-only sex education. Earlier this week, the North Dakota Senate "approved an amendment to a sex education bill (HB 1229) that would require public schools to teach abstinence-only sex education. The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 39 to 8 and will now move to the state House for a vote."

It will certainly not come as a surprise to anyone who's spent more than about five seconds in this space that I am categorically disdainful of abstinence-only sex ed and support comprehensive sex education, so I'm pretty unthrilled about what's happening in North Dakota.

In this space, I've written a lot about the relationship between comprehensive sex education and reproductive rights: Empowering young people, especially young women, with good information about their reproduction is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

But there's another reason, more personal, about which I haven't written as much.

One of the most intractable complications of processing for me, after surviving sexual trauma as a teenager, was my Christian upbringing—a tradition on which a huge premium is placed on purity. (I don't mean to suggest this is true in all Christian traditions, but it was in the one in which I was raised.) I was quite explicitly expected to be a virgin bride.

My mother had been a virgin bride. My father had been a virgin groom. They expected their daughters to be virgins when we married, and we were expected to marry. It wasn't just from my parents that I learned of this expectation: In Sunday school, in confirmation class, in sermons—everyone from my ministers to my peers to Martin Luther himself admonished me to fiercely protect my virginity until I gifted it to my husband on my wedding night.

I was assumed to be straight and exhorted to get married and expected to be a virgin when I did.

I frankly wasn't even sure that I wanted to get married when I was raped at 16, but, after I was, I was sure that I wasn't going to be a virgin bride.

I had deeply internalized the Christian narratives about premarital sex sullying my very soul, and such was the lack of discussion surrounding consent in my young life that the idea nonconsensual sex might not "count" to whatever galactic referee was keeping score of such things never even crossed my mind.

I had also deeply internalized the cultural stereotypes of raped women being irreparably broken, women with broken minds and broken bodies.

Regarding myself as damaged goods, in both spirit and flesh, I figured it didn't matter if I engaged in sexual activity henceforth. And, beyond that grim calculation, that horrible, sad, shrugging relinquishment of my decision-making regarding sex because the decision had been made for me, was something yet worse: I didn't feel like I had any value anymore.

I'd spent my life learning that my worth as a female person was attached to my virginity.

My value as an unsullied cunt was gone; I tried instead to find value as a girl who knew how to give great head.

And, you know, that almost worked for awhile.

There exists a stereotype, a myth, that sexual trauma makes women more promiscuous. (And some women to react to sexual violence with promiscuity; there is no one singular, textbook, universal response to rape, no "right way" to be a survivor.) But it wasn't rape that made me more promiscuous than I otherwise might have been; it was the idea that I had lost my worth as a human and some fundamental goodness which had been wrapped inside my virginity.

Abstinence-only sex ed advocates insist that they're only trying to tell young people that the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy in abstinence, but, if that's all they wanted to convey, that line could be part of a comprehensive sex ed program. What they want to convey is that young people's worth, especially young women's worth, is predicated on maintaining their virginity.

That can be a mind-fuck for young women who lose their virginity consensually. For young women who are raped, it can be truly devastating.

I support comprehensive sex education not merely because it is a smarter and more effective program, but because it does not embed in young people bullshit narratives that stand to revictimize those among them who are victimized by sexual violence.

I am unsurprised to find, once again, the GOP does not share my concern.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus