If you ask its detractors, there are a lot of reasons to oppose gay marriage. Excuses include that these unions destroy traditional family units, go against religious doctrine, and, yes, even condone anal sex. That last issue seems to be a big one for some folks. Take, for example, New Hampshire Rep. Nancy Elliott who is one of the co-sponsors of a bill to repeal same sex marriage in that state. During a hearing on the bill last week, she tried to drum up support for her agenda by painting a graphic description of what she thinks two men do in bed.
"You know," she said, “I started thinking, and we're talking about taking the penis of one man and putting it into the rectum of another man, and wiggling it around in excrement. And I have to think, I'm not sure, would I allow that to be done to me? All of us, that could happen to you. Would you let that happen to you?"
Now, I'm actually pretty sure that some people in the audience would let that happen to them. I'm also pretty sure that not all of those are the married gay men Elliot seems so offended by. But for people like Elliot, one of the best ways to discredit gay men is to pull out the anal card. Reducing gay men to a sex practice that a lot of people are uncomfortable with (It hurts! It's messy! It’s unnatural!), allows opponents of gay rights to feel that their views are justified. Gay men are no longer people who might want to legally bind their unions with a partner they love. Nope, they are just perverts who only want to have more opportunity to put their penises in shit. It is unlikely that this bill will ultimately rest on the issue of anal, and Elliot has already taken a lot of flack for her comments (including a disputed claim that local fifth graders, “were given as part of their classroom instruction naked pictures of two men showing a presentation of anal sex.”) But whatever the outcome of the bill, this legislator’s remarks are a reminder that for every step the gay community takes towards equality, there is always someone waiting to scare the public into thinking that the discussion shouldn't be seen as a fight for rights, but rather as a fight against deviance.

If seeing Sarah Palin's face on Fox news wasn't reminder enough that a socially conservative woman has more chance of gaining political power than does a liberal one, Costa Rica's recent election of Laura Chinchilla for president, hits that message home.

According to the New York Times, "Although she follows the center-left welfare policies of her party, she is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage."

To be sure, this is an important moment. With this election, Chinchilla becomes Costa Rica's first female president, and joins only a handful of other female world leaders. As a result, many women are likely very inspired by the victory.

But given her views, the Chinchilla win is really more of a victory for one woman than it is for all women. While it's nice to have your gender represented in politics, it's not nearly as nice as having your rights guaranteed.

When abortion was decriminalized in 1973, all existing abortion laws on the books were invalidated. Pretty much five seconds later, anti-abortion crusaders set about trying to put as many back in place as they could. Then they set about adding a bunch of new restrictions for good measure. As a result of these efforts, there are currently innumerable legal restrictions limiting abortion in America.

Among these, 43 states had laws requiring parental consent and notification for minors seeking an abortion. 32 states required "counseling" or imposed waiting limits on obtaining the procedure. 20 states prohibited organizations which receive state funding from referring women for abortions. And 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, prevented women from using Medicaid and other state sponsored health insurance to cover the procedure.

Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute reports that almost 90% of American counties do not have a single abortion provider.

Yet anti-abortion legislators still scramble to impose ever more restrictive laws, putting a procedure that many women will need at some point during their lives, ever further out of reach.

Most recently, the Utah house passed a bill that would give a woman seeking an abortion the option to first view her ultrasound. The bill, using the scare tactics loved by abortion foes, refers to a woman's ability under the bill to view the heartbeat of a fetus at three weeks.

Um, last time, I, (and medical science) checked, a three week-old fetus did not have the developed heart that would be needed in order to view a heartbeat.

This fact was actually pointed out to the bill's sponsor, Republican, Carl Wimmer (a man who a few years back opined that he was considering introducing a bill that would make it a crime for a teacher to stray from the state sanctioned abstinence-only curricula, by discussing things like contraception, or even sex, and who recently introduced a bill that would, in effect, criminalize a miscarriage) would not be swayed. "There are arguments on both sides of the issue," he offered.

Sure, the ones based on science and the ones based on a desperately misguided attempt at ending legal abortion at any cost.

Finally some good news for a change! According to a congressionally mandated study, child abuse has significantly declined since the early 1990s.

How much of a decline are we looking at? Physical, sexual and emotional abuse combined dropped 26 percent between 1993 and 2006, and when you look at sexual abuse alone, the drop was significant: 38%.

Of course, this study ends in 2006, before our current recession, and it's true that America in 2010 is not the same place it was four years ago. But it is also important to remember that while there have been fears that crime would increase due to the rise in poverty, this has not actually occurred. In fact, the U.S. crime rate was actually lower in 2009, than it was the previous year. Let's hope this trend also holds for crimes against children.

It often seems as if no matter what sexual choices women make, the slut label is never far behind. Wear the wrong outfit? Slut. Sleep with someone too soon? Slut. Don’t use a condom? Slut? Use a condom, but suggest the idea in an erotic way? Apparently, this, too, can be seen as slutty! In a study just published online in the journal, Sex Roles, researchers looked at whether the manner in which a woman raises the issue of condom use with a sex partner affects how other women perceive her. To do so they asked 193 undergraduate students to read stories about a sexual encounter between a man and a woman where the female character brought up condom use in three different ways. In the first scenario, the woman expressed concern over STDs and pregnancy. In the second, she simply refused to have sex without a condom. In the third, she talked about how sex would be hotter with a condom because she would feel less inhibited. The study determined that, “Female students rated the female proposer as less nice, more promiscuous and less like the housewife type when she used the eroticization strategy, suggesting that women are harsher on other women who highlight their sexuality.“ It would be nice to think that in the years since the sexual revolution women no longer had reason to judge each other sexually. Unfortunately, it seems the old joke, “being promiscuous means that you’ve slept with one more person than I have,” rings a little more true than I'd like.

Abstinence-only lovers were gleefully shouting I told you so’s yesterday when Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine released a study looking at an abstinence-only education program based in Philadelphia. The study determined that, “An education program for middle-schoolers promoting chastity significantly reduced their self-reported sexual activity two years later, compared with other sex education approaches.”

That’s nice and all, but before we decide that comprehensive sex ed is to blame for the ills of the world (oh, say our recent uptick in teen pregnancy), there are a few things to keep in mind.

First off, the abstinence program in question was not typical of abstinence-only programs in that it lacked a lot of the moralizing that many of these programs are known for. Additionally, it was not an abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Rather, it suggested that teens wait to have sex sex until they were "ready."

Another problem with using this study as a real measure of abstinence-only programs was the age and demographics of the participants. These were young African American 6th and 7th graders. Lylah M. Alphonse points out on Boston.com that, “According to the Guttmacher Institute, which documented the rise in teen pregnancies, African-American teen pregnancies increased less than other groups, so an abstinence-only study that focused only on urban African-American middle-school students may not be easily applied to teenagers in general.

There is also something else to keep in mind. No one has ever said that abstinence-only programs have NO impact on when kids have sex. But what has been shown is that when they do have sex, even if it is a little older than some of their peers, it is often sex that is of the risky variety.

In fact, in a study of virginity pledges, (which are often a component of abstinence-only programs), researches Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner, found that while pledging to remain a virgin until marriage did tend to delay the onset of first intercourse, this delay was only temporary. Additionally, when virginity pledging teens ultimately did have sex, they were unlikely to use condoms, and as a result were more likely to contract an STD.

Countless research has shown the failures of abstinence-only programs. It's a real shame that a study like this will likely be cited as if it is the definite word on the subject.

I've supported a woman's right to have an abortion as long as I can remember. But nothing solidified this view more that having children of my own. And I have to say, I was extremely relieved on Friday when I saw that Scott Roeder was convicted of first degree murder in the killing of George Tiller, one of the last American doctors to perform abortions later in pregnancy.

Roeder, has said he acted in order to “halt the deaths of babies," and his supporters, many of whom descended on the courthouse during the trial, seem to buy this logic. But while these supporters may be vocal, it is important to remember, they aren't the majority.

In fact, the majority of Americans continue to support a woman's right to have a legal abortion. The Pew Research Center found that “in two major surveys conducted in 2009 among a total sample of more than 5,500 adults, views of abortion are about evenly divided, with 47% expressing support for legal abortion and 44% expressing opposition."

It's true that this support is down, and as Pew further reports, "four-in-ten Americans (41%) now favor making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, up six points from 2007 (35%).” But there is a big leap between supporting further restrictions for abortion and killing a doctor who has dedicated his life to helping women obtain this medical procedure.

I sometimes wonder if the "moderate" anti-abortionists can be reached by facts. For example that:

  • the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.
  • carrying any pregnancy to term is more dangerous to a woman's health than is an early abortion.
  • about 60% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children already.
  • history has shown that making abortion illegal will not end the practice.

and,

  • that health issues, and the inability to access abortion (either due to location, waiting limits, parental notification requirements, or cost) are the major contributing factors to having a later abortion, not simple callousness. 1 2

Obviously, information like this means nothing to the Scott Roeder's of the world. But I hope it isn't too much wishful thinking to believe that the average abortion opponent can somehow be reached with a reality check.

oral sex

Last week, a school district in California did what a lot of other American schools have done over the years: they banned a book.

But this time, the book wasn't Heather Has Two Mommies, The Catcher in the Rye, or Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. Nope, the book that got the ax was none other than Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The district's local paper reports:

The 9,000-student K-8 district this week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."

It's true that nothing gets folks up in arms like the thought of kids encountering sexually charged material. And protecting kids from crass language is nothing new. (I remember when I was a kid, our neighbors wouldn't let their children see ET because one character calls another "penis breath.")

But I just wonder how any educator or educational administrator could have thought that allowing this to occur was a good idea?

Now, however, the district is backpedaling. After forming a committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators, it was decided that, yes, dictionaries do have a place in the classroom.

Nevertheless, the committee also decided that this place was not without limits. Betti Cadmus, a spokeswoman for the school district, explained children would have to return signed permission slips before they could once again freely look up new vocabulary words. As she said, "The dictionary will go back to the classroom but the parents will be given the option to determine if they want their kids to have access to that dictionary."

Before the dictionary ban, I'd hazard a guess that there were a few kids in the district who didn't know what oral sex was. I have a sneaky feeling that in light of this incident, that is no longer the case.

Originally published on About.com's GLBT Teens site.

Image (c) Auntie P

teen sexting

Last year, news broke about a group of Pennsylvania teens who had been busted for "sexting," or sending sexual pictures by--you guessed it--text message. Over the next few months, similar charges were brought against teens in states including Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

So what was behind these prosecutions? Basically, new technology combined with old laws and a growing paranoia about the consequences of teen sex, and the threat posed by sex offenders. This is paranoia which has allowed the mushrooming of a legal system favoring punishment over rehabilitation, the widespread adoption of zero tolerance policies for sex offenders, and an expanding definition of what a sex offender is.

In light of this, countless teens and young adults are behind bars or saddled with lifetime sexual offender status. And while some of these teens are dangerous criminals, many have simply gotten a blow job, texted a naked picture of themselves, or had a consensual sex with another kid who happened to be a few years younger, if not the exact same age!

Defenders of this crackdown claim that punitive laws need to be enforced to protect children. Yet many fail to see how contradictory such laws can be when applied to people who are little more than children themselves. But because Americans tend to be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of teen sexuality, and since no criminals are more vilified than are sex offenders, it has become easier than ever to demonized anyone, no matter how young, who is involved in something called a sex crime. That is true even if the illegality of the crime in question is, well, questionable.

But for arguments sake, let's just say that teens accused of sex crimes, are indeed criminals in need of punishment. What then? Even in cases where the law should be involved, the current tactics are severely lacking. A 2009 study conduced by the National Institute of Justice and Rutgers University, found that the ever increasing legislation requiring sex offender registration, residency restrictions, and mandatory minimums had not made a measurable difference in deterring future sex crimes against children. But studies like this are ignored by terrified community members and by politicians who want to look tough on crime. Rather than fighting to revamp the system, many people still argue to enact more and more regulations.

Of course, most supporters of anti-sex offender legislation don't have the average teen in mind. Many are simply shellshocked by horrific tales of child molesters who strike at random. And while these cases are indeed chilling, they are also in the minority. Most sex crimes against children are committed by adults known to the victim. But as more and more anti-sex offender laws pass, the pool of those affected increases. As a result, legislation designed with hardened criminals in mind also gets applied to teens whose activities are significantly different.

Of course, the emergence of new media has created a legal nightmare. Child pornography laws were not written for teens who posted nude pictures of themselves online or texted racy messages to a friend. But this is how they have been applied, and teens involved in these situations have been painted as dangerous criminals. Yet as Peter Cumming, an associate professor at York University in Toronto, explained in a paper he gave last spring on childrens' sexuality, sexting is simply a modern variation on “playing doctor or spin-the-bottle.”

So what of those Pennsylvania teens busted last year? Well, theirs just became the first criminal case involving ''sexting'' to reach a U.S. appeals court.

It remains to be seen whether the 3rd Circuit judges will rule that the pictures, (which, for the record, were of two 12-year-olds in sports bras, and a topless 16-year-old getting out of the shower) are indeed child pornography. Let's hope they agree with Witold J. Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania's legal director, who argued during the trial that, ''Turning [these teens] into sex offenders is an odd way to protect kids...We've been mystified how anybody can look at these photos and say these are second-degree felonies.''

Image (c) ydhsu

It’s not news that young American women and teens are getting pregnant unintentionally in pretty significant numbers. In fact, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that as many of half of all pregnancies are unintended. And while we often assume this is the consequence of everything from irresponsibility, to abstinence education, our terrible health care system, and even that special brand of religious thinking which allows for sex but not contraception, a recent study has found that there is another contributor as well: abuse.

The study, "Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy," which was published online in the January issue of the journal Contraception verifies what a lot of young women could have told you: there is a pretty serious relationship between intimate partner violence and unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.

The study looked at 1,300 English- and Spanish-speaking 16- to 29-year-old women and found that among their sample, one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion. Additionally, “Over half the respondents -- 53 percent -- said they had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. More than a third of the women who reported partner violence -- 35 percent -- also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.”

So what’s in it for the guy? A lot actually. Forcing a young woman into pregnancy can prove a guy’s masculinity. It is also a pretty good way for him to create a bond with his partner that will be hard for her to break. Plus, in a lot of these cases, it’s not as if the guy had to change his life a whole lot.

When it comes to unplanned pregnancies, it is pretty easy to simply put all the blame on casual sex, or the failures of birth control. But it seems that if we really want to address this issue, we are going to have to tackle some of the even more complicated relationship issues facing young women today.