6 Ways America Is Completely Insane About Sex

We can't give young people proper sex ed, but we sure can let them play with guns!

It's safe to say that Americans can be irrational about sex: how we talk about it, what we teach our kids about it, how we legislate it, and how we punish people for having it. Just ask the couple facing 15 years in prison for allegedly having sex on a Florida beach. Say what you will about the questionable decision-making that leads a couple to have sex on a public beach during daylight hours, but most would agree the punishment they face is unduly—even insanely—harsh.

Sexuality is hardly the only arena in which our legislative and criminal justice systems fly off the rails, creating disproportionate outcomes at odds with stated goals (drug war, anyone?). But America's particularly toxic mix of conservative religion, sexual prudery, prosecutorial overreach and sexism has yielded some truly shocking results. Let's take a look.

1. Guilty of Being Teen

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Last year, a high school student in Florida, Kaitlyn Hunt, was prosecuted for having a consensual relationship with another female student. Her girlfriend's homophobic parents most likely turned her in when she was old enough to prosecute. Florida law states that no one under 16 can legally have sex, and no one over 18 can have sex with anyone under 18. So there are inevitably cases of illegal consensual relationships when one partner turns 18 before the other. Had Hunt's case gone to trial, she'd have faced up to 15 years and a lifelong spot on the sex offender registry. She ended up taking a plea deal, spending three months in jail and facing various restrictions on her activities.

2. Partners in Crime

Over/under laws aren't the only risks faced by young people. There are plenty of other cases where laws that are supposed to protect directly conflict with the reality of humans.

In recent years, many teens have been prosecuted for taking and sharing pictures of themselves. We do, after all, live in a selfie culture. In one case, three 12-year-old girls took pictures of themselves partially undressed (two of them in bras from the waist up, one wearing a towel leaving the shower), and the photos were shared among other kids at their Pennsylvania school. 

When school administrators found the images on confiscated phones they turned the information over to the district attorney, who sent letters out to 19 families threatening, among other punishments, charges of "felony child pornography, a charge that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence."

This disturbing application of pornography and consent-based law is happening simultaneously with the alarming trend of criminalizing of our youth population, including a vast increase of police inside school buildings and the arrest and detainments of even elementary school children across the country.

3. Giving the Trigger Finger to the Man

But this is about safeguarding children, right? Even safeguarding them from themselves? Although according to the federal government you have to be 18 to be trusted with consensual sex, there's no minimum age to possess a "long gun" (handguns are a different story—apparently size does matter in guns). So it's often OK to arm our children with weapons, just not with the right to make decisions about their own bodies. 

4. Condom Nation

Meanwhile in the classroom, proven-to-be­ effective comprehensive sex education programs are "ineligible for federal funding due to mandates against educating youth about contraception." There are no similar restrictions on the federally funded Jr. ROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps). 

So it's controversial to teach kids about their own bodies. But setting up a paramilitary recruitment program in our schools that is arguably in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is fine? Good thing the US is one of only two UN members (along with South Sudan) that have failed to ratify that particular charter. 

5. Breast Intentions

From breast-feeding to "nipple-slips," Americans seem to both obsess over and fear a woman’s bare breast. Toeing a delicate balance between puritanism and lasciviousness, our media, especially broadcast television, want to cash in on showing as much skin as possible, while avoiding display of the nipple. 

As Lina Esco, the filmmaker of "Free the Nipple" says (and to draw again the disturbing connection between sex and violence), "an American child sees over 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on TV before they turn 18, and not one nipple." That's a kid who doesn't have access to cable, obvs, but you get the idea.

6. Skirting Justice

Of course the application of the law isn't used consistently to protect women. Last year, the Massachusetts highest court ruled that the practice of "upskirt photos"—sneaking photos from underneath a woman's clothing—doesn't violate the law, "because the women who were photographed while riding Boston public transportation were not nude or partially nude." 

Which seems to say that if you're out in public and you are dressed, you don't have a reasonable sense of privacy worth protecting. I'm not sure what that implies regarding your reasonable sense of privacy if you're out in public naked, but I'm sure that's not covered by some other Massachusetts law.