We Still Don't Know How to Talk About Sex

By Don Rollins

I remember with awe the ministerial colleague who celebrated Valentine’s Day 1987 by passing out Trojans. Condoms, that is. Right in a worship service. Even rang up the local media outlets to tell ’em what he was up to.

The reporters indeed came, and almost immediately their networks ran with the story: A cultural, religious and political nerve had been struck yet again.

Liberals used the event to cite the bourgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic as primary evidence that sex education was in need of serious overhaul and broader availability. They praised the bold effort.

Conservatives framed the story as a stunt manufactured by a fringe pastor with fringe ideas. They damned him.

And Religious Right founder Jerry Falwell (no shrinking violet when it came to talk show jeremiads) took the opportunity to tell us once again how we’re a hell-bound country in full sprint toward the dawning Apocalypse.

Meanwhile when asked by a reporter what he was thinking by passing out condoms on a Sunday morning, the Rev. Carl Tichener conceded it was a risky move. Why do it? His reply was straight up and dead right: “We don’t know how to talk about what we don’t know how to talk about.”

Sadly, Carl’s gone now. Equally sad, keeping the lid on human sexuality has since become the province of sex-obsessed politicians, not just posturing pundits and TV preachers with dubious theological, patently anti-feminist axes to grind.

Take Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer, longstanding opponent of any and all personal liberties that fall outside rock-ribbed conservative norms. Hemmed in by contrary federal rulings on immigration and heath care, she and her chronically cooperative legislature have regrouped and seized upon one of the conservatives’ prime whipping girls: Planned Parenthood.

We’ve seen it before. Boy, have we seen it before. But this time around we’re not talking about Capitol Hill, election year, Sturm und Drang; we’re talking about two branches of a state’s government joining forces to lift full, not just partial funding. (This despite the oft-cited, inconvenient truth that less than 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget has anything to do with abortion services.)

Arizona’s ACLU and Planned Parenthood legal offices have already filed a complaint to suspend enactment, but the precedents in favor are piling up: Indiana has already enacted a nearly identical law and four more are well into the process. And to no one’s surprise, religious hardliners are calling for a referendum if the law is made void.

It truly is a bizarre sexual America in which we now live. The country seems in a permanent stage of neo-puritanical vacillation when it comes to sex: Corporate advertisers push products with sexually provocative situations as never before; yet the United Church of Christ’s TV commercial affirming sexual diversity was pulled before it hit the airwaves. Anti-choice religionists go to greater lengths to persuade a pregnant woman from aborting; yet the vast majority of America’s primary students reach middle school with little to no data-based sex education.

What Jan Brewer and the don’t-talk-about-sex crowd miss is that healthy sexuality is essential to healthy human beings. It’s a moral, even financial win-win to prepare folks to take responsibility for their sex-related choices. Instead of systemically passing laws that hamstring one of the premier and proven vehicles to that end, they should be doubling down on its annual budget.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Raleigh, N.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2012


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