Teen abstinence is our great President George W. Bush's favorite method of birth control. Though abstinence has been preached for thousands of years, the Bush administration, thank God, has finally got it right. Over the past five years, the U.S. government has spent nearly $1 billion to bring the message to classrooms and convince teens that condoms are ineffective and that the only safe form of sex occurs within marriage. Sign me up.
I'm going to attend a three-day conference sponsored by the group Life Choices (get it, they're one-upping Pro Choice). There, I'm to be trained as a teen abstinence educator, learning the ins and outs of what's needed to teach kids in public schools not to have sex. We've heard the whiny liberal rhetoric about teen abstinence programs, the complaints that they give inaccurate information about health, sexuality, gender roles, contraception, and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases; that they're full of medical and scientific inaccuracies.
Boohoohoo, whiny liberals.
You might not know this about me, but my politics have become soooo conservative, ideologically speaking, that I make Jerry Falwell look like a fluff boy at a gay men's bathhouse. When did this ideological transformation happen? After I became a born-again virgin. (It's never too late.)
Yes, if I'm attending a teen abstinence educators' conference, I want to practice what I preach. So I took the virginity pledge.
1 fanny pack
1 sweater vest
1 pair of dress slacks with tennis shoes
1 mop of hair tucked under a Kango hat
1 pseudonym: Quentin Smalls
How do I look? I look like a guy who never gets laid.
My catchphrase: "Guns don't kill; having sex with unmarried people kills!"
One hour outside of Portland, I journey to a secluded lodge in the woods near a mountain town of 1,190 people where the weekend also boasts X-Fest -- an "underground" Christian music festival. Yes, I'm in God's country.
Instead of attending Burning Man (where I'd certainly feel the devil's temptation), I've opted to come to this long, long, three-day abstinence conference. Good thing that I'm now a born-again virgin, because one thing I think I know for sure: I'm not getting laid this weekend.
Walking by some trucks with American flag stickers, I make my way inside, passing tables with literature and posters; one placard says "Abstinence -- The Healthy Alternative" and shows an awkward couple wearing backpacks. The message is clear: Instead of fornicating, backpack. Another sign reads:
A - affirming the power to create
B - body respect
S - sexual postponement until marriage
T - teen lifestyle training for fidelity
I - instant gratification delayed
N - no to premarital sex
E - energy focused on goal achievement
N - no conformity to media and peer pressure
C - confidence in value of self and others
E - exercise self-control
Hmm, I never knew abstinence had such deep meaning. If I remember correctly, when I was in high school, my abstinence was just something called "not really getting any."
As I adjust my Quentin Smalls name tag, I start talking with other attendees, and a man who runs a Christian bookstore hears my overly enthusiastic, teen educator aspirations. "It's good to see someone taking the initiative."
"I was really inspired by the Silver Ring Thing," I explain, referring to the Cirque du Soleil of teen abstinence programs, which utilizes rock concert theatrics and a high-tech presentation style that incorporates music, laser lights, humor, and skits in a show that tells kids not to have sex.
"I want to start my own big theatrical teen abstinence show. [Pause] I'm also toying with the idea of puppets," I explain, moving my hands to simulate just that.
"You know the Silver Ring Thing are in a lawsuit right now with the ACLU," he says.
It's true. A $75,000 federal grant to the Silver Ring Thing was suspended after the Bush administration was accused of using tax dollars to promote Christianity. "We're really pleased the government has recognized Silver Ring Thing was misusing public dollars to promote its own faith over all others," was the ACLU's reaction.
"I think the ACLU is just jealous over the cool mixture of laser lights, hip hop, and teen abstinence message," I reason.
I've misread the conference literature and shown up too early. Nothing much is happening yet, so I kill time by checking out some of the teen abstinence tables. "Abstinence -- Because 100 Percent Matters" reads a poster showing a guy rock climbing. (I don't really see the connection, other than that's what you do besides have sex.) A table set with pro-life literature, dolls, and gift items has a sign that reads, strangely, "Support Our Troops."
Confusion. Is the message here "Save unborn fetuses, but who cares if our troops get killed?" Color me stupid, but shouldn't pro-life include people currently living?
We're sitting in a conference room eating $15 box lunches (turkey with mayo on white bread, of course), engaging in shop talk. One topic: All Web sites should refer to the failure rate of condoms, rather than to their effectiveness. Another: Should extremely graphic slides be used when speaking to students about STDs (which condoms don't prevent)?
"We're kind of split on the effectiveness of this [graphic slide use]," says a stoic woman who looks as though she'd have advocated Prohibition in another era.
"I think they were ready for the wedding," a bubbly lady responds, instantly changing the subject to her boss' daughter and his new son-in-law -- both life virgins until marriage. The boss received some teasing around the abstinence education office regarding the honeymoon deflowering process. "I said it to him: 'Guess what's happening to her during the past week?'" the bubbly woman says. "He turned all red. That's my way of getting back at him for sticking his finger in my Reese's peanut butter cup during lunch."