By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
They solved it. Problem solved. The way to stop teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is for teens simply not to have sex. It's just that easy.
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."
After the honeymoon, the new son-in-law supposedly commented about his new father-in-law: "I won't even be able to face him, knowing what I did to his daughter the past 10 days."
"Did with his daughter," someone corrects.
"A bunch of women got together and threw her a party. She got a pair of lacy underwear as a gift. She held it up, then turned all red," she explains. "Everyone yelled out, 'That won't stay on long. That's going to end up on the floor!'"
The woman across from the bubbly woman changes the subject to her college son, who made a pledge to a program called Master's Commitment. "They made a commitment they wouldn't date, so they could focus on their education," she says.
I look at my dry, tasteless turkey sandwich and can't believe this fucking thing is $15 worth of food. The mood suddenly shifts.
"Have you seen the video?" the bubbly woman asks.
"No, I haven't," I reply. "What video do you speak of?"
"It's put out by Golden Gate Planned Parenthood in San Francisco."
Since I'm the new kid on the teen abstinence educators' block, someone yells, "Show him the video."
"This is what they think of us," the group's leader says with distaste verging on scorn.
With the aid of a laptop, the Planned Parenthood promotional video is projected. An animated female superhero soon appears; a cartoon bubble reads "It's Sexy to Be Safe."
The group watches with frowns and crossed arms.
"It looks like it's time to take out the trash," proclaims the female superhero, grabbing a one-toothed, evil protester wearing a black villain hat and holding an "Abstinence Education" sign. He is dumped in the trash. I let out a gasp. "These are instruments from the devil's toolbox," proclaims the animated superhero, with a mighty smile. The superhero declares she has the right to be pro-choice. Resentful heckles come from across the table: "Great! I'll choose to blow myself up!"
A large, animated condom is then put over a large, cretinous abortion protester's head. It explodes. The animated superhero adds, "You too can be a superhuman for a change!"
Lights on. Tense hush of silence. Unhappy faces.
"I just gave away my black hat last week," one of the abstinence educators sarcastically remarks.
I shake my head, disgusted. "What a load of horse hooey! What did you think of it?" I ask. The bubbly woman momentarily is not bubbly.
"I go into schools, and people will come up to me and say, 'I don't agree with what you said, but I respect your presentation.' I was shocked by the violence. Are they saying it's OK to blow people up?"
"Yeah, and put very large condoms over people's entire bodies," I add.
Why not tell kids to try to abstain, but if they are going to have sex, use a condom? That's an easy question to answer. Saying, "If you must, use a condom," is like saying, "Don't drink and drive, but if you do drink and drive, make sure you wear a seat belt." Or saying, "Don't go and shoot a cop, but if you are going to shoot a cop, make sure to wear safety goggles and earplugs." So when we say it's OK for a teen to use a condom, it's like saying it's OK to shoot a cop!
WHAT PART OF "WAIT UNTIL MARRIAGE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND!
Roughly 100 folks have now gathered in a large conference room for the evening's events. The crowd is composed entirely of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews ... just kidding. It's not only very white here, it's whiiiiiiiiiiiiite. Most of the people are poodle-haired old ladies in flower-print shirts; they all seem to have a small-town glow. The woman in front of me is quilting. A cell phone with gospel music for the ring tone goes off.
"I want to applaud you, 'cause you're deep in the trenches, fighting the fight," remarks a cool pastor (he makes references to Led Zeppelin and the movie Zoolander-- the kids must like that) in his abstinence state of the union address. "What victories and struggles you face."
I wonder what the people at Burning Man are up to at this very moment.
"When I was 5 years old, 5, neighborhood children introduced me to Playboy," the cool pastor notes. "The way to prove my manhood was to pursue promiscuous behavior and pornography. The question can't be answered by porn and a promiscuous society."
For some reason, I'm reminded that there's pay-per-view porn in my hotel room.
"We are presenters of a message," the cool pastor intones, and other speakers take the mike and present away.
"These books aren't written with ink; they're written with blood and tears," explains a crusty, red-haired lady who authored You Are Not Alone -- The Voices of Homosexuality!"If you have any young folks toying with the idea of homosexuality, this will give an idea of the path they'll take. This will help them make good decisions -- life decisions."
"Each of you are heroes to give lives to children that are here today," remarks a stern, gray-suited older man who's wearing glasses and a tie; he represents a foundation named 30 Years in the Cause."I'm thrilled to be with you today and say, 'You are my heroes. You are my heroes!'"
He then hearkens back to the good old days of 1860, when U.S. abortion rates dropped, explaining that more abstinence education could bring things back to that hallowed state once again.
"Change occurs because of heroes! I'm bringing the message of history to you to say we can change it. If history repeats itself, and it does, we can create a culture where women are respected and babies are saved," the stern man says.
Then comes a series of TV commercials produced by his foundation, to be aired during Oregon State Beaver football games, showing the consequences of not practicing abstinence. "This ad changes the English language by changing the view. We need to see the woman as a hero for bringing a baby to term."
The first commercial -- called Night -- Abortion Changes Everything. Think About It-- shows a hot-looking, blond female firefighter (you see them all over the place) saving a tiny baby from a burning building. She mentions that her mother, who almost had an abortion, would be very proud today that her decision saved more than one life. "When you work with women coming to your clinic, they're heroes!"
"The next commercial deals with selling abortion to blacks in inner cities," the gray-suit man dryly explains. "They [the blacks] usually have their first child, so we put the child in the ad." The ad has the feel of a Folgers coffee commercial. We see a smiling, well-adjusted black woman in a middle-class house; she has a small child. With a huge, satisfied smile, she says she's decided to have her next baby as well!
There's more. A 17-year-old white girl is jogging in a nice running outfit. "You can't run away from your problems," she says. "I'm keeping it." She jogs off (I would guess back to her middle-class home).
But a question pops into my mind: Where's the TV commercial with the woman (or hero) who's been raped by her alcoholic stepfather and the words "Abortion -- let's not have two victims!
"Thank you again for being the hero!"
Though it is the week after Hurricane Katrina, there's no mention of praying for the people in New Orleans. I guess the focus should be on saving babies who, currently, might only be a drop of sperm.
For the second day of the teen abstinence educators' conference, I decide to alter my look. I'm now dressed really sleazy -- tight shirt and jean shorts, cut really high. So high, in fact, that I run a risk of one of my balls popping out. Why? To take God's test on this whole born-again virgin thing. Also, I've decided to talk in sexual double-entendres.
"There's just the three of us," says one of two overly nice ladies teaching the workshop, looking a bit disappointed that I'm the only one who turned up for the hands-on training session that details the abstinence curriculum taught in their public schools.
"A threesome," I mutter in a low, breathy voice, biting my lower lip. "That's more personal attention for me." I flash a smile.
"OK, here's something we teach," one of the overly nice ladies says, handing me a paper clip; it is supposed to give me something called a "Life Lesson Analogy." "Make that paper clip as straight as possible."
I do just that, looking proudly at my work. Is that all there is to teen abstinence teaching? Will kids not want to have sex after doing that?!
Oh. There's more. "OK. Now put it back," she insists.
Using professional balloon-twisting skills, I bend the paper clip into the shape of a poodle.
"What would you need to put it back, to make it look identical?" she asks.
"Technology. Maybe tools," I throw out, spreading my legs wide apart. "Perhaps even an assistant."
The paper clip symbolizes life's journey, apparently. "Don't give up; you're going to make mistakes," she says, implying that in life, as in bent paper clips, time is needed to fix things, for example, sexual promiscuousness. "Stop and think before we charge on through. It's not hopeless."
An overhead projector flashes the words "CHOOSING NOT TO DO SOMETHING EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY," and the other overly nice lady takes over. "You decide not to take drugs," she notes. "Sexual abstinence is choosing to reserve sexual expression for marriage."
Just a choice? That's all. Problem solved. You just have to choose. This whole time I thought it had something to do with biological urges. But choosing not to have sex is, for teens, like, say, choosing Coke over Royal Crown Cola.
"Why do some teens choose to participate in sexual relationships?" the other lady pipes in. Several reasons are listed: "Drinking, friends, media --"
"Bragging rights," I throw out.
"Girls, it just offends them," she says she explains when guys in her classroom mention the bragging. "Girls will say, 'Dude! Come on!'"
"What if they want to be a gangsta rapper?" I inquire, running my hand down my thigh. "It seems to work for them."
"Is it a good enough reason to take this risk?" one of the women responds. "Is it worth the risk?"
I dunno. It seems fun to be a gangsta rapper. Besides, without sex before marriage, would we even have rock music? Or, for that matter, Italian cinema?
"What are the consequences of sex? Girls feeling really exploited," the woman says. "Petting?! That's just bad behavior. That's how rumors start."
So no petting. Masturbation is out of the question. I'm sure hand-under-the-shirt-over-the-bra is extremely taboo.
"Hold true to your own dream, or life will be disappointing," she says. "Whatever that dream might be. I don't know, president of a big company maybe. It can happen." (But what, I wonder, if your goal is to simply have your drunken stepdad stop beating you?)
"Look at your goals. Having an STD is going to impact your goals," Nice Lady No. 2 jumps in. "If they pursue relationship goals, each step that we take to get more and more sexual increases your chances of risk! Condoms will reduce risk of STDs, but not all STDs, but not eliminate it. There's still a 20 percent chance."
"They have so much they can put focus on: school, sports, what's really important to them," the first nice lady says animatedly, putting forward a theory that, if correct, would greatly expand teen softball leagues. "It's taking that energy and using it for something else."
"How about origami?" I throw out, then take a hard look at the boundary chart the ladies have passed me. "AVOID AROUSAL" is one of the key boundaries.
"What if dancing makes you aroused?" I ask. "Should we, as instructors, tell kids not to dance?"
"If you found that as a weak spot, then avoid it," Nice Lady No. 1 states. (The premise of the movie Footloose suddenly makes sense.) "Maybe they can pick a different kind of dance? Instead of freaky dancing, maybe try, I don't know, square dancing."
"Square dancing yes, freaky dancing no," I repeat.
"Pick a boundary at maybe holding hands; move it back a notch," she suggests.
"How about direct eye contact? What if that makes you aroused?" I say, making direct eye contact.
"You've got to train, like an Olympic athlete," she answers. Yes, indeed, train like an Olympic athlete -- an Olympic athlete with a big, insatiable boner!
It's an interesting theory. I've been a born-again virgin for two days now, and the crack of dawn was making me horny. What other methods might there be to curb the sexual libido?
"Use a keepsake as a daily reminder, such as a bracelet or ring."
"Like if you're trying to lose weight, put a picture of a tropical place you want to vacation to on your refrigerator as inspiration."
"Wouldn't people get married just to have sex?" I ask.
"People aren't going to get married just to get laid," she scoffs. Marriage, she explains, is about becoming a friend to your spouse.
"I have a younger son," Nice Lady No. 1 concludes. "He's made a pact not to date because he thinks dating is too much stress."
She explains he'd much rather focus on studying. "He keeps a honeymoon jar. He puts money into the honeymoon jar in order to keep focused on school." The money from the honeymoon jar will be spent on his future wife. Whom he hasn't met yet.
I nod my head and say, "A honeymoon jar!"
"What we think of marriage is not what the world around us thinks of marriage," the bubbly woman from earlier tells the room, which is 90 percent full of gray-haired ladies; they are attending the workshop "The Case for Marriage." "This is the will of God that you should abstain from sexual immorality. We believe that human sexuality is a divine gift, a primal dimension of each person.
"No question about that. God is pretty clear where he stands on that!"
I realize, now, that abstinence education goes deeper than telling high school kids not to have sex. It's the exportation of a code of conduct into our public schools directly from the Bible.
The bubbly woman offers a personal story: "I didn't get married until I was 26. I have friends who are in their 30s. They're waiting for God's perfect man. They have some downtime. 'Come on God, what's your plan for me?'
"You can accomplish a lot of things while single -- it's important to wait for God to help us find that person."
We nod our heads collectively.
"Kids say, 'Well, marriage is good, but if you really love each other, if you're in love, it's OK to have sex,'" the woman says, her mouth dropping open with disbelief. "Is that love? No, it's not."
Her mouth drops open again.
"These are kids from Christian homes. Do you know where they get it from? Friends, media ....
"Let me tell you: MTV started out bad and is only getting worse."
Then the bubbly woman prescribes an easy solution: "Protect your eyes, protect the music you listen to!"
An effective method of eye protection, she notes, is a practice known as "Look and Drop." When a guy sees a woman and feels lust, he should train himself to immediately bounce his eyes away -- Look and Drop!
"The mind works fast. This trains him to look away. He doesn't allow the visual image to take hold," she explains. "That's why pornography is so dangerous. Porn sets unrealistic expectations on women."
I do a quick Look and Drop around the room, wondering whether the speaker is including amateur porn in her analysis. After all, the amateurs set some very realistic expectations.
"Great [that] we're getting our message out there: Co-habitation is not the goal. Awesome [that] we're getting our message out there," she says, noting that marriage causes less disease, alcoholism, and depression than "living in sin." "We have the studies. We have the documents. We have science backing us up. But the message that society gives off, that's our battle."
Finally comes the opportune moment to utter my catchphrase: "Guns don't kill; having sex with unmarried people kills!"
If God says you should save yourself for that one special person in your life, the one you're going to marry, then all bets are off once you get divorced. Because God lets you sometimes save yourself for a second special person in your life.
WHAT PART OF "WAIT UNTIL MARRIAGE" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND!
My favorite forms of entertainment (in no discerning order) have to be:
And, of course, teens doing skits about abstinence.
"We're going to start out with a skit," announces a tall, lanky guy with glasses who helps coordinate the SWAT Team, a group of perky kids (tall, lanky guy; chunky blond gal; and, correct me if I'm wrong, Daddy's little girl -- all adorned in matching SWAT Team T-shirts) who go around to high schools and do skits about teen abstinence.
I don't think that, in this case, "SWAT" stands for "Special Weapons and Tactics," but something that involves not having sex. Anyway, it's clear that the SWAT Team aims to get other kids to TAKE THE PLEDGE.
"This skit is called 'The Pieces of My Heart' skit," the lanky guy says.
A female volunteer is brought up from the audience. Chunky blond gal narrates as tall, lanky guy holds a paper heart. She says that he and his girlfriend decide to have SEX. Complications. "She breaks up with him and breaks a piece of his heart."
Tall, lanky guy tears off part of his heart and gives it to chunky blond gal. This same interaction occurs again. More sex. More paper-heart-tearing.
"Now he has a really dinky heart," explains the chubby gal. Tall, lanky guy presents the paper-heart remnant to the audience volunteer, who portrays the future wife of the now-small-hearted man.
"So how does that make her feel?" asks chunky gal.
"Not good," admits the audience volunteer.
She directs her attention to the lanky guy. "How does he feel?"
"Like poop!" he blurts.
Here comes another fun teen abstinence skit.
"Does anyone want this $20 bill?" asks Daddy's little girl, pulling out some currency. Assuming this is not a trick question attached to a moral lesson correlating directly to teen abstinence, I quickly raise my hand and shout, "I do!" Some old ladies also raise their hands. (This better not be a trick.)
"How about if I crumple it up and step on it?" She does just that to the currency -- American currency! "Would you still want it?"
"Yeah!" I scream, waving my hand. "I'll have it!"
Then comes the lesson: "This is how we deal with born-again virgins. You're still worth the same. You can always start over. You can always change."
Ohhhhh! I get it. This is not about free money. She's simply making an analogy. This is great news, being that I'm a newly born-again virgin myself (though I'm not entirely sure how that works, physically speaking, for women; do Christian scientists cultivate laboratory hymens in petri dishes?)
But there's a more important message: Those who decide to have sex are nothing more than something crumpled up under one's shoe.
"Are you still giving away the money?" I ask.
In steps the SWAT Team's mom adviser. How does the adult adviser suggest that teens curb their libidos? By setting boundaries!
"As a couple, you should agree, 'At this point, we're going to go no further, and we're going to be safe,'" she explains. She looks at a handout titled "Progression of Sexual Activity." It's a chart divided into three sections: Safe Intimate Zone (spending time together, holding hands); Caution Zone (simple kiss, prolonged kiss); and of course the Danger Zone (not only sexual intercourse and petting, but also French kissing. Why? It explains: "He's aroused").
"My boundary is tea-bagging," I solemnly state to the old woman next to me in a low, raspy voice.
"It's conveying to kids that you can start over, and you are very valuable, and you are important to society," the adviser explains. She looks at tall, lanky guy, chunky gal, and Daddy's little girl. "I don't even want to know your boundary. That's your choice."
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens who take virginity pledges often remain technical virgins by engaging in oral and booty sex. It makes sense: If they're trying to preserve their virginity, oral and anal sex fit under the definition of not having sex.
Which is great because I like those two things way better anyway.
"Can I have the SWAT Team take over again?" asks the mom adviser; the three perky teens jump into place.
"Why do we choose abstinence?" asks chunky blond gal. "Like the 'Pieces of My Heart' skit, I want to give myself to my husband. I don't want to think of another woman there."
(Ewww. That would be icky.)
Tall, lanky guy adopts a pirate voice and explains the three R's -- responsibility, religion, and respect.
Then comes Daddy's little girl. "I got a lot going on in my life," she says, listing off a dozen activities she's involved with, concluding with the varsity golf team. "I feel I have so much going on right now that I don't want to risk getting pregnant or getting an STD. I want to go to college. I want to travel the world. I have trouble getting out of the house in the morning; I can't even imagine having to feed my kid."
She laughs, but there's more. "I have a boyfriend. He's pretty well-known. He's a wrestler. He went to State." She tells everyone that she and her pretty-well-known boyfriend (he went to State) choose abstinence. Hurrah for the annoying, overachieving popular girl who doesn't put out and rubs everyone's nose in the fact!
"That's our choice," she says. "We choose to be abstinent."
(Besides, sex is totally icky!)
"Paul is also on the SWAT Team as well," the mom adviser pipes in, identifying the popular girl's pretty-well-known boyfriend.
"People out there that say teens have raging hormones and can't control themselves -- I can. I'm not running around trying to make out with everyone," says the popular girl (who most likely got a new car for staying a virgin).
The tone dramatically changes. "The other side of this is the broken honor code," states the mom adviser. She makes a sad face. The SWAT Team members look at their shoes. "This young gal broke the honor code. And I said, 'You got to talk to her.'"
So the SWAT Team spoke to the fallen teen about the code she'd followed (To honor my future spouse, I choose to save sexual activity for marriage) and then betrayed by dancing the humpty-hump.
"You can tell she was very, very broken," the popular girl says. "He was pretty proud of breaking her code, so it was all over the school. And we have a big school."
So what happened? Was a scarlet "A" branded upon her chest? Did she receive a good pelting with rocks?! Were condoms provided, in case it happened again?!!
"She wrote a letter to the entire SWAT Team and told them she broke the code and asked forgiveness. She told her parents," the popular girl explains. [Pause] "You know what? She's back on the SWAT Team!!!!"
Holy fucking shit! I let out an audible cheer, pumping my fist in the air. (Still, I have to wonder: Is there a limit to the number of times you're allowed to become a born-again virgin?)
"The parents called up and said, 'Thank you very much. She knows what she did, and she won't go down that road until she's married,'" the leader says with a firm, certain smile.
"You guys are very brave," someone shares. "You're earning respect."
"After you graduate, hit the colleges!" one of the gray-haired ladies says to the three perky kids, who are all high school seniors.
Tall, lanky guy points to a button on his shirt that sports a picture of a dog and the slogan "Pet your dog, NOT your date."
Hey, isn't that bestiality?
"That's the hot item to have right now," injects the mom adviser.
"That's so funny!" someone blurts out.
"How about 'Pet your pussy, NOT your date'?" I ask.
I don't want kids thinking they'll be protected by condoms, because it won't protect the most important body part of all -- the heart. And isn't that the area of the body most susceptible to raging gonorrhea?
I'm one of two guys in yet another sterile conference room full, mostly, of old white ladies from small towns. To further test the sincerity of my born-again virgin pledge, I've decided to hit on some of the attendees at the teen abstinence educators' conference.
I nudge my chair close to the 70-year-old woman next to me; she has a button of George W. and Laura Bush on her purse. (There will be no worries about getting her pregnant.)
"Quentin, that's my cousin's name," she says after introductions, holding my handshake a little longer than is usual. "What organization are you from?"
"Mimes for Abstinence," I reply, motioning as if I'm trapped in a box. I move in closer, licking my lips and making direct eye contact. "We try to slip in the message slowly, with hardfacts, then pull out information, generating a gush of excitement."
I explain why kids shouldn't have sex and graphically describe in detail the type of sex they shouldn't be having, concluding with my theory that Popsicles promote oral sex.
I'm interrupted when a confused old lady enters the conference room. "What is this workshop?" she asks.
"Contraceptives," another old lady informs her.
She makes a big, sour face and sarcastically moans, "Oh-kaaaay!" Quickly she leaves.
"We're trying not to make this a real controversial topic," explains the director, a soft-spoken woman in a pink top. "What is your organization's policy on contraception? When I say this, I mean artificial contraception."
To help clarify, she asks people to raise their hands as she asks questions about who they think should use contraceptives.
"OK for singles, OK for married couples?"
No hands go up.
"OK for singles, not OK for married couples?" Huge laugh (of course no hands go up).
With that, she launches into "A Modern-Day Fable About Holly and Steve." A slide shows Holly and Steve hugging and holding flowers, much as happy couples do. Then trouble enters paradise. "Holly began taking oral contraception: the pill. She gained 10 pounds and felt tired and irritable. She couldn't maintain her full-time job. She soon felt resentful at Steve's sexual advances. No one in her circle of Christian friends had experienced this.
"Holly was being robbed of happiness."
I look again at the slide of Holly and Steve hugging, holding flowers. What went wrong? They look so happy. To think, it was all because of birth control.
We go next to the Bible, specifically Genesis 38:10, in which Onan spills his seed on the ground and is struck dead by God. The soft-spoken director questions the appropriateness of married couples using contraceptives. "That's our objective: understand God's plan for marriage and families," she says. "The purpose of sex is procreation."
Once we separate sex from creating children, she says, the door is open to a whole (pardon my French) hell of a lot of trouble: "Protestant Church tolerance of birth control paved the way to the legalization of homosexuality, sodomy. And you know where we are today with gay marriage."
A murmur runs through the crowd. I wrinkle my forehead and frown. The old woman next to me wrinkles her forehead and frowns. An old lady gets up and leaves looking visually upset, moving her lips. Two court cases from the 1960s that found birth control to be in a zone of privacy protected by the Constitution are mentioned as precursors to Roe v. Wade.
"When we allow for contraception on demand," she says calmly, "we allow for abortion on demand."
The only solution is NFP -- natural family planning -- or the so-called rhythm method, which involves married couples not having sex during the time of the month when the woman is fertile. Yes, all that is required for God-sanctioned birth control is married couples who occasionally abstain from sex.
It's just that easy! It's just that fun! And, unlike condoms, it is approved from above. "The big difference is there's a violation of the natural law," she calmly explains.
"It also cuts down on sensitivity," I state to the woman next to me with a wink.
Another big difference: "If a couple uses contraceptives, and it happens to fail, they are disappointed when the wife gets pregnant." In the case of NFP, however, God is part of the intimacy and decision-making for the couple: "They know it could happen, and they totally surrender to it!"
To emphasize this, she calmly shares the story of a married couple's first time having sex. "When they were coming together, they could see the Lord," she explains. "They could see the Lord, they could see children. Do you not hunger for that kind of experience?"
Wow! I've heard of some freaky-ass shit, but a threesome with the Lord? A ménage à trois with the Master?! Oh Jesus!
"There's a zero percent divorce rate for those who practice NFP," she says. (I didn't know birth control was one of the leading causes of divorce.) "It definitely affects relationships; I know that from experience!"
Now I fully understand why abstinence educators tell kids that condoms are ineffective. It's not a scientific or logistical issue; it's completely a moral issue for these folks. They think birth control correlates to something in the Bible (my favorite work of fiction next to Battlefield Earth). They're not thinking of kids' health; they have a moral agenda. It's like teaching creationism over evolution in the classrooms. It's religion over science, except here it's religion over the health of kids.
"I want to ask her if it's OK to get a vasectomy," I say afterward to the woman with the George and Laura button on her purse. "Or if that will break up my marriage, since it's birth control?"
"I'd like to find out about that, too," she replies, then tags along at my heels.
When I ask about vasectomies, the soft-spoken director gathers her notes. "There is a high risk of prostate cancer," she says.
"Oh, so it's more of a medical thing," I remark, shaking my head. Unlike the tragedy of Holly and Steve, this surgical form of birth control is fine, except ... GOD WILL STRIKE YOU DOWN WITH A HORRIBLE CANCER!
"What if I'm teaching a teen abstinence class and someone says they're going to have sex?" I ask next. "Should I tell them it's OK to use a condom?"
"Condoms send a mixed message," she says, straightening her notes.
"Yeah," I add. "It's almost like we're saying it's OK to have sex."
"I could go on for hours about that," interjects the woman with the George and Laura button.
I throw out a solution that could possibly win me one of those Nobel Peace Prizes.
"Know what they should do? Teach abstinence in Africa. That way it would completely wipe out the entire AIDS problem over there, because there would be no way to spread it!"
"Yes! That's right," says the soft-spoken director.
Phew! World crisis solved!
After my loooong day of workshopping, I begin to doubt my decision to remain a born-again virgin. It seems this group is using abstinence as a vehicle, pretending to be concerned about public health when the larger picture is to advance a religious program and its agenda. It's a bit One Nation Under God-ish, a back door for Christian America to get into public schools and teach moral values quicker than you can say, "Scopes Monkey Trial."
That's why I've taken to putting large amounts of whiskey into my complimentary Starbucks paper coffee cup. Is there a term for having a hangover from too much Jesus talk?
Grabbing my Starbucks whiskey-coffee, I check out the Saturday night events, where I find more tables with more old ladies in more floral shirts. I make it just in time for the SWAT Team to do its "Pieces of My Heart" sketch once again. (I could never get tired of that.)
"We're not serving alcohol in here tonight," the waitress says when I order a double bourbon.
I sit blankly for a few moments listening to some woman who got married at age 27 while her husband was 33 -- and both were life virgins. Two of the event's coordinators then tell how they had unexpected pregnancies in their teens, which forced them to get married.
I decide to get the hell out of here.
While driving into Portland, my born-again virgin status is tested. The devil whispers in my ear, and I end up hooking up with a cute blond girl I meet at a bar called Shanghai. I try to Look and Drop, but it just doesn't work. All this talk of abstinence has made me horny. As an ironic twist, the cute blond works for a public-access TV station and once directed teen abstinence videos as a freelance gig.
Our shared abstinence background breaks the ice.
Going back to her place, I end up severely crossing my boundaries (except for the tea-bagging part). I'm caught up in the moment. I'm about to break my born-again virgin pledge and fornicate (without a condom, of course, since I've been taught how ineffective they are and don't have any). Fortunately, the blond's prepared. (By no means would she have sex otherwise.) Thus, Quentin Smalls once again becomes a man!
Though I wasn't planning to have sex, and made a pledge not to, the cute blond made me realize: You always have to be ready to protect the johnson!
Look for Harmon's upcoming book,Republican Like Me!