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The Answer Blog

Archive for July, 2008

Selling Bodies

July 31, 2008

I never fully grasped the extent to which advertisers use sexual imagery to sell products and services until I stumbled upon a Macy’s ad a couple weeks ago. The advertisement promoted a “Hot Summer Sale” and featured a beautiful model in a skimpy bikini sitting on a rock in a pool of blue-green water. A quarter of her bare breasts were visible.

Even more riveting about this image was the way the water lapped at the edges of the model’s bikini bottom. I actually wondered if I was seeing her pubic hair. Her left arm draped across her body while her hand seemingly touched the exposed pubic hair.

The image left little doubt in my mind that the advertising agency was using the promise of sex and a woman’s scantily clad body to lure customers into Macy’s for the storewide sale.


The “N” Word

July 24, 2008

Most people around the world—a lot of children, too, no doubt—know by now what the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said about what he wanted to do to two important, private body parts that belong to Senator Barack Obama.

The Times ran a recent column on the reasons why the paper did not use Jackson’s “n” word (for “nuts”) when first reporting the story. I was concerned with the column’s quote from a Washington state reader, who said that the paper is edited by “prudish kindergarten teachers.”

I beg to differ; most early childhood teachers are not prudish. The kindergarten and early childhood teachers I have trained are very familiar with young children’s body parts, particularly those that have to do with “peeing” and “pooping.” Many have to answer such questions as: Did her penis fall off? Will mine? What hole does poop come out of?

Not only are these teachers not prudish about body parts, many are comfortable talking about birth and babies. Kids in the early grades want to know: How did I get out of Mommy’s tummy? How do Mommy and Daddy make a baby?


A National Health Literacy Test

July 18, 2008

I recently learned of a study that found that $300 to $400 million dollars could be saved each year if terminally ill patients stayed in their homes rather than in hospitals during their last weeks.

The saving of $300 to $400 million dollars a year grabbed me, because I have an idea that would save untold millions of dollars in health care costs and make us a healthier nation if we, as educators, got behind it. It is to require that all high school students take and pass a nationally standardized health and sexuality education achievement test in order to graduate.

Such a requirement would elevate the health and sexuality education field, and take it off the perimeter of education policy and practice, where it currently resides. It would give sexual health the same level of importance as other subjects that require standardized tests, such as reading, math, science and writing.


‘No’ Means ‘No’

July 16, 2008

I sat by a pool recently, watching a father frolic in the water with his two children, a boy around five and a girl around seven years old. The father, smiling broadly, would pick up each child in turn, raise him or her high in the air above his head and then let go, letting the child hit the surface, making a big splash.

For a while, both children squealed with glee, until the little girl landed, seemingly painfully, in the water. When her father reached out again, to repeat the activity, she called out, “No, please no!” But her father, still smiling, pulled her out of the water anyway, while her screams got even louder.

“No, no, no! Please, Daddy!” she called.

He whirled her over his head.

As her body hit the water, I heard her mother and several women nearby call out in alarm: “No means no!” He smiled back and said, “Oh, but she really wanted it.”

These are often the words that young women (and men) recount when reporting date rape or other sexual assault. Teen girls who’ve been assaulted often say, “But I said ‘no,’” and the teen or adult men who’ve assaulted them often retort, “But she really wanted it.”

The poolside tableau convinced me that we’d better start educating young people—particularly young men—much earlier about the true meaning of “no.” And by earlier, I mean when they are children.


That “L” Word

July 11, 2008

If the “S” word dominated the first episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager—as 15-year-old Amy gets pregnant after one-time sex at band camp with a boy named “Tricky Ricky”—the “L” word reigns during the second one. In it, Amy and 16-year old Ben fall in love.

After Ben tells his friends that he wants to marry and have children with Amy, they warn him that he’s too young and should see other girls. But Ben is satisfied with the nonverbal girl he calls “my little Amy.”

He doesn’t care about the gossip that she had sex with “Tricky Ricky.” At the end of a call, he says wistfully, “Now we can end our phone calls the way adults do, by saying ‘I love you.’” They do.

All this talk about love wouldn’t have interested me if I hadn’t just read Maureen Dowd’s recent Times column “An Ideal Husband.” It featured a long quote about marriage from Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old, celibate Catholic priest from Bordentown, NJ.


No Real Help for Teens

July 8, 2008

We all agree that teens need honest, accurate information about unplanned pregnancy and its consequences in order to avoid it. Yet I doubt most will find this information in the new ABC Family miniseries The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It features high-school freshman Amy Juergens, who gets pregnant even though she isn’t sure she’s had sex.

After the first hour of the first episode, I found my head reeling as it was bombarded with many stereotypes about teen sexual behavior. For example, I learned that

  • the one and only subject on teens’ minds is sex,
  • “nice” 15-year-old girls don’t have sex—unless they have a one-night stand that might also be date rape,
  • all Christian girls and guys wait to have sex until marriage…
    …but if a Christian guy is seduced by the school “slut,” God will forgive him,
  • abortion? Don’t even go there, especially in a miniseries,
  • guys only like “nice” girls, so don’t wear suggestive clothes that show your navel,
  • if you’re a guy whose father has sexually abused you, you will seek revenge by having constant, indiscriminate sex,
  • if guys can’t have sex, they will become sterile, and
  • willpower and self-esteem are the only answers when it comes to sex

The first episode has one sensible moment. It’s when the actress playing Amy steps out of character and says to the audience: “Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable.” She is 100% correct.


Equal Time, Please

July 1, 2008

Tiger Woods may have led me to watch men’s professional golf championships on TV, but he also led me, inadvertently, to watch something else: discussions about the problem of erectile dysfunction in middle- and older-age men, and advertisements for Viagra and Cialis, drugs that are the newly-developed magic bullets for overcoming the problem.

I keep wondering what it must be like for men watching these golf programs with their teenage sons—or daughters, for that matter—who may have to answer the question, “Dad, what exactly is erectile dysfunction?” Or what it’s like for fathers who may have to respond when the voice-over says that if a man on one of these drugs has an “erection that lasts for more than four hours,” he must seek medical help.

I suppose I should be a good sport. After all, we’ve become sufficiently comfortable as a nation using such terms as erectile dysfunction to have these ads shown on both network and cable TV. I do applaud this. But, if we can promote products such as Viagra and Cialis, why, I want to know, can’t we promote the lowly, little latex condom?

Why won’t the major networks accept ads that talk about the effectiveness of using condoms to prevent unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS? Why, to the best of my memory, have I never seen an ad promoting condom use on a major network, during primetime viewing hours, in this country?