When I told friends about my list, they said I would find far more stories about the worst aspects of sexuality than the best. Surprisingly, I found many topics offered both the best and the worst within the same area. This contradiction reminded me of words by the famous historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “Problems will always torment us, because all important problems are insoluble; that is why they are important. The good comes from the continuing struggle to try and solve them, not from the vain hope of their solution.”
So I am starting with the best, most positive, and, yes, often the happiest stories about sexuality of 2010 and will send along the worst and sometimes cruelest stories next week. I hope you will find the contrast interesting. The list is numbered ten to one, building to what I consider the very best:
10. The royal marriage-to-be
Prince William and Kate Middleton are the couple of the year, with Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky close behind. The prince and the young woman whom he will marry in April, who People magazine dubbed “A Perfect Princess,” warmed our hearts because they seem very much in love. Both of these young couples demonstrate maturity and grace through long courtships and enhance the tradition of marriage.
9. A movie about a family with two moms
The American public embraced the movie The Kids Are All Right starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, about a family of two lesbian moms raising two teens where everyone does just fine, despite some momentary upheavals that affect most families.
8. A pregnancy pact debunked
“The Gloucester 18” should be mandatory viewing for every teen in the country,” wrote a Boston Globe film critic about this film, which discredits the myth of the “pregnancy pact” at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts, where pregnancies spiked to 18 in one year. This outstanding film shows the real complexities inherent in early sexual activity and unplanned pregnancy.
7. Teens trump adults in condom use
A study drawn from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior at Indiana University found that “condom use is becoming the norm for sexually active teenagers.” Researchers concluded that teens are more responsible than adults about using this form of contraception.
6. The birth control pill turns 50
Called “the most important scientific advance of the 20th century,” the Pill celebrated its 50th birthday in 2010. Rather than causing promiscuity, adultery, and the breakdown of the family — as its detractors predicted — the Pill transformed millions of women’s lives by helping them control their reproductive destiny.
5. A new funding stream for comprehensive sex education programs
The Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) gives federal funds of $375 million over the next five years to states offering sex education programs that show proven success at reducing teen pregnancy. While the programs will encourage teens to delay sexual activity, they will also counsel them to use protection if they are sexually active.
4. A new trend in abortion services
A bold new initiative to integrate abortion seamlessly into women’s health care emerged in 2010. “The New Abortion Providers” explored how medical abortion is becoming standard training for medical students and residents in the most prestigious and largest medical schools in the U.S. This training will open up the possibility for women to receive medical abortion services in private physicians’ offices rather than stand-alone clinics, where anti-choice protestors can harass and cause them harm.
3. Pope Benedict XVI speaks positively about condoms
In his book Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI told veteran journalist Peter Seewald that “condoms could reduce the risk of HIV infection in certain cases, such as for a male prostitute.” The Pontiff had never before made positive remarks about condoms. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that when he asked the Pope about his words, his Holiness responded, “It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship. … This is if you’re a woman, a man, or a transsexual.”
2. New medicines in Africa give women hope in the fight against HIV
Studies in South Africa provided hopeful news that women who used a vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication, tenofovir, were less likely to contract the HIV virus than women who hadn’t used it. (The study followed 889 women, and broader trials are necessary to confirm the results.) Public health officials cheered when they heard the news, adding that the gel would be the first method women could use without male involvement to protect themselves.
1. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
The repeal of the 17-year-old policy requiring gay men and lesbians in the military to serve only if they hide their sexual orientation was a dramatic step forward for civil rights in our nation. The House of Representatives and Senate passed a law reversing this cruel and discriminatory policy, which resulted in the loss of many talented men and women in the armed services. Upon signing the repeal legislation, President Obama said, “[T]his morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ … [T]his law … will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.”
If you have other candidates for this list, please let me know. I will send along what I consider “The Ten Worst Stories about Sex in 2010″ next week. In the meantime, best wishes for a Happy New Year.