Thursday, April 30, 2009

Red, White and Blue Sex, and Nice, Sweet Sex

runningwdogs and I recently had a long conversation about "Nice, Sweet Sex." Apparently, on TV, people have "nice, sweet sex." I'm not convinced, but I'm way too much of a prude to discuss why I'm not convinced. The conversation ended up feeling like an episode of "Grey's Anatomy." I couldn't put my finger on WHY I felt like I was in "Grey's Anatomy," other than "nice, sweet sex" felt like something they'd say. I did a lot of internet research about the dialogue on "Grey's Anatomy" and apparently they have a sort of pattern of speech where they repeat things a lot like "nice, sweet sex" (are you getting the picture?) and they coin weird words and phrases (although I would argue that they did NOT coin the word va-jay-jay). Anyway, that's as dirty as it gets around here.

Because themacinator is about intelligent discussion. As you've noticed. Recently, in themacinator-time, the New Yorker published an article by Margaret Talbot entitled "Red Sex, Blue Sex." My kind of article, it claimed to look at the interesting paradox whereby many "social conservatives in 'red states' generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion." On the other hand, she describes liberals in "blue states" as pro sex-ed and not particularly troubled by pre-marital sex, but as parents, alarmed by a pregnancy, especially carried to term. The title of the article is taken from a study by Mark Regnerus, University of Texas, Austin. Talbot sums up his studies: religion is a "good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior," and white evangelical adolescents are particularly likely to say they believe in abstaining till marriage, anticipate that sex will not be the opposite of nice and sweet, and meanwhile, to be sexually active. They are likely to have sex right after turning sixteen, and less likely to use protection. Talbot enumerates a lot of disturbing statistics about chastity pledges and pre-marital sex: basically, if you pledge, or if your community pledge, you're almost guaranteed to have sex by age 16.

Talbot also discusses the relationship of the red/blue/religious divide and marriage: this is less about Democrats and Republicans than "moral-values voters" (oh, I love the culture wars). "Among blue-state social liberals, commitment to the institution of marriage tends to be unspoken or discreet, but marriage in practice typically works pretty well." I was suprised to read, although my cynical side did kick in, that in 2004, the red states of Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virgina had the highest divorce rates. The highest teenage pregnancy rates were also in red states: Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas. The connection that the authors of this study, Naomi Cahn and JNune Carbone make, is the age of marriage.
"People start families earlier in red states- in part because they are more inclined to deal with an unplanned pregnancy by marrying rather than seeking an abortion... The red -state model puts couples at greater risk for divorce;... younger couples are more likely to be contending with two of the biggest stressors on a marriage: financial struggles and the birth of a baby before, or soon after, the wedding."

Talbot discusses the effect of class and education on the decisions made by teenagers and young adults: access to education about birth control, sex, abortion, and goals for college, etc. She talks about evangelical repression being unreasonable- waiting to 30 to be involved in nice, sweet sex really does sound awful (if you believe it exists). She offers some alternatives and discusses the documentary "The Education of Shelby Knox," which I am about to watch.

But Talbot's argument is very whitewashed. I'm pretty sure that all of the teenagers in red states are not all white Evangelicals. The religious breakdown is fascinating, and I don't dispute it. I wonder, racially, how the other groups she mentions break down. I'm pretty sure the Jews are majority ethnically white- most of my peers growing up were. But Catholics? Protestants (she mentions black Protestants briefly)? Christians that aren't Evangelical? Muslims? There are a whole lot of teenagers having sex that may or may not be nice and sweet, or abstaining, and may be marrying, or not, who are they? This question is not raised, let alone answered. States are not just made up of white Evanglicals or not-Evangelicals. Religious groups are not all white. I'm pretty sure there is a church on almost every corner in this blue state. Maybe every corner in a red state. Are there people of color there?

New Yorker, and Margaret Talbot, I'm disappointed. I expected more colors than red, white and blue.