Men are dogs. Their hormonal drive for sexual conquest is so strong that when given an opportunity to have sex, they will jump on it (literally), whether or not it’s a responsible decision or it’s what they really want emotionally or intellectually. That’s why it’s up to women and girls to make smart choices about sex.
This is the widespread societal attitude that puts the responsibility for sexual decisions on the shoulders of women. We see it in the public’s attitude about reports of rape involving alcohol or drugs, and it comes through loud and clear when ultra-conservatives talk about single mothers or access to birth control.
It also seeps into the sex education students get in schools. “So many sex education programs are just aimed at girls,” said Dr. Amie Hess, assistant professor of sociology at Meredith College. She says even parents perpetuate these stereotypical gender roles – her recent Status of Girls in North Carolina report found that while three out of four teens say a parent or other adult family member talked to them about sex, the research shows parents are much more likely to talk to their daughters than their sons.
“Think about how we talk about marriage – for a man, [a woman is] like his ball and chain, all of that imagery about women as the domesticating influence, and men’s natural instinct is to sow their seeds wide and far,” Hess explained. “But translate that down to teenagers, and it’s truly scary to think about what kind of position that puts these young girls in.
“I mean, you’re a teenager. You’re conflicted about if you should or shouldn’t. For you to bear the burden for deciding on behalf of your boyfriend is troubling. I think in so many ways we let young men off the hook.”
Sex education, whether at home or in schools, that puts the bulk of the responsibility for sexual activity on girls can be tremendously damaging. Remember Elizabeth Smart? She was 14 when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City, UT home in 2002 and held captive by a man who raped her repeatedly. She was rescued after nine months when someone recognized her as she walked down the street with her captor.
Here’s a quote from a Christian Science Monitor article about a recent speech Smart gave:
Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
Certainly, you can blame Smart’s parents for not instilling in her a stronger sense of self-worth and the promise that she would always be valued and loved. But to do so is to ignore how these societal attitudes about sex – evident in our abstinence-based sex education curriculum – affect our girls.