Monthly Archives: June 2009

Back to School: Let’s Talk About Sex

When I was 12, a guest speaker presented on the merits of flavored condoms to an auditorium full of giggly 7th through 12th graders. I recall him saying his personal favorite was grape.

It wasn’t all fun and flavors though–as one of the lucky kids who received comprehensive sex ed, I actually learned how to have sex and be protected. But a huge swath of the country gets the short shrift.

 Thanks to religious fundies and the Bush legacy, abstinence-only education has increased, and so has the teen pregnancy rate. Abstinence ed has been an excellent sex in convincing students there’s no point in using condoms–while they’re having sex just as much as ever. Oops.
 
Looking around, I always wonder what people know about sex. How many people had been told, still believe, that the condom failure rate is 30 percent? Or how about the gender stereotypes abstinence educators love to dish out–like boys have natural urges and girls must be chaste? Does that seem like it prepares people for healthy, safe sexual interactions, in a frat basement, or a bar, or anywhere?
 
Plus, my sex ed was pretty good, you know, for America, but it left a whole lot of questions–ones I didn’t even know to ask back when. So I was intrigued at discovering an adult sex ed programs, Our Whole Lives, a project of the Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ. While the program is designed by two religious groups, they chose to keep faith out of their discussion of sexuality–there’s an optional companion book on faith–and since Unitarian Universalism is one of my favorite religions, I’m curious to see just how good their program is. Maybe I’ll be buying a new textbook soon.
 
I’ll leave you with a fairy tale from the abstinence-only curriculum “Choosing the Best.” It goes something like this: knight saves princess from dragon. Princess gets into the same dangerous situation; this time, the damsel in distress offers her savior advice on how to kill the dragon, and does so again when the situation repeats a third time. Though her suggestions work, the knight’s manliness has apparently been undermined, so he goes off and marries a village maiden with no recommendations on how to kill dragons.
“Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”
That’s right, young women: even if you’re about to be eaten by a mythical flying beast, shut up and let the man do his job on his own. You might become a tasty snack, but at least you won’t get dumped. Three jeers for abstinence ed.

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Queer-Friendly Mormons?

What do you think when you hear “gay-friendly Mormon”? Does it have a strange ring? Do you think of Prop 8, and nothing else?

Mormons unhappy with their church’s stance on gay rights have launched a website (ldsapology.org) to gather petition signatures for their “Plea for Reconciliation.” Organized by two California residents in the wake of the Prop 8 campaign, this coalition of active and former members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints state that “the time is right for healing.” Their hope: to convince the church to ease up on its antigay policies, and especially its political intervention and fundraising.

My mother’s side of the family, all being Mormon, have made me more personally familiar with the Church of Latter-Day Saints than the typical non-Mormon (I was baptized Catholic, am now atheist). As a result of these family ties, I’ve frequently found myself correcting misconceptions about the faith: no, they don’t practice polygamy; yes, they are Christian; no they’re not that much crazier than other religions.

BUT I’m also a harsher critic of Mormonism’s problems because, well, they’re family. While bothered by extreme prejudice against Mormonism (often coming from other conservative Christians) that is based on misunderstanding its history and practice, I’m all too aware that it is a predominantly right-wing faith with serious flaws—homophobia being the biggest of my frustrations.

So it was a relief to encounter a more progressive face of Mormonism. A few days ago, the website had a little over 100 signatures; now it’s close to 800, and growing daily.  This pressure, coming from the church’s own constituents, is harder to brush off than outsider criticism, and this is exactly what needs to happen to cause a change in harmful conservative religious stances. And the website doesn’t shy away from demonstrating just how harmful this antigay stance can be, with a list of gay and lesbian Mormon suicide victims and links to heart-wrenching–and sometimes horrific–personal stories.

Right now, ldsapology.org is a small step in a positive direction, but, hopefully, it will inspire other members of the Mormon church uncomfortable with its direction on gay rights to stand up—so that, as time passes, the term “gay-friendly Mormon” doesn’t sound so strange.

Update June 29th: A recent Nation article (disclosure: I’m an intern there) discusses the push for LGBT rights in predominantly-Mormon Utah, including the visibility of queer Mormons in Salt Lake City. While these activists aren’t confronting church policy as directly as ldsapology.org, their political fight certainly sends a similar message. Cheers for more people coming out of the Closet of Latter-Day Saints.

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Filed under Queer issues, Religion