Adults scarred by sex ed website

Alarmed lawmakers are trying to shutter for its crude teen slang. Who are they protecting, exactly?

Published April 27, 2011 8:52PM (EDT)

I could not visit fast enough when I heard that Massachusetts lawmakers were calling for the state-funded sex education website to be shut down over its use of vulgar language. "The language that is used on this site is disgusting," said Representative Elizabeth Poirier. "There are words that I would find difficult to speak." State Rep. Marc Lombardo added, "This website uses inappropriate and crude language to describe sexual acts." Oh goody, I thought. I'm usually amused by examples of the frank sex talk that disturbs full-blown adults -- but in this case the offensive language thoroughly disappointed.

The site, which is run by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, centers on the fictional character Maria, an 18-year-old who dispenses sexual health information in teen-speak with the help of her aunt who is an OB/GYN. Maria has a diverse group of friends who accurately reflect the range of teenage experience that you see in the real world: Some are abstinent, some are sexually active; some are gay, some are straight; some have protected sex, some do not. The edgiest language can be found in a section of the website that explains various sexual acts in technical terms, alongside the slang translation kids are more likely to have heard. It's a sweet, albeit sometimes awkward, adult attempt at "speaking their language." For example: "digital sex" ("fingering/hand job"), "cunnilingus" ("going down on her"), "clitoris" ("clit"), "fellatio" ("giving head" or giving a "blow job"), "erection" ("hard-on")," "anal sex" ("butt sex"), "anus" ("rectum" or "butthole"). Yes, they said "butthole" -- I hope no one needs a paper bag to hyperventilate into.

The other issue that triggered local politicos' protest is, of course, abortion. The site acknowledges that termination is an option for pregnant young women and that abortions are "safe and effective" -- all of which is without a doubt factually correct. Before abortion is even mentioned, though, adoption and parenthood are listed as options -- and yet state Rep. Colleen Garry calls it part of "a blatant agenda by the liberal part of our society to introduce children to sex and give them the opportunity to have an abortion without their parents’ involvement." You know us liberals, we just can't wait to pressure teenagers into having sex and to corrupt their innocent ears with "disgusting," "inappropriate and crude" sexual slang.

This is one of those cases that reveal just how profoundly the war over sex education is influenced by adult fears of sex. Teenagers aren't the issue here -- they're the ones generating this apparently horrifying slang, after all -- but rather the alleged grownups who want to stick their fingers in their ears, hum a pleasant little tune and protect themselves from the scary and complex reality of human desire. When I read Rep. Poirier's remark that "there are words that I would find difficult to speak," I genuinely and affectionately think: Poor darling, if only your youthful curiosity had been met with support -- and awkward adult attempts at speaking your language -- instead of shame and reproach.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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