NYT Op-Ed Notes THIS Crucial Difference Between Gay & Straight Youths' Approach to Sex

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday January 13, 2020

In a Jan. 10 New York Times op-ed piece, author Peggy Orenstein - whose works include the new book "Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent and Navigating the New Masculinity" - took on the subject of sexual attitudes and sex ed among America's teens and early twenty-somethings.

Among the disheartening observations Orenstien made about how young males in America have not been equipped for frank, fact-based, responsible discussions about sexuality and sexual activity - a cultural situation she suggests is at least partly responsible for alarming rates of sexual assault and harassment - there was an unexpected ray of light: LGBTQ youth, who are, the author suggested, ahead of the curve on sexual maturity as compared to young heterosexuals.

Before making mention of her observation, though, Orenstein shared some troubling stats:

According to a 2017 national survey of 3,000 high school students and young adults by the Making Caring Common Project, a large majority of boys never had a single conversation with their parents about, for instance, how to be sure that your partner "wants to be — and is comfortable — having sex with you," or about what it meant to be a "a caring and respectful sexual partner." About two-thirds had never heard from their parents that they shouldn't have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent.

One would think that fact-used sex education would at least make a dent in the problems of sexual harassment, assault, and objectification, but, Orenstein, pointed out, so-called "comprehensive" sex ed seems to treat the subject in pathological terms instead of embracing it as a profoundly important and enriching aspect of human life. The author wrote that sex ed unfortunately tends to be:

...often focused predominantly on risk and danger: avoiding pregnancy and preventing disease. Increasingly, sexual consent is being added to that cautionary to-do list, as it should be. Too often, though, that question of yes or no becomes a stand-in for all conversation about sexual decision-making: another way to dodge more nuanced discussions of personal responsibility, open communication, establishing relationships, understanding gender dynamics and — the third rail of sex ed classes — reciprocal pleasure and the L.G.B.T.Q.+ perspective.

And it was here that Orenstein segued, briefly, into her insight regarding LGTBQ youth and their relatively informed, enlightened view of sex as something to be celebrated with a partner, rather than coaxed, demanded, or coerced:

I found gay boys, by the way, to be notably more willing and able than others to negotiate the terms of a sexual encounter — they had to be, since who was going to do what with whom could not be assumed. They often seemed puzzled by heterosexuals' reticence. "I don't know why straight guys see consent as a mood-killer," one college sophomore said. "I'm like, 'if we're talking, that means we're going to have sex — this is great!'"

Orenstein went on to cite Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and "It Gets Better" founder, who, she said, had graced the world with "the four magic words" that elevate sex from the realm of dead-eyed, bragging rights-seeking usury to a mutually respectful and fulfilling experience:

"What are you into?"

Offered as a sincere and interested question - and then honored in the act, with consideration and openness - that query summons respect and invites deep sharing. For GLBTQ youth to be conscious of the power of such a question indicates something more than relentless, self-absorbed focus on one's own gratification to the exclusion of another person's needs or desires.

Or, as Orenstein went on to elaborate, "That's a very different perspective than that of straight boys, who usually aim for one-word assent to options they define." Though, the author went on to add, "...girls, as I'd previously found, are so often disconnected from their bodies' desires and responses, their answer to an authentic conversation-starter might well be, 'I have no idea.' "

Will heterosexual youth begin, at some point, to take that simple act of consideration and curiosity into account in their own sexual dealings? One would hope so; but given that we live in a world where parents decline to have their daughters inoculated against HPV (evidently,y for feat that a medical prophylazxis might, in and of itself, constitute an invitation to "immoral" sexual conduct) and anti-gay religious groups decry constructive policies around bullying with the rationale that anti-bullying policies might somehow restrain the religious freedoms of students who assail and intimidate their LGBTQ schoolmates, such an evolution in social mores and ethics seems far from certain.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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