Tweeted by another organization today, from 2010:
This is one of a long line of common phrases in sex education and sexuality messaging people, including people I think of as allies, use that I deeply dislike, like “preventing teen pregnancy.” Let me explain why, working backwards.
“You should wait for sex, but if you can’t…”
In some respect, that’s fine. Now, not everyone needs contraception, either because they don’t have a partner with a radically different reproductive system than them or they’re not having the kinds of sex that can create a pregnancy, so that doesn’t always make sense. But for people choosing to have any kind of sex, we’re 100% on board with the sentiment that all of us — no matter our age — should be engaging in sexual practices supportive of safeguarding everyone’s best health, and in alignment with whether we do or don’t want or are or are not ready for a pregnancy. This statement often tacitly or inadvertently defining all sex as opposite-sexed or as intercourse isn’t okay, but overall, on the safer sex and contraception bit? I’m right there with you.
The “if you can’t?” Not cool. We all can elect not to have any kind of consensual sex, sparing masturbation we may unknowingly do in our sleep, something that happens sometimes. Some people also do have earnest impulse control disorders, but those are disorders, and do not occur in the vast majority of people of any age.
If we have consensual sex it is completely within our control, whether we’re 13, 26 or 63. There is no “can’t wait” when it comes to consensual sex. To suggest there is is not only incorrect, as we have free will, it can also be rape enabling. It backs up those who excuse rape by saying they (or rapists) couldn’t control themselves, that just they couldn’t help it, that when they feel sexual they cannot stop themselves and every kind of garbage of that ilk that is an absolute, and highly convenient, fiction. People always can hold off on sex or decline sex unless someone is being sexually assaulted or abused, in which case the person doing the abusing is in control of what is happening, but the person being victimized is not because the other person or group has also taken control of that person in some way. If we are choosing to have sex, that choice in and of itself is one of responsibility, and if we’re bearing our own and our partner’s consent in mind, one is already being responsible.
Some folks say “don’t” instead of can’t. That’s far better. There most certainly is a “don’t want to wait,” but there isn’t a can’t. Nearly everyone can. It’s just that not everyone always wants to. Not only is that a more truthful framing, it’s one which makes clear that active consent and decision-making, and owning your choices, is of great import.
This “can’t” stuff also plays into the way people often misrepresent teen sexuality: something out of one’s control or will, as about “raging hormones” (hormones with apparent superpowers that can compel the body to move against one’s own will); as a burly, untamable, and usually masculine beastie that picks young folks up by the feet and shakes them until they don’t have two pennies of sense left to rub together. I’m not about to argue that when sexual feelings first start to develop and flourish that they don’t often feel heady, even unwieldy: they sure can. But that doesn’t make them unmanageable or make any actions one may take stemming from them out of a person’s control.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.