Comes Naturally #35 (June 30, 1995):
Getting Real with Teens about Sex; A Little Wholesome Sexiness on the Streets of the City

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Spectator Magazine - June 30, 1995
(c) David Steinberg

Getting Real with Teens about Sex; A Little Wholesome Sexiness on the Streets of the City

Teen Sex a la Rosie Perez

I'm sitting watching the Rosie Perez special on ABC about teenagers and sex. The show has gotten a fair amount of press because it's supposed to cut new ground in terms of talking straight to teens about sex. Perez, or one of the show's producers, has said that if we're not willing to talk to kids about sex on their own terms, we're not going to get through to them in terms of sex education.

This, of course, makes sense. Teenagers know the difference between honest talk and bullshit. The problem with the way most adults talk to teens about sex is that adults are generally too embarrassed about sex to talk about the real stuff at all. To talk about all the emotions involved in being sexual; to talk truthfully about pleasure. Adults need to get past whatever sexual embarrassment they feel if they want to be able to be taken seriously when they talk about sex with teenagers. The Rosie Perez special claims that it will not be afraid to talk about sex for real. It will show condoms on the air. That in itself sounds like a breakthrough.

It's a good enough line to get me curious. Of course you never know what you're letting yourself in for when you turn to mainstream network television for perspective on sex, but I've got something of a crush on Rosie Perez ever since she played Carla in Fearless so I give it a try.

Helen and I tune in late, and I miss parts of the show because I keep getting interrupted. But it only takes about five minutes of watching before the show has sliced its way through my Rosie-colored glasses and gotten my goat. I thought the show might turn out to be boring, but I find that I'm not getting bored, I'm getting angry.

The straight, unembarrassed talk to teenagers touted by the show goes something like this: Rosie Perez shows some cleavage, looks sincerely into the camera, and says in her delightful New Yawk Tawk, Of course you want to have sex real bad and sex feels real good, but you can't do it because you're likely to get pregnant or get dead. What boys really want is to have intercourse all the time, no matter what the consequences. They have all kinds of clever lines designed to get girls to have intercourse with them. Girls don't really want to have intercourse, but they get pressured into it by all the clever lines from the boys. Be strong, girls! Tame the (his) beast. Why risk everything for a few fleeting minutes of pleasure? If he really loves you, he'll respect you -- meaning not that he'll respect the pleasure you want, but that he'll respect your affirmation that sexual pleasure isn't really that important anyway. Testimonials from teens who have decided they want to wait until they're married before they have intercourse. Testimony from teens who have gotten into trouble by having intercourse. You get the picture.

I suppose this is an old beef and I should just get used to the idea that antisexualism simply rules the cultural roost, especially now that Republicanism is on the rise, but the blown opportunity to really do some useful, honest talking to teenagers about sex still upsets me. Is it any wonder that the "Don't trust anyone over 30" motto of the 60's has evolved into something like "Don't trust anyone over 18"?

The goal of this supposedly enlightened production was not to talk with teenagers about how to go for maximum sexual pleasure safely, but rather to try to convince them that purely physical sexual pleasure is not nearly as important as they know without a doubt it is. That and to reinforce the notion that there is something wrong with any girl who is aching for sex not because she is a weak patsy for the boys, but because she has her own desire filling her body with delicious feelings and yearnings. Straight talk to teenagers in their own terms: Just say no to sex... man. Give me a break!

Pleasure and Danger

Danger, danger everywhere, that's the watchword of the 90's, and when it comes to sex, the real danger (we are told) is the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, as differentiated from pleasure as a kind of curious by-product of reproduction, or pleasure as something one essentially earns by committing to a long-term, loving relationship. In a pleasurefearing culture such as ours, the real and relevant risks of unwanted pregnancy, AIDS, and other STD's are first magnified beyond all reality and then recruited to the crusade of convincing people that denying oneself pleasure is the way to the best, happiest, most virtuous life.

As far as I'm concerned, pious renunciation of pleasure, sexual or otherwise, is a dumb goal. The trick is knowing what kind of pleasure will really make you happy and what holds only the illusion of happiness. As long as the pursuit of pleasure itself remains suspect, we will be unable to even begin to address these finer points about how to lead a happy, fulfilling life. Teenagers may not be the world's best models when it comes to the subtleties of sexual pleasure, but when the issue is the defense of the pleasure principle itself, they are the veritable cadres of the sexual revolution, the elite most dedicated to keeping their eyes on the pleasure prize no matter how hard the system tries to buy everyone off by touting fear and respectability. Unfortunately, teens are notoriously short on both power and information, and that fact, not the simple existence of a strong sexual urge, is why a lot of young people end up being unnecessarily miserable, pregnant, sick, and even occasionally dead.

What I want to see is a national tv program with the sexually enlightened and sex-enhancing goal of showing teenagers how to better achieve pleasure and avoid hurtful consequences by, for example, being less fixated on intercourse as the one true way to have sex. I daresay adults could use a good dose of this point of view as well, even those in monogamous, long-term relationships.

Where's the program that talks straight and without embarrassment to teenagers, showing them how to get off by going down on each other, by finger-fucking, by fingering each other's assholes, by using vibrators and cock rings? I'm tired of the dedicated young women who look earnestly into the camera and talk about how they used to think they had to fuck to please their boyfriends but now understand that the real way a boy shows he loves you is by being willing to sacrifice pleasure on the altar of femininity. (If we're going to talk about boys giving up pleasure, let's have it be in order to pay more attention to what gives girls pleasure, though of course that would be embarrassing since we'd have to admit that girls want sexual pleasure in the first place.)

I want to see equally earnest young women (or men) explain to the camera how they used to think there was nothing to sex but fucking, but then they got to understand how hot other ways of getting off could be. Not just kissing and holding hands and admiring the moonlight together, but actually coming. I'd like to see shows that included clips of young couples sucking and touching each other, getting more and more excited, and coming intensely. (Sexual explicitness would be a plus, but not required.) I'd like to see young women explaining that even though they fucked a number of guys, they never knew how powerful orgasm could be until they got their clits properly licked, sucked, or fingered. I'd like to see films of groups of teenage girls or boys talking to each other about what besides intercourse really got them excited, and teens talking to each other about how to have hot sex while honoring both their physical and their emotional fears.

Someone should make some seriously steamy videos of teenagers having hot, passionate, intense non-intercourse sex, all the way through orgasm and ejaculation -- not for the purpose of getting adults off, but for the purpose of putting creative sexual ideas into the heads of other teenagers. Of course, given the general overall squeamishness about sex, it would be hard to imagine legitimate vehicles for getting such fare into the hands of large numbers of young women and men. It's still forbidden, after all, to be unapologetically in the business of encouraging teenagers to have sex. At best, teenage sex is seen as a necessary evil, something that adult society must put up with because teenagers are so unreasonably sexually focused. No one speaks of teenage sexuality as, quite simply, a wonder and a joy. On the day that parents' primary emotional response when they realize that their children are becoming sexually active is excitement rather than panic, straight talk to teenagers produced by adults will take on a whole different meaning and tone. On the day that teenagers gain access to the means of producing informational programs for themselves about their sexual feelings and desires, teenage sexual education will take on a whole new significance as well.

Unadulterated Sex

Teenagers recognize bullshit, and not just about sex. God, in all her wisdom, created adolescence to challenge adults on their often entrenched patterns of soulless, meaningless, habitual, dispassionate, uncreative, stylized, burden-oriented existence. Teenagers have the highly sophisticated and quite philosophical job of figuring out what really matters in life, and they tend to approach their task with a freshness that transcends adult habits of thought fossilized by years of unquestioned acceptance of and resignation to The Way Things Just Have to Be. Adolescents are the dreamers, the believers in possibility, the unfettered advocates of imagination and creativity -- at least they start out as such. With luck, their lively exuberance finds ways of expressing itself without running up too hard against the disapproval and punishment of theoretically more reasonable adults. When that is not possible, when teenagers find themselves surrounded by uninterrupted landscapes of artificially imposed impossibility, they not surprisingly lose their life spark and become cynical, bitter, and depressed with the same passion and intensity that might otherwise have been turned toward pleasure and joy.

With regard to sex, teenagers know in their blood -- thanks to their blooming (not raging) hormones -- something that all too many adults seem to have forgotten. They know that sexual pleasure lies very close to the inner core of human existence, happiness, and meaning. They know that sex is one of the most amazing and important aspects of being alive. They know this because they haven't yet been coerced to give up their erotic vision in the name of stability and social order -- because they haven't yet been adulterated. That's why teens and teenage sexuality scare the shit out of older people who have given up on sexual pleasure, who don't want to acknowledge their sexual natures, who carry such immense sexual pain and frustration that they want desperately not to be reminded of the sexual potential they have chosen not to pursue.

Teenagers don't need advice on how to be less sexual. They need information, tools, and opportunities so that they can give some kind of satisfying shape to their emerging sexual feelings, desires, and experiences. And by satisfying, I mean what is satisfying to them, not what adults think should be satisfying to them. Sex is art, and there's something more to art than a raw appreciation of vibrant color. That's how adults could be really helpful to teenagers, if they were willing to align with teen sexuality, instead of setting themselves in opposition to it. Adults could offer ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and emotional confirmations with an eye toward enriching and validating emerging sexualities, if they would just stop trying to diminish, control, or deny them.

Public Sex

In case you missed the delightfully sexy KGO billboard at Van Ness and Pacific, we're running a photo of it here, just to show that not everything in the world is moving in an antisexual direction. Nice to see such an evocative, even passionate (if demure) image poised high above trees, traffic, and The Gap. No big deal, right? Just a couple being sexual in bed, something that happens thousands of times every day. Yet definitely a first of its kind as public advertising display. May there be many more.

This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]

David Steinberg
P.O. Box 2992
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
(831) 426-7082
(831) 425-8825 (FAX)

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