Last night, I discovered of The Virginity Project (via Shel Israel's blog), a book project in which Kate Monroe is compiling a list of stories about how, when and why people lost their virginity. On the drive in this morning, I heard a segment on NPR's Morning Edition entitled "Young People and Sex: Parents, Can We Talk?" by Johanna Greenberg of Blunt Youth Radio. It turns out -- surprise, surprise -- that the parents of most of teens [that Johanna interviewed] have never said anything about sex to their kids, and of the few that had, it was mostly focused on the mechanics of sexual intercourse, or the risks of [unintended] pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The preceding NPR segment was on one such STD, human papillomavirus ("Detecting High-Risk HPV in Older Women"), and an earlier segment on local NPR affiliate KQED, in the locally produced series, Perspectives (I think), was an opinion piece by another young woman, Alana Germany, about The HPV Vaccine (Gardasil), focusing on the social and economic issues surrounding its availability, and the political issues surrounding the proposed school attendance requirement for the vaccine in California middle schools. Reading Kate Monroe's most recent post, "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but ...", she writes about her motivation behind pursuing this project, and in so doing, exhibits great openness and vulnerability (reminiscent of Shel and Robert Scoble's openness in Naked Conversations):
I, like most human beings, am innately insecure. There are questions that I need to ask - but I don’t think I am the only one who wants to know the answers. I want to know what other people really felt about having sex for the first time. Not the version that we tell our friends around the pub table but the no holds barred version. The reality, the joy, the pain, the sheer physical sensation of allowing somebody so close for the very first time. And if we take a step further toward truth, how does this one-off experience compare to our present arrangement? How good have we got? ... We all want to know that we are improving and we all want to know that we are normal.
Upon further reflection, I see vulnerability and sexual intimacy as deeply intertwined, and one's first sexual experience -- the loss of virginity -- as among the most vulnerable. [It's interesting that virginity is always lost ... what is gained?] I feel very fortunate that my first sexual experience (er, with someone else) was very positive, but I've often wondered about others' first experiences. I suspect it is generally, and perhaps drastically, different for men and women, but the only person I've ever spoken with about first experiences is Amy (and we did have different experiences of our first sexual encounters). I felt very vulnerable that first time, not really knowing quite how to proceed (although I was later told that my lack of experience was not apparent at the time), and feeling great fear and joy simultaneously. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I still often feel fear before, during and after a sexual encounter, and for similar reasons -- does she want to? am I being too selfish? am I doing it right? was it good for her? Fortunately, I also still [often] feel great joy, too. Johanna Greenberg's recommendation was that parents should talk more openly with their kids about their feelings and values regarding sex (wow, talk about vulnerability!). Amy has been more forthright with our kids in talking about sexual matters, which is ironic, as I generally like to think of myself as so open and communicative. Given that my 15 year-old daughter sometimes reads (and comments on) my blog, I suppose this post may represent some kind of potential opening. My feelings about sex in my own experience are often conflicted, and they become all the more so when I project them onto anyone else ... especially if that someone else is, in a significant respect, the outcome of a sexual encounter (i.e., my daughter (or son)). I already mentioned my experience of the fear and joy of sex. As for values, I value honesty and trust in all my relationships, and I believe these qualities are all the more important the more intimate the relationship ... and the more intimate the exchange. Over the weekend, I watched the movie Munich; in one scene, one of the Mossad agents is found in naked and dead in his hotel bed, after having last been seen heading in the direction of an attractive and flirtatious woman in the hotel bar. I was thinking "What was he thinking?" (he was part of a team had been involved in several assassinations, and must have known that they, in turn, were likely targets). How can such a person -- or at least a person in that role -- trust anyone, much less leave himself as vulnerable as one becomes during sexually intimate encounters (or, at least, as vulnerable as I become ... but I probably wouldn't cut it as an assassin, anyhow). Turning to the third "V", the HPV vaccine (Gardasil), I am glad that the vaccine is available, but I'm not convinced that requiring it to be administered to all students is the best policy. It seems to me that other vaccines required for school attendance are for diseases that can be transmitted through casual contact, or simple proximity. While I hear and read that casual relationships (or "friends with benefits") is on the rise, reports of any kind of sexual activities -- especially among youth -- are often greatly exaggerated, on an individual and/or aggregated basis. Taking measures to prevent the transmission of disease to others who are simply in the same room on a daily basis seems like a reasonable precaution. Mandating such measures to prevent transmission that requires a great deal more, er, engagement, seems overreaching. So I don't support mandatory vaccinations, but I am totally in favor of making [other] more casual or incidental prophylactics more widely available ... especially among youth ... who are, after all, especially vulnerable.