According to popular maxim, the two oldest professions in the world are motherhood and prostitution. This phrase is often accompanied by laughter when it is repeated, though upon any type of reflection it’s difficult to see what’s so damn funny about it.
What this little proverb actually means is that the first chore instituted in our collective history was for a woman to lie down, get fucked — literally and sometimes figuratively — and get paid for her work with a child, coins or disease. It also reveals our tidy habit of binary opposition and establishes only two classifications for women whose vaginas have been hired by a male customer.
Ah, but this is not a rant about the past. It is, rather, a frank discussion of the present.
Luckily, we live in a time and a place where girls have employment options in addition to those of mother and whore. As we lawyers, doctors, teachers, bricklayers, heiresses, cashiers, police officers and writers decide what to do with our non-baby-producing and/or incoming-earning vaginas, we have the luxury of a sexual equality not granted our foremothers.
Because despite any lingering stereotype, social taboo and religious dogma, it turns out that there is actually very little difference between men and women when it comes to sex here in the infancy of the 21st century — who’s having it, when they are having it and with whom they are having it.
Statistically speaking, about 98 percent of adult women and men are sexually active by their mid 40s; with 80 percent of us having sex for the first time before the age of 20. Additionally, 90 percent of us are having sex before we ever get married, if we ever get married. In our lifetimes, most men average six to eight sex partners, and most women average four to six.
Yet Indiana lawmakers, like the majority of those around the country, continue to live in some imaginary past where good girls got married, had sex and had babies, in that order. This was probably a lie back in the good old days (whenever that was); and it is most certainly a lie now. Tragically, however, this lie is the basis for abstinence-only education mandated in the majority of American public schools and the basis for the most preventable kinds of trouble a good girl can find herself in.
The dichotomy of mothers and whores has at its basis the more primal classification of identifying women as either virgins or whores. A good girl used to wait until her wedding night to have sex for the first time, a whore did not; it was a pretty simple system really. While there might be those who would still like to use these handy criteria to identify good girls from bad, they are setting themselves up for a nearly impossible task.
There is better than a 50-50 chance that a graduating high school senior in Indiana is not a virgin when he or she dons a cap and gown. By the age of 17, 54 percent of males and 51 percent of females have had sex. Those numbers jump to 80 percent for both men and women by the time they blow out 20 candles on their birthday cakes, a 16 percent increase since 1982.
According to the most recent (2002) statistics, the majority of women first have sex with those they describe as boyfriends (72 percent). Another 20 percent lose their virginity to fiancees or men they eventually marry. Six percent of women have their first sexual experience as an act of rape. And for those who insist on calling someone a whore, nearly 3 percent of women admit to voluntarily having lost their virginity to a total stranger.
Like many stereotypes, the idea that a bride is also a virgin is rather hollow at its core. Though the overwhelming majority of brides get hitched wearing a white dress, wedding dresses as symbols of purity have long since lost their relevance. More than 90 percent of all brides walking down the aisle today do so with some sexual experience under their garter belts.
And don’t believe the hype that this is a recent trend. It seems the majority of good girls wearing white on their wedding day has long done so without being virgins. In a CDC survey of American women 20 to 70 years of age, 58 percent of those married before 1950 were not virgins on their wedding night; 69 percent of those married before 1975 were not virgins when married, and 82 percent of those first married before 1990 were not virgins when married.
Given that 98 percent of all women eventually have sex and 90 percent of us now do so before marriage, designating a good girl by her virginity status is no longer merely a manifestation of gender bias; it also reveals a tremendous amount of hypocrisy on the part of those doing the labeling. Having sex before marriage was always a bad indicator of “goodness,” not to mention one seldom used to judge men. The truth is that good girls have always had sex, and the majority has been having sex before marriage for a very long time.
A little help from my friends
Not only are good girls having sex before they get married, they are also admitting to liking sex more than ever before — with or without a partner. Even though there was a 50-50 chance Grandma wasn’t a virgin on her wedding day, there was an even greater chance she didn’t necessarily enjoy whatever sex she was having, and even if she did she wouldn’t admit to it.
My how times have changed.
A certain amount of arrogance is needed to say that we live in an era where women are more positive and public about their sexuality than ever before, but it seems fairly self-evident. From “polates” (a combination of pole dancing and Pilates exercise) to strip-aerobics (surely you can figure that one out on your own), sexuality is now promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle, and vice versa. There is also a resurgence in burlesque and other forms of erotica that reflect the increasing power women now have over their bodies, their earning power and “adult” entertainment itself.
In addition, good girls, it seems, aren’t too worried about hairy palms or loss of vision, at least not as much as they used to be. While there is now little statistical difference in many of the sexual behaviors of men and women, the guys still hold the lead for pleasuring themselves. Girls, however, are rapidly closing the gap.
Since the Kinsey studies of the 1950s, the percentage of men who admit to masturbating has changed less than 10 percent, while 40 percent more women admit to masturbating than those a half century ago. Today, more than 90 percent of adult men are at least occasionally doing it for themselves, and slightly more than 75 percent of women say they do as well.
Perhaps the most telling sign of our increasing comfort and willingness to be sexually enthusiastic good girls is best illustrated by another growing trend: the sex toy party. The industry once known as “marital aides” is based on the presumption that even good girls who wait to get married might need a little extra help in finding happiness in bed. Thus, marital aides were socially acceptable as a tool to improve the matrimonial state.
As a recent night at a co-worker’s house demonstrated, good girls are not necessarily married or shy about using tools to find happiness anymore, though it’s hard to know definitively if they were less shy in the past. The 15 or so women who assembled on this particular Wednesday evening for a Pure Romance (www.pureromance.com) party ranged in age from mid 20s to mid 40s; some of us are married, some of us are divorced, some of us are mothers, some of us like Brad Pitt, some of us prefer Angelina Jolie, one of us has a swing and each of us has sex.
As our Pure Romance representative Heidi Siler escorted us through the land of potions and props available for purchase, we passed around “bedroom accessories” like Ben Wa Balls, Mr. Dependable, B.O.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend) and the Petal Pleaser (“Who needs flowers from him … get your own pleasure from our incredibly stimulating and waterproof Petal Pleaser that will make your flower bloom!”). If there was one of us who hadn’t made a solo visit to the man in the boat before the party, surely we have all taken the journey by now.
Over the course of the evening, the giggles and gasps gave way to frets about checkbook balances. Just before midnight, Heidi tallied her receipts and announced nearly $810 worth of merchandise sold to some very good and very grateful NUVO girls. As one of the party-goers who bought her first toy that night said a few days later, “There’s something so powerful about knowing I have a vibrator in my house! Even if I never use it, I know it’s there.”
Viva la révolucion! Good girls get by with a little help from their friends, real and battery-operated.
Condoms and conundrums
If the distinction between good girls and bad girls no longer has any relevance to whether or not a woman decides to be sexually active before marriage, there is still a distinction worth making when it comes to girls and sex. While “good” and “bad” imply condemnation, so too, unfortunately and far too often, does having sex without being smart about it.
Abstinence proponents are right on one account: The only 100 percent safe sex is no sex. Just about everything that falls under the broadest definition of sex includes risks of varying proportions. Though that risk might be significant, good girls know that smart sex can be safer than driving a car or eating shellfish.
Despite the distortions from crazy people, the truth is that when used correctly and consistently condoms are effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease 98 percent of the time. Not fool proof, but definitely safe. And while birth control pills do not prevent disease, they do prevent pregnancy 97 percent of the time if used correctly and consistently.
Most good girls know this. Among sexually-active unmarried women between the ages of 15 and 34, 86 percent say they use contraception of some type: one-third use the pill, one-third use condoms and one-third use other or combined methods.
But a lot of good girls are bad at remembering or requiring contraception. More than 80 percent contract a sexually transmitted disease. Twenty percent have a child before getting married and admit that motherhood before marriage wasn’t the plan. Nearly one-third of all American women have an abortion before the age of 40.
Education seems to be a key factor in whether or not a good girl makes good choices when it comes to sex. Though a diploma doesn’t necessarily prove motherhood was a planned event, the absence of one certainly implies that getting pregnant is much more likely. Ninety-two percent of women who do not graduate from high school have a child before they turn 25. Forty-nine percent of women who graduate from college have a child before they turn 25.
Far more dangerous than unplanned pregnancy, however, are the health risks from not being smart about sex. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide, and the third most fatal, causing 290,000 deaths a year. The disease that causes cervical cancer — the human papilloma virus, which can also cause genital warts — is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, infecting up to 80 percent of women by the age of 50.
Future smart girls have an option us older ones didn’t. Over the objections of those who prefer sexually active women (meaning 98 percent of us) to be at risk for cervical cancer, the FDA recently approved a vaccine that prevents infections from the two strains of human papilloma virus that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. It also prevents infection from two more strains that cause 90 percent of cases of genital warts.
The FDA approved the vaccine for girls and women ages 9 to 26. Ideally, girls would get the vaccine between the ages of 10 and 12, before they become sexually active, because the vaccine is less effective once a woman has been exposed to the virus. Researchers don’t yet know how long the vaccine remains effective, and booster shots might be required. Doctors emphasize that it still will be important for all women to get annual examinations and pap smears to check for the virus, as the vaccine won’t prevent all forms of the virus.
Given that the majority of schools in America are prevented from discussing birth control and contraception in any terms other than failure rates, it’s unclear whether or not American girls and their parents will be educated about the new vaccine. A large and vocal group of conservative constituents are fighting to stop individual states from making the vaccine mandatory. This group fears that it will “send the wrong message” to girls and promote promiscuity by diminishing the risks of HPV and cervical cancer. Is more proof needed that these people don’t want smart girls any more than they want sexually active ones?
A good girl’s best friend
The majority of good girls do not have access to affordable medical care. This puts smart girls in somewhat of a dilemma, because the really smart ones know that good girls are healthy girls. With more than 80 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 30 currently uninsured or underinsured, sexual health can come at a high cost.
In 1932, the Indiana Birth Control League was founded. Initially, its clientele was legally restricted to married women with two or more children. Eventually, the IBCL became Planned Parenthood and in 1955 offered services to unmarried women for the first time.
Smart girls know that Planned Parenthood believes all women have a fundamental right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health; a right to healthy and informed choices regarding sexuality and family planning; complete and confidential information, services and facilities. They also know Planned Parenthood is affordable.
In another myth buster, it’s important to note that of the more than 350,000 visits smart girls made to Planned Parenthood of Indiana last year, 95 percent did so for routine gynecological exams, pap tests for cervical cancer, STD screenings and treatments, and birth control of all kinds.
Statewide, Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPI) has 37 health centers where women who find themselves unintentionally pregnant receive referrals from trained medical professionals for prenatal care and adoption services. The new Planned Parenthood at 86th Street and Georgetown Road on Indianapolis’ Northwestside offers smart girls all options, including routine gynecological checkups, cancer and STD screening, birth control, abortion and adoption services.
The truth is a lot of good girls get pregnant because they weren’t smart about sex; and a lot of good gi"