Feminism / Sex

Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Metaphors Fail English

With so many rules put in place to police our sexuality, and particularly that of women, it’s really helpful to have a set of common-sense metaphorical proverbs on hand to explain the rules. Why do we need to resort to analogy and high-fallutin’ stuff like metaphor to justify our society’s sex rules? Because the rules don’t make any fucking sense.

So, when someone’s ranting about how it’s absurd that a woman who has a lot of sex is a slut, and a man who has a lot of sex is a stud, it’s time to throw down a metaphor and act like it’s some kind of deep knowledge!
Which is not a good practice. Doing this concedes that there is a double standard. You’re resting your whole point on a rhetorical device that’s easily twisted into something else, instead of arguing against the idea that there’s a double standard in the first place (don’t do this, but if you did, you’d be in a stronger position).

But the problem is that a lot of the time, this WORKS. Yeah, okay, it doesn’t work on you, smartypants, but for people who don’t devote mental energy to examining societal mores, these proverbs often do just what was intended — explain the arbitrary rule and why you should follow it. Even for people who don’t agree with the standards and actively argue against them, these metaphors can shut them up. Because nobody wants to eat a licked cupcake.

A major reason people buy into this, aside from being part of a society that teaches these puritanical ideals, is that they don’t understand what metaphor is. Metaphor is a poetic way of saying something. It’s not like making an apt metaphor means whatever you’re saying is right. It’s more like “That’s a well-crafted metaphor! Nice job, Walt Whitman!”

Metaphor is good at clarifying and describing, but it isn’t an argument. It’s a way of speaking, of stating your argument. Here, we get to the crippling weakness of this strategy of using slogans to enforce the sexual status quo.

Lock and Key

See, that red lock is the vagina, and that cute tiny miniscule key is the penis.

See, that red lock is the vagina, and those cute tiny miniscule keys are the penis.

“If a key can open any lock, it’s a master key. But if a lock takes any key, it’s a shitty lock.”

This is probably the best of the sex-negative metaphors, in terms of making sense, relating imagery and so on. Vagina (or, more generally, female sexuality) as “lock” works well because it’s understood in society that women are supposed to be protecting their sexual virtue, saving it for marriage, or for you, or for, you know, whoever is deemed acceptable by people who aren’t the woman under scrutiny. In other words, keeping it in a vault, keeping it under lock. If a woman takes any dick, she’s a shitty woman.

Penis as “master key” is good too, because societally, men are expected to be good at getting women, and it is fully permitted for them to go about doing that, regardless of how many they’ve slept with already. Even when they’re married, there’s quite a lot of permissiveness when it comes to this. A man who sleeps with a lot of women is successful, a master, and special.

The metaphor concisely explains why it’s totally fine that women are looked down upon for being promiscuous (or, actually, just having sex at all), and men get backslaps for doing the same. The reason it’s totally fine is because, um, a penis is a key and a vagina is a lock. So there.

Maybe you noticed that this doesn’t address the question of the double standard. Maybe you’re right? Maybe using the lock and key metaphor is just a way to reiterate the point “women who have sex are sluts, men who have sex are awesome,” and doesn’t explain anything.

It’s a good metaphor, but so is this:

“A pencil that goes in a lot of sharpeners gets worn down to a little nub. A sharpener can sharpen hundreds or thousands of pencils and never break down.”

And this:

“A man who can ride any horse is a cowboy; a horse anyone can ride is a good horse.”

These counter-metaphors are not only a good opportunity for an ice burn, they also demonstrate the truth of the popular sex-negative metaphors: that they’re essentially meaningless.

Giving it Away

A hug slut plying their trade.

A hug slut plying their trade.

Like the lock and key analogy, “giving it away” concerns itself with women throwing sex all over the spot like it’s a wad of dollar bills. It seems to operate on the notion of virginity, the convention of saving one’s self for marriage, and some inherent value and commodification of sex.

But what are women giving away? There isn’t a limited supply of sex. Who loses out when a woman freely hands out sex? SPOILER: It’s the patriarchy.

The most common metaphor using this concept has to do with marriage.

“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

In other words, why would someone marry you if they can fuck you on the third date? It supposes that a woman’s greatest resource and contribution to a marriage is her ability to make a guy cum. It also supposes that any given woman should care about getting married, but that’s a different issue. It also supposes that sex doesn’t rule and women don’t really like it.

But sex does kinda rule, and a lot of women really like it. Why would a woman wait to get married when she could fuck on the third date? Or first ten minutes, whatever? Which really begs the response,

“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Your Body is a Temple

Um, gross.

Um, gross.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Now we’re entering religious territory. I’d rather not step on any toes, but it might happen. “Your body is a temple” stems from the biblical assertion that God lives within all of us, therefore you shouldn’t be poisoning God’s house with sex, or drugs, or alcohol.

I guess as a notion, this isn’t so bad. I feel like everyone can agree that you should respect your body and do what’s good for it. The disagreement comes when other people try to dictate what’s good for you. Also, when people try to impose their religious beliefs on your funky stuff.

This same disagreement can really be applied to the whole passage. Who gets to dictate how you glorify God? How you care for and respect your “temple”? Yeah, yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff about sexual immorality and junk in the bible, I’m cherry-picking scripture, but who the hell isn’t guilty of that sin? If someone is lazy enough to just pull out “Your body is a temple” on you, they don’t deserve a fair response, they deserve a snarky metaphor response!

So, yeah, my body’s a temple, that’s why I let the worthy inside to pay their respects. My body’s a temple, so I let them kiss the altar! Motherfuckers be getting on their knees in this temple.

The Licked Cupcake

Admit it, you would totally eat one of these out if you were handed it. DON'T LIE

Admit it, you would totally eat one of these out if you were handed it. DON’T LIE TO ME

A youth leader would bring to church enough cupcakes so that everyone in class could have just one. Then, they would lick the frosting from one of the cupcakes, put it back on the tray and pass the cupcakes around so everybody could take one. Of course, the last person in class was stuck with the licked cupcake, and of course, they wouldn’t eat it.

The licked cupcake demonstration is a part of Mormon sex ed, and certainly has a lot in common with secular abstinence-only sex ed (most of these proverbs are used, they just aren’t as lesson-y). It’s similar to the “lock and key” analogy, where it’s a creative way to say “if you have sex with someone, nobody else will want you afterward.”

It links germs and junk (licking a literal cupcake) with sex (maybe licking a metaphorical cupcake?). You don’t want to eat a nasty, licked-up cupcake, so why would someone want to eat your nasty, licked-up cupcake? This is getting a little Lady Gaga, but anyway, the problem with this is that there’s a lot of stuff you can do to a cupcake that would make it inedible.

I wouldn’t eat a cupcake that was sopping wet.

I wouldn’t eat a cupcake that had its frosting shaved off.

I wouldn’t eat a cupcake that wasn’t chocolate.

I wouldn’t eat a cupcake that was pressed up against the wall of an elevator. Not even if the cupcake was wearing a grey blazer and skirt, dark hose, and severe black heels. Not even if the cupcake slapped the emergency stop and looked over its shoulder at me like “What are you waiting for, copy boy?”


2 thoughts on “Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Metaphors Fail English

  1. If you believe in hypergamy, meaning that many women are attracted to a few hot guys, then one male slut can produce tens if not hundreds of female sluts. Therefore, it would make sense to hunt down the male sluts.

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