Saturday, May 22, 2010

Teaching Abstinence

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s not often that I have conversations about abstinence that are completely in-depth and devoted just to that topic. Often, the conversation is introduced in a larger conversation about choices, healing, sexual assault, contraception, and communication. As I prepare to teach a sexuality course at the private Catholic college I work at, I realize that I need to have a good selection of media (specifically songs) that discuss this reality.

Thus, I started to ask my friends about songs that discuss abstinence but that are also accessible and non-corny. When I do have conversations about abstinence I usually ask the youth I’m working with what type of sex they think people can have. I break down “sex” to include at the very least: vaginal penetration, anal penetration, and oral sex. We talk about how there are various body parts that people can do different things with by themselves or with a partner. I then share with them how some people think abstinence means maintaining their “virginity,” which is defined as a hymen. This means that some people may engage in oral or anal sex to remain a “virgin” and consider themselves abstinent. I share how it’s important for them to define how they want to define abstinence for themselves because potential partners may define it differently. It’s important to know what boundaries you have prior to someone asking to cross over them.

I’ve just fallen in love all over again with some classic songs I’ve been reminded of recently. As I prepare to teach a new summer course on sociology and sexuality these are some jams I’m thinking of teaching.

Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait Awhile” which features Taimak for those of you who are old enough to remember the fantabulous film “The Last Dragon.” Her lines “Let’s wait awhile, before we go too far. I didn’t really know to let all my feelings who. To save some for later, so our love could be greater” are amazing teaching tools that help promote discussions about assertive and passive communication.

Jermaine Stewart’s song that was suggested by my homegirl Sofia Quintero, who I’ve mentioned before. Now, there are a lot of possible reasons why Stewart sang this song and as one of my homeboys on twitter stated “of course he didn’t want to take his clothes off. He was gay!” At the same time there is something to be said that this is one of the only songs sung by a man that I can think of or have my homies think of as well about abstinence. He sings in his song “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”: “we don’t have to take our clothes off, to have a good time. We could dance and party all night and drink some cherry wine….so come on baby show some class. Why you want to move so fast?” This song offers amazing opportunities to discuss and deconstruct what the terms “dance” and “party” mean to youth today and how they think he was defining them. It also welcomes a conversation about the use of various substances (i.e. cherry wine) and the law, which I’ve encouraged people to be aware of their Constitutional rights. Finally, the line about “class” is always interesting to hear how that is defined and presented by young people today in comparison to how it is presented in the video.

Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam had (and Lisa Lisa still has) an amazing musical history in my opinion. Their song “Take You Home” brings up so many topics I’ve used when working with high school students. Aside from talking about what one wants to do with a partner, what will the post-activities result in? How will the relationship end? But even more importantly for some youth, what does it mean to have a home to take someone to? What is a safe home?

Ciara’s “Goodies” came out at a time when I was pretty critical of some messages. I thought her message in her song “Goodies” was contradicted in her performance of Black femininity through her costuming in her video. Today I think there is still room for such a critique, but I’m on a different tip with the critique today. For example, in what ways does this song help us get a good understanding of how powerful this message was during the time it was released? Ciara sings: “I bet you want the goodies.Bet you thought about it. Got you all hot and bothered. Mad cause I talk around it. Looking for the goodies. Keep on lookin' cuz they stay in the jar.” I remember hearing young girls of Color I worked with at a public charter school in Washington, DC singing this hook in the hallways of the school. How was this song an important coping mechanism for remaining abstinent, for affirming their choices at a time when they were getting conflicting messages in other ways?

For those of you who are reggaetonfans, you already know who Ivy Queen, one of, if not THE, first lady of reggaeton. I used this song in a class I co-taught back in 2005 with my homegirl Ryan because she’s talking about dancing and her motivations. The song is “Quiero Bailar” which translates into “I Want To Dance.” For non-Spanish speakers the loose translation of the hook is “I want to dance, you want to sweat, if I say yeas you can lead me that doesn’t mean that I’m going to bed with you.” Now I’d like to say this is an anthem for the dancefloor, but I really can’t confirm or deny that. I know that for my homegirls who I dance with it is an important song for us to cut a rug to. It’s like it’s the “ladies choice in dance partner” selection, where a majority of the women choose to dance on their own, a free dance if you will. Or maybe that’s my fantasy dancehall situation….

In a more classically “you haven’t earned my love” is En Vogue’s “Never Gonna Get It.” In addition to being an amazing all-woman band (that may of my homies and I are still nostalgic for) this song is one of those songs that have also become a verb. My homegirls and I have said “it’s about to get so never gonna get it up in here” so many times and we knew exactly what the other meant! Although used at times as a “diss” I can see some important messaging in this song especially about agency and self-determination.

What abstinence-centric songs do you have to suggest? I’ll totally give you citation credit for putting me onto your suggestions!

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