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Volume 70, Issue 113, Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Sex and shoes: it's better to shop around

Guigi Carminati
Opinion Columnist

Abstinence cannot work. Abstinence is especially counterintuitive in the United States, and it is high time people realized why. We live in a society that calls for consumerism: "Don't buy one or two candy bars! Buy the assortment pack, the 12 pack, the lifetime membership pack." 

Everything from TV commercials to the foundations of our economic system -- which so many are so proud of -- needs, flourishes and cannot survive without diversity of experiences and the willingness to shop around for the best possible deal. Abstinence is an attempt to take sex out of the market. For this to truly succeed, we would have to cease being a capitalist society.

I won't mention that teaching abstinence only is teaching ignorance, and that sex education is not an encouragement -- explaining to teenagers how and why having sex can bring them STDs, pregnancies and a whole host of interpersonal problems seems like anything but an encouragement. Conceptually abstinence in our society is a fundamental contradiction of values.

Let's start with shopping for the best possible bargain. We, as modern human beings, expect satisfaction with our food, cars, clothes, shoes, accessories, entertainment and, of course, sex. The sexual revolution of the 1970s brought with it the idea that sex, like anything else, can be bad or good. The goal is to find one partner with which to spend the rest of our lives who can be not only a best friend, possibly a parent, a partner and a lifelong support, but also a good lover. This is generally true, although all couples are not the same and neither are all relationships. 

If I said you were not allowed to drive any car before driving the one car you were going to have for the rest of your life, you would think I was absolutely crazy -- if you don't already. If I said you were allowed to have one evening gown in your life, but you were not allowed to try any on until you had bought the one, you would again look at me as though I were a lunatic. Although some find this notion crass, the same applies to sex. Our sexuality is a fundamental part of our well-being as humans -- much more than a fancy car or gown. It is an organic part of our relationship and the act with which we create life. Actually, if there is one thing for which we truly need to have choice, if we wish to have it at all, it is sex. Personally, I buy swimsuits on sale without trying them on and cars without test-driving; but I am not going to impose this risky behavior on anyone else.

So, you will ask, what are the consequences of not shopping around? Well, contrary to swimsuits or cars, marriage does not have a return period; the only way out is divorce, which we all know is often done. Whoever wants to take sex out of the market is overlooking the fact that relationships are truly in a market where we buy, return, keep or invest according to how well we like the product.

Second, on a less pragmatic level, every child, teenager and adult knows that choice and variety are benefits in our economic system. Cars, houses, clothes and electronics (to name a few) are bought and sold constantly; not because they no longer perform their duties adequately but because they are no longer the "new thing in town." One cannot support this kind of system with one hand and impose abstinence with the other. We can teach abstinence, like we can teach that having the newest high-definition plasma television is not the more important than your friends, but is anyone really listening? 

In a nation where families dig themselves into debt in order to keep up with the Joneses, can we blame teenagers for wanting to see what the new thing in town is? I am not condoning risk-taking sexual activity: It threatens lives, puts others at risk and has dramatic potential consequences. But sexual activity with protection, limited partners and a proper understanding of what are the true risks involved might be a sounder, more logical approach for our society than abstinence.

Carminati, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at

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