The Politics of Teen Sex Stats

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The American Life League (ALL) has seized upon the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest teen sex stats as proof that kids don’t need sex ed after all. The data show that 58 percent of girls and 57 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 report that they had never had intercourse. According to the ALL, these stats somehow prove that sex ed is a waste of time.

Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check argues that ALL is disingenuously lumping all non-sexually active teens together: A 15-year-old virgin is not necessarily a committed proponent of abstinence. The CDC data suggest that many teens of these erstwhile virgins are doing their best to shed their virginity. Marcotte notes than only about 12 percent of teens are interested abstinence messages, and presumably, an even smaller percentage of those kids will live up to their ideals. What the study really shows is that nearly half of teenagers are already having sex, and many others are doing their best to get in on the action. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect audience for comprehensive sex ed.

Protecting sex workers

Scientists, policy-makers, and activists gathered in Vienna last week for the International AIDS Conference. The conference is supposed to be a global meeting of the minds, but some groups feel left out of the discussion. Sex workers are on the global front lines of the battle against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Yet, Titania Kumeh reports in Mother Jones that President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a key U.S. program to fund AIDS prevention in the developing world, continues to shut out sex worker activist groups unless they repudiate their clients’ livelihood. As you might expect, denouncing sex work is not an effective way of winning the trust of sex workers.

Kumeh profiles Peninah Mwangi, an AIDS activist and sex worker. She works with several NGOs that have been turned down for PEPFAR funding because they refuse to reject sex work. Mwangi and 100 other sex workers marched outside the International AIDS Conference in Vienna last week to draw attention to PEPFAR’s discriminatory policy against sex workers.

Preventing HIV

In other HIV prevention news, Lori of Feministing follows up on a blockbuster new study out of South Africa which found that an inexpensive vaginal gel can reduce a woman’s risk of HIV infection by 39% and her risk of contracting herpes by 51%. This is huge news because the gel is a female-controlled protection method. Women apply it before and after sex. They don’t have to negotiate protection with their partners, as they do with condoms.

Putting a pretty face on femicide

High fashion and good taste don’t always go hand-in-hand. Last week, a blogger Jessica Wakeman noticed that MAC cosmetics had teamed up with the house of Rodarte to produce a line of cosmetics inspired by the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of the nail polishes had names like “Factory”, “Juarez”, and “Ghost Town.” One of the collection’s designers gushed that her clothes were inspired by female factory workers trudging to work at four o’clock in the morning, looking like they’d gotten dressed in the dark. The show featured models made up to look like extras from “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.”

Somehow, despite their fascination with female death, the designers didn’t seem to realize that Juarez has become synonymous with violence against women, many of whom are poor factory workers picked off on their way to work.

Hundreds of women have been kidnapped and killed in Juarez since the early nineties. The situation is so dire that human rights activists brought the Mexican government before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009 to answer for its inaction in the face of mass slaughter. “This crime had to be named explicitly to make it clear that these women were killed because they were women,” said Mexican researcher Julia Monarrez.

In Working In These Times, I explain some of the social and economic factors that made the dark streets of Juarez ideal hunting grounds for femicidal maniacs.

MAC falls flat

Nicole Guidotti-Hernández of the Ms. Blog brings a unique perspective to the MAC/Rodarte controversy, having worked for a decade as a professional makeup artist before getting her PhD:

Knowing what I know about the industry and who works in it-and knowing that MAC, in particular, markets to women of color a makeup line that caters to their skin tones with multiple pigments-I am appalled by the lack of social awareness that spawned the Rodarte/MAC collaboration.

MAC and Rodarte eventually apologized, agreed to retract the controversial names and made vague promises to donate a percentage of the proceeds to people in need in Juarez. Guidotti-Hernandez is unmoved by the gesture, “It’s hip to personify death in cosmetic colors rather than engage a bleak and violent reality.”

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Image by Katherine Garrenson/iStock.

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