Need a Kiss? Try Bowling, Says the OU
While Hadassah, Jewish Women International, and the National Council for Jewish Women were busy weighing-in on the HPV vaccination debate (see February’s blog entry: “HPV Vaccinations: Choice or Mandate?”) the Orthodox Union (OU) has been firing its way into sexual health rhetoric by launching its own take on the “abstinence only” movement; a movement which has been dominated by the Christian Right. The OU now stands proudly behind the First Abstinence Website for Jewish Teens. A project of Negiah.org -- a “proud affiliate for The Abstinence Clearinghouse” -- and NCSY, the Orthodox Union’s Youth Group, “First Abstinence Website for Jewish Teens” brings abstinence to a whole new level of restriction.
Now, if the website and its sponsors explicitly framed abstinence (including abstaining from physical contact with someone of the opposite sex until marriage) as a religious choice supported by an interpretation of halachah (Jewish law) that would be a legitimate position, worthy of respect. But they don’t do that. Instead, they frame sexual intimacy and sexual contact as a kind of social evil. The website content is disturbing -- chock-full of shady statistics, unsubstantiated “facts,” and preposterous scare-tactics such as: “Sexually active girls are THREE TIMES more likely to attempt suicide; sexually active boys are EIGHT TIMES more likely...” Does the OU provide a source for this? Of course not. And how about this: “Over 25% of sexually active teenage girls report that they are depressed all or most of the time. Less than 8% of girls who are not sexually active are depressed all or most of the time.”
The site also reminds us that “teens -- especially girls -- may need many things, emotionally. They can use approval, validation, commitment and intimacy. But don’t confuse being intimate emotionally with being intense physically!” It goes on to remind us that unlike dogs, lions, or lowland gorillas, we humans can weigh our choices and control our urges, which, according to this website, means that instead of expressing love and affection through a hug or a kiss (only with someone of the opposite sex, of course!) we should just enjoy a walk, go bowling, or watch television together. Aren’t those alternatives (not to intercourse, but to hugging and kissing) just so… enticing? I’d never thought of bowling as such a deeply affectionate activity. Clearly, I haven’t been thinking outside the box.
And then, of course, there’s the section entitled “Condoms are NOT the Answer!” which is full of… wisdom.
With so many Jewish organizations and health professionals speaking out against the dangers of pro-abstinence tactics, and with countless Jewish women who have been pioneers in reproductive rights, sexual freedom, and birth control—Emma Goldman, Laurie Schwab Zabin, and Nancy Miriam Hawley among them—one would think that all segments of the Jewish community -- regardless of religious practice -- would be providing Jewish youth with information to help them make informed choices with regard to sexual health, rather than offering “alternatives” that could potentially tempt Jewish youth into unsafe practices. As the “abstinence only” movement creeps its way back into public schools and other childhood education programs (in my public high school’s “Family Life Education” class—“Sex Ed” was too “risky” a name— the most celebrated form of birth control after abstinence was the Rhythm Method…) it’s quite alarming that the Orthodox Union is joining these forces. Who’s ready to launch the first sexual health website for Jewish teens?