The sexual disconnect
LET ME SEE if I have this right. At one end of the sexual life cycle, we have pubescent teenagers so driven by biology that they can barely concentrate on physics. And what are we offering them? Abstinence.
At the other end, we have their parents and grandparents whose sex drives have gone into low gear. What are we offering them? Viagra and Intrinsa.
Is it just remotely possible that our society is suffering from a raging hormonal imbalance? We are trying to control the sex drive as if people were cars that needed to be equipped with the right set of brakes and an optional overdrive.
I have on my desk two new pieces of evidence about the disconnect between cultural and sexual function.
The first is an analysis of the content of those abstinence-only courses that are now being supported to the tune of 170 million federal dollars. A study released by US Representative Henry Waxman's office shows that nearly all the most popular programs contain lessons that are to science what propaganda is to politics.
One text mistakenly says that men and women each contribute 24 chromosomes to their offspring, instead of 23. (Maybe our tax dollars have paid for the extra chromosome.) Another suggests that cervical cancer is a result of premarital sex. The overriding abstinence lesson is fear. One curriculum even teaches that isolation, jealousy, poverty, heartbreak, depression and suicide "can be eliminated by being abstinent until marriage."
The second story is about
Mother's little libido helper was tested on women who'd had their ovaries removed. But it's really geared to the market of menopausal women who are suffering from what is now defined as female sexual dysfunction.
My favorite testimony on testosterone therapy came from a happy consumer who reported that after six weeks she was "walking down the canned food aisle in the supermarket and I started to think about sex." Keep that woman away from the vegetable bins.
The FDA advisory board was skeptical of the value and safety of a drug that offers one "satisfying" sexual experience a month more than the placebo. It won't get into the market without more testing. But Intrinsa is only the first of a series of testosterone products aimed at "fixing" the aging female libido.
Mind you, I am not in the business of encouraging sex as an extracurricular activity in high school or discouraging it as a retirement hobby. But we're in the middle of some massive attempt to manipulate the biological clock to fit the new social clock.
The average American reaches puberty at around 12 years old. In the 1950s when people got married right after high school, that meant a gap of around six years. But last week the Census Bureau told us that one-third of men and one-quarter of women between 30 and 34 have never been married.
So the abstinence-until-marriage gap could now have to expand across the two highest-hormone decades. Meanwhile, the average life expectancy has increased eight years since 1950 and is now hovering around 74 for men and 80 for women.
There's simply a greater and greater disconnect between anatomy and destiny. It's not just in bed but also in birth.
Education and careers have postponed wedding dates. We discourage young and fertile women from having children until they're economically self-sufficient. And then we support an entire industry to treat older and economically self-sufficient women for infertility.
Indeed last month a 56-year-old woman was designated the oldest American to give birth to twins. She did it with $25,000 worth of in vitro treatments, and eggs from a younger woman.
Still, it's the double messages that market fear of sex to the young and joy of sex to the old that make me wonder if we're headed back to the 1950s when sexuality was a switch to be turned on at the altar. Back then, any girl who said yes was loose but any wife who said no was frigid. How do you spell dysfunction?
Today the idea is for teachers to tamp down sex where it burns among the young and for pharmacists to rev up the embers in their elders. A teenager with a libido is one problem and a senior without one is another problem. One is immoral, the other is unhealthy. One gets an abstinence curriculum, the other gets a prescription.
Maybe you can't fool Mother Nature, but you can give grandmother some testosterone.
Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.