American girls have a new heartthrob: a tall, gorgeous vampire who is in the eleventh grade. He thirsts for the blood of Bella, his human girlfriend, but learns to “just say no.”
What is it about Edward Cullen, the male protagonist of the blockbuster Twilight series, that sends girls from Atlanta to Anchorage swooning? I asked three teen girls I know.
Nava is 14. “He’s cute, and he’s really nice to Bella.”
Kayla is 16. “He’s caring, and genuine. He expresses his love, and risks his life to protect her. And he’s handsome.”
Tanya is 19. “Edward loves Bella and wants to be with her forever, so he controls himself. The self-discipline is very hard on him, but seeing her hurt would be even worse.”
Not bad, huh? Now if only the professionals running our country’s sex education could figure that out. Because that’s what the Twilight craze is about: a guy who adores his girl so much, he’ll do anything to protect her. A guy who won’t allow his girl to get hurt, even if it means saying “no” to himself. That’s what girls want.
Contrast that with Planned Parenthood’s description of the “perfect partner”. One of the leading providers of sex education, their online quiz lists 12 questions. “If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of them,” teens are told, “you may have a nearly perfect partner.”
The questions can be grouped into 3 categories. First: Is he caring and attentive? Second: Is he decent, honest, and considerate? The third category gets the most attention – 5 of the 12 questions: Does he know about birth control? Does he share responsibility for safer sex, and have std check-ups? Would he accompany you for a check-up, if you wanted? Have you discussed how you’d handle an unplanned pregnancy?
Perfect partner? Are you kidding? How about monogamy? How about a deep emotional connection? And what about commitment? Hello?
Debra Haffner, President for 12 years of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, and one of the country’s leading sex educators, provides a mnemonic to remember her criteria for a mature sexual relationship: “Can U Have My Pleasure?” C is for consensual; U is for using (you shouldn’t be; this refers to drugs or alcohol); H is for honest; M is for mutually pleasurable; and P is for protected. These, she says, are “pretty rigorous standards.”
Can you believe this? By these criteria, the behavior on Gossip Girls could qualify for a mature sexual relationship. Is it any wonder the average age for sexual intercourse for girls is now fifteen? And why shouldn’t it be? We’re sober, he’s nice, and he’ll wear a condom!
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that girls pay a very high price for sexual behavior, much higher than guys, and that must be acknowledged. Guys usually have silent infections; girls suffer the symptoms. Even with “protection,” she’s likely to be infected with a genital virus from one of her first partners. Even with contraception, pregnancies occur. And even with a truckload of every type of pharmaceutical or latex device, empty relationships cause casualties.
But an even greater problem is denying girls their dreams. When standards are lowered to these abysmal levels, teens get a green light for behavior they’ll regret. Instead, a girl should be encouraged to wait until her own Edward Cullen comes along, a man who has waited for her as she has for him; who will stay at her side, fight battles for her, and prove himself. “Your scent is a drug to me,” Edward tells Bella, while eyeing her neck with hunger. But he doesn’t give in. As Tanya pointed out, he fights the toughest battle – the struggle against himself – in order to keep her safe and whole. This is what our girls are dreaming about, and this is what they deserve.
Now that’s something you can sink your teeth into.