Have you ever heard of the sex-ed class chewing gum exercise? If not, here is how it works: a class of school children, usually fifth or sixth graders, are told to stand in a line and the first person in line is given a piece of gum to chew. Once person number one has chewed the gum, they give it to the next person in line and see if they will put it in their mouth. The goal is to get the gum as far down the line as possible, but typically it does not get past the first person. After all, nobody wants ABC (already-been-chewed) gum. These 10 to 12-year-olds then told that if they have sex (especially if they are female), they are like that chewed up piece of gum and the next person in line will no longer want them.
This is what fifth and sixth grade children are being taught in sex ‘education’ courses; that they have no more potential than a stick of gum, that they can be chewed up, spit out, and tossed away like garbage by other people, that in fact they deserve to be treated like garbage if, god forbid, they ever have sex, that their sexuality is good for only one ‘use,’ that their value as a person is wrapped up in the status of their virginity. And as someone who was raised under similar doctrine, I guarantee the effects of these messages are lasting.
Growing up in a right-wing, religious home, I was taught to – no matter what – stay a virgin until my wedding night, because if I had sex before I was married and did not end up marrying the person I had sex with, no one else would ever want to marry me since I had “given myself away” to someone else. In other words, if I had sex even once, I would be ruined and unwanted for the rest of my life. I have grown to love and respect myself enough to know that is a load of bull shit; however, I cannot say no permanent damage was done.
There is a very long list of things that are wrong with the gum exercise and the mentality behind it. But aside from it’s hetero-normative assumption, aside from the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, aside from taking women’s sexuality away from individual women and confining them to demeaning rules, aside from creating so much fear in the minds of young people that they refuse to take pregnancy/STI tests for fear of someone finding out they no longer have their V-card, aside from making rape victims feel soiled and unworthy of any future intimate relationship, aside from sticking one’s nose in other people’s private sex lives… aside from all that and more, the most appalling thing about the gum exercise (and about what I was taught by parents, teachers, and religious authorities) is that it is telling people an individual’s human worth is dependent solely on whether or not their hymen is intact.