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Discussion DescriptionFrom your course textbook, Exploring Writing, read “Is Sex All that Matters?” by Joyce Garity. After reading and reflecting on the article, choose some of the following questions for your response:
Do you agree or disagree with Garity that young people today are bombarded with images of sexuality in advertising and the media? How do these images influence their behavior? What has been your experience? Support your point with reasons and examples.
The essay focuses primarily on a young woman named Elaine, who is alone and pregnant with her second child. How does the author’s use of this example affect her argument?
Paragraphs 3 and 8 give descriptive details about ads and fashion. How effective is the use of description in the presentation? Can you add more examples?
Your response should be at least 150-200 words. To support your comments, your discussion answers should include specific information from the readings and your own experiences.1IS SEX ALL THAT MATTERS.Joyce Garity
PREVIEW
From the skimpy clothing in ads to the suggestive themes in many of today’s TV comedies, our young people are bombarded with sexuality. How does the constant stream of sexual images influence their behavior and dreams? In considering that question, social worker Joyce Garity focuses on one young woman named Elaine, alone and pregnant with her second child.1A few years ago, a young girl lived with me, my husband, and our children for several months. The circumstances of Elaine’s coming to us don’t matter here; suffice it to say that she was troubled and nearly alone in the world. She was also pregnant—hugely, clumsily pregnant with her second child. Elaine was seventeen. Her pregnancy, she said, was an accident; she also said she wasn’t sure who had fathered her child. There had been several sex partners and no contraception. Yet, she repeated blandly, gazing at me with clear blue eyes, the pregnancy was an accident, and one she would certainly never repeat.2Eventually I asked Elaine, after we had grown to know each other well enough for such conversations, why neither she nor her lovers had used birth control. She blushed—porcelain-skinned girl with one child in foster care and another swelling the bib of her fashionably faded overalls—stammered, and blushed some more. Birth control, she finally got out, was “embarrassing.” It wasn’t “romantic.” You couldn’t be really passionate, she explained, and worry about birth control at the same time.3I haven’t seen Elaine for quite a long time. I think about her often, though. I think of her as I page through teen fashion magazines in the salon where I have my hair cut. Although mainstream and relatively wholesome, these magazines trumpet sexuality page after leering page. On the inside front cover, an advertisement for Guess jeans features junior fashion models in snug denim dresses, their legs bared to just below the crotch. An advertisement for Liz Claiborne fragrances shows a barely clad young couple sprawled on a bed, him painting her toenails. An advertisement for Obsession cologne displays a waif-thin girl draped stomach-down across a couch, naked, her startled expression suggesting helplessness in the face of an unseen yet approaching threat.4I think of Elaine because I know she would love these ads. “They’re so beautiful,” she would croon, and of course they are. The faces and bodies they show are lovely. The lighting is superb. The hair and makeup are faultless. In the Claiborne ad, the laughing girl whose toenails are being painted by her handsome lover is obviously having the time of her life. She stretches luxuriously on a bed heaped with clean white linen and fluffy pillows. Beyond the sheer blowing curtains of her room, we can glimpse a graceful wrought-iron balcony. 680Looking at the ad, Elaine could only want to be her. Any girl would want to be her. Heck, I want to be her.5But my momentary desire to move into the Claiborne picture, to trade lives with the exquisite young creature pictured there, is just that—momentary. I’ve lived long enough to know that what I see is a marketing invention. A moment after the photo session was over, the beautiful room was dismantled, and the models moved on to their next job. Later, the technicians took over the task of doctoring the photograph until it reached full-blown fantasy proportions.6Not so Elaine. After months of living together and countless hours of watching her yearn after magazine images, soap-opera heroines, and rock goddesses, I have a pretty good idea of why she looks at ads like Claiborne’s. She sees the way life—her life—is supposed to be. She sees a world characterized by sexual spontaneity, playfulness, and abandon. She sees people who don’t worry about such unsexy details as birth control. Nor, apparently, do they spend much time thinking about such pedestrian topics as commitment or whether they should act on their sexual impulses. Their clean sunlit rooms are never invaded by the fear of AIDS, of unwanted pregnancy, of shattered lives. For all her apparent lack of defense, the girl on the couch in the Obsession ad will surely never experience the brutality of rape.7Years of exposure to this media-invented, sex-saturated universe have done their work on Elaine. She is, I’m sure, completely unaware of the irony in her situation: She melts over images from a sexual Shangri-la,1 never realizing that her attempts to mirror those images left her pregnant, abandoned, living in the spare bedroom of a stranger’s house, relying on charity for rides to the welfare office and supervised visits with her toddler daughter.8Of course, Elaine is not the first to be suckered by the cynical practice of using sex to sell underwear, rock groups, or sneakers. Using sex as a sales tool is hardly new. At the beginning of this century, British actress Lily Langtry shocked her contemporaries by posing, clothed somewhat scantily, with a bar of Pear’s soap. The advertisers have always known that the masses are susceptible to the notion that a particular product will make them more sexually attractive. In the past, however, ads used euphemisms, claiming that certain products would make people “more lovable” or “more popular.” What is a recent development is the abandonment of any such polite double-talk. Advertising today leaves no question about what is being sold along with the roasted peanuts or artificial sweetener. “Tell us about your first time,” coyly invites the innuendo2 filled magazine advertisement for Campari liquor. A billboard for Levi’s shows two jeans-clad young men on the beach, hoisting a girl in the air. The boys’ perfect, tan bodies are matched by hers, although we see a lot more of hers: bare midriff, short shorts, cleavage. She caresses their hair; they stroke her legs. A jolly fantasy where sex exists without consequences.9But this fantasy is a lie—one which preys on young people. Studies show that by the age of twenty, 75 percent of Americans have lost their virginity. In many high schools—and an increasing number of junior highs—virginity is regarded as an embarrassing vestige of childhood, to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Young people are immersed from their earliest days in a culture that parades sexuality at every turn and makes heroes of the advocates of sexual excess. Girls, from toddlerhood on up, shop in stores packed with clothing once 681thought suitable only for streetwalkers—lace leggings, crop tops, and wedge-heeled boots. Parents drop their children off at concerts featuring simulated on-stage masturbation or pretended acts of copulation. Young boys idolize sports stars like the late Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have bedded 20,000 women. And when the “Spur Posse,” eight California high school athletes, were charged with systematically raping girls as young as ten as part of a “scoring” ritual, the beefy young jocks were rewarded with a publicity tour of talk shows, while one father boasted to reporters about his son’s “manhood.”10In a late, lame attempt to counterbalance this sexual overload, most schools offer sex education as part of their curriculums. (In 1993, forty-seven states recommended or required such courses.) But sex ed classes are heavy on the mechanics of fertilization and birth control—sperm, eggs, and condoms—and light on any discussion of sexuality as only one part of a well-balanced life. There is passing reference to abstinence as a method of contraception, but little discussion of abstinence as an emotionally or spiritually satisfying option. Promiscuity is discussed for its role in spreading sexually transmitted diseases. But the concept of rejecting casual sex in favor of reserving sex for an emotionally intimate, exclusive, trusting relationship—much less any mention of waiting until marriage—is foreign to most public school settings. “Love and stuff like that really wasn’t discussed” is the way one Spur Posse member remembers his high school sex education class.11Surely teenagers need the factual information provided by sex education courses. But where is “love and stuff like that” talked about? Where can they turn for a more balanced view of sexuality? Who is telling young people like Elaine, my former houseguest, that sex is not an adequate basis for a healthy, respectful relationship? Along with warnings to keep condoms on hand, is anyone teaching kids that they have a right to be valued for something other than their sexuality? Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and the TV, music, and fashion industries won’t tell them that. Who will?12No one has told Elaine—at least, not in a way she comprehends. I haven’t seen her for a long time, but I hear of her occasionally. The baby boy she bore while living in my house is in a foster home, a few miles from his older half-sister, who is also in foster care. Elaine herself is working in a local convenience store—and she is pregnant again. This time, I understand, she is carrying twins.1Shangri-la: an imaginary paradise on earth (the name of a beautiful faraway place in the novel Lost Horizon).2innuendo: subtle suggestion.

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