Thursday, April 25, 2013

Abstinence debate gets down and dirty

By Stephanie Beckman, News Writer

To wait or not to wait, that is the question. At least that’s the question Wednesday’s event "Building Relationships in a Sexual Culture" tackled.

Christian clubs Ignite and For the King decided that it was time for a refresher course on abstinence education and asked public speaker Brad Henning to give a talk at Pacific Lutheran University about living abstinently until marriage.

Amelia Klein, communication coordinator for Ignite, said "a lot of the events on campus like Sex Positive that talk about sex and relationships weren’t very relevant to students that were choosing to not be sexually active at this time."

The Facebook event she created for Brad Henning brought out a debate within a day after being posted, and by Tuesday there was another event page dedicated to protesting Henning.

"What he has to say about gender roles, about a victim’s role in rape or about gays or any of that — that’s all conventional wisdom," said junior Kameron Jacobs, who was vocal on the event’s Facebook page. "There’s no empirical evidence."

Jacobs is also a volunteer on LuteFit and was part of the discussion to sponsor the event. LuteFit considered all of Brad Henning’s background.

Henning is not approved to speak at any Seattle Public Schools about sexual education because he violates the Healthy Youth Act which requires all sex education programs to have accurate information, include a diverse array of sexual orientations and include both abstinence and birth control information, a fact that Matt Munson, health educator for the PLU community, confirmed.

Senior Samuel Eagle disagreed with the claim of Sex Positive as being anti-abstinence. "Sex Positive events, they don’t say that you should be sexual or ‘oh you’re in college, you should be participating in hookup culture,’" Eagle said. "They don’t say anything like that. They just say that you shouldn’t feel bad if you do."

Tension was palpable immediately in the Regency Room. Campus Safety was present and there was a mandatory sign in to get into the room. Members of the protest against Henning were placing condoms on the chairs that had messages on them such as "INCLUSION is sexy and healthy!" and "Sex EDUCATION is sexy and healthy!" At 8 p.m. a mass of students flooded into the already packed room leaving standing room only.

Henning began his two hours of speaking by establishing the differences between men and women. He said that most men and women were exact opposites of each other, claiming men are impersonal, goal-oriented, verbal communicators and cherish freedom, and that women are personal, detail-oriented, communicate through feelings and prefer security.

Henning stressed how women should dress modestly in order to keep the "good guys" interested and keep women from appearing "easy." Some students clapped and laughed at his jokes while those who disagreed shouted from the back of the room. Henning barely acknowledged the interruptions and quickly moved on.

Halfway through the speech Henning called for a one-minute break. Many students who were protesting took this opportunity to leave and start their own debriefing and discussion group outside of the door, speaking about how they felt oppressed in the event because they were listening to Henning say offensive things about women and the queer community without giving any way for people to respond with an open Q-and-A.

The second half of Henning’s speech focused completely on love. Instead of a feeling or an emotion, Henning said, "love is choosing the highest good for the other person." He connected love back into abstinence by explaining that sex can become the center of a relationship and can overpower the emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects.

By the end of the presentation, the sides of the debate had completely split. The discussion outside of the room was continuing, and some people were privately approaching Henning for more information. The tension in the room had only migrated and in some ways increased the divide afterwards.

"I’m very happy that someone is actually willing to go to places and stand up for those values that he believes in and teach[es] people," sophomore Thomas Kim said. He said he felt "some disappointment about the respectfulness from the audience as well. It’s not like certain individuals go to the Sex Positive events and yell out."

By around midnight, both the crowds in the Regency Room and outside had dispersed. Some people talked about continuing the discussions, but no firm plans were made.