NPR Honors Joycelyn Elders with 'Wisdom Watch' Celebrating Joy of Masturbation
Bill Clinton’s first Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, was an outspoken opponent of the religious right, and was pressed to resign in December 1994 for suggesting that masturbation should be taught in schools as part of sex education, as a "safe sex" option for teenagers. She resigned, but never felt she was wrong to say it. That’s obvious because National Public Radio put her on Wednesday still spreading the message that the best thing about autoeroticism is "you know you're having sex with somebody you love." On former ABC reporter Michel Martin’s new talk show "Tell Me More," Elders was brought on as part of a segment called "Wisdom Watch."
Martin explained: "Every so often, you want to talk over an issue with people who aren't just smart, but wise. So we came up with Wisdom Watch, where we ask some of our most-respected elders to guide us through some of today's most challenging and important issues. Today, we're joined by Doctor Joycelyn Elders."
Clearly, NPR finds "wisdom" in the notion that conservatives are repressed yahoos who never teach their children anything about sex. They offered no time to the Abstinence Clearinghouse or any other advocate opposing Elders’ radical vision. To Martin, the problem in our society wasn’t the viewpoint of Elders, but the general backwardness of our culture:
MARTIN: During your time as surgeon general, you were known for talking about, you know, taboo issues like masturbation and abortion, and, you know, since then you've been continuing to talk about these issues. Do you think that anything's changed since you left in the willingness of the public at large to have these difficult conversations about sex and sexuality?
Dr. ELDERS: You know, we've come a very long way from when I first started talking about it. And I tell people all the time, you know, we have known about masturbation forever. We didn't talk about it because we were silent. We've been silent about sexuality issues and the fact that we could talk about masturbation as a form of sexual pleasure. You know, sex is for pleasure, 99.9 percent. I said that to a group the other day, and they said no, Dr. Elders, you didn't add enough nines onto that. It's for the pleasure, but, you know, very little of sex is really just for procreation only.
MARTIN: What were you taught about sex and sexuality as a young girl or a woman, and what do you wish you'd been taught?
Dr. ELDERS: I can say that I was thought not nearly enough. You have to remember I was born back in the '30s, when everybody was silent. And my mom probably taught me what she knew, but she didn't know anything. You know, we as parents haven't been thought, so we can't teach - the reason we don't teach our children more is because we don't know anymore, and we're fearful. You know, they taught you, ‘Don't do it.’
You know, we act like abstinence is something that just came up. We've been teaching abstinence for a thousand years, and what do we have? The highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. We have a lot of adolescents -- 50 percent of the HIV and sexually transmitted disease are in our adolescents -- these children that we swear do not have sex. And the fact that we would act like we've never heard of masturbation, when 90 percent of men masturbate, 70-plus percent of women masturbate, and it's felt that the rest lie. [Martin laughs] You know, masturbation has never gotten anybody pregnant, never made anybody go blind, never caused anybody to have a sexually transmitted disease, never caused anybody to go crazy. And I always say, you know you're having sex with somebody you love.
Martin asked if you could have conservative moral values, that sex should be saved for within a marriage, and still teach your children about sex. Elders said yes, but that most parents, if they teach, they teach "abstinence only." Still a radical, Elders cast her conservative opponents as the forces of blissful ignorance (instead of educated restraint) and advocated starting sex education in kindergarten:
MARTIN: Dr. Elders, in our last couple of minutes, we've talked today about how you feel about Americans have become more open about discussing important issues of sexual health over the years. But is there one thing that you think most Americans are still ignorant about, that you feel -- that you would wish that we'd become more educated about in the sexual health realm?
Dr. ELDERS: I think that we need to look at health -- sexual health -- as a part of our overall health, and I don't feel that you can really be healthy unless you are sexually healthy. And I truly feel that we need to start educating our children about sex from kindergarten through 12th grade and so that they could respect their sexually and protect their sexuality so that they can be - have sexual health throughout their lives. Other countries do it. Why do we have to have the highest teenage pregnancy, highest rates of STDs, the highest rates of HIV in our adolescents? It's because we feel that ignorance is bliss, and it's not bliss. We got to educate our young people.
It’s quite clear that social conservatives need to explain to liberal reporters that conservatism is not automatically associated with ignorance and silence. As the movement for abstinence education in schools show, traditionalists have their own vision of sexual morality and health for America’s children – even if our taxpayer-funded radio network doesn’t want to give it air time.