On Abstinence Vows: An Art Plate
“Condoms will break, but I can assure you that vows of abstinence will break more easily than condoms.”
I made this plate for an event that a local nonprofit called The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health had this month to celebrate their fifth birthday. They had an art exhibit called A Place at the Table to honor the history of sex educators who helped move our culture in the direction of sexual acceptance. The installation was inspired by feminist artist Judy Chicago’s exhibit, The Dinner Party.
Chicago pioneered the Feminist Art Movement in the 70’s, and she created The Dinner Party to pay tribute to influential women throughout history. The Dinner Party was originally banned as pornographic and Chicago had to fight to exhibit her work. Through emulating Chicago’s concept, A Place at the Table intends to acknowledge the historical relevance of her contribution to eliminating sexual shame.
On Abstinence Vows
By Nicole Mazzeo
“Condoms will break, but I can assure you that vows of abstinence will break more easily than condoms.” -Joycelyn Elders
As a teenager, I believed that strict abstinence was my ownly acceptable option. This led me to internalize a lot of shame around the fact that I sometimes masturbated, was turned on by taboo things, and had sexual feelings at all. When I finally gave myself permission to experiment sexually, anytime I tried to engage sexually with a partner my mind would flood with anxious thoughts about whether I was doing it “right”, deadlines I had missed, etc. – anything and everything I could possibly be anxious about came to mind when I tried to be sexual. I usually couldn’t relax enough (physically or emotionally) to feel much sexual pleasure, and orgasms were often unattainable.
For the past six years, I’ve been on a journey of reclaiming my sexuality and my right to pleasure.
My experience of sexual repression has led me to care deeply about encouraging young people to make their own choices about sex. People of all ages deserve to have power over their own bodies and their own sexual expression. Educators and caregivers have the responsibility to support young people in their efforts to find healthy, fulfilling ways of relating to the sexual aspects of who they are (unless they find that sexuality is not a part of their experience – then they deserve support in embracing their non-sexual identity). Rather than pressuring young people to make vows of abstinence, let’s give them all their options, and all the information they need to make responsible decisions about sexual expression.
Jocelyn Elders is the former US Surgeon General who was fired by President Clinton in 1994 for her controversial remarks about contraception, masturbation, and abortion, among other things. She is currently a professor in Arkansas.
This piece was made by gluing magazine clippings to a ceramic plate. The text was written with a typewriter, glued to repurposed cardboard, and then glued to the plate.
Photos from A Place at the Table
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