WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Brotherly love by Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY — When a population outstrips the carrying capacity of its habitat, Malthus observed that natural checks drastically bring down population to a sustainable level. It’s a convenient way to explain calamity of the catastrophic proportions. Like, the Great Flood. Or, for today, why a significant poportion of the sexually maturing youth opt to eliminate themselves from the baby-making segment of the population.

Teachings about the Great Flood leave us with the notion that bad behavior merits Divine punishment, yet fail to engage the question of what makes a good boy do bad behavior. Aside from factoring in the inherent nature of the person, there too is the matter of the situation to consider.
Why good goes bad. I’d wager population. Or overpopulation, to be specific. Crowding increases sensory  stimulation which shortens attention span and increases irritability and the need to disengage. Under conditions of crowding, the human species protects personal space by cocooning, or social withdrawal.

We get close, but not too close. And when we just can’t leave them all behind to take a solitary walk and clear our head, people protect their private space by putting psychological distance until they renew themselves and are ready to be in their best behavior. In God’s Infinite Wisdom, He decrees, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” And we will be happy.

We never outgrow that need for the feel-good moment. In adolescence, the factor of physical stimulation as a crucial element to the human feel-good experience begins to insinuate itself. Every time I input sex education in the college classroom, my students perk up because we talk of things they are interested to learn more about; because these are questions they have that have long remained  unanswered because the answers adults give often do not make sense. Regulating the sexual instinct is something kids have had to wrestle with in private – and if it were up to some people in authority, such would remain to be the state of things.
I find that for adolescent reproductive health (ARH) issues, parallel processing is more effective than documentaries or modular lectures that preprogram what information to present. Modules assume that the learner has no background or misconceptions about sexual information. They are designed from the perspective of the teacher, not the view of the learner. Thus, they may provide information that may not be of interest to the student, increasing the chances for them to misunderstand some more. One-size-fits-all solutions miss what may be foremost in the kids’ minds. Where sex education is concerned, they all have background information already so it would be the questions on their minds that need to be answered.
Parallel processing involves drawing out specific questions kids have been wrestling with by turning it hypothetical. It makes it a lot easier for kids to transcend who we’re talking about and apply the lesson to their own sensitive issues without violating their personal space and exposing them to ridicule. Educating for ARH gives me a lot of teachable moments.
Just recently, for example, my class interactions on the biological basis of behavior have given me insights on how Malthus’ concept of natural checks seems to be expressing in our times. Given the  concern for an overpopulated Philippines and the acrimonious debate over sex education, we seem not to register the significance of an emerging trend in sexual orientation among the young that suggests the diminishing attraction of the kind of sex that makes babies.
Oh, mama. Such was the kind of sex that led to the Great Flood, if I remember my religion teacher right.
In the human rights age, kids, too, have the license to self-actualize. Take a look around – expressions of self-determined identity seem to know no bounds these days as kids experiment on the right fit not only in terms of clothes, music, whatever- but, also in terms of physical excitation. Social networking, cruising, and other forms of interaction mediated by technology allow the venue for a quick getaway into the relative anonymity of “I’m just here for now.”
Such translates in some settings to a readiness for participation in risky sex, in the mistaken belief that that thin slice of here and now has nothing to do with everyday.
Boys, in particular, are put in social situations that test their ability to impose inhibition on hormones going rampant. As any grown man knows, it takes male teenagers a while to control their bodily reactions. Today, given the menu of social experiences for their taking, some of them see very little need to do so.
Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) may just be a fad that emerged in the Internet age, but it’s alarming that it usually begins in early adolescence and, once started, endures over time. Most recent data on the HIV/AIDS situation in Davao suggest that the virus is transmitted not by sexual contact with female sex workers, but through consensual MSM. MSM appears to be a lifestyle choice which is not limited only to the gay population.
We laughed when “This Boy’s in Love with You, Pare” hit the airwaves. We failed to note that it heralded the curtain call to heterosexual negotiations at that age. Adolescent girls fell from grace, at least insofar as being objects to take the edge off their male peers’ sexual frustration. Good girls make boys wait and wait – something boys are not very good at until the brain matures enough. Or, with sex at that age, boys find out that the female of the species is likely to take longer to sexually excite such that the lack of synchrony is potential for relational disaster. Too much bother.
Meanwhile, the edge does not go away. And when alternatives to take that edge off features in the teenager’s milieu, this would be a teachable moment. Unfortunately, many parents miss that. And some adults would just say, close your eyes so he doesn’t see. Huh? Let’s see, though. Brotherly love is in.
So how do we stem the tide of HIV/AIDS infection because – hello? – it’s here. There’s little point in arguing whether we make condoms available or not, and if so, to whom. Fact is, many sexually active boys, men and gays refuse to use it anyway. Ethics to MSM congress  suggest that condom usage is an admission that 1)I think you’re dirty so I have to protect myself and 2)I have been unfaithful so I have to protect you. (Watch it, buddy- You’ll never get any if you insult me.)
Some males complain that condoms reduce pleasurable sensations and that its use interrupts the moment. A more realistic view on low condom usage would be to understand that it is a learned behavior. The best way to make a learned behavior enduring is to shape it; and shape it in the context of the situation where such behavior needs to occur.
Unfortunately, there is so little that we know of what’s going on about the sexual risks adolescents confront these days. Kids won’t tell that which adult authority would find uncomfortable to hear, much less dignify. But what we have now is shaping up to be a health risk on our young able bodied males brought about by the complexities of modern urban living and the paradoxical sense of alienation from physical crowding and constant electronic connection. We adults should redouble our efforts to enhance our boys’ sense of self-worth at negotiating the racy milieu of the Davao youth today because in the end, valuing the self makes them better able to choose what experiences they would allow of themselves.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).

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