It was good news for modern fundamentalist man—or so it seemed. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study on what has come to be called “risky social and sexual behaviors.” To be more precise, the report triumphantly announced that fewer high school students are having unprotected sex, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes.
But there was bad news, too: Obesity rates are soaring among teens. Is there a connection? The CDC can’t say—because it never correlated its findings that way. The agency didn’t look into what might seem an obvious question: whether the absence of sin correlates with an excess of fat.
That certainly seems to be the case with smoking and obesity. A recent report in the Journal of Health Economics points out that weight gain may be “an unintended consequence of the anti-smoking campaign.” When the price of cigarettes rises (via taxation), so does the number of visits to restaurants. As for those who’ve never smoked, they’re not getting tobacco’s appetite-suppressing effect. But imagine the row if a federal agency announced that smoking correlates with staying trim.
As for that sin of sins, premarital sex, I assume that teens who are getting well laid are less likely to be fat, if only because they’re probably not depressed. For that matter, in most circles, keeping fit maximizes your chance at having sex. This suggests that the best cure for obesity is a combination of diet, exercise, and nookie. But just imagine the stew in the pews if the CDC found lower obesity rates among young fuck bunnies. You might as well give Howard Stern the Freedom Medal.
Under Bush, even giving safe-sex information is problematic for the CDC. No wonder it was reticent about looking too deeply into teenage sex. But let’s peer at the figures the CDC did release. Turns out that the percentage of teenage girls who are making the beast with two backs increased by 7.5 percent among blacks and 2 percent among whites. And the funk rose by 5 percent among African American boys. The only teens who are actually having less sex are white and Latino dudes. Some triumph of virtue!
But maybe there’s good news here, after all. If more girls are having sex (presumably with fewer boys) it might mean that the old curse of the slut is finally losing its power. Back in the ’50s, when Kinsey gathered his infamous sex stats, many more unmarried men were getting laid than were single women. That changed during the sexual revolution, which freed many women to have sex. Now we may have reached the point where teenage girls feel freer to explore their libidos, and even to demand that their partners wear the love glove. Not only are penises rising among young men—so is condom use. It’s increased by 17 percent since 1991.
That raises the profound question of what is is. Lots of young people don’t consider oral sex to be the real thing. How about the CDC? They never bothered to define the term. Feds to teens: Eat that!
Research assistance: Matthew Phillp
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 18, 2004