There are certain trends that never change. Neither time nor country nor culture makes them go away. Our need to belong and to find others who are similar to us is as universal as the need of children to be taken care of. Human beings come into the world helpless – almost blind, unable to digest anything but milk, and with extremely limited motor abilities. Evolution has dictated that a child needs almost constant care for at least the first year of their life. Even after that time limit, a child still needs various types of care for at least another decade.

But for a human child, it is not simply enough for a caregiver to provide food and protection. Children also need to be taught language and morals. They need someone who will comfort them when they are hurt or afraid. Aside from pure physical needs, children also have emotional needs. The attachment bonds that children make define the rest of their lives. At the end of the day, does it really matter who provides the care and love that the child needs?

In the United States, foster homes and adoption have changed throughout the decades. There have been orphan children as long as the country has existed. In the early to mid 20th century, adoption was usually used place children born to unwed mothers. Foster homes – where children without parents who were able to provide for them ended up – were designed in a way that promoted the return of foster children to their biological parents. A foster family would specialize in a specific age group, and the child would move from home to home, never bonding or connecting to a single adult. Without strong and safe bonds in childhood, the children would often leave the foster program without a prospective future.

While the foster program has changed today, foster children still end up shuttled from home to home. On average, a child in foster care can expect to live in five different homes before aging out of the system at 18. And that child has a 50% chance of ending up homeless at that point. The other option for that child is adoption.

Adoption allows the child to be taken in by a family who have been previously screened and tested and filled out form after form after form. For a variety of reasons, they want to have a child in their lives and are willing to give time, money, and love to raise the child. The child will have someone teaching them morals, ethics, and social norms. They will grow up with stronger bonds and will have someone to help them face the world when they are adults. In general, adoption is a good option. So why does it take so long for a family to adopt a child?

Most adoption agencies in the United States – both public and private – prefer to have a mother and a father present in the family the child is being adopted in to. They believe that a child needs to have both of those influences in his or her life to be successful and well adjusted in society. However, more and more single parents and same-sex couples are also looking to adopt. The laws for adoption vary from state to state and country to country. The laws have a tendency to reflect the local politics more than look after the well-being of the children.

While legally, single parents have always been able to adopt, practically the preference usually goes to married couples. And when a single parent is able to adopt, women have a much higher success rate than men. The case that is made against single parents has multiple parts. First of all, there are those who still say that a child needs two parents in the home. A mother is needed for nurture and a father to be a moral compass. Often, people are quick to point at a missing father as the cause of a child’s failings. However, with the current divorce rate and decrease in social stigma attached to single parenthood, about half of American children have lived with only one parent – biological or not – at some point before their eighteenth birthday. A single parent can provide for a child as well as two can. Having one person who loves and cares for you is better than having no one. But legislation is always slow to change.

One thing that always makes laws change faster, however, is a large, well-known case. Currently, “Pop Queen” Madonna is making world-wide news as she attempts to adopt an African girl, Mercy. Her adoption is having problems for a variety of reasons – she’s 50, it’s an international adoption, there is uncertainty whether the girl is really an orphan, she has been divorced, she has not lived in the country long enough. Some of the reasons are fairly logical ones. For instance, her celebrity status has allowed her to skip certain steps and time limits in her previous adoption.

However, the fact that she is a single, divorced woman does not make sense. She is most certainly capable of providing for another child – her income is certainly more than large enough to provide a comfortable life for quite a few children. And with the United States divorce rates as they are right now (highest in the world at nearly fifty percent), few people don’t have a history of divorces. As long as she is able and willing to provide the child a stable and comfortable life – and follows the actual necessary procedures instead of letting her lawyers and her fame circumvent the rules – there shouldn’t be any reason to not allow her to adopt.

Another major debate platform hitting adoption forums right now is adoption by same-sex couples. During the last election, Arkansas passed a law forbidding any non-married couple from adopting or fostering children. While the law also covered heterosexual couples, it was mostly aimed at homosexual couples for whom marriage in Arkansas is not even an option. Opponents of adoption by same-sex couples claim that the raised levels of depression and other issues would cause same-sex couples to be less effective parents. Opponents also argue that homosexual parents will raise homosexual children. However, research has shown that children – both biological and not – raised by same-sex couples are only 4% more likely to be homosexual themselves. In addition, children from homosexual households are more open-minded and tolerant.

If a child is loved, taken care of, and grows up in a warm, nurturing environment, does it really matter who provides the care? A mother or father – or any combination of thereof – are capable of providing such a home regardless of their gender. There is nearly half a million children in foster homes and about half of them are available for adoption. There are also countless couples and individuals looking to adopt through legal channels that sometimes take over three years. Foster care does not offer children an opportunity to have a stable childhood. So then why not allow those who can and are willing to raise children the opportunity to do so, no matter their background?

Advertisements

It sounded like a good idea on paper: a young woman becomes someone new every week. Her personas (or imprints) can be anyone or anything. She is perfect at any job that she does. A mysterious organization is behind everything. A loyal agent works to find her and crack the secret. Joss Whedon writes and directs. A leaked script showed her working as a councilor and nurse. And then…something happened.

Somehow, the man behind such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – the man known for his strong female characters – managed to create a show about a brothel. True, it is a brothel with both male and female escorts, but it still somehow turns into a brothel. So far, not a single episode has aired that did not have some gratuitous nudity. Though, to give credit, that nudity has gone both ways.

So far, we have seen Echo (the main character played by Eliza Dushku) in a variety of roles. She has been a negotiator, a bodyguard, a midwife, a safecracker, and a cult follower. But she’s also been a blind date, a long dead wife, and a dominatrix. (For a full list, go here.) And somehow, even the non-sexual jobs ended up with Echo wearing less than a full outfit of clothes.

In comparison, the one male Doll who plays a large part in the story (Victor) has so far only had one on-screen sexual job. Of course, that one happened to be with the woman who is running the entire branch of the Dollhouse that the story follows. And, as it happens, a large portion of the sexual awakening in the dolls seems to happen to Victor.

Sexuality in general becomes a very strange topic within the shows. On the one hand, the Dolls are being basically prostituted out. On the other hand, when not active, they are as innocent as young children. What’s extremely interesting is seeing how it develops as the show goes on.

At first, it is blatant. The Dolls are sleeping with their clients throughout the series. All the characters seem to have a tendency to take their clothes off as much as possible. But then, something seems to shift. The focus of the show finally goes away from the gratuitous nudity and moves to actually exploring the topics that are being brought up.

Some people are citing network meddling as the cause of the less-than-stellar first half of the series. Going by Fox’s and Whedon’s past history (both together and apart) that is a fairly likely possibility. Sex sells and Fox executives know this very well. Dollhouse is, after all, aimed at the 19 to 45, male crowd of science fiction enthusiasts. Though this still being Whedon, there is are several strong female characters as well, and the male characters take off their shirts – even though it is less often then the female characters end up “dressed up.”

What’s interesting is what happens when the show finally takes a step away from the blatant sex and sexuality and begins to deal with the topics that it had begun to bring up earlier. Suddenly, even though the Dolls are still basically living in a brothel, the show actually begins to address this. And what’s even more unusual for a modern day show is the fact that they start addressing this through the male Dolls first. Victor and Sierra (another prominent female Doll) begin to develop a relationship – or as much a relationship as two people with no memories or personalities can have. At first, it is a very innocent relationship, with them spending time together and looking at pictures together.

But then, their relationship takes on an interesting turn. Victor begins to get aroused whenever Sierra is around in the showers. At first, the workers at the Dollhouse assume it is because one of his previous assignments has been used too much and is leaking through to his base status. But then, it becomes evident that he only has a reaction to Sierra. The show then takes another twist. When it is discovered that Sierra is being raped, Victor is of course the first one to be accused. When he is, of coursed, cleared, his first instinct is to go to protect the girl. Without personality, without memory, without knowledge of social norms, Victor still manages to both react physically to a girl he likes and to control these feelings to protect her.

Victor also becomes the Doll that is used to make a point about the people who use the Dollhouse. A typical Dollhouse client never has to deal with the Doll’s in their base state. They only see and deal with the personality or character that they requested. At their base level, they are nothing more than the guy who hires a prostitute for his own fun. Though the major difference between them and the Dollhouse clients is that as the show progresses of the clients don’t use the Dolls just for sex. But among the people who use the Dolls for sex is Ms. DeWitt, the woman who runs the Dollhouse. She has seen Victor as a mindless Doll and has sent him out on a variety of engagements. She knows exactly what she is getting involved with. This, however, does not stop her from using her own services to create a partner who she can confide in as well as sleep with. It is only when she realizes the folly of having this “security blanket” that she stops. She sees herself as pathetic as the clients who only request creative bed-partners.

The other example of a Dollhouse worker using a Doll for his own purposes doesn’t even involve sex. The laboratory worker is allowed personal use of a Doll once a year for his birthday. His request is not sexual in the least. Instead, all he wants is a special day with a friend who understands him and shares his interests. When making his request, he doesn’t even care which Doll he gets. He has a deep need, and Dollhouse can fill it. Ironically, he is truly using the Dollhouse in the way it was meant: to make a person who can fill a unique position.

So far, Dollhouse has gone through a roller coaster of possibilities. It started out sounding like an excellent idea. Then, it’s first few episodes made people wonder what exactly the network and the writers were thinking. But after that, the show took off. Yes, it is still at its core a very well run brothel. But the show recognizes this fact and works with it. The characters know that what they’re doing is on the morally grey horizon and they acknowledge this fact. What’s even more interesting is that gender differences end up being only superficial. The Dolls are used for all jobs – dangerous and not, sexy and not – regardless of their gender. In their base state, the Dolls are all perfect blanks. Only Joss Whedon could take a show about a brothel and turn all expectations upside down.

In a rare turn for a political child, Bristol Palin is still in the media’s lime light. Her trick? Getting in the middle of a hot topic. When the Senator’s daughter was first revealed to be a pregnant high school student, people were shocked. When she and the father of the child got engaged, people either thought it was adorable or assumed it was a political ploy. When they broke up, no one was too surprised. But when Bristol went on national television and stated that she doesn’t think that abstinence only education (which her mother supports) is realistic she really got the media’s attention.

Here was a young woman who was living, breathing proof that what was taught to her in school about sex and her own body was simply not enough. Of course she stated that she loves her son and is happy to have the chance to raise him. But she also admitted that she is disappointed in all the opportunities that she lost and that she did not know enough to have avoided ending up with a fatherless child before she even graduated from high school. Her mother took the opportunity to remind everyone that abstinence only education is best for everyone involved; even as her daughter admitted that it abstinence is an impossible thing to ask of young adults.

What is abstinence only education and why is it so popular in the United States? By definition, it is sexual health education that only teaches young adults to avoid sex. It doesn’t cover what to do in case you do have sex, or how to avoid various diseases. Often times, abstinence only education only involves giving information about failure rates of various contraceptives and reminding students that they shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage.

This sort of education has one basic flaw in it (one big one, there are others that stem from it). It assumes that teenagers won’t have sex. The problem with that is that as Miss Palin’s example shows, teenagers have, do, and will have sex. And a class discussion on the evils of sex will only discourage a very, very small portion of the students involved. In most cases, those are the students who wouldn’t have had premarital sex anyway.

The problem is then the students who don’t have the information to have sex but end up having sex anyway. Studies have shown that those are the students who are at risk for unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease, and emotional problems. Since they are not expecting to have sex, they usually don’t have a condom available with them.

Interestingly enough, this problem is far more common in the United States than Europe. A recent documentary on sexual education even showed why. European teenagers of various ages and backgrounds knew where to buy a condom, how to use a condom, and why they should have a condom on them. European commercials such as this one [NSFW] show that using condoms is necessary for sex. American condom commercials avoid using words such as condom or sex and usually appear after midnight, if at all.

During the interviews with the teenagers, a few more differences emerged. Almost all the European teenagers had condoms in their wallets and thought it would be strange to date someone who was not prepared. Most of the American teenagers and young adults didn’t have condoms with them. They believed that carrying condoms made them appear more promiscuous and some even commented that going out with someone who had a condom with them made them feel like that person expected something more from the date.

So which side had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the answer is “United States.”

Why then is abstinence only education still being taught (and encouraged) in schools across the country? Well, one of the main reasons is that it promotes having no sexual encounters until marriage. In theory, this would help young adults avoid both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease since abstinence is the only 100% effective method of avoiding both. However, as Miss Palin stated, this is simply unrealistic.

At our core nature, humans are animals. And animals mate. Sure, we have more control over our sexual behavior than a monkey or cat, but at the end of the day people still want to have sex. Of all the life stages, young adult is one of the most chaotic ones. A teenager’s front cortex is still not fully developed and their ability to make rational decisions is highly impaired. Combined with the turbulent changes going on in their bodies, teenagers are more likely than any other age group to do something stupid or rash.

To most teenagers, the words of a teacher, religious figure, parent, or other mentor only go so far. By the time a student hits middle school, his or her peers have a far greater influence on the choices he or she will make. And it’s not only in that. In the heat of the moment, hormones are yelling in a voice far louder than that of any authority figure. A teenager who at least has the background information needed can take the necessary steps to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. A teenager who has only been taught that sex should be avoided would not only not know what measures are needed but also would be too ashamed to ask his or her partner and would feel far more shame once the hormone storm dies away.

Is there a solution? Like many other middle school students, I suffered through sexual education classes. The difference was that I lived in one of the most liberal cities in the world, and our sexual education classes covered anything and everything you could dream of. The phrase “abstinence only education” was treated with disdain. The two week lecture series went over the biological and emotional components of puberty and sex. It also went over all the possible life paths a young man or woman could face, how to avoid the undesirable ones, and everything that could possibly go wrong.

Did it work? Out of my class of about 600 students, almost all graduated from high school and of those, about 80% went on to college. There were less than teenage 20 pregnancies. (That number does not include the handful of girls who got married right out of high school and had kids before turning 20.) However, my school was considered an academic school and a feeder school to an even more academic high school and I went through sexual education with the honors students. My personal observations and history are not the most stereotypical example. However, psychological studies do back up the point that young adults with a full sexual education are statistically less likely to get pregnant (or get their partner’s pregnant) or contact a sexually transmitted disease.

Had Senator Palin endorsed sexual education in her state, would her daughter now be in college instead of having sleepless nights with her son? There is no way to know for sure. But for the sake of countless girls – and boys – just entering puberty, I hope that more states and school districts have a more comprehensive approach to sexual education.

[References taken from various psychology and sociology lectures, videos, and readings I’ve stumbled across in the past few years.]