The Taft Papyrus — Nov. 7, 2014
By Kayla Kim
“Sex is awkward forever,” says Cindy Pierce. “You are physically naked with a partner; you are emotionally naked. There is nothing that can rescue you from the inevitable awkwardness of that situation.” Cindy Pierce is a college speaker and comic storyteller who visited Taft in late October and spoke separately to the lower and upper school about, to put it simply, sex.
Taft’s newly formed Health and Wellness Committee chose Cindy Pierce specifically to address sexuality and healthy sexual relationships. “Several Taft faculty and students heard her speak at the Independent Schools Gender Project Conference and thought she was fantastic,” says Mrs. Sarah Koshi, Coordinator of Character, Leadership, and Wellness. “She also has spoken at some of our peer schools including Berkshire and Hotchkiss and has received rave reviews.”
Ms. Pierce spoke to the upper and lower schools separately because she felt her messages for the two groups varied significantly. “She said she could speak to the school as a whole but felt that her presentation would be less effective, and she wouldn’t be able to address specific areas of concern that apply to one group more than the other,” Mrs. Koshi explains.
In the presentations to the underclassmen and upperclassmen, Ms. Pierce spoke of topics both new and familiar to students. She used a collection of memorable terms; she first introduced the concepts of a necessary “healthy crew” of role models and friends and an “inner compass” to guide students past distractors such as drugs, alcohol, and excessive screen time. She proposed that helicopter parents have been replaced by the more intrusive “copilot parents,” and she shared the “asshole ticket theory,” which proposes that boys who are handsome, smart, and athletic are granted a stack of “asshole tickets” which permit them to be racist, sexist, or mean without repercussion.
Pierce also offered a fresh perspective on the modern “hookup scene,” or the intense social pressure placed on “normalized casual hookups, from kissing to meaningless sex” that tends to replace a committed relationship among youths. “The pressure to just do this hooking up whether you want to or not leads people to a lot of crappy sex,” she warned. Not only is the sex not good, it has no emotional benefits for either gender. She told the lowerclassmen: “The report from your age up through college is: it is not fulfilling. It’s an empty feeling.”
Finally, she discussed the influence of porn on our expectations for sex. She sees that watching porn is the norm in our culture. She says, “they tried to do a study of boys who don’t look at porn, and they had a hard time finding a study group.” The porn industry is not going away; rather, it has become increasingly violent and further objectifies women, to negative effect. “It’s skewing your ideas about how bodies look and how they respond, both men and women.”
During the period after Ms. Pierce’s presentations, the school buzzed with interesting conversations, and a survey offered to the students captured some of these reactions. Students appreciated Ms. Pierce’s idea of a “healthy crew”, her emphasis on making clear-headed decisions, and her generally new perspective. One student admits, “I learned to not be rude to women anymore.” Others enjoyed her humor. “The fact that it was funny made it helpful and less boring,” says an anonymous surveyor. Some students, however, felt that Ms. Pierce didn’t introduce any new subjects. “I already knew and understood what she was speaking about,” says one surveyor, and another affirms, “I didn’t learn so much as I was reassured.”
In the future, Taft will host three more speakers like Cindy Pierce. Students will be exposed to speeches regarding sexual and gender identity, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Hopefully, these lectures will prompt conversations as interesting as those generated by Cindy Pierce.