“She talked to her son about sex and the consequences it carried, such as…”

This is from an essay about a 14-year-old pregnant bride and her of-age but possibly socially challenged groom. They managed to marry legally by crossing state lines, but upon arriving home the groom was arrested for statutory rape, with the pregnancy as evidence.

You can follow the two links above if you want the rest of the story. Significant to today’s Horror is that before their marriage the happy couple were coupling in the young man’s parental cellar; his mother had tried to discourage such behavior by way of warnings, but obviously the warnings had no effect.

Knowing the context of my student’s statement, you will know what he meant by

“She talked to her son about sex and the consequences it carried, such as pregnancy and a prison sentence.”

You will also agree that my student didn’t quite say what he meant.

Pregnancy is sometimes a consequence of sex, or more precisely sexual intercourse, but it is not a consequence sex “carries” automatically. And, fortunately for billions of humans past and present, a prison sentence is not a consequence of the sexual act. Even in countries where many aspects of human behavior have been criminalized, sex per se has so far escaped the penal system. Going to prison is not, for example, the journey planned for the morning after the wedding night. As far as I know, prison sentences are imposed for behavior (rape? oath-breaking?) or circumstances (gender issues? species choice?) on which the sex act is contingent, but not for the act itself. Such criminalizing reflects social and moral judgments (enlightened or not), not biological events in and of themselves.

We give the word “sex” a whole range of meanings, from “gender identity” all the way to a sequence of dirty doings and their aftermath. Because of this, writers have to be careful to specify what they actually have in mind. My writer has not done that. In fact, he means “sexual intercourse” (having gone to college in Pennsylvania and admired souvenir hats brought back from the town of Intercourse by frat boys, I know the noun needs the adjective!) at the beginning of the sentence; in the middle he means “some instances of sexual intercourse,” and by the end he means only sexual intercourse between an adult male and a minor girl, or the two lovers in question. Because he doesn’t track the shifting definition, he gives us the amazing picture of prisons stuffed to the gills with a huge percentage of the earth’s adult population—who languish, arms stretched longingly through the bars, perhaps lamenting their one fine fling of passion, while smug puritanical critics and homeless children walk the loveless streets.…

Well, be careful out there.


About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

5 responses to ““She talked to her son about sex and the consequences it carried, such as…”

  • yearstricken

    Many young women carry the consequences of sex – nine months in their bellies and several years after in their arms. 🙂

  • solberg73

    Aside-my house in PA is a few miles from that frivolously-named town you mention. No one has ever explained to me why they went an’done a dumb thing like that, perhaps for the frat-boi trade-.
    And now, briefly, sex. I’m seeing your uniting theme here better, after reading a few more posts; besides exploring the error you do this admirable task of understanding how and why the slip-up occurred..Daunting it is, and tempting for the hack instructor to suffice with simply red-penciling the mistake.Kids sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about, you know, ‘doin’it’, and this unease may prompt errors. You could choose a neutral and bland topic, if such exists these days.
    -2nd aside: I’m wary here, of all places, that my fractured word choice in English be outed. Hebrew’s done a bang-up job of tearing most of my ‘for-granted’ expressions to pieces. We do have literal equivalents for “As it were”, “And how!” and “Far-fetched”. This tickles me no end. The end-

    • RAB

      I believe the Pennsylvania Dutch folk who named the town thought of it as a crossroads, a place where people met and talked or did business (“connections or dealings between persons or groups,” says Webster’s as Definition Number One!). Our reductive modern society has turned a noun that used to gain specific meaning only through its modifiers into a noun with only one meaning. Anyway, behave when in Pennsylvania!
      I do give my college students a hard time with sex (and pray forgive the “hard time” and all that Freud might find in that word choice!), because so much of what they read has to do with it, or with processes that include it. They’re just as uneasy with matters of gender/sexuality: I still haven’t posted some of the choicest blunders from the notorious essay on women-in-combat!
      Finally: this blog only dissects STUDENT blunders. As adults we blunder with impunity….

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