NYT Sunday Mag: 'What if Our Kids Really Believed We Wanted Them to Have Great Sex?'

From explicit sex education, to praise for left-wing idol Elizabeth Warren, to another attack on fracking in Pennsylvania, the Sunday Magazine pushed liberalism from all angles this weekend.

First it was the Sunday Review that traded in liberal news analysis for hard-left essays; will the New York Times Sunday Magazine follow in those left-ward steps? Three long stories from outside writers suggest yes.

Social liberalism: Laurie Abraham's cover story celebrated the joy of talking sex with high-school seniors: 'Teaching Good Sex – A frank, fearless approach to the birds and the bees.' The Table of Contents approvingly quoted teacher Al Vernacchio, ''What if our kids really believed we wanted them to have great sex?' Introducing pleasure to the peril of sex education.'

'First base, second base, third base, home run,' Al Vernacchio ticked off the classic baseball terms for sex acts. His goal was to prompt the students in Sexuality and Society - an elective for seniors at the private Friends' Central School on Philadelphia's affluent Main Line - to examine the assumptions buried in the venerable metaphor. 'Give me some more,' urged the fast-talking 47-year-old, who teaches 9th- and 12th-grade English as well as human sexuality. Arrayed before Vernacchio was a circle of small desks occupied by 22 teenagers, six male and the rest female - a blur of sweatshirts and Ugg boots and form-fitting leggings.

'Grand slam,' called out a boy (who'd later tell me with disarming matter-of-factness that 'the one thing Mr. V. talked about that made me feel really good was that penis size doesn't matter').


'If there's grass on the field, play ball, right, right,' Vernacchio agreed, 'which is interesting in this rather hair-phobic society where a lot of people are shaving their pubic hair - '

And so it goes, quite explicitly, to the clear delight of Abraham.

As to whether his class encourages teenagers to have sex - a protest perennially lodged against even basic sex ed (though pretty firmly disproved by research) - Vernacchio said that he portrays sex in all its glory and complications. 'As much as I say, 'This is how orgasms work, and they're really cool,' I say there's a lot of work to being in a relationship and having sex. I don't think I have the power to make sex sound so enticing that kids are going to break through their self-esteem issues or body stuff or parental pressures or whatever to just go do it.' And anyway, Vernacchio went on, 'I don't necessarily see the decision to become sexually active when you're 17 as an unhealthy one.' His goal is for young people to know their own minds, be clear about what they do and don't want and use their self-knowledge to make choices.


'What if our kids really believed we wanted them to have great sex?' Vernacchio asked near the end of an evening talk he gave in January primarily for parents of ninth graders who would attend his sex-ed minicourse. 'What if they really believed that we want them to be so passionately in love with someone that they can't keep their hands off them? What if they really believed we want them to know their own bodies?'

The economic front: 'Heaven Is A Place Called Elizabeth Warren,' by Rebecca Traister, promoted the candidacy of everyone's favorite liberal populist, running to replace Scott Brown in the 2012 Senate race in Massachusetts. She makes everyone she meets go giddy:

On the campaign trail in Massachusetts last month with the Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, I bore witness to acts of extreme giddiness: a 20-year-old student jumping up and down, exclaiming, 'Oh, my God, I am obsessed with her'; a third-year law student of Warren's comparing her to a superhero ('Wonder Woman wishes she could be Professor Warren'); a man stopping Warren on the street and introducing himself as the guy who recently passed her a mash note on a plane ('I was hitting on you,' he said).

Warren has been something of a left-wing idol for a couple of years now. While heading Congressional oversight of TARP, she more than anyone asked tough questions about what, exactly, was done with all that bank bailout money. And on her subsequent mission to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which was designed to enforce long-ignored rules meant to protect consumers entering into everything from credit-card agreements to mortgages — Warren became a regular guest of Bill Maher's and Jon Stewart's, and both went weak for the straight-talking professor. Stewart told her he wanted to make out.

The weird analogy of the week goes to this paragraph:

Warren's fierceness in the land of suits has earned her plenty of enemies, but it has also mobilized a demographic yearning for a candidate to call its own. Congress remains only 16 percent female, and Massachusetts has an especially long and rotten history of women in politics. Since Puritans settled there in the early 17th century, more Massachusetts women have been hanged in the Salem witch trials (14) than have been elected to the House of Representatives (4), the Senate (0) or the governor's mansion (0, though Jane Swift served as acting governor from 2001 to 2003). Backed by politically engaged women most recently frustrated by the lackluster campaign of Martha Coakley, who lost disastrously to Scott Brown in 2010, Warren is very likely to benefit from four centuries worth of pent-up energy.

The environmental angle: The Times ventured back into the 'fracking' controversy, after a shoddy, slanted, error-ridden investigative series against the process by Ian Urbina blew up in its face, criticized by the paper's own public editor. Eliza Griswold is a senior fellow at the left-leaning New America Foundation, authored the investigation, which appeared under the sophomoric headline 'Situation Normal All Fracked Up,' on mystery illnesses near a natural-gas field in Pennsylvania, in Amwell Township.

The township sits atop the Marcellus Shale Deposit, one of the largest fields of natural gas in the world, a formation that stretches beneath 575 miles of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Shale gas, even its fiercest critics concede, presents an opportunity for the United States to be less dependent on foreign oil. According to Wood Mackenzie, an energy-consulting firm, the Marcellus formation will supply 6 percent of America's gas this year, a figure expected to more than double by 2020.

In a step toward balance, Griswold admitted 'The Marcellus boom has brought a host of economic benefits to Western Pennsylvania - new jobs, booked motel rooms, busy food franchises and newly paved roads - and promises to bring more.' But she strung together anecdotes of animals dying to suggest pollution poisoning, though tests of the water supply 'revealed no heavy metals.'

What was going on with the animals? Where were the toxic chemicals in their blood coming from? Haney feared that the arrival of the gas industry and the drilling that had begun less than 1,000 feet from her home might have something to do with it.

While water tests and medical tests have been inconclusive, and Griswold did some hedging, the Times editors removed the layers of equivocation in its window dressing. The subhead: 'In Amwell Township, Pa., the dividing line isn't between those who are for natural-gas drilling and those who are against it. It's between those who are getting rich and those who are paying the price.' That suggests culpability, a burden of proof Griswold's actual story failed to attain. A Times photo caption was also less than equivocal: 'Runoff – Haley's children have shown signs of exposure to arsenic, and some of their animals got sick or died.'