In William Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet,” the titular star cross’d lovers fatefully decide to pursue their love, despite the chaos and war unfolding around them. Their decision ends up being a fatal one. I suppose the ironic question that some people might want to ask the protagonists is: Out of all the wo/men in the world, couldn’t you have picked another one?
When I was a freshman in college, I remember reading in my Intro Psych textbook about “The Romeo and Juliet Effect.” Essentially, it’s an example of Psychological Reactance, whereby rules and restrictions actually make you more prone to resist them. In the case of “The Romeo and Juliet Effect,” the theory goes that your parents’ disapproval can actually spur your affections towards that person. I’m guessing many of us have experienced this ourselves; certainly the image of the attractive and sexy rebellious male teen is one that has been ingrained into our popular culture.
The thing is, Psychological Reactance can create some real-world problems. And by nature of the phenomenon, these problems often go unacknowledged. Take the following two examples:
-Saudi Arabia – According to this recent story by the BBC, “up to 70% of files exchanged between Saudi teenagers’ mobile phones contain pornography.” According to the report’s author:
The flash memory of mobile phones taken from teenagers showed 69.7% of 1,470 files saved in them were pornographic and 8.6% were related to violence.
Saudi Arabia’s oppressive sexual environment has been written about several times in recent days. In fact, this recent Atlantic Monthly article claims that heterosexual sexual relationships are so heavily regulated that it’s easier to be a homosexual (because people won’t suspect). Whoever the authors of this environment are, and I’m sure they are legion (including culture, religion, government, etc.), isn’t this the opposite result of what they intended?
-Abstinence-only education – If abstinence-only education was shown to work, I might even be a fan of it. But studies have shown that it’s not only riddled with inaccuracies, it’s completely useless in accomplishing what it sets out to do.
More to the point, I’m an Evangelical Christian and we’re taught at a very young age about sexual purity. Christians aren’t supposed to have sex until they are married. In recent years, many have made it official by taking a pledge of abstinence. However, studies have shown that Christians, even those that take the pledge, are just as likely to have sex as non-Christians. Here are some shocking statistics:
* “Not only are kids who take virginity pledges just as likely to have sexually transmitted diseases as kids who don’t, but they are even more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior.” This includes having sex without a condom (they are 1/3rd less likely to use condoms when they have sex for the first time), and engaging in anal and oral sex, which many teens don’t consider “real sex.”
* Here’s the kicker: Of the kids that take the pledge, 88 percent of them end up breaking it.
* Of the couples that end up breaking the pledge, they are less likely to get tested for pregnancy or STDs. Says Columbia University’s Peter Bearman, “They’re much less likely to get tested for a sexually transmitted disease. They’ve taken a public pledge to remain a virgin until marriage. The sex that they have is much more likely to be hidden. It’s likely to be hidden from their parents. It’s likely to be hidden from their peers. And if they live in a small community, it’s quite likely to be hidden from their doctor.”
In both these examples, restrictions are placed upon people that many might deem “unnatural.” Specifically, they are restrictions on sexuality, on the types of sex that people are allowed to have and enjoy.
What does all this hiding get us? Psychological reactance. A need to lash out against the rules and to disobey them to an extent we never would if the rules weren’t even there in the first place. Despite American males’ obsession with porn, I think it’s pretty safe to say that 70% of us don’t have porn on our cell phones, right? Right? It’s probably more like 69% or something…