Let’s talk about sex – John Bohannon and Black Label Movement


Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Let’s talk about the facts of life. You remember that conversation you had when you were a kid about sex or drugs with your parents or some trusted adult? Probably not because it’s a myth. You don’t talk to kids about that stuff. It’s just so embarrassing. And, hey, maybe that’s OK. We’ve been outsourcing the facts of life for decades. We spend billions of dollars on it. So, why talk to kids when you can just turn on the TV? I learned about drugs from an egg and a frying pan: “This is drugs, and this is your brain on drugs. Pssssssss. Any questions?” Yeah, actually, I did. But it’s not about questions. It’s about data. In the 1980’s when I was growing up, those data were terrifying parents: 1% of high school seniors had try heroin, 12% hallucinogens, 12% tranquilizers, 17% cocaine, 26% stimulants, and over 50% of us had tried marijuana. It was an epidemic! At least, that’s what they told us. And marijuana was the gateway drug, leading to all the harder stuff. Of course, 92% of us were drinking alcohol, and that was killing more of us than all drugs combined. But, nevermind, it’s legal. So we declared war on drugs! Nancy Reagan was our general. All drugs will kill you, so just say, “No!” Just say, “No!” to pot. Just say, “No!” to cocaine. Just say, “No!” to everything. So simple! If you want to save kids, you have to scare the hell out of them! And we spent ridiculous amounts of money doing that. Soon that war on drugs spread to become a war on sex. We were pushing abstinence on kids to fight AIDS. And when all the data finally came home, guess what: completely ineffective. We love big solutions to big problems, don’t we? What if the facts of life don’t work that way? What if the experience of having that conversation can’t be mass-produced? What if it can’t be scaled up? Well, that would be very frustrating for everyone in this industry, wouldn’t it? And, many of them are really trying to help. Who, then? Us. We have to talk to kids. Openly and honestly. But are we ready to be honest? I don’t think so. We mythologize childhood. Mine was in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a completely typical 1980’s American suburb. For the parents, a wholesome paradise of bridge parties and tennis games. For us kids, we were all working on a secret research project, and our laboratory was in the woods after school, under the covers during sleep-overs, really, any opportunity we could take to peel off our clothes and investigate. What were these things, bodies? What do they do? We had to figure them out and that’s childhood. It’s not just fun and games, it’s actually a Manhattan project of nakedness. And then you walk into your first class in middle school, and the bomb goes off. You are not just a body any more. Oh no, now you are grotesque. That’s when the suffering really starts. So, yeah, talk to kids. But if you are not honest about your own experiences first, everything you say smells like bullshit. Don’t worry, you can practice and you should start by talking to the one kid you definitely know: you. What kind of kid were you? What troubled you? For me, it was age 13. That was the worst year. I was obsessively curious about sex and also deeply ashamed by it. It wasn’t my only problem, of course, not by a long shot, but it was the beginning of a downward spiral. And my bad luck was to hit bottom while watching “The Wall” by Pink Floyd, which is a bad idea for a miserable 13-year old high on weed. So, that night, for whatever reason, it seemed like good idea to shave off my eyebrows, and then try to kill myself by swallowing all the pills in the bathroom, which was not at all fatal, but everyone noticed the eyebrows. And that made middle school extra fun. So, what was your low point? And if you could build a time machine to travel back and talk to that kid, what would you say to yourself? For me, it was easy. All I really needed was someone to reassure me that somehow I was a normal part of the universe. But I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. And yet weirdly, I fully expected a time traveler to materialize at any time because I was a geek. I didn’t know if it would be my unborn son or a T-101 cyborg. But either one would be awesome! Hey, it’s me, yourself from the future, in the year 2012. I have crucial information for you, but not about the future, about the past, a billion years in the past, when this planet was covered with nothing but cells and all they did was fight, eat, and divide; fight, eat, and divide. Except for one. And that’s your ancestor. This cell enslaved other ones, but master and slave became one. And then those cells invented sex, and then they invented the first bodies with each cell doing a different job, some smelling, some moving, some eating. And the job of sex went to a special cell called the gamete. And those bodies became giant. The distance to the next body was vast so they had to swim. Most would be lost and die so they were mass-produced. Soon the oceans were a non-stop riot of sex and death until 500 million years ago, when the first beast crawled onto land. Land is hard because bodies are heavy. And the sun kills gametes. To keep them safe, so deep inside of a body, the mother builds a tiny ocean. Outside are events of unimaginable violence. Whole new forms of life are being created only to be wiped away. Millions of years are flashing by. But in here, it’s always the same. Peace. Just peace. Maybe we will never know why, but of all the possible bodies that have appeared on this planet, it was this one, bilaterally symmetric, warm-blooded, bigger than a mouse, smaller than a horse, 2 legs, 10 toes, no tail, big brain, language, technology, and civilization rising and falling for thousands of years. And here you are, a 13-year old human perplexed and embarrassed about sex. That’s what I came here to tell you: we don’t know why sex evolved nor why it persists. Why don’t we just clone ourselves like all life did a billion years ago? It’s so much more efficient. We would all have babies, no mates. It could be that children who are genetically different from each other are protected from disease. And that is still our best guess. So be comforted to know that even in the distant future, in the year 2012, we still don’t know what sex is for. It is perplexing. You shouldn’t be embarrassed by it. Sex is a beautiful puzzle. And without it, you simply would not be here. By the way, be nice to your little sister. She’s your best friend. You’ll see.

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100 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sex – John Bohannon and Black Label Movement

  1. Nice speech. But honestly? I doubt it would hinder his 13-year-old self from just all the time wanting to screw the cute dancer in the yellow shirt. Like, *all* the *time*.

  2. I found the dancers distracting too. Had this been the first TED vid I'd seen I might not have sought out the many others I've found utterly enthralling, and thought-provoking.

  3. I got weird when you started talking about Stone Mountain, Georgia. I just imagine you and your friends exploring each other all over my home town

  4. It's part of a movement to hire dancers to represent data instead of using power-point, thus preserving the arts, without hurting data transfer.

  5. This speech isn't aimed at the 13-year old, it's aimed adults today who need to drop the fucking stigma and taboo of talking about sex with their children. They never say they shouldn't want to screw anyone.

  6. Not far off, we're foreshadowing John's physicalization of the "This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs" mention which was an 1980s anti-drug campaign that showed a a frying egg. The performers are capturing that energy which would not be far-off from a seizure when the egg is frying.

  7. Fantastic! About the little sister comment at the end: you need to watch the video again and actually pay attention this time. He tells you he's having a conversation with his younger self. Then for all of you who don't get the dance part: they were illustrating his point. Hell of a lot more interesting than a bar graph.

  8. Oh, and if you're taking the time to watch this, you can certainly google or YouTube dance so you can figure out what it is before posting ignorant comments that just perpetuate stereotypes of this long-stigmafied art form.

  9. Interesting, the laws of physics as they overlap into the world of quantitative ego. Physical response vs emotional response, good feelings vs bad feelings. Example, the process of harvesting blood diamonds could be considered bad, yet many good people wear them through no fault of their own. Thats the trickyness of the human condition as it applies to the ego. Everything has a double standard. Are the emotions based first on a physical response to the other or an emotional response to the other

  10. What the **** is this background show. If you have something to say just say it. You dont need to trick us into listening you. I don't understand how does this dance show makes this better.

  11. There are many forms of communication beyond the spoken word. You may respond most powerfully to spoken word but many find different forms of communication, like dance, convey important layers of meaning that the spoken word does not. Movement and the body are essential to the processes of evolution and sexuality. We decided that movement would help communicate that. Its cool if that doesn't work for you, but is it possible that it works for others? Just look at the like/dislike ratio.

  12. There is no good or bad. It is a concept created by the human mind to represent the effect of one's actions on the collective's odds of survival. And even that is a stretch. The ego is an instrument of survival and so are all our emotions. Under these terms, there are no double standards.

  13. John (the speaker) mid-way through the presentation uses the device of "traveling back in time" in order to talk with his 13 year old self who was struggling with a lot of life issues including sex. The moment he turns back at the end to say "be good to your sister" is simply a personal moment in which the elder John is telling his 13 year old self that she really is on your side. Honestly, I think it was just a desire on John's part to insert a very personal moment in the presentation.

  14. Your response speaks to one of the reasons for our presentation? If we don't talk about sex in constructive and effective ways with our children they will not have the tools to make better choices. Sexual desire is something that arises in children long before they reach maturity/adulthood. We can't responsibly turn away from sexuality in children because it makes us uncomfortable. They need help on the challenging subject and they need it in effective ways.

  15. Well, it's staged as if he was going back in time to talk to his 13-year old self so … but I agree with his and your basic message even though I know this stigma in its extreme form only from American books, movies and TV shows.

  16. How do we not know what sex is for? It leads to recombination and mixing of the genome, leading to greater biodiversity and to a better ability to adapt to change.

  17. HAHA, dude. Did you get that the second half of this presentation was himself from the future? He was just putting the cherry on the painting.

  18. Could be or perhaps its just people caring for each other no matter what their sexuality. Yet we were definitely trying not to privilege one combination of sexuality over another.

  19. Hmm, so if the brain wires itself over and over to the epi-center of an implusive act that is co-dependent upon a tandum or multi tandums in order to expound the thought into a real experience of pleasure and yet it cannot override the impluse intelligently, what does that say about the implusiveness of intelligence? Is intelligence anymore capable then a non-intelligent? Tiger woods had that of ultra stellar discipline in every area of life except sexuality, risk and reward, cause and effect…

  20. You really need to get out there 😉 There's a lot of this social stuff going on in the real world. Other than that, I don't quite get what your critique of the psychological and social sciences involved is heading at.

  21. Interesting, some groups have absolutely no fear of plunging or being plunged. They just fear the toliet seat.

  22. I agree ,it's better if parents talk to their children honestly and open mind ,but if those parents don't know nothing about their own lifes …:S .I also expect that mankind would evolve and of course will have a good sex without pressure.

  23. Amazingly surprising, dance distract talks a bit but presentation was wonderful. Thanks John Bohannon and TED

  24. dance fuck lift baby men piggy back competition lift front competition strong girl baby men dance fuck simulation

  25. what is that last line "be nice to your little sister" supposed to mean while holding a young female after talking about how clueless he is about sex? Terrible "talk". deffinitly screwed the pooch on this one Ted.

  26. The speaker so cute, the dancing just steamed him up even more. Very powerful, so handsome, much inspiration, wow.

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