Sexting and sex ed

Great story today at Salon.com by Daniel Denvir about the sexting scandal in Colorado. I love it when journalists can take the long view and see that the problems are systemic–here, that means sex ed and gender norms.

In most Colorado classrooms, as in many nationwide, sex is all danger and no fun. And so, when it comes to actually flirting, making out and having sex, kids get no advice from experts at school. …

Teaching pleasure in sexual education is rare in the United States save for some elite liberal private schools. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the Netherlands, for example, sexuality education kicks off at age four singing songs about crushes, talking about hugs. Gender stereotypes are addressed at age 8. Sexual orientation and contraceptives at 11.

“For girls, I think the Dutch put a lot more emphasis on the fact that women can make choices,” Amy Schalet, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Alternet. “It’s not like it’s perfect, but there’s at least a conversation about, ‘what do you want? What do you feel?’ You can also see it in the fact that the Dutch are one of the few countries that really openly talk about masturbation for both sexes [during sex education]. It’s often thought that that’s one way that women can really become empowered about their sexuality, when they know about sexual pleasure and their own bodies. That’s not usually part of American sex education.”

Most Dutch teens report consensual and pleasant first sexual experiences, according to PBS Newshour. They have very low teen pregnancy rates, and very high rates of contraceptive use. And low rates of sexually transmitted infections too.

Sexual ignorance contributes to people making such bad decisions about sex, from maliciously sharing explicit photos to sexual harassment and assault—part and parcel of a culture that prioritizes male pleasure as the principal goal of sex and subjugates women as that pleasure’s object.

Sexting illustrations and an interview in the Westword

Here’s an interview that appeared online and in print in Denver’s alt weekly magazine, the Westword: “Teen sexting laws: Author sees their roots in slut shaming.”

I am really happy with the way this reporter used my comments about gender, sexuality, and slut-shaming. In a lot of other stories they tend to gloss over that. But here it’s even in the headline of the online version! I think the best part is the image that accompanies the print version. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but for the first time it feels like the person who chose the image actually read the article and found a way to illustrate a story about sexting without using a sexualized image of a teen girl. IMG_3237
Nearly all stories about sexting that include an image use a stock image of teenager using a mobile phone, a parent looking at a phone in shock (there is one image that’s been used over and over for years), and for many, a sexy (often partially obscured, pixelated, darkened, or blurred) image of a teenage girl sexting.

sexting-angry momThe hypocrisy, of course, is that in articles that harshly judge teenagers for sexting, and condemn girls for “sexualizing themselves,” the adults who illustrate these stories seem to have no qualms with producing sexual images of teenage girls. Apparently it’s only a moral problem when the girls create such images themselves. When adults choose, create, publish, and look at these images it seems to be no big deal. These stories, and the broader mass media landscape that routinely offers sexualized and objectifying images of women, are saying to teenage girls: Do as we say, not as we do.

It would be fair, or at least consistent if we either (1) stopped creating and looking at any objectifying images of women or (2) if we could stop shaming girls (and women) for participating in the production of these images.