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.

CEOP to parents: Don’t panic about sexting

CEOP’s new sexting PSAs seems like a step in the right direction. They focus on telling parents not to panic about sexting, and to instead try to listen to their kids and understand why they do it. The videos make a good comparison when the narrator (an adult) remembers how her parents disliked her outfits as a teen and suggests that sexting is similar–a way for teens to “feel good about themselves,” “push boundaries,” and “experiment.” I think this may be the first PSA that offers the crucial message that sexting is not wrong and deviant; teens often do it simply for pleasure and that it’s not something to worry about in and of itself. These videos also include the important point that forwarding a private photo without permission is a serious violation.

The impact of abstinence-only education on rape victims

Famous kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart speaks out against abstinence-only education:

When Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins University panel last week, she explained one of the factors deterring her from escaping her attacker: She felt so worthless after being raped that she felt unfit to return to her society, which had communicated some hard and fast rules about premarital sexual contact.

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence,” Smart told the panel. “And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

Survivors of rape and trafficking, she said, need to be “given permission to fight back,” and that requires them “to know you are of value.”

Full video here.

albury sexting report coverA fantastic new report on sexting from Kath Albury, Kate Crawford, Paul Byron, and Ben Mathews was released today. They offer a list of practical recommendations that legislators, educators, prosecutors, and parents would do well to take into account. Here are some highlights of the report’s excellent recommendations:

  • We recommend that both educational and legal responses to sexting reflect ‘harm reduction’ principles rather than promoting abstinence from the production and exchange of digital photos between peers or from using social media.
  • We recommend that sexting education be more focused on fostering ethical, respectful practices between intimate partners and within friendship networks.
  • We recommend that educational strategies that address sexting, including information resources for adults, seek to problematise and challenge gendered double-standards in relation to concepts such as ‘provocativeness’, ‘self-confidence’, ‘responsibility’, ‘consequences’ and ‘reputation’.
  • We recommend that educational strategies that address sexting, including information resources for adults, distinguish between non-consensual production and distribution of sexting images and consensual image sharing.
  • These educational strategies should emphasise ethical frameworks, and recognise that sexting can be an expression of intimacy, rather than shaming young people for sexting. Framing sexual expression only as a risk does little to alleviate anxieties or feelings of shame that young people may experience in relation to their sexualities.

What should we teach kids instead of “stranger danger?”

Tech Mommy explains:

I’ve decided not to teach my daughter about stranger danger.

I’m replacing “Don’t talk to strangers” with “Don’t keep secrets from Mommy and Daddy”. …

I’m replacing “Don’t trust men in vans” with “Trust your instincts.” …

I’m replacing “Don’t tell anyone your name” with “Use the correct name for your body parts.” …

If something doesn’t feel right, I want her to tell me. If one of her friends is being hurt, I want her to tell me. If someone older than her asks her to keep a secret, I want her to tell me.

via LK

Sexting 101

As a result of a 2011 Texas law, schools in that state are required to provide students with an educational program about sexting. After skimming the course materials online, I took the 30-question quiz and scored only 85%! It didn’t reveal which answers I got wrong, but I suspect I missed some of the technical legal questions, like whether a particular type of sexting could be a class A, B, or C misdemeanor. Many of the questions are more subjective:

If you engage in sexting behaviors, your relationships with friends and family can be negatively affected in what ways?

* A. Others may think of you as “easy” or sexually active

* B. You may attract the unwanted attention of predators

* C. Others may be embarrassed to be seen with you

* D. All of the above