Finding Quality Sex Information

One would hope that finding trustworthy answers to your sex questions would be easy. It’s not. Given our country’s important emphasis on free speech, incorrect “factoids” about sex and other health issues (and heck, any issue for that matter) are abundant.

The preponderance of advice boards adds to the foray. In many places, anyone can post a question, and anyone can respond to said question. Even if these responses are well-intentioned, it doesn’t mean they are accurate.

To take things further, sometimes professionals don’t always agree on the facts of sexual health. Just today, on one of my listservs which is made up of sex therapists, educators, and health care professionals, there was high disagreement as to whether the herpes virus could be contracted via a vibrator. Some said never, some said only if shared with a person with active infections within mintues of viral contact, some said the virus could potentially live on the device for up to two weeks, using an analogy that some viruses can live in dried blood for that long, and if there was blood on the vibrator…

I can’t give you the answer to this question, as it remained relatively unresolved. A medical professional consulted with an STD expert, but I am hesitant to say what she said in case it is not the correct response. In short, hundreds of “sexperts” could not come up with a difinitive answer to this question after debating it for several days. If that happens to us, imagine how a teen feels trying to find out the answer to her question about how to find out if she is pregnant or not? How does a guy even begin to sift through the information he finds about the relative safety of a particular sexual act (providing he even tries to go to more than one source)?

We need to educate EVERYONE about how to sift through all the crap on the web to find quality information. And then, we simply hope that that quality information is actually right.

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The MySpace Trend

MySpace has been the target of a lot of bad press recently — some of it rightly so, given the news about how a child molester used this site to assault young girls. Unfortunately, MySpace is not the only website used in this manner. So why pick on it more than the others? Simple: MySpace is huge. It was the 8th most visited site in January 2006 (comScore Media Metrix).

MySpace allows anyone 14 and over to post a profile. In just over two years, it has over 54 million viewers with 150,000 signing up every day. About 1 in 4 are minors, according to the New York Sun (Wall Street Journal reports that 19% of users are under 17).

So, what you have essentially is a community of 54 million people — some adults, some children. Some good people, some not so good people, some bad people. In a virtual city with a population of California and Texas combined, there are bound to be bad people. While it’s important to emphasize internet safety, we should also remember that cyberspace is just one place where the bad guys hang out. It’s also a place where some good people hang out too.

Our three biggest fears

I think one of the reasons there is so much sensationalism around teen internet use is because this phenomenon touches on three of our society’s biggest mysteries: teens, sex, and technology. Thus, I have renamed my blog “The Virtual Mystery Tour.”

I think it’s important for us adults to understand the teen cyberworld without infringing upon it. Teen cyberspace is precious to them because it is relatively confidential and it’s been primarily their domain — it’s the secret clubhouse, or the big homemade “do not disturb” sign hung outside their bedroom doors. Teens are the first generation who have grown up with the World Wide Web as an everyday part of their lives. They still deserve some privacy, but that shouldn’t stop us from understanding it a little better so that we can understand its appeal.

Advice boards

I don’t want to knock all advice boards. Some of them are good — damn good. The one at Sex, Etc. http://www.sxetc.org is closely monitored and often has health experts answering questions. You will also get a lot of good information on Planned Parenthood’s http://www.teenwire.com, and then there is http://www.gurl.com, which usually provides good information, but is less consistent.

Then, you go to larger web sites with more generalized discussion boards and get stuff like this:

Infection (3 replies) 02/03/2006
I think I might have a yeast infection. Can somebody tell me some symptoms to this and what exactly it is so I know if I should ask my doctor for help??

RE: Infection 02/03/2006
no, but it just is really itchy all the time.

RE: Infection 02/03/2006
a yeast infection is when ther e is somthing odd (normally food) down there, and ussually bugs come down there (eww, i know..) so think about it: have u been puttin stuff down there u shouldn’t be?

RE: Infection 02/03/2006
if it hurts to pee and is itchy down there then it might be one. if you think you have one go to the drugstore and buy a box of monostat or whatever it’s called. it will be gone in a couple days….

How is a teen supposed to know which advice to follow? What is good and what is bad information? And wouldn’t you think that these larger, for-profit web sites with tons of advertising dollars would care enough to invest in a board moderator?

An experiment

I went to myspace.com to see how teens present themselves to the world. Since I am interested in sex and relationships, I browsed women, aged 18-19 who were single and looking for dating or a relationship. Some of the screen names on the first page were:

xUrBaNxFanTasY
Love Me
Tingles
Tequilia Makes My Clothes Fall Off
Baby Girl
BaBy DeVIL
sexychica18

PriceLess Beauty is wearing a fur coat and lingerie. When you click on her link, her website states that she is “the best thing that NEVER happened to you.”

xUrBaNxFanTasY doesn’t have much information in her space, but her entire “About Me” section consists of a single phrase:

xSouLxLesSx

Two women are in bikinis — one didn’t even bother to include her face.

These are the ways that young women choose to represent themselves to the online community in hopes of finding a relationship.