Abstinence only message goes online

The Office of Public Health and Science’s website 4parents.gov has launched a new campaign that encourages parents to talk to their children about remaining abstinent until marriage. The facts offered to parents such as the Birth Control Chart skew towards the negative (e.g., publishing typical use rather than perfect use failure rates), but at least they cite all their sources.

On the site’s homepage you can view a Public Service Announcement which says “Tell your kids you want them to wait ’til they’re married to have sex.” An acknowledgment about sex information online is there too (“So talk to me about sex. ‘Cause…It’s all over the Internet).

More harm than good?

I was quickly disappointed after I saw a headline that read “Teens learn about sex online” on a South Georgia news channel. After the initial excitement, I was immediately brought back to reality.

There is really no meat to the story. Just quotes from an angry mom with five teens who says she doesn’t like the idea of her kids looking up information about sex online. And a shout-out to www.scarleteen.com, which, incidentally, is one of the most progressive sites related to young adult and teen sexuality. Not exactly representative. But then again, maybe that is why South Georgia chose it. Or maybe it was because they have no idea what is going on. Either way, this is not the message I like to see reaching the general population on this topic. Couldn’t the newscasters have gone a little more in depth?

Sigh…

Normal vs. Normative

In our never-ending desire to try to figure out if something (especially if it concerns sexuality and/or sexual desire) is “normal,” why don’t we first check to see whether something is “normative” — i.e., how typical it is in the general population? Because, you see, if it is “normative,” that means a lot of people are doing it — “normal” or not.

So, what is normative? Visiting web sites with “adult content,” that’s what. In April of 2007, according to CNN’s reporting of comScore Media Metrix statistics, “more than a third of the U.S. Internet audience visited sites that fit into the online “adult” category.”

But is it “normal” to do this? Well, if you believe the answer is “yes,” that viewing adult content online is not only normal but also non-problematic, then the buck stops here. People like to look at sexual content and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, if you believe the answer is “no,” it is not normal to do this, then you need to face the facts — since it is so normative to look at adult content online, then the “problem” cannot be addressed on an individual level (i.e., through counseling or other therapeutic techniques), but on a societal level — something this prevalent yet supposedly problematic needs a systemic solution, a new way of thinking.

This CNN article believes that there are problems with this normative behavior. It stresses that the problems lie in the way they impact young women. That young women have come to believe that “unapologetic embracing of sexuality and exhibitionism” is not only the norm, but the way to get attention and approval.

I have commented on this before, but this phenomenon and the way we are addressing it deserve a lot of attention. The research community is depending on psychologists to tell us how internet sexuality is impacting young women. Like this article, most of the information we are gathering is anecdotal and coming from the expert opinions of counselors and therapists, who by nature address problems on an individual level. This perspective is needed, but it is not enough. We need to get at the root of how normative these behaviors are before we tackle a solution.

We need to start seeing internet sexuality as a public health issue.