Cutest video ever!

In the spirit of sharing links and encouraging sex education online, I want to show off Marvin and his Condom Friends — an animated short about proper condom use designed for middle schoolers. Marvin’s story is part of a larger sex ed curriculum It’s Your Game, Keep It Real that includes both in-class and computer-based lessons. He and the condom team are cute and seem to go over the basics on proper condom use. Except what happened to the important lesson of leaving room at the tip? This video gets it right, but isn’t as entertaining as talking condoms. And the follow-up interactive lesson provided by It’s Your Game does make a point of it, but IMO, can be overlooked.

I’d love to know what you think! Would you be happy to see Marvin at your middle school? What would you do if you saw a thirteen-year-old checking out these videos?

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Back from Sex::Tech!

Whew! What a great experience. I was exhausted at the end of both days, mostly because I think there was a lot to process. Most the conferences I go to are of the “academic nerd” type, and focus mostly on research. The sex::tech conference was mostly about what people are DOING. I liked that change of pace, but sometimes I struggled with it because I wanted to know if things actually WORKED.

Best overall resource goes to Sexuality and U, based out of Canada. Lots of interactive tools as well as information — I especially like the contraceptive choice tool, but it’s hard to pass up the Sex-Fu Challenge — who doesn’t want to become a Master in that domain? The representatives of Sexuality and U were very open about admitting to the lack of diversity on their site, especially in relation to sexual minority populations. But they are working on it! It was also cool to hear that Advocates for Youth will also be updating their site, adding more interactive features.

One of the big take-away messages for me was that we are all struggling to figure out the best ways to use technology to help youth live safer, happier and fulfilling lives. The emphasis on positivity as opposed to fear was refreshing. And the abundance of youth present at the sessions kept us honest and in-check. If, after all, we claim to want to help these folks, not including them in our discussions is a big mistake. A special thanks to all who attended and extra kudos to those who were brave enough to speak out.

Cyberbullying and sexuality

In converstations and presentations, I have often remarked on how in coverage of cyberbullying, the sexual component is often ignored — yet it is an integral part of this phenomenon. Another example of how cyberbullying and sexuality often go hand in hand is the story featured in the San Jose Mercury News this week about a “practical joke” in which classmates placed an ad in a 15-year-old’s name soliciting sex with men, listing his home phone number. They also hacked into his MySpace profile, changing his orientation to “gay.” The boy and his family received a ton of phone calls and the boy himself ended up dropping out of school over the incident.

The article in the Mercury chooses to focus on cyberbullying in general, why it happens (the anonymity effect), and how this type of bullying leaves a “paper trail” making it easy to catch those who do it. But the sex conversation is lost, even though the other example given concerned a “slut list” of 23 girls created on MySpace by San Jose middle school students.

At the Sex Tech Conference this week, I hope to convey the message that talk about cyberbullying and online safety cannot be done without explicitly talking about sex and sexuality. They are so intertwined — why is sex not entering the conversation? Well, we know why — because sex talk is avoided whenever possible. But if we are to create effective interventions around healthy internet use, this disconnect needs to end.

Virtual Today, Reality Tomorrow

The cover story of my alumni rag, The Stanford Magazine, gives us a sneak peek into how researchers there are investigating the effects of online interactions and subsequent IRL behaviors. Example: people who were assigned more attractive avatars on a mock online dating site were more likely to approach more attractive people in a real-life interaction later on. Conclusion? We looked good during the online encounter and therefore our confidence increased; that confidence continued into our physical world existence and behaviors. Crazy, huh?

Here’s something a little more creepy. Dr. Nick Yee, a researcher at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has noted that the virtual world of Second Life tends to be an exaggerated, stereotypical version of the one we currently live in. And the avatars tend to reflect “an overemphasis on looking stereotypically good.” The implications? Gender stereotypes and expectations of beauty are reinforced, not challenged. Uh-oh. I know I am guilty of this. My avatar in Second Life (a total noob, but she is out there once in a Blue Moon) is sexy and cute, and she could just as easily be the opposite. But it’s hard to do something like that. I don’t think I would enjoy walking around looking less than spectacular. That may say something — a lot — about who I am, but I am by no means alone. I want to look good and Second Life offers me that option.

This work piggybacks on previous research that states that youth tend to engage in online pretending more to create an ideal self — a slightly exaggerated version of who they already are — not to reinvent themselves. So, if they create an ideal self, will they become it? Stay tuned. There’s more work to be done.

Self-Promotion for the Greater Good

As a professional sex educator, I belong to AASECT, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. One group of savvy, dedicated, people. The listserv there is an invaluable resource for those of us who yearn for sound information and advice about working in this field. Yeah, sex can be lonely at times.

Currently, there is a discussion thread on the value of self-promotion. And a particular post struck me. It was written by M. Francesca Gentille, of Personal Life Media; I post an excerpt from it with her permission:

“If we choose not do undertake when we are authors, media producers, workshop leaders, counselors, educators and/or therapists, we may be failing the very community we wish to serve.

Why? Because without promotion (etc) they won’t be able to find us, even when they are seeking us.

I imagine that promotion and marketing have gotten a bad name because we often perceive that soulless business corporations, that care less for our wellness than our cash, are manipulating our ego or arousal to have us purchase products we don’t need. To reach the public, we must release this negative and limiting belief. We know our own intentions and product (information – education – training). We must breakthrough our own resistance and even the concerns of our peers, to reach out. I encourage us to continue to lovingly support, cheer on, encourage, and applaud one another’s efforts of promotion.

As Marty says, there is a war against vibrant sexuality in our country (and in other countries as well). It is an often a covert war of manipulation, misinformation, and scapegoating. It takes courage, commitment, and endurance to keep fighting this war in our minds, our bodies, our homes, our religions, our offices, our schools, our workshops, and in our media ( books, articles, interviews, radio, and TV).

It is hard enough “out there.” At times I have been vilified by my neighbors for being a sex counselor. (Due to their fears and misinterpretations)… kudo’s to ALL of you for your efforts out in the world. Let me know how I may support you to do more and be more effective in getting your message out to the world.”

Since I could not have said it better myself, I didn’t try. Thank you, Francesca, and if any of you out there need help promoting your quest for healthy sexuality (not those money-making “soulless” gimmicks referred to above), let me know.

All but one: 49 states sign off on MySpace safety rules

MySpace and 49 U.S. state attorneys general agreed on some safety guidelines for protecting youths on the Internet. According to Reuters, measures include creating an e-mail registry that would allow parents to prevent their children from creating an online profile for the network and making the default profile setting for 16 and 17-year-olds “private” “so they can only be contacted by people they know, making it harder for sexual predators to find them.”

Texas was the only state to abstain (gee, I see a trend with that place….)

Although I appreciate the sincerity behind creating these guidelines, I still feel they aren’t taking us in the right direction — and potentially leave people with a false sense of security. Creating a registry to prevent a youth from creating an online profile? Wow, that’s a stumbling block. It’s so hard to get a new email account to bypass this hurdle. It might take 5 minutes out of a youth’s busy day! And it’s not like there aren’t other options. Only MySpace is a part of this deal. What about the other social networking sites? Or is MySpace the only trouble area in the eyes of the attorneys general?

And making the default setting for older teens “private”? I haven’t looked into this (not being 16 or 17 myself, thank goddess), but I am assuming the default can be changed by said youth if desired. Or, the oh-so-difficult process of lying about one’s age can overcome anything that is perceived as a barrier. That is, if one wants to have a public profile. Many teens choose to keep things private. So, these aren’t the youth that will benefit from this change in regulations. They are already protecting themselves!

Midwest Teen Sex Show on CBS

CBS reports on The Midwest Teen Sex Show, a video available for podcast that addresses teen sexuality using a young, frank, silly approach. Though touted in this article as “sex ed,” I don’t think that is what the Teen Sex Show is. I like how sex educator Erika Pluhar states it in the CBS article: “I would want them to be dialogue starters, rather than stop, period, end of sentence.” And indeed, the show itself has a disclaimer identifying it as entertainment and a conversation starter. And even in one of the blog comments, creator Nikol says “We are not educators. We do not pretend to be. This is not an educational site and it is not intended for children to view.”

So, why CBS calls it “education” is beyond me.

The show does address some very taboo topics. Anal sex, for one. While there is some good information hidden among the dialogue (ease your way into it, make sure you use plenty of lube), I wonder if the focus on “poop” is for humor or to somehow turn youth off to the idea while simultaneously offering information. Hard to tell. Based on the comments offered by people, they seemed to like the “do unto others” moral of the story and ignored the “messy” focus all together.