Teens creating "adult" content

I have been wondering about teens who write fanfiction and more specifically whether teens write stories that are rated “mature” for sexual content. This interest stems from my overall interest in how the internet impacts sexuality and sexual development and also from the fact that when I was young I was an avid fan of several TV shows (and starstuck by the leads) that were popular back then. I can’t help but wonder how large a role fandom would have played in my life had Television Without Pity existed when I was a kid.

From a research standpoint I have taken a very strategic approach to this question through triangulation. I study the impact of the internet on teen sexuality while also investigating adult-authored erotic fanfiction. Eventually, I tell myself, it will be “safe” to actually take a systematic look at how teens use fanfiction to express their sexuality — or at the very least write about sex. But today I simply decided to take a little sneak peek to answer the simple question: Do teens write sexually explicit material and publish it online?

Answer: Of course they do.

In about 15 minutes of exploring a popular fanfiction site, I read one story about Draco giving Harry a blow job and another featuring two characters on the OC having wild sex after a party (red lingerie included). Both stories were allegedly written by 17-year-old women (pictures and “about me” statements included in their bios help validate their claims).

So, what to make of this? Not sure. Should we cringe at the very idea that teens are writing stories that they are banned from purchasing? Or should we celebrate the fact that they are expressing themselves sexually in a relatively safe environment? I mean, you can’t get pregnant or an STD from writing sexy stories now, can you? And at least they are not sending naked pictures of themselves, a crime with potentially serious consequences.

It will be a long while before anyone really pays attention to this phenomenon. But when they do, you can bet adults will be upset. Adults are always upset when they hear stories about teens expressing their sexuality — never mind their sexual desire. And writing fanfiction is all about desire. I just hope that when people realize this is going on, that there are many worse things out there that can actually cause harm.

Children "harming" themselves

Another story about youth sending naked pictures of themselves to each other through their cell phones. This one is a little different because it involves middle school students (6th and 7th graders) instead of the usual “barely legal” kids that are getting caught. The charge against them was also interesting; each of the four youth (two boys, two girls) were charged with possessing “material harmful to minors,” a misdemeanor. Though much better than slapping these young persons with child pornography charges (a felony subject to resulting in sex offender registration), the phrasing of the law is rather striking here. Images of their bodies are harmful to themselves? Or, taken in a more adolescent egocentric way “a picture of my body can cause harm to my friend? I didn’t think I looked that bad…”

I understand when laws are in place to prevent such picture sharing when the goal is to protect youth from the potential mass distribution of a photo they only meant their current sweetie/crush/lust object to see. But to charge them with possessing a picture that would harm them in some way? That to me seems a bit odd, disconcerting, and potentially backfiring:
“Why was I arrested, officer?”
“Because you had in your possession some pictures that can cause you harm.”
“But that’s a picture of my girlfriend. I think she is beautiful. I dig her.”
“You mean that a picture of me naked might mess someone up?”

You can see where unhealthy lessons about sexuality and body image can easily be the take home messages here.

Big Surprise: Single Women Have Sex, Too!

As a single woman, a media update from Guttmacher landed in my inbox today and elicited a “Hello Captain Obvious!” reaction from me; “Single Women Have Sex Too”. According to the census, there are over 1.3 million single women in the United States. The Guttmacher Institute acknowledges that these women are having sex, but are being unfairly educated with “abstinence-only” education. Something isn’t right here. Teenagers are having sex, single people are having sex, married people are having sex, but schools are still not educating people. I don’t understand. (Well, when I think about politics, I understand, but it still makes very little sense to me.)

“For the majority of adult women, living without a partner does not mean living without sex,” says study author Laura Lindberg. “Yet policymakers continue to promote policies that fly in the face of reality. By neglecting to teach our youth how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we leave them ill prepared to become sexually healthy adults.”

While the topic, at first, seems distant from our regular discussions, I would be curious to see more research done on how the internet is doing the sexual educating that schools aren’t. I will be excited to see, later in my life, whether or not the single women of the next generation will be having safer sex due to their internet education.

Lindberg probably puts it best with that last quoted line – if our teenagers don’t learn how to have safe sex, how are future adults going to know how?

To emphasize or de-emphasize danger?

In a battle of the experts, Dr. Amy Tiemann takes issue with David Pogue’s New York Times article How Dangerous is the Internet for Children? His answer: not very. Her answer: there are still risks! Of course, both are right. But I still side with Pogue.

Pogue may have gone overboard by writing “I could not find a single example of a preteen getting abducted and murdered by an Internet predator,” because Tiemann rebuts with an example of a 13-year-old who was abducted and killed, balking at the idea of an arbitrary age cutoff. Still going to her tragic example’s memory page, one still cannot determine the important factor: Did this young girl willingly go off with this man? Sure, the parents state that they knew their daughter would never go off with a man she didn’t know and without telling her family, but, do we really know that was the case? Of course this young girl did not ask to be murdered. She wanted only good to come out of her online friendship. But I hesitate to say that a child will ALWAYS tell their parents EVERYTHING.

A horrible story? Yes. But again, we need to ask: How typical is it? The answer, by investigating news stories and research remains the same — highly unlikely. As Pogue states “The tales of pedophiles luring children out of their homes are like plane crashes: they happen extremely rarely, but when they do, they make headlines everywhere.”

It’s the nature of the beast: media cover sensational stories and we respond viscerally to them. But the same way I still plan to get on an airplane tomorrow, so should parents allow their children to explore the internet. Should we use precautions? Heck yes. I fasten my seatbelt, fly on professional airlines, and listen to the safety warnings. Internet users can benefit from similar safety precautions. But let’s not prevent the journeys they will take from happening at all.

Pornography Support to Effect Planned Parenthood Funding

Conservative, pro-life government officials like Steve King* of Iowa and Joseph Pitts* of Pennsylvania are asking for federal funding to be pulled from a Planned Parenthood subsidiary – the website TeenWire – as it recently posted an article which seems to promotes teen use of pornography. According to Planned Parenthood’s 2005-2006 Annual Report, they received approximately $305 million in federal funding, and when there are no federal programs out there which promote comprehensive sexuality education (teaching about abstinence and contraception), representatives are apt to frown upon monies being used for that purpose.

Unfortunately, even for this free-sexuality-expression supporter, the issue isn’t black and white. While I support the encouragement of masturbation and outercourse for teens in relationships looking for sexual gratification, backing underage pornography viewing is dangerous territory. TeenWire’s piece on Birth Control Choices For Teens encourage “safer” sex with by suggesting using fantasy in relationships: “many couples can read or watch sexy stories or pictures together. They can also share or act out sexy fantasies. People do it in person, on the phone, surfing the Internet, or through e-mail or instant messaging.”

Another advice piece, Porn vs. Reality, reminds readers of the site (which is geared to “to provide medically accurate sexual health information for teens on the Internet”) that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to view pornography. However, TeenWire also acknowledges that not everyone follows the rules and then provides a pseudo-warning; “people have different ideas of what is arousing, and there are many different kinds of porn that appeal to people’s different interests.”

Akin to abstinence-plus sexuality education, this “warning” acknowledges that just because teens are told not to do something doesn’t mean that all of them are going to obey (and that they should be careful looking for porn as they might come across something they don’t want to see). TeenWire offers a disclaimer or sorts for those that are unwilling to follow the rules; but does this promote more underage pornography viewing? Opponents to broad sexuality education argue that teaching teens about sex leads to more sex; but what do you think? Does teaching teens about pornography lead them to use more pornography?

A link to the original article that prompted this entry.
Dr. Karen Rayne helps a teenager at her church buy a vibrator.
Reproductive Health Reality Check addresses the defunding of Planned Parenthood’s preventative health care measures.

*Specific representative names found on this article.