A recent presentation at the American Public Health Association Conference reported the differences in sexual behavior between youth that have smart phones versus less sophisticated ones. in a nutshell, of the teens (from LA) surveyed, those with smartphones were more likely to have sex, have sex without a condom, meet others online for sex, and be sexually solicited than teens without Internet access on their phones,
Although most press coverage consisted of the same content, the headlines varied greatly. The US News and World Report simply stated Smartphones linked to sexual activity in teens: Dull, but to the point and accurate. Kudos as well to the New York Daily News (yes, you read that right — they did good here) for having a slightly more sensational headline, but still getting the facts right:
Lead researcher Eric Rice of USC School of Social Work did a great job of representing his work accurately and was lucky enough to be quoted well in the articles at least. I continue to hope for a day when teen sexuality is NOT used to grab attention by being portrayed in a scandalous, irresponsible manner. If we want them to be mature about their sexual decision making, the least us adults could do is set a good example for them.
A great article in the New York Times discusses what to do if your child views online pornography — either intentionally or not. At this point, seeing online pornography, as quoted in the article, is practically “inevitable.” No amount of filters, Net Nannies, or other software is going to prevent at least some sexually explicit images from finding their way to the front of a young person’s gaze. And since schools aren’t going to introduce this topic into their sex ed anytime soon, it’s up to parents and other adults to be the educators here.
So, what to do? The first thing (and probably the hardest!) is to act calmly. Freaking out doesn’t help in most circumstances, and rarely in this one. Sexual curiosity is natural. Remember when you were younger and flipped through a Playboy or even a National Geographic in hopes of seeing nude images? What’s very different today is that more “hard core” stuff is more readily available and it’s more likely that a young person — even if he or she is purposefully looking for sexual content — is going to get more than they bargained for when clicking on some links. So, when you learn that your child does see something explicit, take a deep breath, know it was bound to happen, and be grateful that you have the chance to debrief them on what they saw. Really.
Other things to discuss? It’s important to discuss the business and biases of pornography. Porn is not real sex, and the people in it are not real (in that the images have been very altered if not the bodies of the models), and the messages about sex and sexual desire are not real…you get the idea. Porn is fantasy, not reality, and when a young person is exploring sexuality, it is very important to get that message across.
Those are “atypical bodies” and “atypical activities”
“It’s edited” or “photoshopped”
“Adults play sex games”
“Different people relate to porn differently – how does it affect you?”
Ideally, you will have a few casual conversations about pornography before being faced with a need to immediately address the issue. But even if you have your first conversation in a “intervention” moment, try to embrace the chance to talk to your child about how healthy sex and sexual expression are not what they just witnessed. They’ll probably be relieved to hear it.
As a sexuality educator, I am very excited to see these. They give schools a place to start when wondering what to teach and when. It guides people through age and developmentally appropriate, evidence-based, medically accurate, sexuality education guidelines — and manages to do so in a manageable 40 pages or so.
The highlight for me was the fact that by the end of the 8th grade, the Standards suggest that young people are able to recognize, analyze, and negotiate the role that technology plays in relationships (p. 18). They also suggest that young people learn how to negotiate technology use in their relationships. These lessons are to be repeated (and most likely beefed up) during the high school years (p. 33). It’s important to bring up topics like cyberstalking and online romances into the classroom — it allows young people to understand what a healthy relationship looks like. The Standards also clearly state that both the “advantages and disadvantages” be discussed, hopefully steering educators away from fear-based messages, which simply will not work.
And while I applaud the Standards for highlighting the need to teach young people the role that technology plays in shaping and influencing relationships, I feel they fell short of integrating technology into the standards. What about using the internet as a resource to access information? Use cell phones as a tool to help them maintain sexual health? Yes, there is a brief mention of technology when discussing how media influences perceptions of sexuality (p. 11), but I don’t think that statement goes far enough. I think it’s about time that the internet get it’s own category, instead of incorporating it under the generic “media influences” where it can easily be over-looked in favor of TV and music. I also think there needs to be an explicit standard that would have young people learn the proper ways to search for accurate and reliable information online.
So, yes, the standards just came out. But when is the planning for the first revision coming out?
I Want the Kit, a website that offers free chlamydia tests is only available in a few select areas (Alaska, Denver, CO, Maryland, West Virginia, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and parts of Illinois), but it seems to make a big impact. About half its users are under 23 — not surprising since this is the demographic that is most at-risk for STIs, most likely to go online, and most likely to lack access to insurance and have no other place to go for health care.
A study out of Johns Hopkins found that women who sent tests into I Want the Kit had infection rates between 4-15% — positive tests mostly came from those who rarely get health check-ups and have limited or no health insurance. For comparison, 3-6% of women who get tested at family planning clinics test positive for Chlamydia infections. So, rates are higher for those who choose the online test. But that simply could be due to the age bracket — or is it something else?
Another study out of UCLA looked at the internet habits of homeless youth. They were surprised to find that almost 80% of these young people use social networking at least weekly. The potential downside of this usage is that over 20% percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online in the past three months, and more than 10% engaged in “exchange sex” — trading sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.
However, those who used social networking to meet sexual partners were also more likely to discuss safer sex practices. And homeless youth who used social networking in general were more likely to have been tested for HIV and STIs.
So, maybe there is something else about the people who go online to get information about sexual health. They might simply be the people who know they need resources, but aren’t sure where else to go to get them. And that’s not such a bad finding after all.
I am not surprised that teens are looking for new ways to hide drinking from their parents. This has been happening for generations. I am, however, surprised to think that teens are willing to endure the burning that a vodka-infused tampon must elicit. I’m highly interested in learning more about the actual physical dangers that putting a tampon soaked in vodka can have on a woman’s vagina/vaginal opening and/or the anus. It can’t be good.
Parents, if you notice that your daughter is suddenly going through more tampons than normal, or that your son is very willing to hang out in the feminine product aisle, you might want to start asking some pretty personal questions.
*safest with a condom *Thank you Mommy Is Moody for the fabulous title