Thursday, December 11, 2008

Teens share risky photos online

Finally! Researchers are starting to catch on to what teens are doing online! The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released its findings on the sharing of photos online and reveal that 22 percent of all teen girls say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.

Although not surprising, this next statistic is the one that should make teens think: One-third of teen boys and one-quarter of teen girls say they have had nude/semi-nude images — originally meant to be private — shared with them. The message? If you send it out, others will see it -- and you can't control who those others are.

It's hard for a teen to imagine that their situation is just like any other. They want to believe that they can trust their friends and/or partners to not pass on things meant for their eyes only. But the reality is, is that teens like to be a part of things -- and those things sometimes include gossip and what they consider "fun." Just as a teen may be all-too-quick to think it's a good idea to flash for the camera, another teen sees only the good in passing that photo onto others as they hastily hit the "forward" button.

Yet another call for electronic media literacy.

You can read the full report Sex and Tech here. But you can bet I will be spending more time talking about the results soon!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Update on Me

The fabulous sexuality educator Karen Rayne interviewed me for a piece about YouTube and what parents need to know. I am linking to it here, but promise that I will be updating my own blog in the near future!

Meanwhile, I have been doing a lot in the world of teens and sexuality! I recently spoke at a Teen Night hosted by OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) -- the topic was, of course, about teens online! We had a great group of young people and we mostly chatted about the best ways to educate their peers about the potential dangers of online. We talked quite a bit about child pornography laws and most of what I said was news to them! They told me it was very important that people their age learn about the laws related to sending naked pictures of themselves, because even though it might be a "dumb idea" it still happens.

I am also in the throes of planning the wonderful Adolescent Sexuality Conference in Seaside, OR! There will be some presentations that address technology, and others that speak more broadly to teen sexuality. Save the dates -- April 6-7, 2009.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Internet addiction

While I still haven't really formed an educated opinion about online addiction, I know a sad, compelling case when I see it. Brandon Crisp, a 15-year-old from Barrie, Ontario, was found dead as a result of chest injuries sustained when he fell out of a tree.

The reason he was in the tree in the first place was because he ran away after an argument with his parents over what they called his "obsession with an Xbox video game"

In an article in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Crisp's parents describe their son's increasing need to play video games. The teen stated he stayed in better touch with his friends this way (instead of visiting them). Then, he pushed his parents to the limit when he skipped school in order to play. As many parents would do, they responded to his truancy by seemingly removing the problem -- they took his Xbox away. He responded by running away, which resulted in his death.

We desperately need to better understand the levels of need the internet plays in various people's lives. And we need to get a grasp on how to treat dependence on this medium. Clearly, in this case, cold turkey was not the answer and resulted in a tragic ending. But, is this case just a fluke, or should we warn parents NOT to limit gaming time if they fear their children are too wrapped up in it, at the expense of other activities? It's too soon to tell. But, if this case tells us anything, it's to be watchful for dependence on the internet and possibly work on intervening sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Unreal and Sad

I've been mulling over how to write this post for several weeks now, and am still at a loss for words. A study issued by internet security company McAfee found that about two-thirds of mothers of teens in the United States are just as, or more, concerned about their teenagers online safety as they are about drunk driving and experimenting with drugs.

This is so wrong that I don't know where to start. Luckily, Larry Magdid did all the work for me, breaking down the actual statistics related to the risks of online predators, drug use, and drunk driving among youth. Of course you know the bottom line: Teens are MUCH more likely to experience harm as a result of drunk driving or drug use than they are by surfing the web, or even visiting MySpace. Yet, somehow, parents are nervous as hell about something that really is quite safe. Being online, while it can have negative consequences, is not nearly as detrimental to a young person's health as substance use. We can't say it enough.

This is one of those cases where it is tempting to blame the media -- newscasts, To Catch a Predator, talk shows -- they all do a great job of scaring the crap out of adults by sensationalizing how "easy" it is for adults to target teens for sexual exploit. But research shows that the teens are smarter than their potential aggressors: as this article states, online sexual predation is extremely rare and teens aren't really even distressed by the infrequent sexual solicitations that they receive online.

But the issue is more complex than that -- in order for parents to buy into this media bias, they have to lack the basic understanding of how the media work and the realities of its impact. Just as I stress the need for schools to integrate internet safety/etiquette/etc. into its curricula, I also feel it is important to reach out to parents who aren't sure about the true ins and outs of interactive media. While there is no question that parents can be harder to reach than their children, this study demonstrates that their education is just as important if not moreso.

In the meantime, I hope that parents don't forgo conversations about drunk driving and drug use, replacing them with rehashed versions of the "don't talk to strangers" speech. Sure, that has it's place to, but let's not misplace our concerns of where the dangers really lie.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More on Child Pornography Laws Gone Wrong

This story has been getting a lot of press: As in so many other instances mentioned in this blog and elsewhere, a teen-aged girl takes naked pictures of herself and sends them to her friends (or whomever). Then, she gets caught and prosecutors wonder what to charge her with -- after all, she did send sexual pictures of a minor (that is, herself), which is a form of child pornography. The reason this particular case is getting a lot of attention is because in Ohio, if found guilty of distribution of child pornography, this girl could be required to register as a sex offender for at least 20 years. However, the judge has discretion as to whether this is the best punishment, given the accused's age (if she were 16, however, she would automatically be subject to adult penalties -- scary). Let's hope that, if found guilty, the judge shows some semblance of reason and does not force this girl to register just to "teach her a lesson." I think she gets the picture.

The other interesting issue coming up is how to charge the recipients of this self-created child porn. In this case, an 8th-grade boy was sent to juvenile detention on child pornography charges because a girl in his class sent him (and others) a naked picture of herself. Why this boy was targeted in particular is unclear. But, it brings up an important question: Are these children at fault if a classmate decides to send, unsolicited, an illegal photo of themselves? One day, you -- a middle school kid -- are at home/on a bus/waiting for class to start, and you check your text messages: Up pops a picture of someone you know, a classmate, naked. You are now in possession of felony material. You had no idea it was coming. What do you do?

This is a very real situation today and we need to talk to our kids about how to address the situation. Clearly, the worst thing these kids can do is forward the picture around or post it anywhere. That can only get them in more trouble. But, if we keep punishing those who do receive the pictures as well as take them, I believe we will decrease the likelihood that any of these young people will tell an adult about them. And that will drive the situation underground and may even increase the market for these pictures so that adults will get their hands on them more easily. And that, we can probably all agree, is something we don't want to happen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Might Work as a Deterrent...

Concerned your child might be tempted to send naked pictures of themselves to their sweetheart? Show them this article from the Denver Post, cut and pasted here in its entirety:

"ST. CHARLES, Ill. — A woman is accused of badgering her daughter's teenage ex-boyfriend with hundreds of e-mails and text messages and threatening to post nude images of him on the Internet unless he started seeing the girl again, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

According to a Sleepy Hollow police officer's sworn affidavit, investigators began looking into the matter Aug. 21 after the 13-year-old boy's parents reported he had received hundreds of threatening e-mails and text messages from the woman, the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights reported.

The parents told police that the boy and his 13-year-old girlfriend had exchanged nude photos of themselves over their cellphones, and that after the breakup, the girl's 42-year-old mother threatened to post the boy's pictures online unless he reunited with her daughter, the newspaper reported.

Police are pursuing counts of intimidation, harassment and child pornography possession in the case, according to the newspaper. Investigators are analyzing cellphones and computers seized from the girl's home and school.

Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti said that no charges have been filed and that the case has been turned over to a unit of the state's attorney office that handles Internet investigations.

He called it 'an odd situation.'"

This is wrong on so many levels, the main ones being:

1. Uh, how did the mother get a hold of these photos? This thirteen-year-old boy now lives with the fact that this lady has seen him naked. Yuck.

2. Not only has this lady seen him naked, but she now has the power to send this picture of him in his birthday suit to all her friends. Double Yuck.

This case should get kids to think more than twice before sending these types of pictures online or through their phones!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alarmists find new things to worry about

A news release by PRNewswire highlights "startling data" regarding young people's exposure to dubious content online -- the second component of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. A study conducted by Nielsen Online for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) found that:

-- "Nearly one in 20 teens online viewed drug-related videos during a one- month period" (uh, that means less than 5 percent, in case you haven't noticed. Not too earth-shattering, IMO) AND 35 percent were under age 16. This means that just over 1% of youth under 16 have seen a drug-related video in the past month. Yawn. It gets even sketchier when we take the next statistic:

-- Almost 40 percent of drug-related videos contain explicit use of drugs and/or intoxication.

Overall, it means this: less than two percent of youth have seen a video depicting the explicit use of drugs and/or alcohol in the past month. When considering only those youth under the age of 16, the number drops to under half a percent.

I got up for this? Seriously.

The article itself goes on to cite other statistics about exposure to questionable content online. But the sources are less than reputable (usually, sites trying to sell filter software), so are not worth repeating here.

While I commend researchers for looking beyong predator "stranger danger," I hope that findings such as these do not become the new reason to panic about internet use.

Friday, October 03, 2008

New Study Gets My Kudos!

Not that my blessing carries a lot of weight, but a Rochester Institute of Technology study of more than 40,000 adolescents in the New York area specifically acknowledges in its report that cyberabuse and offending can include "Sending sexual messages or solicitations for sex that are unwanted by recipients" (p. 7). Aha! Someone who explicitly states in a research document that youth send harassing messages that are sexual in nature to other youth! This is not a generic "cyberbullying" study, nor is it a concern for "stranger danger" and creepy adults. It's youth being sexual (in a negative way) towards other youth. And it is a problem, which they say begins in middle school (though one school district's children said it began in 2nd grade).

In addition, key findings from the 7th-9th grade sample include:
14% had "communicated online with someone about sexual things"
3% admitted to asking someone for a nude picture
3% admitted to soliciting sexual chat

And 15% of older high schoolers said they engaged in sexual chat. And one in four had been asked about sexual things online.

The "big surprise" is that most of this sexual communication is among peers. A small minority (15%) said that sexual communication occured between them and an adult. Now, 15% is by no means zero, but the bulk is friend-to-friend and peer-to-peer.

Hopefully, data like these can be used to inform educators, parents, and even legislators about where our priorties should lie. And, to me, that is in beefing up the material in our sex education curricula. Ah, I am so good at my one-note tune.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reading Between the Lines

I'm currently reading a dissertation as part of a reading committee. While I don't want to reveal too much (there's a lot of good stuff in here, and it's not my work to release), I will share one point that has me thinking. In the author's analysis of why the internet is conducive for fostering intimacy, she notes that even in the "lean nature of a brief electronic note," much can be said. In other words, we can read a lot into what is there, and feel the connection between another.

While I think this can be true, I also believe something else can happen: we can read a "lean" message and OVER-interpret its meaning. After all, sometimes a brief message is just that -- and there is no deeper meaning behind the words. I can see youth falling victim to something along these lines when getting a note from a crush or potential friend -- maybe because when I was young, I was vulnerable to this. I could dwell on the smallest little interaction, searching for the meaning behind it while the person in question had long since forgotten it: after all, there was no meaning to be had. I have since seen this tendency when I was a sexpert/relationship advice person for teens. One of the most common questions I would get from youth all over the country was simply this: "does (s)he like me?" Of course, there was always a story to accompany the question, that went something along the lines of:

"I like this guy and I want to know if he likes me. Today, at our lockers, I dropped my book and he picked it up for me and smiled. I thanked him and he said he would see me later. Then, in math class, I think I thought him looking at me. I think about him all the time. Just yesterday he even sort of waved at me in the hall! What do you think? Should I ask him out?"

This was in the early stages of the internet (1998-2000) and IM was alive and kicking, but not in full swing. I can't imagine the context I would have gotten along with these questions if there was extensive IM conversations involved. I simple :-) would turn into "he likes me;" a long conversation online might turn into a meaningful time together, when it was simply something to do while working on a homework assignment or talking to nine other people that night. Or, it could indeed be the start of a new love. We simply don't know. When is lean, lean and when is it packed with inneundo and implication? And can we really ever tell without, well asking and as a result taking away the brevity? I'm not sure if we can, but I do believe it's another layer we need to better understand if we are to appreciate how online communication shapes love and relationships.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So Much for Truth in Advertising...

Based on a lawsuit brought on my an anti-abortion Christian group, Google is now allowing religious organizations to use the keyword "abortion" in their ads, according to the New York Times. This means that the sponsored links of these groups will be called up much like those from secular groups, doctors offering abortions and resource sites like Our Bodies, Ourselves. According to the article, Google will only allow "ads linked to abortion from religious groups as long as they were determined to be factual, and not graphic or emotional ads." Hmmm. When was the last time I saw a factual anti-choice web site? Like, never. That's when.

Rulings like these make it more important to teach media literacy to all people -- young and old. Everyone needs to know how to assess a web site for quality information, and be wary of all sites that come up in the sponsored links, but not very high up in a regular search. This needs to be taught in the schools as soon as kids start to surf the net all the way through college. This resource is a great one for young people. Created in the UK, it takes a person through a series of questions designed to determine whether a web site's information is reliable and accurate. If we all took the time to think about the information we are reading, and the biases behind it, I wouldn't be so concerned about this latest news article.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's in a Name?

In a classic example of communication breakdown, a new study reports that over half (58%) of those surveyed do not know what "social networking" is. The international study did note that 70% of Americans did recognize the term. However, that means that close to 1 in 3 persons in this country have somehow not been exposed to the phrase, or simply don't remember what it means. Implications? We need to be careful about the terms we use when talking about the phenomenon of interacting with others in these types of online spaces. I know I am guilty of talking about "social networking," as I do not want to call out certain sites and brands when talking about the concept as a whole. Too often, MySpace is scapegoated because people talk about the dangers associated with social networking in general, but end up picking on the best-known of the bunch (too bad that survey didn't ask the percentage of persons who have heard of MySpace specifically). But if using the term "social networking" alienates too many people, then we fail to get our message across. While I have no answers, I do believe this issue is important; much like my last post on cyberbulling vs. electronic aggression, I want to stress the need to come to some semblance of consensus on terms so that we educate the public, not confuse them. And given the Ivory Tower's bad reputation for trying to claim expertise at the expense of being useful or collaborative, there is ample reason to prioritize clear communication about issues without using all those fancy and/or new words.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

CDC Recognizes Cyberbullying

The Center for Disease Control released a report, Electronic Media and Youth Violence, on September 8th. According to the emailed press release, "Electronic aggression is an emerging public health issue," and therefore should be acknowledged by educators, caregivers, and researchers.

I find it interesting that the feds feel the need to rename cyberbullying "electronic aggression." Isn't one term enough? Is it possible that people might confuse the two and think they are really separate things? I hope not. As an academic, I am often annoyed by the jargon that separates different camps. The last thing we need is to begin divisive investigations on this topic, based on a public health vs. a psychological/educational approach.

And, not surprisingly, the brief mentions nothing about how many times this sort of aggression has sexual themes. In fact, while searching the brief, I found no mention of "boyfriend/girlfriend," "sex" (except for one parenthetical comment about how what they were referring to was NOT sexual), or "stalking." While I am happy to see that the CDC is addressing this issue directly, there's still a long way to go before adults see that the sexual nature of so many of these instances of electronic aggression cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Personal and the Private Goes Public (Health)

It's all over the news, so it's not exactly private. The 17-year-old daughter of Republican VP candidate Palin is 5 months pregnant. The Republican take on this is "at least she is marrying the father and keeping the baby" -- they have to put a positive spin on this somehow. Democratic candidate Obama wants the rest of us to leave the families of politicians alone: “I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories," quotes the New York Times.

But, I can't back off. It's the hypocrisy here that kills me. The Republican platform advocates for abstinence-until-marriage "sex" education -- clearly, Palin's daughter did not follow her mother's belief system. She had sex before marriage, which according to her mother is the only option for persons when deciding what to do about their sexuality.

The Republican platform also tends to stress the role of the family and how it is up to parents to ensure that their children are responsible, successful human beings. Now, I am not saying that a pregnant teen cannot grow up to be successful. But I can't help thinking that, if it were a Democratic candidate's teen daughter who was pregnant that the Republican's wouldn't be shouting "this candidate has failed as a parent! I bet he will also fail as a leader. If he can't control his family, who can he control?" Yet, here the talk is of course supportive: "Good for Bristol for keeping the baby!" "Good to hear she is marrying the father!" Is it? Studies show that people who marry at younger ages tend to have much higher divorce rates. And given the public spotlight of this particular relationship, I don't think the odds are good for this young couple. Supporting a legal union between these two smacks of politics more than true concern for these two young persons who are trying to make the best of a tough situation.

It's personal, but I am curious to know if these two used any contraception, and if so, did they know how to use it consistently and correctly? True, a woman can become pregnant using even the most effective forms of contraception. And it's a shame that this young person is faced with an unexpected pregnancy -- and unexpected baby -- whether or not she used "protection." I just wish that somehow this incident can change the Republican agenda which strives to teach children LESS about sex and contraception. Can't Palin look at her family and think "maybe talking about sex isn't such a bad idea after all." "Maybe young persons should learn about different contraceptive methods and their effectiveness at preventing pregnancy?" After all, learning about different ways to prevent pregnancy -- including, but not limited to abstinence -- reduces the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy. Can't we use this incident to open up dialogue related to healthy sexuality?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sex Vlog: Inappropriate for Minors?

Came across this vlog (video blog) and am still trying to form an opinion around it. For the most part, I'm inclined to like it. Made by 22-year-old Kicesie, it's of course about sex. Otherwise, why would I even mention it :-)? Some of her videos do seem to be educational, such as this one on STDs. It's pretty accurate information-wise, but she uses a lot of judgmental language -- "gross," "disgusting," -- which might alienate anyone who already has an STD, or had one in the past. But overall, she's cute, and delivers the facts in a very calm, approachable manner. And given the fact that most of her videos are getting several 100,000 views, at least people are listening.

But other examples within her 61-video collection make me think differently about her and her motives. Several of her videos simply ask her viewers questions. Like this one on oral sex. First of all, it starts off with a montage of her in cute and sexy poses, then cuts to her in a low-cut top, camera angled for maximum cleavage display. Is she really trying to be an educator or does she just want to show off her bod? Hard to say sometimes.

After some non-linear babble, looking all coy for the camera, she asks her male viewers what makes oral sex great for them, and encourages feedback. And 529 responded. What surprised me, honestly, was that for the most part the comments seemed sincere. I frankly was prepared for a bunch of immature, irrelevant, inappropriate comments (to Kicesie's credit, she may have deleted those or maybe YouTube did) -- but instead I got graphic, but thoughtful advice on how to give good head from a bunch of random dudes. Interesting.

Then there are times when she simply goes on an editorial rant. Here's where things start to break down for me. Wearing no makeup and filming in black-and-white (a huge contrast to her dolled-up look she tends to adopt for her question asking videos), she complains about the lack of parental monitoring of children when they go online. "Where are the Parents?" she laments. An old and tired question. What troubles me most about this particular post, however, is her blanketed inaccurate statements. She is clearly troubled by the fact that youth under 18 are watching her videos -- disclaimers abound about age appropriateness in her vlogs -- and she explicitly states that her content is not appropriate for minors in her monologues. However, in this particular post she states that if children are watching her videos they are "probably in chat rooms with people who are much older than them," and "they are probably open to predators. They have probably been exposed to explicit pornography." Hmmmm. I think she is better off sticking to topics she can research more effectively.

And then here come the judgment statements again: "How can you parents let that happen? There is no excuse, no excuse at all." The statement is strong, yet naive. Her accusations are harsh. She says YouTube should be more responsible for ensuring minors don't get to see her videos. She seems to want to blame someone for the fact that younger people are listening to her.

But is it so bad that younger people are tuning in to what she has to say (I'd say middle school is pushing it on the age level, but mature high schoolers should be fine...)? She talks about STD transmission, she emphasizes the importance of partner communication. Are these such bad messages to get across to her viewers, no matter their age? I think if Kicesie wants to be a celebrity (at least a minor internet one) she is going to have to deal with all aspects of it. And that means understanding that people she doesn't want seeing her videos tuning in. And possibly learning something.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Seeking Your Support for My Presentation!

Hello Beloved Readers!

I’m writing to ask you to please support my efforts to get the SXSW Interactive Festival to accept my proposal for a panel I would like to participate on during the March 13-17, 2009 conference.

The SXSW Interactive Festival ( is an industry conference held in Austin for web developers and digital creatives, now in its 15th year. These days the conference has become so popular that it gets hundreds of proposals like mine, from people who would like to present at the conference. To help them sort out what people what to hear, the conference organizers now use a web-based panel picker. I’m writing to ask you to please visit and use the panel picker and to place a vote on it for my proposal and leave a comment.

==> Please go to and, in the search box, enter “Sex Ed” in order to quickly find the listing for my proposal, place your vote and leave a comment. Our exciting proposal is called
Sex Ed Online: How Teens Self Savvy. The panel picker will be active until August 29. Please act now! It will take you less than 3 minutes and costs nothing, but you must open an account on the panel picker to post a comment.

I would be so psyched to be on this panel. Other members include the esteemed Heather Corinna from Scarlet Teen and
Nikol Hasler from the Midwest Teen Sex Show. How cool is that?

We'll be addressing the following questions:
1. What do teens want to know about sex?
2. How do they use the Internet to find answers?
3. Which social media tools provide the best sexual education?
4. What positive or negative impact can the Web have on teen sexuality?
5. At what ages should online use by children and teens be monitored?
6. Are parents abdicating their roles as sex educators to the Internet?
7. Does online info encourage or discourage sexual experimentation by teens?
8. What role does the Internet play in educating youth about sex?
9. Can the government regulate online sex education and should it?
10. Can online sex info be trusted for accuracy?

I will be most grateful for any support you can offer and hope that you will please use the Panel Picker and vote for my proposal. Thanks!

==> Please go to and, in the search box, enter “Sex Ed” in order to quickly find the listing for my proposal, place your vote and leave a comment. The panel picker will be active until August 29. Please act now!

When you sign up and vote, you are not signing onto any e-mail lists by giving your information, and you do not need to attend the conference nor must you have attended it in the past in order to vote for my panel. While votes to rate the proposal (1-5 stars) are valuable, I’m told that what really counts with the organizers it is having comments written about why someone would be a good speaker and/or why the topic is of interest. So please vote for my idea and comment!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hopeful news

I was very moved by this story of a girl who was bullied simply because she had a seizure in class. A simple reminder of how cruel we can be to each other. Luckily, two girls came from out of nowhere and literally saved Olivia's life -- sisters Sarah and Emily Buder read about Olivia's experiences with cyberbullying and wrote letters of encouragement. News caught on and the result was nothing short of amazing -- Olivia was no longer online, so good old-fashioned hand-written letters came to her from all over the place, totaling around 1,000. Olivia's plans for suicide were replaced with a new sense of faith in people (and a book deal -- Harper Collins picked up on this story and published some of the letters).

While I think this story is a hopeful one, I hope that educators take note of some of the more subtle aspects of it. Olivia was teased because of her health condition, yet according the the story run by MSNBC (link above), the teasing took the form of "pornographic emails." What is the relationship between a seizure and sexually graphic comments? Nothing, except when young people tease, it's often about sex. Another sign of the importance of acknowledging sexual aspects when designing curricula about cyberbullying, and how sex education should include issues related to internet harassment.

Monday, August 04, 2008

My Virtual Reality

While I was in the Bay Area, I made my way down the Peninsula to my alma mater, Stanford University, and visited the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which turns out to be housed in my old department, Communication (I graduated with that major in 1990). Ah, what my life would have been like if I were fifteen years younger...

The appearance of the lab itself is unimpressive, to say the least. Just your typical room with some desks, computers, and industrial carpet. But boy do they have some cool stuff there. Thanks to Jesse Fox, one of the researchers, there, I was able to sample the goods. I donned the "happy helmet" and entered a virtual world. The helmet was heavy and clunky -- not the sort of thing you would wear if you didn't have to. And, as Jesse pointed out, the thing was so expensive this is not the sort of toy that is going to be in households across the country any time soon. But it did allow me to blend the concrete with the perceptual. I looked down and found myself standing vicariously close to a deep pit. Virtual board crossing the chasm, I was told to make my way across. I found it hard to balance on the actual carpeted floor, as I struggled to stay on the plank that was nothing more than an image cast by the helmet. But I made it safely across! Jesse said that 1 in 3 refuse to even try. I increase my bravado by "jumping" into the pit on my way back across and was somewhat startled by the crashing noise I made as I jumped an inch in the air, spiraling down a virtual 30 feet, and crashing at the bottom.

Next trick: crossing the road like Frogger. Here is where I horribly failed. I was run over seven times at least, ran into a sign post (virtual) and almost the wall (actual -- thanks Jesse for saving me!). It was really hard to balance. But the overall sensation was like being in a video game -- but even cooler than Tron. And, since I totally suck at video games, it's probably not surprising that I pretty much sucked at navigating myself in virtual reality.

Then, onto some of the tasks that are used in actual research. While I won't disclose the actual hypotheses or findings (none of this is published yet), my last activity consisted of walking up to a life-sized avatar and studying her. The feeling was odd, walking up to a young woman about my height but clearly not made of flesh and blood. There were two women I stood next to, as if in conversation: One wearing jeans and a hoodie, her brown hair collected into a pony tail. The other was a bombshell in a tight t-shirt, short skirt and super cool boots (I want a pair!). I was instructed just to study them. The sexier one, I noticed, was programmed to make eye contact with me as I looked; the stereotypical college student did not.

The overall goal of this study was to document gender differences in examining the avatars and look at attitudes about women based on who subjects were interacting with. Stay tuned for results!

While the experience I had is not likely to be shared by many in the general population, the Virtual Lab is hoping its findings can apply to video games and Second Life. I had some doubts -- like, the avatar I chilled with could single me out much more closely than anyone can really in SL and she was literally my size, making her seem more real than the people in most video games -- I believe that trying to tie in virtual experiences with actions in the concrete world is one of the coolest things being done in research today.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Game of Dress-up

Whether it be as a Disney princess in grade school, or as a naughty nurse in college, girls have always enjoyed playing "dress-up." However, what happens when a 13-year-old "dresses-up" as an 1p-year-old and initiates a sexual encounter with a man 15 years her senior? Trouble.

In early July, Scott Knight, an Aurora, Oregon man was arrested on charges of statutory rape after a 13-year-old girl talked to authorities. After the two allegedly met on Flirt and supposedly talked through MySpace, they then met in person. Knight claims he asked for ID from the girl and then the rest of the details become muddy.

I came across a MyCrimeSpace blog summary of the incident that stuck to the released information, but the comments on the blog prompted me to start thinking, what makes teenage girls seeks out men like this? According to Justine Cassell & Meg Cramer from Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior (who I quoted in a previous entry) most likely this girl has "a greater tendency for conflict or lack of communication with their parents; high levels of delinquency, including committing assault, vandalism or theft; have a troubled personality due to depression, peer victimization, or [has experienced] a distressing life event." The very first comment asked "what would she gain from setting him up?" A few answers – public attention, "fame" on the news, a book deal, a Lifetime movie even!

I remember being 13 and wanting to be 23, wanting to have an older boyfriend, wanting to be a grown-up; I don’t remember ever thinking that the Internet could be used like this, though. A little part of me is surprised at the lengths this girl would go to in order to make a connection with Knight (finding an internet dating site, getting a fake ID to lie about her age, working to draw in a man who would "fall" for her act) and then a bigger part of me isn’t so taken aback. This girl, rather than turning to her parents (who aren’t mentioned in any story that I can find), she turned to the internet and found adults there.

Is social networking to blame for incidents like this? Probably not. Frivolous Electrical Conversation explains that people blamed promiscuity on the telegraph, the telephone, and even the automobile.
"The telegraph provided users with faster responses to their communication with others, more frequent interactions, and more access to others around the world. It improved access to goods and services, and to knowledge of all sorts. And yet, even while the telegraph (and the internet) led to a revolution in business practices, it also gave rise to new ways to commit crimes, and it was quickly adopted beyond business to the communication needs of everyday people. In the techie magazines of the times (such as Electrical World, the historical parallel to PC Magazine) many authors alluded to a possible loss of a world they idealized, a world threatened by new modes of electrical communication. Media critics of the times described the telegraph as used by 'talkative women' who had 'frivolous electrical conversations' about 'inconsequential personal subjects.' Novels, like the 1879 Wired Love, and other popular culture texts expanded on this theme. The women portrayed in these narratives were näıve and incapable in the face of technical advances, and when they made forays into the world of the telegraph they ended up needing to be rescued, to be protected from technology, in sum. ... technical ignorance was a virtue of 'good' women. The moral was that women's use of men's technology would come to no good end." Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer in High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online

Sound familiar?

Then we must ask "Who is responsible?" Another commenter later in the list of postings had a very good point; "they are both responsible for their behavior." When does a person become "of age" for their own personal responsibility? Minors are held responsible for murders, being tried as adults in courts when faced with such serious charges, but incidents such as these are brushed off as solely the adult’s fault. Whether the adult blamed is the minor’s parent or the adult in the sexual relationship, it’s rarely the minor’s fault. Should parents be punished for the behavior of their teenagers? "At what point do the girls have to take some responsibility about what happened?" So, I ask you, "Where do we draw the line when playing dress-up?"
Zemanta Pixie

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hot Penguin on Penguin Action!

Just trying to get your attention here with that provocative headline. Anne Collier, in her fabulous Safe Kids newsletter, alerted me to the Club Penguin game "Spin the Fish." You can probably guess what it's modeled after -- the good old fashioned "Spin the Bottle" game in which IRL a group of young persons sit in a circle, a bottle is spinned, and the spinner has to kiss the person the bottle is pointing at (or be put into a closet with them for five minutes while everyone else stands outside with their ears pressed to the door). I remember in grade school longing for that bottle to point to Scott Cassidy or David Bowerbank. But I digress...

Not to be thwarted by the lack of real smooching, kids at Club Penguin (around ages 9 and up, from what I gather) are playing this game virtually. See it in "action" here:

Note how the fish doesn't really spin. Note how you can react using emoticons about how you feel about being kissed by someone (too bad we don't know whether these penguins actually know each other offline or not). Note how this is yet another example of how kids will do ANYTHING to express their crushes on someone -- and can also snub certain peers just as easily. For more rules on how to play it "cool" (the unwritten rules of this unofficial game) during Spin the Fish, look here. The point in this blog I found most poignant is that the author commented that "No one asked me because I didn't have my latest style on yet." Apparently it's just as important for a penguin to look hot as it is for a pre-teen...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Experiments in virtual reality

Over the weekend I tried to participate in two different virtual reality type websites. Unfortunately neither were quite the positive experiences I was hoping for.

First I tried out Google's new avatar-driven chat rooms Lively. I spent two hours preparing my avatar (can't go in naked, you know) and then trying to figure out how to get INTO a room. Once I got into a room, my computer slowed down so much that I was going crazy trying to mentally adjust. Instead of trying to chat with people, I started searching rooms. I visited the "Love Sweet Love" room, the "Dating Cafe" and then even took a virtual tour of the Google facilities in the "Lively: Google Room," but I wasn't impressed. Maybe it's because it's too new, but it felt clunky and not quite user-friendly. Maybe teens can deal with that, but tech-savvy adults might be annoyed by the quirks that it still has. I was disappointed that I didn't feel "at home" after setting everything up and removed the program from my computer soon after giving up on it.

Second, I put my big girl panties on and looked into Second Life. I think my experience would have been more positive if my internet provider gave me more bandwidth and my computer went faster, but I made due with what I had. I carefully read the "Big Six" (community standards) and was almost scared that I'd make an accidental mistake and get myself kicked out before I even began - especially when my character first appeared naked! I was pleased to see these rules set out so clearly before being able to join, and wish that I had speed/bandwidth to see if they work!

Second Life's "Big Six" are six behaviors that would result suspension from the site:

1. Intolerance - "The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life."

2. Harassment - "Communicating or behaving in a manner which is offensively coarse, intimidating or threatening, constitutes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or is otherwise likely to cause annoyance or alarm is Harassment."

3. Assault - Most places you can be in Second Life are "Safe," where you cannot shoot, push or shove another resident. I guess this also means there are areas that are "unsafe" where these actions are to be expected?

4. Disclosure - "Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident --including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident's privacy."

5. Indecency - "Content, communication, or behavior which involves intense language or expletives, nudity or sexual content, the depiction of sex or violence, or anything else broadly offensive must be contained within private land in areas rated Mature (M)." When my character showed up nude, I was worried that I'd be kicked off immediately as I couldn't find an "M" anywhere on the page. Good thing it was the introduction page where other new characters continually showed up nude.

6. Disturbing the peace - "Every Resident has the right to live their Second Life."

I was intrigued to see whether these rules were followed within the community. Maybe those readers who are frequent Second Life users can explain it a bit more to me; I'd really like to know more! Also, if there are other online virtual reality "games," that are geared towards teenagers, I'd love to hear about those to see if I can't experiment some more!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rewriting the Dictionary

Apparently, I am leaving all the "on topic" posts to Sarah, while I vent on issues that are at least somewhat related to this blog. I guess I can get away with it since I started it :-).

Many people ask me how and why I got into this field (broadly speaking, adolescent development, and more narrowly adolescent sexual health, and then of course there is the focus on technology that is supposed to drive this blog). One of the reasons is that I had a crappy adolescence. Another reason is that I am a research nerd, and I get very upset when people ignore established findings and instead go with what they think "feels right." And the majority of our sex education and approach to young people's sexuality dismisses research and educated theory and instead leans towards moral righteousness and panic. Example: I get mad when I hear about abstinence only curricula and policies mandating its implementation because there is no evidence that abstinence until marriage changes young people's sexual behaviors. Another example: I am frustrated with the panic about the alleged dangers of social networking and how they are destroying young people's relationships (though see this article which provides evidence of the benefits of social networking).

So you can imagine how I feel when people take the liberty of changing the definitions of words in order to suit their needs. This is what I read about today. According to the New York Times, Bush has decided that "abortion" means “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” That definition is completely wrong. According to the medical professions an abortion is "when the fetus is expelled from a woman's uterus" (yes, a "miscarriage" is just a more delicate way of saying "spontaneous abortion"). Here is the key difference: an abortion can only occur if there has been implantation. Bush seems to forget that essential component and instead broadens his own special version of the word to incorporate anything that interferes with a fertilization.

I understand Bush is anti-choice. I understand many people are. That is not what is at issue here with me right now. What I am concerned about is when politicians decide to redefine words in order to suit their own wishes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cornfed Citizen Safety

i work on the webImage by glsims99 via FlickrDr. Kris pointed me in the direction of Net Safe Kansas, a new website based in Kansas looking to protect their state’s Internet users. Maybe it’s a Kansas thing, but apparently Internet users there are ridiculously uneducated and can’t do research for themselves. On top of that, the website creators believe that their oh-so-exiting website will draw children in to read all of their rules. I was bored … what 12-year-old is going to stick around to read these things? (My comments on these "rules" are in italics.)

• Don't believe everything you read online, especially from someone in a chat room. It's extremely easy to lie online and predators will tell you anything to gain your trust. For example the "14-year-old girl" you just met online might actually be a 40-year-old man trying to gain your trust. Or the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 160-year-old boy from your neighboring high school fulfilling a dare from his friends.

• Choose a random user name or screen name. Make sure it doesn't reveal your name, age, school, location or interests. For example, the user name "CutieCougar94" might reveal to a predator that this person is likely female, a student at a school with a Cougar mascot and born in 1994." Or people of my generation will think that you’re a cute older woman looking for a younger man and that you quite possibly graduated in 1994.

• Don't respond to messages that are mean or in any way make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you receive a message like this. Tell your parents right away so they can contact the online service provider. Messages that come to me that make me uncomfortable aren’t always illegal … if it’s not illegal, the online service provider can’t do anything anyway.

• Stick with friends. It's always safer to chat with friends you know in real life. Strangers online are bad news. I was 22, online talking to strangers and met my best friend. Strangers online aren’t always bad news. You can safely meet some incredible people online.

Then they have a “NetSafe Kids Pledge” that made me laugh … and then I felt kinda bad for laughing at the ridiculousness of it … for about 37 seconds.

NetSafe Kids Pledge
1. I will turn off my computer monitor right away and tell a trusted adult if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. There are TONS of things on the internet that confuse me. If I turned off the monitor every time that happened, I’d never learn anything. (I do understand what they’re getting at, though.)

2. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks me my name, my address, my telephone number, or the name and location of my school. Or I could just tell them no or ignore them or block them.

3. I will never share personal information such as my address, my telephone number, my parents' or guardian's work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents' or guardian's permission. Why would a teenager share their parent’s work number with a stranger online?

4. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks to meet me in person.

5. I will never meet in person with anyone I have first "met" online without checking with my parents or guardian. If my parents or guardian agrees to the meeting, it will be in a public place and my parents or guardian must come along.

6. I will talk with my parents or guardian so that we can set up rules for going online. The rules will include the time of day I may be online, the length of time I may be online, whom I may communicate with while online, and appropriate areas for me to visit while online. I will not break these rules or access other areas without their permission. Seriously? I was a good kid growing up. Straight-A student, top of the class, blah blah blah, and I wouldn’t have set up rules like this with my parents. Do you know any teenager that has?

7. I will tell a trusted adult if I come across anything that makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. I will not download anything from anyone without permission from my parents or guardian. Stay away from Wikipedia.

8. I will not use rude or mean language on the Internet. *bites her tongue so she doesn’t say something inappropriate*

9. I will never respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. If I do get a message like that, I will tell a trusted adult right away so that he or she can contact the online service.

10. I will always remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because I can't see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself. For example, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old-girl" could in reality be an older man. Hello stereotypes.

So, it seems that NetSafe Kansas has a good idea … but it almost feels patronizing to go through their website. I am pretty sure that there are Kansan citizens who KNOW better than the website assumes. Also, the fact that their kids & teens pages are still geared towards adults doesn’t make it any more marketable. The bare bones of it might one day be improved, but spreading more “stereotypical” internet information doesn’t help anyone.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

What girls do online

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via WikipediaThis post is a continuation of yesterday's post, moving through Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer's article "High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online".

We'll first look at some general teens & the internet facts:

- Today's teens spend over six hours a day in front of some form of media ... at least one of those hours is spent in front of a computer.

- 87% of teens are online

- the activity takes place primarily in the home or school

- 50% of US families are connected with broadband

- girls between 12 and 16 are the fastest growing internet users

- boys are more likely to play games online while girls are more likely to send email, use text messaging, read websites about movie stars, get health or dieting information

- 25% of girls online have a blog (go us!)

Then, some more interesting reading:

- "Teenage blog and social networking site users describe their writing s as read only by their peer network, express surprise that the writings are easily findable by others, and comment on the blogs that they feel are comfortable exposing their innermost feelings in these contexts because of their anonymity (even though the same author may give identifying information in a neighboring post).

- "Teens' use of instant messaging, e-mailing, game playing and website creation are key ways by which they grow into adults who manage, produce, and consume technology intelligently on an everyday basis."

- "... the current panic over girls being online is not new ... the result of moral panic has been a restriction on girls' use of technology."

- "Girls in particular may thrive online where they may be more likely to rise to positions of authority than in the physical world, more likely to be able to explore alternate identities without the dangers associated with venturing outside of their homes alone, more likely to be able to safely explore their budding sexuality, and more likely to openly demonstrate technological prowess, without the social dangers associated with the term "geek." (I'm a geek. I embrace it.)

- "With luck, there will be a single difference between the moral panic surrounding the telegraph and the telephone, and that surrounding the internet: that we will come to recognize young women as more likely to be empowered by technology than damaged by it."
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Frivolous electrical conversation

irdImage via WikipediaI truly believe that most teens know what they're doing when they begin playing online. They don't get into a chat room, end up on a pornographic site, or visit with strangers without knowing they've done it. However, the media explosion of shows like To Catch A Predator and news headlines reading "Man has sex with girl he met on MySpace" has made it seem as though teens use the internet without knowing what they could get into. After 23 pages of "High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online" (authors Justine Cassell & Meg Cramer from Northwestern University's Center for Technology and Social Behavior), I wanted to go and hug these women. Finally a well-written, easy-too-read article that I agreed with!

First, some general statements from Cassel & Cramer that I think always need repeating:
- "... family members and friends ... are still the most frequent perpetrators of child sexual abuse."

- "... offenses against children ... numbers have been diminishing ... since the advent of the internet."

- "... the majority of these sexual solicitations ... were not from adult predators, but instead came from other youth."

- "Often, children who do begin online relationships with an abuser fit a particular profile ... 'a greater tendency for conflict or lack of communication with their parents; high levels of delinquency, including committing assault, vandalism or theft; have a troubled personality due to depression, peer victimization, or a distressing life event.'"

Second, some statements regarding the history of "moral panic" with "the compromised virtue of young girls"

- "... the panic over young girls at risk from communication technologies is not new rhetoric in America. There has been a recurring moral panic throughout history, not just over real threats of technological danger, but also over the compromised virtue of young girls, parental loss of control in the face of a seductive machine, and the debate over whether women can ever be high tech without being in jeopardy."

- This is later addressed as the scares the telegraph (yes, the telegraph was apparently scary) created; "Media critics of the time desicribed the telegraph as used by 'talkative women' who had 'frivolous electrical conversations' about inconsequential personal subjects.'" Stories written during telegraph-time were morality tales expressing the opinion that "women's use of men's technology would come to no good end."

- Even the telephone was lambasted for it's use. "Despite companies' efforts to direct how th telephone was used, women nevertheless cultivated their own purposes or 'delinquent activities' as they were thought of - primarily social interaction."

- "... the politics of both the Victorian era and the early twentieth century - of rapid modernization and technical advancements - has many parallels with today's societal response to the advent of the internet."

- With regards to the definition of moral panic "the media relies on bias, exaggeration and distortion to manufacture news." If you read the first four quotes I pulled from the article, you can see how the media exaggerates what studies actually say.

Third, tomorrow: "What girls do online."
Zemanta Pixie

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gender Role Reversal

I can't find much on this story from the Shreveport Times (Louisiana), but a 39-year-old female teacher has been arrested on cyberstalking charges for posing as a 14-year-old girl and harassing a 14-year-old boy through MySpace. According to the brief article, there is no evidence that the teacher and boy ever met face-to-face.

I think this is worth noting because we spend so much time worrying about girls as victims that we need reminders that boys can also be subject to such things. Outside of the extremely bizarre case of Mary Kay Letourneau and her former student and now husband, Vili Fualaau, this issue has been a completely non-issue but remains a lingering question: "Is a sexual relationship with a young male and significantly older female harmful?" There is all sorts of research on the negative effects of younger females partnering with older males (higher rates of pregnancy, sexual coercion, drug use...) but there is NOTHING on the opposite. I've looked. And wondered as a result. Which means that I am challenged by my own stereotypes and assumptions. I think that this large an age gap at this developmental time cannot be healthy. But is there evidence? That remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

To Catch a Predator Settles and Finishes

Though refusing to disclose the amount, NBC has settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who committed suicide when confronted with cameras for “To Catch a Predator.” Mr. Conradt, an ADA from Texas, had allegedly engaged in sexually explicit online chats with someone he believed was underage, but actually was and adult volunteer for Perverted Justice, a group dedicated to entrapping potential child sexual predators. The group was a paid consultant for NBC in the “Predator” series.

According to the New York Times, the volunteer masquerading as a child arranged to meet with Conradt as part of "Predator" sting facilitated by a local police department. Quoting the times, "Conradt did not show up at the bait house, so the local police, encouraged by NBC (according to the lawsuit), decided to arrest him at his home. As the police and camera crews entered the home, Mr. Conradt shot himself in the head."

According to the sister, Patricia Conradt, a police officer at the scene of the shooting said “That’ll make good TV.” The LA Times reports that the Texas DA's office "declined to pursue the more than 20 cases related to the “Predator” sting operation related to this case, citing problems with the evidence gathered."

There is no talk of continuing the series at this point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back to that dirty bedroom

I have a Facebook account, and I have a cre8Buzz account, and neither of these make me feel as dirty as my MySpace account does. I don’t know why – they are all essentially copies of one another. Dr. Kris sent me a fantastic Venture Beat article about Why Facebook is now the number one social network in the world, and why this matters that absolutely validates my feelings.

Eric Eldon is able to sum my feelings up in half a sentence "MySpace is more of a place for people to live out their fantasy lives online ..." while Facebook is more a site where you're required to share "factual information" because otherwise, your friends from across the hallway Freshman year are going to call you out. Eldon writes about the lack of networks creating opportunity for you to create a whole new you unlinke the networking connections created through Facebook.

Reading through the comments on Eldon's article made me think about words, too. How long ago did "friend" become an actual verb? Do you think that usage will ever be integrated into the dictionary? If you wanna friend The Virtual Mystery Tour's dirty MySpace profile* head over here and add us!

While Eldon's article then goes into specific numbers of hits, global growth and advertising dollars, the rest of the article doesn't do much for me; however, it's so very nice to hear yet another blogger vent about how dirty MySpace can really be.

*Dear Perverts who found The Virtual Mystery Tour's blog but were actually searching for a "dirty MySpace profile,"
I apologize. We actually have a very clean MySpace profile.
Trying not to laugh at your Google-fu,
Zemanta Pixie

Monday, June 23, 2008

Everyone in the Pool!

Not actually related to sexuality, but I found this simultaneously hilarious and unsettling. According to the Sydney Herald (which, yes, is from Australia), teens in the UK are using social networking sites along with Google Maps to locate pools in the area that would be perfect to crash. Want a pool party? Seems as though not having a pool is no longer an obstacle to this dream. According to The Herald, people are coming home from work only to see beer cans littering their poolside, and some have even caught the youth in the act of catching some rays in their yard.

See the ValleyWag for an excellent illustration of how this might look.

While I see this as very clever on the young person's part, this really gets to the idea that none of us are really private anymore thanks to the internet. Even if you don't go online often -- or really, even if you have never even been on the WWW, that doesn't mean your information isn't readily available at the click of a button. Another reason to ego surf to see what people can learn about you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Slimming; get drunk on super absorbency**

Safe for Down There
fingers (clean & short nails)
electric toothbrushes*

Not Safe for Down There
Sharpie markers
safety pins
a French baguette
vodka soaked tampons

You may have just read that second list and laughed, but that last non-safe for down there isn't as ridiculous as it seems. Thanks to a few personal blogs that I read, I learned about a new fad; slimming. From what I can surmise (thank you YouTube), slimming is the vaginal or anal insertion of a vodka-soaked tampon in order to get drunk. ShamelesslySassy's blog post first caught my eye, and then I read about Slacker-Moms-R-Us' personal experience learning of this new trend on a school field trip.

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
Zemanta Pixie

Monday, June 16, 2008

More on online safety

One of my high school graduation gifts was a brand new computer. I didn’t have to share it with anyone, and I could download as much music as I wanted to – without using all Dad’s memory. However, with that new computer came new responsibilities; keeping myself safe while online (and not filling the hard drive with music before I even moved away to college). My parents were pretty oblivious to the dangers of being online, and were quite surprised when they realized that I could easily spend a few hours chatting (using ICQ … that dates me) with people I had never met in person.

Do you know a graduate who got a laptop? Do you know how to help them be safe online? Here are some tips for keeping both youth and adults safe while using the internet:
• Get a free email account; Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo all have easily created emails
• Select a gender-neutral username and email; anything overly feminine or sexual may attract unwanted attention
• If you’re using an IM client (Gmail, Yahoo, AIM), block or ignore unwanted users who may be talking to you
• Don’t let others draw you into online conflict; ignoring harassment, rather than defending yourself may not seem like the best thing to do, but by responding, you’re letting that harasser know that they’ve touched a nerve.
• Only “say” online what you would actually say to someone’s face; words travel quickly and you need to be able to stand behind your words.
• Don’t share personal information: your full name, your address, your phone number, any credit card information or even identifying details about yourself. I know this is hard (I even have a hard time doing it here), but it’s worth it in the end!
• When opening emails, use caution – attachments can be dangerous – only open them from those you know.
• Remember that if you’re uncomfortable in a chat room (forum/message board/etc), you can leave.
• A specific tip for parents: watch what your children are doing. If they’re home alone a lot, and you’re worried about their internet use, you can password protect things to prevent their over-surfing. Watch the history with regards to their internet use, and remind them that you’re checking in on them.

The internet doesn’t have to be a scary place; it can be made incredibly safe, if you’re willing to put forth the effort!

On a completely different note: Happy National Ice Tea Month, Turkey Lover’s Months, Fresh Fruit & Vegetables Month, Papaya Month, Dairy Month all along with Internet Safety Month!
Zemanta Pixie

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Utah -- Land of Ignorance

The CDC just released its School Health Profiles, which outline the rates different states teach various health issues, including topics concerning HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention. Alarming to me is the fact that less than one-fourth of schools across the country (out of the 36 states surveyed) teach youth how to use a condom. But Utah takes the cake -- only ONE PERCENT of schools teach condom usage there. Ugh. Virginia also has an embarrassingly low rate of 7.7%.

Kudos to New York where over half (59%) of school teach their students how to use condoms.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Are you in an online relationship? A research opportunity

This is an announcement I am passing along. This research is being conducted by a good friend of mine who can be trusted. She is a therapist who understands the need for confidentiality. She teaches a class on Sex and the Internet, and takes this issue very seriously (but has fun with it).

---Pasted Text Below---

I am conducting a study for my doctoral dissertation at Widener University, looking at characteristics of individuals who are involved in online romantic relationships with people they have never met face-to-face. I will be comparing people for whom these relationships are their primary romantic involvement, with people for whom these relationships are an addition to an off-line committed relationship.
If you have been or if you know of anyone who is involved in one of these online relationships (or has been involved in one), would you be so kind as to pass along this link to my study survey?
This is a completely anonymous survey, and no data can be traced to any particular individual.
I appreciate any help you can give me in acquiring participants for this research!

Yolanda Turner
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Eastern University
St. Davids, Pa., 19087

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The dangers of MySpace

Last weekend, I traveled four hours in a mom-van to Wildhorse Canyon, to participate in a young adult church retreat. Over lunch on Saturday, the table of eight talked about what we were doing in school (most of the 320 people that went were students), and what we eventually wanted to do. Since I am in school, am an intern (Hi Dr. Kris!) and am working part-time, I had a lot to say. As I mentioned that I work with how the internet is affecting teens’ sexuality, faces around the table began to turn inside out. As a member of one of the many left-leaning Christian churches in our gorgeous Pacific Northwest city, I was surprised by the reaction of a girl directly across the table from me.

Breathlessly, she almost shouted “the church doesn’t approve of the use of MySpace … by anyone!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. I played devil’s advocate (while at church camp! Oh no!) and asked her to show me in the Bible where that was mentioned “we are a Bible-based church, aren’t we?” I didn’t really mean to embarrass her, but I did, and she didn’t say too much to me the rest of lunch. Oops! Not the way to get conversations going, Sarah.

Another girl eventually started talking to me (while no one was watching … she couldn’t be associated with one of those* girls) about why she believed MySpace was dangerous. “You have a profile on there, and then perverts can find you and stalk you!” I was a little more tactful in explaining to her that you can have a private account; set up controls, keep strangers out (know my last name? only then can we be friends) and that you don’t have to branch out from your main circle of friends if you don’t want to. I think I know 95% of my friends list from in-person relationships.

I was able to talk to another guy at the table about how MySpace is creating positive opportunities for non-profit outreaches. He didn’t realize the positivity that could come from responsible MySpace use, and I felt really great being able to explain this stuff to these kids**. I offered not only the Virtual Mystery Tour’s MySpace address to them, but also my personal address as starting points if any of them ever got over their fear of "all the perverts". And we’ll see if they ever make eye contact with me at church again.

Really though, I was surprised to see such a different reaction to MySpace from people somewhat near my age group. Rather than experimenting with the internet, these 18- and 19-year-old students were acting like my mom; afraid that a misspelled word in Google would yield such wild pornography she'd never be the same. It makes me wonder whether the media is being “effective” in their campaign to scare the younger generation away from the internet. Time will tell. Until then I’ll be searching Leviticus for “If thine daughter maketh a MySpace account, sell her to the Canaanites.”

*aka – one who not only has a personal MySpace account, but also accesses another for school credit
**I later found out my table was mostly college Freshmen … almost a decade younger than me.

The Child Pornography Coverage Gets Smarter

This AP article has been making the rounds in all the major papers. It's about the same old, same old. Young persons taking nekked pics of themselves and then getting into trouble for it. Major trouble, that is. As in "charged with a felony for child pornography distribution" trouble. I've talked about this before, but I think it is one of the most important issues related to teen sexuality online for a number of reasons. One, it embodies the whole idea that teens are seeking approval and needing attention/to feel special. Two, it shows that teens trust each other (I honestly don't think they believe their pics are going to be plastered over the internet when they send one provocative photo to their (hopeful) sweetie). Three, this phenomenon shows that although youth are acting in similar ways as they always have (see One and Two), technology does make things different and the consequences are more serious as a result. Technology makes things not only move faster but also causes the consequences to be more widespread and permanent.

This is where I think this particular article, unlike many of the others I have read, starts to get smarter. Excerpts:
"It's often so spur of the moment that they're not thinking about where those images might end up"
"I think they just do it to impress their boyfriends. When he breaks up, he 'vents,' in his words, by posting them. He apparently didn't think there was anything wrong with it. He didn't know it was illegal."

These are comments coming from law enforcement. Before, quotes from this perspective were more along the lines of "how can they be so stupid," and "what they are doing is illegal." Now, of course my POV on these folk was only derived from previous quotes, but in these I hear a better understanding of not only the issue, but also how we might hope to tackle it. It's going to be a long time before we manage to incorporate technology into our sex education programs (heck, our programs are barely surviving as it is), but the cry for it is getting louder.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Glimmer of Intelligence

I have had a lot of contact with the media in my life. I tend to research about timely and "sexy" topics, and that draws the attention of journalists. And, as you all know, I love to talk and philosophize about things that I really care about. So, put me on a phone with a media person who is trained to let someone blather away until they say something stupid or incriminating and you have a really bad combination from my POV...

But I have to say that for the first time I actually have been quoted somewhere and don't sound like a complete moron. Of course, the writer spelled my name wrong, so Googling this will be hard in the future, but hey. I am making strides. I can actually sound articulate sometimes! See?

This is an issue that I really struggle with intellectually and emotionally. No, I don't think it is a good idea for 12-year-olds to go around seducing older guys (or v.v., for that matter). Especially 28-year-old older guys. Blech. But when we seek to blame someone or something, where to point fingers? I am reluctant to blame parents here. I tend to blame the media, which really is a reflection of our society and cultural values. So, I guess I just blame America.

For as long as I can remember (which would be when I was that age) I have known the longing to have someone find me attractive. I also, when I was a bit older than this (summer after 7th grade), was courted by a college student and felt that I was the sexiest girl in the world because of it. I know how this 12-year-old felt on some level: validated, pretty, loved, desired. But my college boy and I did not have sex. We went out to diiner, kissed, and flirted and stared a lot, but that is as far as it went physically. So, I don't know how this 12 year old felt when she sought to have sex -- and did -- with a man more than twice her age. But I can imagine.

How do we get young persons to realize that the older guys who respond to them are sort of losers? It's a question that plagues me, educators, and parents everywhere. Problem is, I still don't see Seth as a lame-ass for being with me way back then. And I don't see me as damaged in any way by being with him (for three summers, I may add. It was a silly little romance that actually lasted for a bit). Maybe that is part of my problem. I can't find a solution until I realize that what happened to me is the very thing that as an adult I want to prevent, but as part of my memories is one of the best times of my life.