Thanks to Anthony Weiner, the topic of sexting has (hopefully) become regular dinner table talk among family members across the nation. However, the problems of sexting are not segregated to just the Weiner household. It doesn’t take much more than a click of a button for a nude or sexually explicit photo to be sent via text message. But the results of such an action leaves that photo out there for more than must the recipient to be able to see. Those photos can be passed around friends, and even sent to strangers. And a nude photo that is sent to another person’s cell phone can circulate for, well, forever, and can ruin a person’s life.
Our state of California is especially concerned with the rising epidemic of sexting that is going on between middle school and high school students. It has been reported that one in five California teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures and video online. While most adults are aware that sending a photo of a naked body part will surely end up on the internet or circulated among friends, teens aren’t concerned about such dangers, or even understand what the aftermath of such an action would be like. And now, beyond the embarrassment of sending a nude text photo, a teen could become expelled from school.
Senator Ted Leiu introduced bill SB919 that unanimously passed on the Senate floor that will enforce expulsion if any student is caught sending or receiving a text with a sexually explicit or nude photo or video. However, it isn’t clear whether a student will be expelled for sexting photos that are not their own, or where the sexting occurred (as in on or off school grounds).
I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of expulsion across the board for sexting. If it’s true that one in 5 students are guilty of sending or receiving nude photos, than expulsion would have 20% of our teens kicked out of school. How will this be enforced if, say, 20 people pass around the same photo? Will all of them be expelled? While I do agree that some sort of punishment needs to be put in place for those who are targeting someone by sending their nude or semi-nude photo around, there are just too many shades of gray. And while malice does surely take place in some instances of sexting, the biggest culprit in a video or photo placed in public hands is generally from lack of common sense – more a reason to educate rather than punish.
This is why, more than expulsion, we need to teach kids about the implications of sending nude photos to other people. But how does a parent bring this up to their teens? An easy way is to talk about the issues going on in the news. Discuss the shame that Anthony Weiner is now facing in his career, let alone how it has affected his marriage. Talk about how the video Paris Hilton created with her ex-boyfriend is now all over the internet, and how she now regrets it amid legal action concerning the tape, as well as feeling betrayed by someone who once loved her. Talk about how Brett Favre is now paying for the nude photos he repeatedly sent of himself to a NY Jets reporter – how many will always remember him for those photos rather than his football career. Have an open discussion about what these public figures are facing now that those photos and videos have circulated for everyone else to see, and the embarrassment they are surely feeling now. And have your kids think about what it would be like if their teachers came across those photos, their parents or grandparents, people they don’t know at school, or even those they DO know.
What’s your take? Would it actually be better if schools crack down even more heavily on those caught sexting?
On November 5th, an article I wrote about a conversation I had with my daughter regarding abstinence was published. Since that day, I have received several letters in regards to that article. The opinions ranged from outrage, believing that encouraging abstinence left kids without vital information – to elation over the topic of abstinence, believing that kids needed the encouragement to just say no.
Today’s article is being included in our Sex Series, written by Sue Bisbee, the Executive Director of Free to Be – a group that teaches about the choice of abstinence.
Why postponing sex until marriage makes sense to our youth
by Sue Bisbee, Executive Director, Free to Be
On the wall in my office is a small poster a Free to Be youth volunteer peer educator created a few years ago. It says: “Abstinence IS an option; NOT everyone is doing it; virginity is not deathly, STDs are! I have self respect; I am happy; I am Free to Be.”
When young people receive the facts, are given encouragement and taught relationship and refusal skills, many embrace the choice of living an abstinent life-style until marriage. This is reflected in a study just released by the Centers for Disease Control, showing a downward trend in teen sexual activity that began in the early 1990’s and has continued through 2008. In 2008, 53% of boys and 58% of girls ages 15-17 reported never having had sexual contact. This confirms my experience over the past 20 years of working with youth. Abstinence education empowers many teens to postpone sex.
Beginning in the Clinton administration and continuing through the Bush years, funding gradually increased for a primary health prevention approach to teen sex, encouraging youth to avoid risk. Unlike the stereotype of abstinence education, most of the funded programs were one part of a comprehensive approach, and provided medically accurate information in a secular format.
When Free to Be goes into classrooms and other youth-serving sites, we find that teens are very open to the idea of postponing sex. In fact, many tell us that meeting other youth who have chosen to live an abstinent life-style is important to them. For some, this supports a decision they have already made. For others, it opens a dialogue about a healthy option they may not have thought about.
One of our male peer educators explains: “Our generation is constantly bombarded with messages from the media that sex is love, with few exceptions or consequences. You want it, do it. Free to Be provides peers with the opportunity to hear from the other side of the topic, that you don’t have to have sex to love someone, and it’s not cost-free. Free to Be does not force anything on anybody, merely presents statistics and personal experiences to prepare teens to make their own decisions.”
Why, then, have Free to Be and other abstinence programs around the country become a target for exclusion from our schools? The Obama administration has eliminated the federal funding stream for abstinence education, and the ACLU has launched an aggressive campaign to keep Free to Be out of our local schools. By spreading misinformation and using scare tactics, the opponents of abstinence education have convinced many that abstinence education doesn’t work, and even that it is harmful!
Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual health education, politics trumps truth. Several years ago I went to Washington, D.C. with a group of youth from Free to Be to speak with legislators about the importance of including an abstinence approach in our schools. After a presentation to one senator, his aide pulled me aside. He told me that this was the first time he had heard from proponents of abstinence education, and that “every single day” someone came into his office to inform him that abstinence education “doesn’t work.” Although research is clear on the effectiveness of abstinence education, opponents of abstinence education choose to disregard it.
Abstinence education affirms the positives of sex, shares the “freedoms” of living an abstinent life-style, and encourages teens to wait for the healthiest context for sexual activity. One young woman, after a Free to Be presentation, wrote this response: “Before today, I didn’t know about abstinence. Now that I do, I not only respect it, but I am going to choose renewed abstinence.”
A long-time abstinence educator, Amy Scheuring, author and adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh said it well, “I believe in young people. Most think that they are just a bundle of raging hormones. But they are capable of making wise healthy choices. They care about their future.”
Omitting abstinence education from our public schools is a mistake we can not afford to make. In order for these positive trends in sexual activity to continue, our youth must hear all their options and be encouraged to make choices that will provide the best outcomes for their future health and well-being.
Free to Be is a non-profit youth leadership organization that uses a peer-to-peer approach to inform and role-model healthy decisions. www.free-to-be.net
 Chandra, Anjani PhD et al.; “Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth.” National Health Statistics Reports: Centers for Disease Control. Number 36, March 2011.
 Jermott, J. B., Jemmott L. S., Fong G. T. (2010). “Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months.” Archives of Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine. 2010; 164(2):152-159.
On November 5th, an article I wrote about a conversation I had with my daughter regarding abstinence was published. Since that day, I have received so many letters in regards to that article. The opinions ranged from outrage, believing that encouraging abstinence left kids without vital information – to elation over the topic of abstinence, believing that kids needed the encouragement to just say no.
For the next several weeks, I will be revisiting this topic sporadically, allowing for voices other than mine to speak their piece. Today’s post is by Remi Newman, a sexuality educator here in Santa Rosa who offers some vital information on having “the talk” with your child, right from the very beginning.
Sex Matters: Raising a sexually healthy adolescent Guest post by Remi Newman
From the moment they are born, our children are learning about their bodies, learning how to love and who to trust. In other words, they are learning about a fundamental component of their personality- their sexuality. And we, their parents, whether we realize it or not, are their primary teachers.
Being a parent can be overwhelming enough, never mind taking on the responsibility of becoming your child’s primary sexuality educator. Many parents feel they didn’t receive much sexuality education as kids and don’t even know where to begin. Sexuality is a highly charged and sensitive subject that can be hard to talk about with anyone, especially our own children. Meanwhile, we live in a society with conflicting messages about sexuality. Our society’s veneer of chastity discourages us from having open and intelligent discussions about sexuality. At the same time, we are bombarded with misinformation and the exploitation of sexuality primarily as a marketing tool.
It’s not surprising that when it comes to sex and our children, fear often steps in. Rather than seeing themselves as sexuality educators for their kids, parents instead see themselves as gatekeepers of sexuality information, not wanting them to know too much too soon. In no other area of life do we see a value in withholding education from our kids. Parents may worry that the information itself is inherently damaging or that it will encourage sexual activity. Yet, studies have shown that teens who learn about sex and sexuality from their parents are more likely to postpone first sexual intercourse and more likely to use protection when they do have their first sexual intercourse. The only thing you may be withholding from your child is the chance to learn correct information and the opportunity for you to share your personal values about sex and sexuality.
A parent who says they will wait for their child or teen to ask them about sex, before broaching the subject, may be in for a never ending wait. So instead of waiting to have “the talk” with your child, no matter what age, look for teachable moments. For example, a teachable moment for a toddler could be seeing a pregnant woman and telling your child that that woman has a baby in her belly or teaching them the correct names for their genitals when you’re washing them in the bathtub. A teachable moment for a pre-teen may be seeing something on the news about HIV. This is an opportunity to ask what they know about how HIV is transmitted.
If a parent takes advantage of these moments throughout their child’s youth, by the time that child is experiencing puberty and the stakes often get higher, having a conversation about sexual abstinence, sexual intercourse, contraception, condoms—whatever direction you choose to take it in—doesn’t have to be painfully awkward for parent and teen.
Aside from using teachable moments as you raise your children, listen (if at all possible without judgment) to their thoughts and opinions on sexuality. Give them honest thoughtful answers if they come to you with questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question let them know you will help them find the answer. Giving dishonest answers or withholding information will only come back to hurt you later on. Your child will eventually learn the real facts of life and will also have learned that you, their parent, are not a reliable source of information on sexuality. Share your personal values around sex and sexuality with your children. All of these things can help make you an “askable parent” – a parent that an adolescent actually feels comfortable talking to about sex and sexuality.
Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask),JustinRichardson, M.D. and Mark A. Schuster, M.D., PhD
From Diapers to Dating, A parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy children, Debra W.Haffner, M.P.H.
Beyond the Big Talk: A parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy teens, Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H.
Sex and Sensibility, The thinking parent’s guide to talking sense about sex, DeborahRoffman
Remi Newman, M.A. received her master’s degree in sexuality education from New York University and has over 10 years of experience developing and facilitating sexuality education workshops. She is the proud mother of her 4 year old son, Leo, who, so far, knows all the correct names for his body parts. She has created “Having ‘the talk’ before they can talk”, a bilingual sexuality education parenting workshop for new and expectant parents. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t think there is any more difficult conversation you can have with your tween than the (dum, dum, dum) SEX TALK. Honestly, we’ve spent our whole life as parents keeping it behind closed doors so that the kids don’t see. We’ve taught them the appropriate way to keep their willy in their pants, that “play time” is set aside for “private time”, not when they are sitting in the kindergarten circle discussing the colors of the rainbow. We prepare them for the changes their bodies are going to go through, and buy them a stick of deodorant in hopes of toning down that musky underarm stench (which, sorry, but there comes a time when NOTHING helps). We discuss where babies come from, and describe how they are made using technical terms. But eventually, it comes down to the fact that we need to discuss the big one – doing the deed, the horizontal tango, playing monopoly, the whole shebang….
We need to talk about actual sex.
We’re not talking the kind of sex that other people are doing. We’re not talking about what their parents are doing. We’re not even talking about backtracking to how babies are made (though that is a BIG part of the discussion) using cute diagrams and musing over the miracle of life. We’re talking about what they will be doing with their own bodies one day. Or, even though we don’t want to believe it to be true, what they may already be doing. And we need to talk about the reality of sex – the good parts as well as the bad.
I had this discussion with both of my kids a little while ago in the car. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been keeping the discussion about sex an open topic since they were little, keeping it age appropriate. But as of late, I’ve been stepping up the discussion. My daughter is just about to enter Jr. High. And at her age, kids are already starting to share relationships with the opposite sex. This next year she will be introduced to all sorts of new topics. And when it comes to the big ones, I’d prefer that she get her information at home first. At any rate, I started out the conversation by asking her about her recent Sex Ed class she had attended at school. I asked about the topics that they had covered, and she said that they had discussed a bit about the changes that are occurring in girls, but had mostly covered what goes on with boys. The boys had watched a video that discussed girls’ changes.
“So they didn’t cover sex yet?” I asked her.
“No, I think we talk about that next year,” she said.
“Ha ha! DQ’s having sex!” the Taz piped up in the back seat. He giggled while his sister looked ultra annoyed.
“You don’t even know what it is,” DQ fired back.
“Yes I do,” the Taz said smugly.
“Alright Taz, what is it?” I asked him. And he started making kissing sounds and wrapping his arms around himself. “What is that?” I asked him. “Kissing? Is that what sex is?”
“Yup,” he said.
“Wrong!” DQ said.
“What is it then?” the Taz asked, suddenly really interested in the conversation.
“Are you sure you want to know?” I asked him. He nodded.
“You don’t know what you’re asking for,” DQ giggled.
“Tell me,” the Taz begged.
“Ok. It’s when a man and a woman come together, and the man puts his penis–”
“Nooooo!” the Taz cried, falling over in the backseat acting thoroughly disgusted.
“Do you want me to continue?” I asked.
“Yeah, keep going,” he grimaced.
“The man puts his penis” (groan!) “in the woman’s vagina.”
“Auuuugggghhh!” the Taz cried. By this point, DQ was giggling uncontrollably.
“People have to have sex to make babies,” she told the Taz.
“But how does that make a baby?” he asked.
“Well,” I started.
“No! No more!” the Taz said, laughing.
“No. Keep going.”
“When the man’s penis is in the woman’s vagina” (augh!) “he has what’s called an orgasm. Stuff comes out of his penis called ejaculate. And in that ejaculate is something called sperm. The sperm travels to the egg inside of the woman, fertilizes the egg, and then a baby begins to grow inside of the woman.”
“Do you have sex?” the Taz asked me.
Ok, pause. If I were married to the kids’ father, this would be an easy question to answer. Yes. Of course I am having sex. No, we’re not trying to have babies anymore, but sex is an incredibly enjoyable act that two people share when they are in love.
But I’m not married.
I understand that there is a virtue for saving yourself for marriage. I actually have several friends who have done this. And, especially in this day and age, I applaud the gift they are about to give their husband on their wedding night. But I have already experienced sex. And let’s be frank. I like it. I’ve experienced casual sex, and I’ve experienced relationship sex. And in my single life, I’ve come to the conclusion that sex with someone you love and who loves you back is a million times better than those of a one night stand. And I have also realized that casual sex is never really casual, that intercourse leaves a bit of your soul with that person so it hurts that much more when expectations don’t work out the way we had planned. So I get why saving yourself for marriage is actually an excellent choice. But I don’t exactly want to live my single life without it, or feel like I am in a rush to get married just to have sex again. Being that Mr. W and I don’t plan on getting married anytime soon, I would probably wither up and die in certain areas of my body…
And, wait a second… Isn’t the sex talk supposed to only be uncomfortable for the kids? I really wasn’t prepared for the tables to be turned. But what choice did I have? I needed to answer them. And so I did.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
Both of the kids nearly suffered from whiplash as they turned to face me.
“YOU DO?!?” they cried. Both of them took turns telling me exactly how they felt about that – how they thought it was so healthy for me and Mr. W to express our love in such a caring and mutual way, how they were glad that we were comfortable enough in our bodies to be able to share them with each other. But it sounded more like this:
“Ew! Gross! You’ve seen Mr. W naked? He’s seen you naked??? How many times have you done it?”
And through this revelation that they really had no idea that their mom was “doing it”, I realized another thing. I had just been the one to break through my kids’ innocence and give them more knowledge than they even had an inkling about. As far as they were concerned Mr. W and I slept in flannel jammies when I went over there, our bodies covered from the top of the neck all the way down to our feet. We hadn’t even seen each other pee (something else my kids were horrified about upon discovery). Basically, I had just revealed to my kids that it is possible to have sex outside of marriage.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have never pretended that I would tell my kids that waiting till marriage is their only option. Just like I am not reserving sex for only marriage for myself, I couldn’t possibly hold my children to that regard. But I quickly explained to them that while sex is intended as an act inside of marriage, it is possible to have it when unmarried. That’s when I took the opportunity to explain the heartache that occurs with sex, how you have to be so careful to not have sex with a person that isn’t going to handle you gently, body and heart. And I also explained that sex does feel good, but it feels better when it’s with someone you love. And, along with that, I touched on how there are also dangers that come with sex – briefly touching on unplanned pregnancy and the kinds of STDs that are possible, and how there are some people who will force sex on another person.
Even though I shattered the remaining fragments of my children’s innocence, it was actually a really good conversation. And I’m happy to say that it has opened up more discussions since, ones that are less traumatic since we got the hard stuff out of the way.
CLICK HERE for tips on how to initiate a discussion about sex with your tween or teen, and things you should be thinking about before the conversation even starts.
Anyone else having “the talk” with their kids? When did you start? And how did you initially introduce the topic?
Giving the kids something to talk about in therapy.