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Summer is here and if you’re like many parents, you have booked summer camps for your kids to attend, so they don’t drive you insane *COUGH*, I mean, so they have a well-balanced summer. Camp can be summed up as new kids + new adults = new social dynamic, so now’s the time to brush up on convos about bodies and boundaries.
I want to start out by saying that the majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the victim knows well (1), so stranger danger doesn’t quite live up to its reputation. But next up in perpetrator probability are people who your kid knows well but you do not (2). Hence, summer camps! Now, mind you, I’m writing this post as a mom and sex educator, not necessarily as the prevention scientist and professor that I also am because (to my knowledge) there hasn’t been a ton of research on summer camps.
But really, summer camp is so fun! I went to them as a kid and send my own kid to them, so I don’t think they are dangerous spaces. But they are spaces for kids to apply their social knowledge and practice their social skills in a new environment. Consider addressing the following:
‘Sexting’ is typically referred to as sending a nude photo through a phone. There is nothing new about sharing a nude photo with a beloved. You just used to have to go to a seedy photography shop to get your film developed, or use a Polaroid and hand it over. The chances of lots of people seeing the photo were low. Remember needing to spring for double prints? Now, within seconds, thousands of people can see your nude photo depending on which app or website it gets uploaded to. Stats on the prevalence of sexting among teens are unclear, because studies range between 9%-60% (1, 2) of teens reporting that they have ever shared a nude image of themselves. So it’s difficult to tell how common sexting actually is. In order for us to address sexting in a realistic way with teens, we must first understand the sexual culture they live in that normalizes sexting.
(1) Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. (2014b). Youth involvement in sexting: Findings from the youth internet safety studies. Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1-11.
(2) Crimmins, D. M., & Seigfried-Spellar, K. C. (2014). Peer attachment, sexual experiences, and risky online behaviors as predictors of sexting behaviors among undergraduate students. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 268-275.
(3) Walrave, M., Ponnet, K., Van Ouytsel, J., Van Gool, E., Heirman, W., & Verbeek, A. (2015). Whether or not to engage in sexting: Explaining adolescent sexting behaviour by applying the prototype willingness model. Telematics and Informatics, (April). doi:10.1016/j.tele.2015.03.008
(4) Vanden Abeele, M., Campbell, S. W., Eggermont, S., & Roe, K. (2014). Sexting, Mobile Porn Use, and Peer Group Dynamics: Boys’ and Girls' Self-Perceived Popularity, Need for Popularity, and Perceived Peer Pressure. Media Psychology, 17(1), 6–33. doi:10.1080/15213269.2013.801725.
(5) Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14, 305-323.
(6) Milhausen, R. R., & Herold, E. S. (1999). Does the sexual double standard still exist? Perceptions of university women. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 361-368.
(7) Calogero, R. M., & Thompson, J. K. (2009). Sexual self-esteem in American and British college women: Relations with self-objectification and eating problems. Sex Roles, 60, 160-173.
(8) Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). Body objectification, MTV, and psychological outcomes among female Adolescents1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 2840-2858.
(9) Schick, V. R., Calabrese, S. K., Rima, B. N., & Zucker, A. N. (2010). Genital appearance dissatisfaction: Implications for women’s genital image self-consciousness, sexual esteem, sexual satisfaction, and sexual risk. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 394-404.
(10) Muehlenkamp, J. J., & Saris–Baglama, R. N. (2002). Self–objectification and its psychological outcomes for college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 371-379.
(11) Tolman, D. L. (2005). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Harvard: University Press. American Psychological Association, T. F. O. T. S. O. G. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. APA Talk Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
(12) Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
(13) Albury, K. (2014). Porn and sex education, porn as sex education. Porn Studies, 1, 172-181.
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There is nothing new, unique, or even creative about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s just the latest installment of pop culture messages that teach girls and young women that truly hot and irresistible love includes some element of violence and danger.
These messages start when you’re little with Beauty and the Beast. As a girl, you learn to be nice and patient with an abusive partner, and as long as you remain so, he will change his behavior and transform into a Prince. It doesn’t matter that he’s throwing things at you, locking you up in a room, not letting you eat without him, not letting you get to your father…he will change…you just need to tame him. But Beauty and the Beast isn’t real….
When you get a little older, these messages continue with the Twilight series. You see Bella fall for a vampire with a basic instinct to kill her. You learn to put up with stalking and harassing as you try to prevent him from killing you. To do so, just leave your friends, family, and identity behind to become just like him (a vampire). Bella and Edward teach you not to get too close, because that would end in death. In fact, when they eventually do have sex, he almost does kill her! Let’s get real. Bella displays 3 classic traits of a victim in an abusive relationship: She has intense low self-esteem; She loves the bad-boy (she only starts to have feelings for nice-guy Jacob when he turns into a werewolf); and she’s thrilled by the violent and dangerous acts of Edward (they aren’t red flags to her at all). Edward displays 4 hallmark traits of an abuser: He warns her away from him, only to increase her desire; He is possessive and tries to isolate her from her family and friends, he even incapacitates her car so she can’t get away; He stalks her constantly and when he can’t, he uses his vampire superpower to stalk her through others’ thoughts; and he has an intense temper but it’s not his fault because he’s a vampire. But Twilight isn’t real….
Now that you’re an adult, the messages are solidified with Fifty Shades of Grey. Emotionally intimate and tantric sex? Nah…who wants that? Let’s just keep getting abused. Some more stalking, some threats, get tied up for a day (literally)…You’re now a sex slave who hasn’t consented to it, but you love it, right? Christian Grey also happens to show classic abuser signs: he warns Anastasia away by telling her he’s not good for her, he stalks her by deliberately tracing her mobile phone to find out where she is, and he attempts to control and isolate her by having her sign a non-disclosure agreement (so that she can’t discuss what goes on in their sexual relationship). Super healthy! Then to top it all off, he actually rapes her: “‘No,’ I protest, kicking him off.” Christian replies, “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening, right now.” You learn that it is not really rape if you like it and as E.L. James writes, Anastasia does feel pleasure while she’s being raped. That message isn’t confusing at all when we are trying to combat college campus sexual assault on a national level. But Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t real….
So what? If these stories aren’t real and have no influence on our cultural representation of romance, why are they the same story? Cultivation Theory tells us we construct our ideas of reality through the images and messages around us, whether we are conscious of it or not (1). The popularity of these stories alone displays how much validity girls have given to these characters as representations of true love and it really makes it clear how the problems with sexual and romantic violence in our culture get covered up in ways that we don’t even notice.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a hot, intense, romantic love story as much as anyone….but Fifty Shades of Grey is not it. There are many movies that are truly hotter. More importantly, we rarely get the message that you can have hot and satisfying sex without experiencing pain or humiliation. In fact, both men and women report being more sexually satisfied during sex with someone they love and trust (2).
It is important to note that a common fantasy women report is wanting to be dominated sexually (3). HOWEVER, domination is wanted when it is consensually agreed upon and does not occur outside of the bedroom. This type of domination is sometimes referred to as ‘light bondage’. For example, wanting your partner to tell you what sexual acts to do, wanting a blindfold, or wanting your hands tied. This type of domination fantasy doesn’t come from a desire to be hurt or humiliated, but stems from a desire to let go. If someone you trust is in control, you get to experience sexual pleasure without the pressure of having to ask for what you want. It is rarer that the domination fantasy extends to physical pain or emotional insults, or acts that can be considered BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism). Even so, true practitioners of consensual BDSM do something called preparing and repairing. Meaning, they lovingly spend time together before the sex act, usually connecting emotionally on some level and will discuss the types of play they want to do. After the sex act, they cuddle and connect while talking about what worked and didn’t work. Fifty Shades is not a depiction of consensual domination fantasy or consensual BDSM.
Fifty Shades is less of an erotic love story and more of a stalker’s handbook. Please take some time to think about the girls and women who endure these types of relationships. One in 3 women have experienced relationship violence in America, a rate which has reached epidemic proportions (4). There is no happily ever after for women in these relationships. I would encourage you to get to get involved with V-Day, check out Love Is Respect, and celebrate Teen Dating Violence awareness month to help eradicate violence toward women instead of romanticizing violence toward women.
(1) Potter, W. J. (1993). Cultivation theory and research. Human Communication Research, 19(4), 564-601.
(2) Herbenick, D. (2014). Sex, love, intimacy, and orgasm: Integrating sex ed and new findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Oral presentation at the National Sex Ed Conference. East Rutherford, NJ.
(3) Joyal, C. C., Cossette, A., & Lapierre, V. (2014). What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Advanced online publication.
(4) Alhabib, S., Nur, U., & Jones, R. (2010). Domestic violence against women: Systematic review of prevalence studies. Journal of Family Violence, 25(4), 369-382.
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Over my years talking with parents about sexuality, pornography and their kids, it seems as if everyone just wants to know what button to push, what software to buy, what technique to use, in order to ensure their child never sees porn, talks to strangers about sex online, or sends a “sext”. Let me be the first to say there is nothing a parent can do to guarantee their child will never do anything potentially dangerous online. There are however, steps parents can take that will drastically reduce the probability that a child will develop consistently problematic internet behaviors.
When it comes to porn specifically, I believe protecting and preparing children has less to do with managing internet access and more to do with being an approachable parent and talking about sex early and often in a positive way. Of course talking about porn helps too, which is why you should read part 1 and part 2 of this 3-part series.
When it comes to problematic internet behaviors generally (e.g. cyber-aggression, responding to sexual solicitations from strangers, engaging in sexting or webcam sex, exposure to violent or child pornography), I recommend first focusing on becoming a reduced-tech family. Putting more emphasis on the real world and less emphasis on cyber-reality can help kids and teens put their value and energy into their real lives and simply use the web as a tool to connect with others and learn about the world on an as-needed basis, instead of constantly drudging through the cyber-sphere searching for the next thrill.
Every family is unique, so you need to do whatever tech reduction works for you. The following are just some suggestions to get you thinking about what you can change about the technology environment in your household. Try something out and adjust as needed. For example, you might want to start out more stringent, and then allow more online autonomy as your children get older and demonstrate they can handle the responsibility. Regardless of how you’d like to implement a change, here are some tips to get you started:
1. Limit time. Help reduce problematic internet behaviors by reducing time spent online in a specific way. If you are trying to limit the use of technology in a general way (e.g. a few hours a day) it is easy to forget how much time you’ve been online on any given day. It is much easier to limit time by providing time windows when the use of the internet is allowed and windows where it is not, because it is difficult to forget that from 5-7pm there is no internet action going on in your household. You could also try a tech curfew (no internet after 7 or 8pm). Some families have found that having no tablet/smartphone usage from 5-7pm works, then they have a 30 min window to return emails, messages, and texts, and then off again at 7:30pm. There is also software which tracks time spent on Netflix, Facebook, Games, Word, Excel, etc…..and that is another way to monitor time spent on a computer doing recreational activities vs. homework activities. Whatever you choose, 24-hour unlimited access to the internet doesn’t mean we need to be online 24-hours a day. The internet isn’t going anywhere. We can take a break.
2. Limit space.Determining which areas of your house can be used to access the internet and which areas can’t be used can protect your children from developing problematic internet behaviors. It’s easy to sneak a peek at porn when at friend’s house or even in your own living room. However, it is really hard to masturbate to porn every day or to chat with a pedophile if there is no device to connect to the internet in your bedroom or bathroom. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to keep all devices that can connect to the internet in a public place. No laptops, tablets, or smartphones in bedrooms or bathrooms. They are not private devices, so they do not belong in private rooms. Here’s the catch: you should do this too. This is where I lose parents. You actually have to model this stuff in order for your kids to buy into it. Try to have a “home” for the devices such as a basket or cabinet (some families have a cabinet that locks for kids who sneak their devices at night). This sends the message that devices shouldn’t be attached to our bodies at all times just because they are portable. It also sends the message that these devices don't belong to the child, they belong to the parent who is allowing the child to use the device. You can also have other areas where gadgets aren’t allowed such as a dining room table or kitchen table. Try actually talking to one another while eating or actually concentrating on the food you’re eating. It’s kinda nice.
3. Limit access. You have to install computer monitoring software. I’ve had several parents tell me that they talked to their child about the internet, so they don’t need to install monitoring software. This is wrong. You do need to install it. And re-install it. Or filter the router. You can explain to your child that the monitoring software is not about their behavior, it is about the behavior of others….how others can find them online, or how pop-ups and viruses can occur when visiting certain sites, or how you can accidently end up on violent sites while doing research via google. There is software that can monitor PCs, tablets, and smart phones. There is also software where you can manually allow certain websites (e.g. sexual health sites) that may be automatically blocked. You can find more info here. Of course, there are ways for your child to get around most software, which is why you need to stay on top of passwords, scan for ghosting software, and re-install frequently. However, the more difficult you make it, the less likely he/she can be exposed to content for hours on end. And for younger children, the less likely they will come across bestiality while googling “my little ponies”. If you are concerned that your child is in consistent contact with adult strangers or is consistently visiting sexually explicit sites, you can always have your computer “read” by a professional and no amount of ghosting will be covered up…but I recommend being honest about that. Secretly recording a kid’s internet usage will likely do more harm to the parent-child relationship than good for the development of the child. Explain that they can do what they want on the internet once they’re an adult….but for now, because of the dangers online, it is important that you do what you can to keep them safe and healthy.
4. Teach accountability.When teaching your children about appropriate behavior at school, church, at a friend’s house, at home, or on the basketball court, make sure you also include the web. Cyber behavior should be thought of as an extension of the self…..or representation of the self. If you wouldn’t do it in-person, you probably shouldn’t be doing it online. Little kids understand this better than big kids who can think more abstractly and can rationalize their bad behavior online. One way to get your child to think about his/her online behavior is to have him/her make a contract. Here’s an example:
I won’t post mean comments/send mean texts
I won’t “like” or “favorite” mean comments or posts
I won’t visit websites that I wouldn’t visit with you behind my shoulder
I won’t post my address or phone number online
I will not friend someone I don’t already know in person
I will not distribute nude or sexy photos of other people
I will not send nude or overtly sexual pictures of myself
Now of course, I don’t actually believe that every kid will stick to everything in his or her contract, but at least you will have something in writing, so that everyone is on the same page about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
5. Show respect for your child as a sexual being. This can include providing privacy (e.g. tell them you will always knock before entering their bedroom or bathroom); providing a diary or voice recorder to record their thoughts and desires; providing access to sexual health websites (have to manually allow if filtering); providing them with books about bodies and sexuality; allowing them to have private conversations with their friends on the phone and/or private time in-person, etc. This step is perhaps the most important one because it sends the message that your computer monitoring efforts aren’t about stifling their privacy or keeping them from figuring out their sexual self, it is about protecting them from all of the %@*! online.
6. Fill in with fun.Now that you’ve carved out some time where everyone won’t be glued to their devices, you can try some the following: paint, read a novel, play a board game, hang out in the backyard, take a walk, learn a musical instrument, grow a garden, get a basket-ball hoop and use it, set up a mini-golf course, visit a mini-golf course, organize a community garden, take dance lessons, meditate, go to sleep, write in a journal, make a collage, take up photography, floss, learn massage, volunteer at an animal shelter, adopt kittens, make your own yogurt, collect Fall leaves, go to a sports event, go to the theater, have a bonfire with s’mores, wash the car, write a poem, go to the zoo, ride a bike, bake cookies and give them to the neighbor, hand write letters and send them to friends, go fishing, make model planes and cars, de-clutter a closet or room, visit an assisted-living facility, make giant bubbles, have a yard sale and let the kids decide what to do with the profits, stargaze, make photo albums, build a snowman, go to the farmer’s market, learn magic tricks, put a puzzle together, take in a concert, do a fire drill, teach your kids about money and entrepreneurship, paint a room, adopt a family for the holidays, adopt a classroom and donate art supplies, learn how to change the oil in a car, go to a trivia night at a local pub/restaurant, fly a kite, research your family heritage and track down your ancestors, find shapes in the clouds, or play in the sprinklers.
I know, changing the tech environment is easier said than done. I have to constantly “get back on the wagon” once I notice that I’ve started bringing my iPad to bed, or we’ve started watching TV every night, etc. Just dust yourself off and try again! I hope you’ve found this 3-part series helpful. Please comment or email me about your experiences trying these techniques out and any experiences you had from initiating conversations in Part 2. Remember, usually kids (and adults) are irritable or even down-right angry with less tech, and then they start to realize how great reality can be. Let’s take the time to be mindful of how we as a culture raise our children and teach them about themselves, their identities, their relationships, and their sexuality. They deserve better! We can raise sex-savvy kids!
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I know, talking about sex with kids is hard enough, let alone talking about porn! You may have tried to have “the talk”, and that was awkward, so now you just hope for the best! You’re not alone. Our ever-growing-media-saturated culture is not easy to keep up with. Even sex educators and sex researchers like myself have a hard time keeping up. Luckily, you get more than one shot. Talking about sex and porn isn’t a one-time only deal. Especially if your children are young or haven’t seen much porn yet. So, make sure to read part 1 of this 3-part series and prepare yourself first. In my years of studying and talking about sexuality and pornography with college students, teachers, social workers, counselors, and academics, I’ve discovered some important talking points to get conversations going. Regardless of how you feel about how right or wrong porn is, it is essential you understand porn and sex are quite different and should be approached differently.
In general, you will want to keep a positive tone, and try to be as conversational as possible. Kids rarely react well to stern lectures about sex. One of your goals is to establish yourself as an approachable parent, and being positive and conversational helps you achieve that. In general, put these talking points into your own words and modify as needed for younger kids. For example, you can say, “pictures of naked people” instead of “porn”. The following are 9 general talking points that can help you start or continue multiple conversations about porn, sex, and our sexual culture:
1. If you’ve rarely discussed sexuality, apologize.
Additional talking points:
2. Sex and nudity are some of the most exciting aspects of life and have been celebrated in nearly every culture for thousands of years.
Additional talking points:
3. Porn is not about sex or nudity.
Additional talking points:
Why: It is important to make a distinction between porn and sex. Describing porn as an industry can help kids understand why it’s not necessarily real and shouldn’t be used as a means of sex education. Getting a child to understand the aspects of the industry that they are supporting is an important value to instill, so they understand their internet use as an extension of their own values and not just meaningless entertainment.
4. Due to the enormous profits to be made, there are many companies out there taking advantage of their performers or encouraging them to engage in extreme sex acts to stay “marketable”(2).
Additional talking points:
Why: It’s important for kids (and adults) to understand the profit that is driving the type of sex they are seeing, especially for kids who haven’t had sex yet. For example, this would be really important point for you to make if your child has seen bukkae (when multiple men ejaculate on the face of 1 woman at the same time) or double penetration (when 2 men put 1 penis in an anus and another in the vagina).
5. Sex is about pleasure!
Additional talking points:
6. Masturbation is completely normal.
Additional talking point:
7. Masturbating to porn is different than masturbating without porn.
Additional talking points:
Why: As a culture, we often think of porn use as synonymous with masturbation. In fact, I’ve had dozens of college students in shock and awe over the revelation that they could reach orgasm on their own without watching porn. This is a very important life skill to have! It’s also important to be able to masturbate the old fashioned way, as there is some growing evidence that masturbating to porn creates a “high” that is more “neuro-chemically” rewarding than other sexual behaviors, making real sex less enjoyable.
8. When you are an adult, you can decide for yourself how much you would like porn to be a part of your private life.
Additional talking points:
Why: This sends the message that porn is for adults. Even if you would like them to never use porn, this sets them up for thinking about how porn would fit into their life when they’re older and letting them know, if they are using porn, it’s on them. Not you. They’ve been informed.
9. Porn is going to be everywhere, if it isn’t already.
Additional talking points:
In general, as you have these conversations, you want to focus more on asking questions and responding calmly without judgment, rather than going through the list as administering a lecture. Perhaps set aside a couple of months and make it a goal to talk about one of these points each week, or break it up into 3-4 sessions and repeat as needed when something comes up that allows you to have a conversation (TV show, friends, movie, advertisement, current event, etc.).
If you know your child has already seen a fair amount of porn ask him/her, “Did you see anything that was confusing to you?”, “Did you see anything that scared you?” Remember to always respond warmly and calmly to encourage more discussions (e.g. “Not many people would be willing to discuss this topic. I’m really proud of how honest you are being right now.”). Talking about porn doesn’t have to be painful or weird, just relax and dive in and then dive in again.
Stay tuned for part 3, where I will show you steps parents should take to change the tech environment in a household. If you don’t want to miss out: Sign up for my mailing list, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.
(1) Brown J. D., & L'Engle K. L. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with US early adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36, 129-132.
(2) Reist, M. T., & Bray, A. (Eds.). (2011). Big porn inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. North Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
(3) Bergner, R., & Bridges, A. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 193-206.
(4) Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction-a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 11-16.
(5) Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S. & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLOS ONE, 9(7), e102419.
(6) Braun-Courville D. K., & Rojas M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit Web sites and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 156-162.
(7) Davis, K. C., Norris, J., George, H. W., Martell, J., & Heiman, J. R. (2006). Rape-myth congruent beliefs in women resulting from exposure to violent pornography: Effects of alcohol and sexual arousal. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 1208-1223.
(8) Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2009). Adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study. Human Communication Research, 35, 171-194.
(9) Zurbriggen, E. L., Ramsey, L. R., & Jaworski, B. K. (2011). Self-and partner-objectification in romantic relationships: Associations with media consumption and relationship satisfaction. Sex Roles, 64, 449-462.
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About this Blog:
I'm here to help us discuss sexuality, gender, sexual media, and social media by integrating information from academic and mainstream sources. I do this so you can be informed about what is going on in the sex research world and apply the research to your life. I hope this process produces more sexually competent people who raise sexually competent kids.
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