Sloths, Social Media and Sex Education

Sloths and Social Media
A number of reports have suggested that teens are flocking to Twitter from Facebook. Many of us who work with young people suggest that such reports in the mainstream media are a bit late and many more young people are on Tumblr and Instagram too.

One of the things that has caused concern for me is that within the wider network of teens I know has been the rape sloth meme. I will not include the pictures here because I am aware that younger readers may have access to my blog (and I don’t know how to age verify my posts). Needless to say the images can be found easily on most social media that teens are on, as well as on Google Images. What started as photo shoot by famed photographer Terry Richardson’s 2010 Pirelli Calendar became a meme for rape in 2013.

I have asked teens how they feel about linking a sloth with rape. Of course for many they see it as a harmless meme. That is not something to take too seriously.

If such a pic was something that existed in isolation then we could leave it there. Whilst rape is not sex, at least in a consensual sense, it does raise question around how young people treat sex. Of course much can be seen by people as harmless banter between teens but often it lends itself to much more. Can sex and relationships education solve this? I am not sure it does but in many ways I wonder how creating the right platform for conversations around sexuality will get young people to widen their thinking about sex and what they consider as appropriate, or not. In addition, given the hot topic of same gender marriage, it could also provide a place for conversation with parents and other responsible adults in their lives.

What do we talk about?
Working in schools and colleges with older students I have often challenged them on how they see the world. Giving them permission to express their views on anything from war to race to schooling to sexuality. Two things that emerge immediately are how easily they slip into using slurs like “that is so gay” to them saying that sex education in their school is below par and there should be a space to talk about relationships and the physicality of sex.

To be honest one of the other subjects that comes up is about porn and the concept of image. Talk about ugly fannies, thigh gaps, inappropriate harden ons, whether your still a virgin if you give a blow job are concerns for many teens. Many girl teens have stated that porn actually puts them under a lot of pressure. Boyfriends who have expectations that don’t even land on a girls radar. Afraid as to how they should answer them.

Whilst I realise that I have created a safe enough space for teens to share their points of view, keeping a poker face while internally I am thinking “What the heck did they just ask”, it does concern me that many young people have access to only one concept of sexuality through that medium. Whilst many can discern that as “entertainment” and “not real” if you have not been informed of other approaches and sides to an intimate relationship that creates a whole load of issues. Not least around self esteem and secondly that porn becomes the template for what sex should be.

The thing is whilst my experience has been in talking to teens, what about younger children who are exposed to this.

Sex Education for Primary Children
“Just a few clicks away on any mobile phone, on any tablet for example, children can find really graphic depictions of extreme and violent sexual acts.” This was one of the lines that came from he report, led by the University of Middlesex and commissioned by the Office of The Children’s Commissioner as report

Such a statement could put fear into the heart of any parent worried about the dangers of the internet. On the flip side such a statement could alternatively spark curiosity in a generation who for many intents and purposes many suggest are more internet savvy than many of their parents.

“I didn’t realise he could actually access the web through his PS3”
“Doesn’t porn have age verifying limits?”
“But I put parental filters on everything. What the heck is a proxy?”
“I can protect them all I want but some parents don’t even know what they are watching on their phones, tablets, Xbox or desktops”

These are conversations I have been party to with parents of teens. Many young people have access to stuff (intentionally or not) that many parents don’t even know about. I will confess that I saw my first copy of Readers Wives and Parade while still in year 6. Whilst inadvertently left around we were confused between the “ewww” imagery of the former and the more professional imagery of the later, the stories that accompanied created a primary frame of how sex happened. I remember some of the discussions we had about this. One which ended up in the same said group having to endure detention after being overhead by the English teacher. The conversation was shut down as we feared what would happen if our parents found out. But is this the right way to engage young people who are curious about what they have heard or seen about sex?

It is important that we create a safe space for children to be able to raise their concerns whether exposed to the likes of porn or being able to identify inappropriate behaviour. Of course you are not going to start talking to a five year old about opinions on gang bangs or anal sex, those who are educated in delivering these programmes know better. They ensure that content is age appropriate and are cognisant of the cultural, religious and social mores so that such content is delivered with sensitivity.

It is too easy to get caught up in the sensationalist headlines of reports when speaking about sex and relationships education. I for one believe that past those headlines there is a need for all young people to have this taught as a compulsory subject. In fact let me leave the final words who could say it better than I.

“Good quality sex and relationships education takes place when the subject is given enough time in the timetable, is included in every year of schooling and is taught by trained teachers. It is then possible to introduce children to key themes such as consent, gender, body image, relationships and sexual behaviour. These themes can be introduced in an age-appropriate way and then built on year by year.” Lucy Emmerson, Sex Education Forum

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