Online Sex Ed: A Saving Grace

The U.S. cannot seem to come to an agreement about how to reasonably educate kids about sex, with many states and districts opting for “abstinence only” sex education time and again, (which I find both a remarkably funny concept and remarkably sad for the kids and teens affected.)

As the product of a K-8 Catholic school, where my “sex ed” units were taught in religion classes with anything that sex actually involves (like, I don’t know, physical contact with another person?!?) rarely even alluded to, I’ve somehow emerged on the other side relatively unscathed. (“Relatively” is operative.) Many teens and young adults in other surroundings, however, do not. This is some serious injustice, y’all.

Back in middle school, many chapters of my “Fully Alive” (lol) books were all about the holiness and purity of your body that would be vanquished if you had sex the wrong way at the wrong time and the guilt that one should feel about having sex too young.

Then, there were the days when we watched the video of the Abstinence Super Couple: two young, plucky, and attractive professional public speakers who said they were happily married because they had “waited.” One was a virgin, and the other had re-virginized when she found Jesus. They told us that’s how they were getting to heaven. Our teachers nodded. That was that.

At the time, I accepted what I was presented with. I was in an insulated environment and had no resources with which to intelligently question it. Now I look back and wonder (well, YELL is more accurate): Why was nothing about sex actually discussed in these hours of sex and body education? Would it have killed them to say the word “vagina”? “penis”? “STI”? birth control”? “pleasure”???

Apparently, in their eyes, the answer is yes. They may have thought they would be hell-bound for actually educating about healthy sexual practices rather than teaching kids to fear their bodies. So adults give incomplete and often incorrect information, and kids don’t get the full picture and lose some of their agency.

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But, wait…the Internet is here to help! Picking up slack, as it so often does. There are websites and all manner of videos dedicated to helping preteens and teens understand sex, sexuality, and bodies beyond “DON’T TOUCH YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE TILL MARRIAGE, M’KAY?”

The creators of these sex ed resources give me a little hope where legislators, school administrators, and parents sometimes don’t. The Internet is a vast resource for educating oneself, and anyone who wants to find this info can easily access it. Cyber space offers us an equal opportunity resource, and I only hope that kids and parents are finding, using, and sharing this information like lives depend on it. Because they really, really do.


Miss Representation: media coverage of women politicians

Miss Representation (which is now streaming on Netflix) covers an array of issues, and the whole thing is worth watching. If you’re like me, you’ll re-watch it a few times, and you’ll want to break it down and take it apart piece by piece, especially the part 41 minutes in that digs into the gaping gender disparity in politics.

After a long and all too familiar sequence of political commentators disparaging the credibility of female politicians based on looks and gender, Pat Mitchell, who is the president and CEO of Paley Media Center and the former president and CEO of PBS, says:

“There’s probably no more powerful influence on the way we view power than the way media treats power, and media treats power as defined by men because it has been, throughout our generation and the ones before, generally defined that way.”

Interviewees in that section of the film goes on to explain that writing articles about a politician’s looks or insulting a piece of clothing she wore is not only irrelevant and objectifying, but it also trivializes that individual, making her appear less powerful or credible.

At a panel I attended last year, former NC senator Ellie Kinnaird’s final words to the audience, nearly all of whom were women, was to run for office. She brought up the fact that women are often not asked to run for office as persistently or as frequently as men are, so she encouraged us to tell the women leaders that we knew to consider running.

Media is perpetuating the image of what power and intelligence looks like, and with its often embarrassing coverage of female politicians, it affects what we imagine politicians can hope to be in the future, as well. If we see strikingly few female politicians holding public office and watch as so many media organizations follow their careers in a horribly sexist way, how are we supposed to see a future when it will be desirable for more women to pursue public office?

The best we can do now—and absolutely must do—is encourage women to run and demand that the press will fairly cover their achievements and actions and than it will stop visually dissecting bodies and discounting logic as emotional defeat.

Unpacking St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness”

St. Vincent/Annie Clark‘s new album is gleaming. It took me a couple of listens to fully immerse, but when I did, it was magic. And just a couple of weeks after the album was released, her live show at Haw River Ballroom quickly became one of the best and most tirelessly exciting I’ve seen.

The fifth track of her self-titled album that dropped in February, the song “Digital Witness” is reflective of a general disillusionment with how immersed many of us have become in the realm of digital media.

Part of the chorus facetiously instructs, “People, turn the TV on. It looks just like a window.” She speaks to the ways we’ve replaced tangible experiences with ones we can passively experience on a screen.

Later on, the phrase turns as she suggests, “People, turn the TV on and throw it out the window.” Clark sings about the pursuit to get in touch with actual reality, and she proposes that the most reinvigorating and radical thing we can do reconnect with what it is to be human is to actively reject the technological options we’re handed.

There’s an evident, deeper reason for this critique than simply turning off your phone when you want to get something done or trading time spent on Facebook for time spent reading a book. There is a meditation on existence at the heart of the song. Clark is proposing reflection on the digital age in a way that is not shallow or empty; she’s getting at what exactly it means to be a person in this era.

Clark asks repeatedly, “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping? If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me, what’s the point of doing anything?”

The idea of sharing has become so integral to feeling as if we are communicating effectively, not just to one but to many. Are we really just witnessing the world and electing to participate in it less and less? It seems with all the sharing we’re doing, someone should eventually be asking what we are gaining. I’m glad Clark is one of the people publicly engaging with the topic.

She ends the song with a lyrical plea: “What’s the point of even sleeping? So I stopped sleeping, yeah, I stopped sleeping. Won’t somebody sell me back to me?”

On days when I’ve spent longer than a couple of hours on my laptop—which is almost every day—I feel you, Annie Clark.

A Snapshot of the Women’s Media Center Annual Report

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The comprehensive annual report from the Women’s Media Center revealed what I already expected to be true: media’s representation of women is seriously lacking, and in many cases, actually worsening. Here’s a handful of stats:

  • “The percentage of episodes directed by minority females slid from 4 percent to 2 percent. (That was the most glaring year-to-year change, driven largely by the cancellation of a single show, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.)” This is just dismal.
  • “Fifty-two shows for which minorities made up 10 percent or less of the casts got the lowest Nielsen rating, 0.39 points.” Execs: people will actually watch your shows in greater numbers if they contain diverse casts. In addition to representational issues, shows are simply more likely to be of good quality if they are not grossly whitewashed. I’m tired and bored of watching this many white people on TV and in films, and I am not alone in this.
  • “Black women respondents said “Young Phenoms,” “Girls Next Door,” “Modern Matriarchs,” and “Individualists” were the black women they knew most in real life.” How about more representations of these kinds of women, rather than more of the “Angry Black Woman” trope?
  • “89 percent of tech start-ups are launched by all-male teams.” Again, dismal.
  • “The number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science dropped 64 percentage points from 2000 to 2011.” Loss of interest in growing fields is a real problem. As the daughter of two computer and telecommunication engineers, I grew up listening to my mom tell me about her college engineering courses, where she was one of only a few women in her entire department. But just when I get discouraged by the reality that this disparity in the tech world has barely changed, I think about Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code. Check ’em out, and tell every young woman you know the truth: coding is power.
  • “By 2020, the United States is projected to have 1.4 million computer-based job openings.” See my previous point.
  • “Leadership ranks in television news were 21.6 percent female. Leadership ranks in newspapers were 19.2 percent female. Leadership ranks in radio news were 7.5 percent female.” I’m wishing I were shocked. Glass ceilings still exist.

That’s just the result of a perusal, and I feel steeped by those percentages.

And one more thing to keep in mind: poor representation is a systematic problem that will require conscious action to be improved. These disparities will not simply even out on their own. So here’s to the individuals who will use whatever power and platforms they have to make next year’s report a lot more hopeful.

The Food Porn Index, because some things are deliciously IMPORTANT

Please, do your day a favor and explore

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A healthy and natural food company, Bolthouse Farms, made this beautiful website, which pits healthy and unhealthy foods against one another to see who will win out in what I’m calling the #foodporn Olympics. Though I think you could make a case for some of the “unhealthy” foods actually being kind of healthy—(Pizza is good for body, mind, and SOUL, ok??)—the idea is interesting and well-executed. My favorite pages so far are the brussels sprout ballet and the pomegranate piñata.

Since people already love sharing “food porn” photos on social media, why not turn it into an artful competition? I’m not sure how well the team incentive will work as far as getting people to choose healthier options, but it really can’t hurt. And it’s so fun, y’all. My condiment splatter looks like a Pollock painting.

such art.

Which one’s which…hard to tell, right?

The current score stands at 72.1% unhealthy vs. 27.9% healthy. Despite my love for pizza, I’m on team veggie. Let’s go, kale!

Internet trolls shown to often have sociopathic tendencies

This article reveals a study’s recent findings that Internet “trolls” are actually Machiavellian sociopaths.

My response: NO WAY?!? Does gravity also happen? Is ice just frozen water? WHAT.


Ok, but in all seriousness, I am so glad to see a study backing up a claim many have probably hypothesized. There are now some numbers to back up a sneaking suspicion that I’ve had that you simply cannot be a completely healthy contributor to society and enjoy fruitful in-real-life relationships, then go online and talk trash, virtually without consequence.

The Machiavellian angle was an interesting approach in the study, which I’m thinking, in addition to a willingness to manipulate others, also indicates that trolls mostly hold the conviction that ends justify means and that people are not inherently valuable. (I would like the article to give a clearer description of that how the study measured that label and the “Vicarious Sadism” qualifications.)

Perhaps my selfishly favorite aspect of the article, apart from what it has to say about trolls, is the complete lack of narcissism, Machiavellianism, sadism, and psychopathy in the “Non-Commenter” category. As a non-commenter on most websites, I’ve always thought that the comment section was not as preferable place to express my opinions (most of the time) as my actual conversations are, but now I can use my non-commenting characteristic to prove that I’m neither a sadist nor a narcissist. I’ll take it.

(Wait, that may have been a really narcissistic way to look at the study…)

A thank you note to the Internet

I’ve grown a little tired of social media/screen time/the constant plugged-in-ness that my friends, family and I have all fallen into, over the course of the last few months, especially. I’ve become a little cynical about it—perhaps overly cynical. And to combat this mindset, I’m going to try to write a letter of gratitude to the Internet, because I recognize that my life has played out much differently than it would have without it. (I also recognize that this letter is nowhere near comprehensive, as far as recognizing the Internet’s net impact. It’s not trying to be.)

swimming through cyber space omg yessss

swimming through cyber space omg yessss

Anyway, here goes:

Dear Internet,

The other day, I drove myself and my roommate home from hours spent at a coffee shop doing work—much of it online—through Carrboro’s frozen neighborhoods late at night. The navy blue sky, white moon and orange street lamps painted the road in that contrasting, suburban-magic kind of light. “A World Alone,” the final track on Lorde’s album Pure Heroine meandered and built in that mythical sound brew she consistently concocts.Halfway through the song, she posits one of my favorite lines.

“Maybe the Internet raised us,” she sings with feverish intensity.

That short sentence threw my roommate and I into impassioned discussion about how much Lorde just GETS IT. Then we proceeded to launch into, “Raise a glass, ’cause I’m not done saying it. / They all wanna get rough, get away with it,” and finally belted, “Let ’em talk ’cause we’re dancing in this world alone!” This was a normal drive for us.

My thoughts on that song and those kinds of moments sum up a feeling I have about you that’s pretty hard to pin down.

You, Internet, are a vast infrastructure of individuals positioned on an entirely new plane. And you’re a big part of my life. You have been since I was about 11 years-old. Aside from some particularly incredible teachers—friends and family members included—you’ve consistently been an important piece and platform of my education and overall happiness.

You’ve allowed me unprecedented exposure to music I may have never otherwise heard about or had the opportunity to delve into as deeply as I have, (for instance: the aptly named The Internet.) You’ve allowed so many artists to begin even making music at all. You’ve shifted our musical climate irreversibly, giving resources, tools, inspiration, access and exposure to makers and consumers alike.

You’ve made possible my Netflix problem. (But it’s really more of a solution, am I right?) You’ve created the concept of binge-watching, which I first perfected with 30 Rock, then Orange is the New Black, then Parks and Recreation. So much of my laughter has been delivered thanks to you.

You’ve made social media into a phenomenon millions can’t imagine living without. You’ve allowed for easy access to people half a world away. You’ve allowed for shared milestones, shared mourning, shared hilarity. You allowed me to blast my melodramatic (but SO REAL) emotions to my peers in my adolescence in the form of Facebook statuses, and you helped me keep in touch effortlessly with my closest friends who live states away. You’ve allowed for people to meet others like them and form communities. You’ve expanded the number and diversity of voices that get to be heard. Thanks for that one. Really.

You’ve also been my world-wide classroom. You taught me all of TED’s life lessons. You taught me how to play guitar. You exposed me to spoken word poetry when I needed to hear it. You have connected me to so many people who were incensed about the same things I was incensed about. You’ve allowed me to discover publications that relate to my interests more than Us or People ever did. You’ve re-introduced “sharing” into our collective vocabulary as something that’s important in maintaining relationships and educating one another, beyond the context of toys in elementary school classrooms.

And the experience of gaining tons from the collective consciousness stored in you, if we’re being honest, really has not deadened the experience of face-to-face connection for me. Thinking back to that night spent belting pop songs in my station wagon: I recognize the enormous sea of people I have access to via you, but I also fully appreciate the singularity of people I care about with your help.

The lyrics speak directly to my introverted tendencies: I know how to be alone, to learn and cultivate what I think, to engage quietly and often online (i.e. “Maybe the Internet raised us.”), then to come back into the social world more mindful and ready to engage with the people in my life (i.e. “You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in this world alone!”).

You’re a platform for messages, learning, indulgence, anger, connection, anonymity, changing things, criticizing, escape and engagement. You’re good for a lot of things, and you’ll forever be only as good or as bad as the people who log on.


a loyal user and contributor