iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Elissa Stein

GET UPDATES FROM Elissa Stein
 

The Trouble With Grassroots Cyber Sex-Ed

Posted: 09/26/10 09:04 PM ET

During a recent interview with a woman's health writer (having co-written "FLOW," I'm always good for a sound bite or two) the reporter asked if I'd seen the instructional tampon videos popping up on YouTube. Not the ones recently developed by manufacturers, not retro films we'd seen in those humiliating fifth grade assemblies -- these were girls taking matters into their own hands, or noses, or mouths (I'm getting ahead of myself). Apparently teens have been making how-to films and posting them online, where millions have found them.

She wanted to know what I thought.

Initially I was intrigued but uncomfortable. While forthright girls wanting to help others about a topic most are uncomfortable about seemed commendable on the surface, the down sides were plentiful. First, I wondered if the videos were factually correct, if knowledgeable adults were overseeing the projects--misinformation, especially to an impressionable audience, is remarkably difficult to correct. I spent my entire life not swimming when I had my period because of something my best friend told me when I was 11. And as the mother of a tween, I wondered if posting about a subject most are squeamish about was fodder for cyber-bullying. Cruelty amongst teenagers has more forums than ever before with a public stage that can reach millions. And then there are predators, voyeurs and pedophiles who could watch these whenever they wanted, easily replacing that image of a tampon being thrust down a young girl's throat with something else. But, now that many schools pushing sex ed back--in NYC public schools it's not part of the mandatory curriculum until eighth grade, when many kids are already active, perhaps kids educating each other might not be such a bad idea.

And so, I watched. My initial reserve was spot on.

The first video featured a giggly teen with a mouth full of braces, using her mouth as a vagina stand-in. With her head tipped back, easing a tampon down to the back of her mouth, string hanging out, another girl narrated basic how-to's. While the information was surprisingly good, the video ended with the girl's exclaiming about how gross the blood was, how everything should be kept a secret, how you should make sure no one ever knew you had your period.

Shame was the take away message. The next video featured a girl thrusting a tampon up her nose, with most of the information about what brand to use and which to avoid. The third focused on a tampon being thrust at a jeans-clad crotch in what looked to be a public bathroom. The filmmakers were too busy shrieking to actually say anything helpful.

I stopped watching. And started thinking.

Just because these avenues of communication are available, it doesn't mean everyone should have unmonitored, open-ended access. And just because information is easily available with a Google search and the click of a mouse it doesn't mean it's correct. Or appropriate. Kids growing up with cyberspace as their backyard need guidance from grownups, from parents, from educators, which can be a daunting challenge for us because this is a vastly different world from the one we grew up in.

As a parent, hey, as an adult in a society where sharing more is the norm, we need to more closely monitor exactly what it is these kids are sharing.

 
 
 

Follow Elissa Stein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@elissastein