Sex educators discuss youth and technology
January 24, 2008 4:07 PM
Health educators became the students at a conference held at SF State’s downtown campus on Jan. 21 and 22, as they learned more about the impact new technology has on the development of relationships and the health education of Generation Y.
Topics ranged from the “social media”—networking Web sites like MySpace and games like “Second Life”— and its influence on sex education to using video games as a way to convey safe sex messages and disease prevention methods to today’s tech-savvy youth.
Nefertiti Altan, a health educator in San Francisco, works with high school students all over the Bay Area to teach them about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse and viewing sex with a positive focus. Working with teens, she said, has opened her eyes to their dependence on the Internet to find health information and develop relationships.
“We’re just beginning to articulate the value of sexual relationships in a virtual reality and how that’s transforming what a relationship is,” Altan, 23, said.
Marguerita Lightfoot, a UCLA psychologist and conference presenter, said 92 percent of children in K-12 had access to a computer at home or school in 2003.
“Within a matter of a few years, it’s become more affordable to [maintain a relationship] online,” Altan said.
However, many households and classrooms view sexuality as “the elephant in the room,” said Cory Silverberg, co-owner of a Toronto sex toy store called Come As You Are. By not talking about sex, he said, it makes sexual pleasure a threat and gives it a negative connotation.
However, because of its increased accessibility, he said that many of today’s youth experience their first sexual encounters online.
“By talking about [sex], the elephant shrinks,” Silverberg said.
The Internet gives teens an outlet to talk about these subjects and access to related health information their way. Web sites such as www.scarleteen.com and www.teenwire.com (moderated by Planned Parenthood) feature “Ask the Expert” and forums to help youth get their questions answered either by “sexperts” or through anonymous conversation with their own peers.
“Barriers are broken by anonymity,” Altan said.
Online accessibility means anyone can make a Web site. Therefore, information published online must be read with caution. While eight out of 10 people search for health information online, 70 percent of these people don’t check the date or sources, said Audacia Ray, executive editor of $pread magazine, which seeks to “destigmatize sex work,” according to its Web site.
Instead, some educators are turning to another popular medium to get their message across: video games.
Leslie Snyder, a professor of communication studies at the University of Connecticut, presented the idea that in a virtual game, safe sexual decisions could be rewarded and risky behavior could result in a consequence.
The “learn by discovery” and role playing could be assessed and tailored to ensure the player would gain a better understanding of sexual health and disease prevention through their exposure to the game.
“I want the way we feel about sex to change in society,” Altan said. Right now, she said, “It’s not honest.”
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