Archive for August, 2014

Telling kids sex is fun, and other signs of the impending apocalypse

sexfunI read an interesting piece this morning: “What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?
The author, a sex-positive parent, discusses the discordance between her son’s sex education at home and the farce that occurs in public schools.  She has taught her son the proper names for things, honestly answered all his questions about sex, and even, gasp, admitted that adults have sex primarily for pleasure (aside: she makes this Darwinian/scientific in a really awesome way– explaining to her son that if sex didn’t feel good, there would be no incentive to reproduce, and a person’s genes would never pass on).
From the piece: 

Our son asked why they didn’t tell him this stuff at school. The mate explained that adults stupidly think that if you tell children the truth about sex, they’ll have sex earlier than they really should. He added that the evidence indicates otherwise.

And I was off thinking: How funny that we can’t bring ourselves to tell our children the most fundamental truth about sex, that most of the time we have sex, we have it for pleasure.

It is astonishing that adults are so uncomfortable with such a simple truth, and that instead of admitting that a normal human function is…well, normal, we mask sex in a cloud of shame that follows children into their adulthood.
It is this line of thinking and speaking that leads to high-risk behaviors.
The path is simple and tragic: Child asks a normal question.  Adult responds with guilt, shame and fear.  Child learns to associate sex– and being curious about sex– with shame.  Instead of asking honest questions (say, about birth control), they have learned to keep quiet and instead engage in risky behaviors.
And by “risky behaviors,” I mean all the things you would think: not using protection, using protection wrong, etc.  But I also mean more subtle behaviors.  Sleeping with someone who doesn’t care for you.  Being silent when something is uncomfortable.  Not expressing your desires.  Being coerced into something you don’t want to do.  These responses have long lasting implications on one’s adult relationships, and affect how we relate to each other as humans.
And what is this costly silence accomplishing?
You can make the long Foucault-ian argument: tightly controlling discourses about sex reproduces existing social structures and (racist, sexist, homophobic) power dynamics.  Sex was de-normalized, so to speak, and made into a medicalized, theorized thing (rather than a really fun activity!) over the past three centuries  in order to exert social control.  In other words, we shame sex outside of marriage, non-reproductive sex, and non-heterosexual sex to exalt the institution of marriage, which in turn props up the current social order and labor system (Foucault doesn’t go quite this far in A History of Sexuality, but admits it is a possibility).  Which is why we can’t have a discussion about sex as pleasure, because sex can only exist for reproduction.
As a hippie Marxist, I think this is true and could always delve further down that rabbit hole.  But a whole other part of me just wants to scream: Stop.  It’s 2014.  The divorce rate is high.  Teen pregnancy is high.  Sexual satisfaction is low.   Kids are confused and ashamed, and that’s no way for generations to grow up.
The alternative is beautiful and easy: frank discussions about sex and sexuality.  Full expression for each individual.   Safe, loving, and purposeful decisions being made by fully informed human beings.
Cultural shifts, of course, are never quite so simple.  But I think that in an era of Miley Cyrus’ and Rihannas (and Steubenvilles and Robin Thickes and Terry Richardsons), the time is ripe to have more honest conversations about what we really want to teach kids about sex.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Hashtag activism wins the day!

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen videos of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge all over your Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Thousands have participated and celebrities like Taylor Swift, David Beckham, Bill Gates, and Justin Bieber have all jumped on the frigid bandwagon.
At first, I was skeptical of the trend.  Let me get this straight, all these videos mean that people have elected not to donate money?  That’s some useless Facebook-hashtag-activism bullshit!
But I’ve since changed my tune, and I now believe it is viral marketing genius that has a lot of replicable potential for other non-profits and campaigns.
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this social media phenomenon, here’s the gist:  A person elected by a previous challenge-taker chooses to either donate $100 to the ALS Association within 24 hours or get a bucket of ice dumped on them (and have that experience recorded and posted to social media sites).  In the hypothermic aftershock, the person nominates three others to take the challenge or donate.
For cynics like me, the problem is immediately clear.  The challenge essentially incentivizes people to not donate to the cause which they supposedly support.
I brought this up to some friends– and have been voraciously reading comments from Facebook trolls– who respond that the challenge is not intended to just raise money but also raise awareness for a disease that is underrepresented in health discourse.
But here’s the surprising thing: it’s actually doing both.  The ALS Association has raised $13.3 million since July 29 (up from $1.7 million over the same time frame last year) and millions are talking about often-fatal nerve disease.  That deserves applause, and I hope other charities and nonprofits can glean some key lessons from the campaign:

 1.) Make fundraising social 

Much of the success with the challenge is that it is tailored to social media (#ALS ‪#‎IceBucketChallenge).  It is quick, simple, VISUAL, entertaining, share-able content that lends itself well to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

2.) Pay it forward

Simple, but effective– by calling out 3 of your friends to also participate, you exponentially increase the amount of folks involved.  And who can resist peer pressure?

3.) “Soft asks” are powerful

I find this the most intellectually interesting of these lessons.  The ALS Association could have done a traditional fundraiser.  They could have asked people to donate, spread the word to their friends, etc.  But those fundraisers tend to not be very successful for the simple fact that people hate to be asked for money.  They feel comfortable rejecting the ‘hard ask.’

But the power of suggestion is potent and the public nature of the challenge makes it almost impossible for people to refuse donating once they have participated.  Who’s going to be that guy who made a cool video for his friends but didn’t donate to an important cause?  That guy’s a dick. But the guy who took an ice bath and donated and put it on Facebook to share his good will with the masses?  That guy is your pal.

So the takeaway?  Make it cool (literally, in this case), make it social, utilize peer pressure, and invent a neat hashtag.  It’s money in the bank.

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