Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sexting & Sex Education & Safety

This post is copyrighted 2009, by Julian Real. All Rights Reserved.
Sexting turns us into flattened out non-human beings. The images can turn us on because we live in a society that says being three-dimensional, being authentic, being unique, is not sexy, and being "a thing", an image, for someone to possess is hot.

Digital technology that allows sex to be flattened out promotes the idea that people are things, are not of much worth, and are certainly not worth as much as the digital technology itself.

Sexting: digitally sending graphic sexually explicit images or words often from cell phone to cell phone, sometimes among friends, acquaintances, or people one would like to hook up with.

The general popular media is stupid about sexuality, and pornography is completely idiotic on the subject. School system leaders are ridiculous if they think kids are not having sex, or will not have sex before adulthood.

Among many other lessons, boys and girls need to be taught how to use a condom. At least if not more important than that, people must be taught how to respectfully initiate sex, and how to stop sex from continuing once it has started. If you don't know how to stop it, you're not likely giving free consent to everything that is going on. If you're not safe to stop it, do your best to avoid getting into situations where it is started. (I know this is not always possible, especially if one is being sexually abused at home.)

Learning that performing oral sex on boys is only fun and always safe is a lie. Learning that you will feel better about yourself by giving a boy a blow-job is a lie. Learning you don't have to have sex with boys is an important lesson to learn. Girls often find deeper pleasure with other girls. And when that happens, it's not supposed to be recorded for boys and men to watch. That "lesbian sex" is seen as something that should exist for men, is an idea men have that is completely stupid and self-centered.

I don't think girls find self-worth by giving boys head. I can tell you I never did. I liked pleasing other men, but didn't know how little I thought of myself while I did so, and how much of myself I'd be willing to give away to make a man feel good.

If girls who are coerced into performing oral sex on a boy are lucky, they may learn how they feel about giving boys head--and many women I know have grown up to realise they don't like it at all. Some do like it. A few like it a lot. The few that like it also like receiving oral sex, a lot.

What a girl who performs oral sex on boys is likely to learn, that is false, is that sex must be all about the penis and all about giving males pleasure. Boys often want girls to be a substitute for their right or left hand, a simple means of reaching orgasm, not a sharing of feelings between two people. Boys use girls sexually. Not always, but often. Sometimes girls use boys too. But boys also often sexually abuse girls because they have the power and desire to do so. This means that in any sexual interaction between a girl and a boy, the girl or boy may end up feeling used, but the girl, if she's smart, knows she could also be in serious danger. For this to not be the case, every person would have to respect themselves, know what respectful sex looks like and feels like, and practice only that when being sexual. Needless to say, we're not there yet.

Given that in many parts of the world, most of boys' and girls' sex education is actually learned in front of a computer monitor bombarding viewers with images of pimped, raped, and drug-addicted women, it is not likely that material is going to teach us much about respectful sex, the many conflicting or confusing emotions one has during sex, and how to make healthy choices about how to express one's desires.

Pornography and pornographers teach people how to have good sex in the sense that McDonalds and KFC teach us about good nutrition. (Um, they don't.) Industry-made, corporate pimp-produced, and mass marketed pornography does teach us about sex and makes things into sex that weren't sexy before, by combining the experience of sexual arousal with repetitive viewing. It also teaches us how to have sex that requires a person to not be a complex emotionally unique human being. It doesn't teach us that caring fun should be mutual, that mutuality should be desirable, that sexual acts need to be consensual, or that pleasure need not be linked to the gross objectification and degradation of real human beings, turned into images. Pornography does teach us (over and over and over again) that women like being forced to have sex, or that women want sex so much they'll do anything, including being completely degraded, to get it. What pornography teaches boys and girls is that being a pimp is good, and that being a whore is inevitable. That no girl is ever a whore, no matter how much she has had sex, is not something pornography or Abstinence-Only programs want you to know. Pornography wants you to think that a lot of their brands of sex is good. Abstinence-only programs want you to think that their rules are right.

If you believe, deep down, that digitally or surgically altered body parts are desirable, that they make a person sexier, you have been sufficiently brainwashed by pimps and surgeons who make a lot of money marketing this inhumane idea. I recognise that for some transgendered people, surgery is desired, but not so someone else can think they are sexy. Some transgendered people, not all, desire some forms of surgery because it makes them feel more like themselves. There's a big difference between doing things to bring ourselves closer to who you are, deep down, and doing things to make others find us more desirable. Intersex people often have the opposite problem: decisions are made for us, usually when we are very young, obviously without our consent, about being surgically altered even when it is not medically necessary. This is a gross violation of our bodies. We learn a lot of things about gender and sex, and most of it is not healthy or useful.

What pornography and Abstinence-Only "sex ed programs" have in common is that they are each extremely anti-sex while deceptively claiming not to be. (If you are interested in reading more about how Abstinance-Only programs fail teens, click here.)

Our bodies can experience lots of kinds of pleasure, under safe and respectful circumstances. The sex that is had in heterosexual marriages can be and often is, boring, awful, and assaultive. When that's what sex in marriage is, it's not good or "holy". Heterosexual marriage does not come with a guarantee that sex, or married life beyond sex, will be respectful, healthy, or safe. Sex with men who act as if women (or other men) are objects or things to be controlled and used, or worse, is not good for anyone. It erodes self-esteem, destroys self-awareness, and makes people believe that they should be treated, or treat themselves, like images--flattened out non-human beings.

Sexting turns us into flattened out non-human beings. The images can turn us on because we live in a society that says being three dimensional, being authentic, being unique, is not sexy, and being "a thing", an image, for someone to possess is hot.

But you don't have to be able to see to have good sex. You don't have to be able-bodied either. What you have to be is present, self-aware, and empathic. You have to care if someone is being hurt or is being made uncomfortable. You have to know how to tell someone is uncomfortable or being hurt when they don't say so out loud. You have to know that sex is not an obligation, or a healthy route to becoming popular, or a successful way to gain self-esteem if you feel worthless.

Digital technology that allows sex to be flattened out promotes the idea that people are things, are not of much worth, and are certainly not worth as much as the digital technology itself.

When you create an image of your physical self inside a piece of digital technology, you become something that is less than who you are. You become one thing among many, a two-dimensional image in a cyber-universe of these same kinds of images. You become a tiny slice of who you are. Your wholeness as a human being, greater than just your gender or sexuality is sliced up when you make yourself into a flat image. Human beings are naturally designed to not look or be exactly like anyone else. If you believe in God, that's what God created: uniquely valuable fully human beings. When you are collapsed into a picture that tells the receiver "This is who I want to be for you and this is what I am for" you rob yourself of the opportunity to share the wholeness of yourself with another person. You become a product. You become something that can be digitally passed around and looked at as if you didn't have a history that includes complicated feelings and changes in mood or opinion. If you've ever felt regret after doing something sexual that made you feel like less than all of who you are, that's one very good reason not to turn yourself, forever, into a flat thing.

There's also a very dangerous assumption in Abstinence-only messages, that is also in pornography; that assumption is that kids are only sexually approached by other children, and that teens only approach other teenagers. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, three different times before the age of thirteen, I can tell you that adults seek out children and teenagers for sex, and that those adults don't give a damn about who you really are. They are well-versed in talking to you like they care about you but underneath it all what they want is selfish and destructive. What they want is for you to make them feel good, for you to give them pleasure, for you to exist for them. We exist for ourselves and each other collectively, not for any one adult or individual. And any adults who make other people, of whatever age, feel like they exist only for them are emotionally messed up human beings to be avoided.

I know far too many other survivors of incest, child rape, child sexual assault, child molestation, traumatic fondling and kissing by a drunk, stoned, or soberly abusive relative or adult friend of the family. Because that was my introduction to sex, I didn't think much of myself. I thought I was dirty and bad to the core because bad, dirty things were done to me. I thought I couldn't be whole. I thought I existed to be used, or to use other people.

No one has to have sex, and no one should be made to have sex. And, sex can be enjoyed alone. If you can't enjoy sex alone without using images of flattened out people, find out why. If you have a choice, break the habit. The idea that we need images to have sex is sold to you by pimps and predators; they want us to believe that having sex is best or most sexy when someone is turned into a thing. If you believe this, and especially if you are the one making someone into a thing in order to experience sexual feelings, consider the cost to your own and others' humanity of having learned that lesson.

Most predators don't behave like strangers. They look like daddy, or an uncle, or brother, or grandfather. They look like a church priest, a family doctor, or a neighbor you've known since you were very young.

Here is a link to one National Sex Offender Registry. Check and see if anyone who is around you is on this list. MySpace is a breeding ground for sexual predators. Keep your page set to private, and make it available only to only those you have known, and can trust, in non-cyber life.

Know that once you become a flattened thing to be used, adult sexual predators can and will try and get those images of you. And they may try and find you to take more images, or to take more from you than anyone has the right to take. I was lucky that I was abused at a time before there were cell phones with cameras. I am sure the married heterosexual man who sexually assaulted me, and possibly my other abusers as well, would have documented my worst moments alive. And if they had done so, they'd be out on the Internet, impossible for me to collect and destroy. Part of my life, a a very personal part of who I am, would increasingly not belong to me if the perp had one of those cameras. I'm glad he didn't.

We cannot control all of what happens to us. One thing we often can control is whether or not we turn ourselves into a thing.


Astrakhan said...

What you have written here speaks truths that go unheard and ignored much too often.

It is sad when feminists discuss how consuming or producing such flattened, emotionally empty images is empowering in some way.

I wonder where this reliance on expressing and consuming (what is marketed as) sexuality through purely visual means comes from? We do have other senses after all, and it isn't as if people do nothing but gawk at one another! I wonder who benefits from destroying humane ways of communication and expression? It is like everything we do must turn a profit for someone.

Anyway, have you heard that there is a movie based on the novel Push?

Julian Real said...

Welcome, Astrakan.

Thanks for your comment! I've been hearing this male supremacist/heterosexist/misogynist myth for my whole life about how "men are NATURALLY drawn to women visually" in ways that men are not, apparently, drawn to men, nor women to women (ageist, ableist and pornographised assumptions implicit in this silly notion not questioned, among other dubious assumptions; and what to do about intersex and trans folks with this stupid-ass theory: oh my!) This is generating so much in me right now--such feelings of upset and rage--that I think I'll do a separate post, copying and pasting your comment as the observational and conversational launch-point.

Btw, I'm very glad I feel upset and rage; both, among other feelings, let me know that dominant U.S. Western culture hasn't completely seduced and enthralled my mind, making me think, for example, that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's near-encounter with Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer at this year's Academy Awards show was the most important thing to have happened so far this year. Oh, wait: no, THE most important thing to have happened this year was that a woman gave birth to octuplets (and the media gave birth to more misogynist vitriol than I've seen directed at one very disenfranchised human being in a very long time).

Yes, I have heard there is to be a movie made of the novel Push, and feel both eager and worried.

I am excited for this moving story to be told in a medium that will garner it a larger audience. I am extremely nervous about how certain scenes will be depicted by the director, because of exactly what you note in your comment here: "It is like everything we do much turn a profit for someone." I hope the story, and specifically the character of Precious, will not be visually or otherwise exploited in any number of potentially reprehensible ways.

I am very encouraged by the fact that Sapphire is co-author of the screenplay. And we'll see what Lee Daniels does with the powerful material.

I personally hope most of the money Push-the-film generates goes to Sapphire and Womanist and feminist organisations and individuals who, through their own creative/activist work are making the complexity and humanity of Black lesbian and Queer of Color experience more visible and central in society-at-large.

One example: tiona.m's excellent documentary, black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent. So far I believe it's only been shown at film festivals. It's amazing. Have you had the opportunity to seen tiona.m's film yet?