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I read this article and wanted to post it for all to read–my comments are in the next post.

No-Strings Sex

Teen girls are buying into the sleaze we’re selling

VALENTINE’S DAY is for losers. Or so think today’s high school teens, accord­ing to a recent report in The New York Times Magazine. Ap­parently flowers, chocolates and romance have become about as cool as math class. In fact, forget about dating altogether—these days kids talk about “hooking up” with friends for no-strings sex. It’s even become something of a game. One craze is said to involve “sex bracelets,” color-coded wristbands that boys snap off girls’ wrists. Depending on what color a boy snags, he is “re­warded” with a sexual favor—any­thing from a kiss to oral sex, and beyond. It’s small comfort that schools in Ohio, Illinois and Florida have reportedly banned the bracelets. Elsewhere, schools are busy cracking down on “freak dancing,” a raunchy trend where kids bump and grind like they’re at a strip club. Here’s an even more disturb­ing twist: Girls are now ini­tiating casual sex, big time.

And our popular culture has been cheering them on. “Sex and the City” was more than a hit TV show; it was an invitation to girls to think of sleeping around as a harmless kick. That was the message also in MTV shows like “The Real World” and “Spring Break,” which glorified random encounters of sexually aggressive (and often booze-soaked) young women. Just as shameless was “Girls Gone Wild,” a hugely successful video se­ries that features drunken young women, often still in their teens, happily pulling off their clothes—and sometimes performing sex acts—for the camera.

It’s no great surprise, then, that a recent study by the RAND Corpor­ation and the University of Califor­nia found that, for children ages 12 to 17, those who watched a lot of racy TV were twice as likely to start having sexual intercourse as those who watched very little.

Magazines aren’t helping matters either. A recent “health quiz” on Seventeen magazine’s website asked what you’d do at a dance if “the reg­gae version of ‘Sexual Healing’ comes on.” One of your choices was: “Break from the girls to go grind with the nearest guy.”

A ninth-grade girl in Bethesda, Maryland, says that her friends “are looking at TV shows and maga­zines that have gotten a lot racier, and they’re seeing a new standard.” The result is that, among her class­mates, “hookups are really casual. There is no emotional connection.”

That helps explain why “you hear oral sex is happening an awful lot in middle schools,” according to Kay Hymowitz, an expert on girls and sexuality at the Manhattan In­stitute. How many of those kids are getting the message about STDs? Do they realize gonorrhea is more prevalent among 15- to 19-year-old females than ” any other segment of the population? Advertising and market­ing complete the on­slaught, targeting girls with sexual messages at very young ages. Accord­ing to Boston College sociology professor Juliet B. Schor, author of Born to Buy, companies have coined a slogan: KAGOY, or “Kids Are Get­ting Older Younger.” A low point in this thinking came a couple of years ago when Abercrombie & Fitch unveiled a line of thong underwear designed for girls ages 10 to 16, im­printed with phrases like “wink, wink” and “eye candy.”

Then there’s the “Bratz Pack,” a currently popular line of dolls that come vamped up in ultra-short skirts and heavy makeup. One Bratz product is a “Secret Date” collec­tion—complete with champagne glasses and other date-night acces­sories—in which a Bratz girl goes on a blind date with a mystery man. The manufacturers’ description says the couple will “slow dance under a full moon, and find themselves get­ting closer than ever… as they walk the fine line between friendship and love.” Sounds like an awfully adult concept, but retailers advertise these dolls for ages 6 and up. What an irresponsible idea to plant in young girls’ heads at a time when Internet hookups with strangers are part of every parent’s nightmare.

So what can we do? To start, par­ents can decide if they’re part of the problem too. Many of today’s par­ents grew up at a time when sex researchers were questioning tradi­tional taboos. The recent film about the godfather of sex research, Alfred Kinsey, reminds us that this hugely influential man regarded nearly every sexual experience as natural, whether it was sadomasochism or group sex. One legacy of his work is that many of today’s parents feel conflicted, worried about their chil­dren’s sexual experimentation, yet even more worried about seeming judgmental about it.

“You can blame Bratz manufac­turers or MTV executives for the sexualization of childhood, but par­ents have been enablers in the process,” says Kay Hymowitz. “Reluctant to say no to their kids, too many parents take a laissez-faire at­titude toward their children’s emo­tional and moral development.”

Teaching that some things are right and some things are wrong is not the only way parents can make a difference. They can fight back against those who are bombarding kids with sexual messages to make a buck. A group called Dads and Daughters uses its website to organ­ize letter-writing campaigns to companies that use sex to market to young girls. Other groups, like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Concerned Women for America are pushing for limits on advertising to kids, and more research into the impact on their lives. Maybe organizations like these should be high on your list for char­itable giving or volunteer work.
One way or other, we need to raise our voices and say, “Enough!” If we don’t give girls back then-childhood, there’s just more trouble ahead for them.

Michael Crowley, a regular columnist for Reader’s Digest, is also a senior editor at The New Republic magazine..

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/7786118 Nettie

    I agree with the article too, especially the statement that “many of today’s parents feel conflicted, worried about their chil­dren’s sexual experimentation, yet even more worried about seeming judgmental about it.” My (somewhat limited!) parenting experience points to the fact that my kids actually WANT you to be judgmental for them! They WANT to be challenged and given boundaries — even though they probably don’t know it and can’t (or don’t want to) verabalize it. I have seen my almost-nine-year-old daughter seem almost relieved when she tells other kids “I’m not allowed to watch that show,” or “My parents don’t let me play with Bratz,” or “In our family we don’t keep secrets from our parents.” It’s almost like she is thankful that someone has drawn the line for her on certain issues… it gives her an out, and it empowers her to walk away from things that are less than virtuous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/7568909 Sue

    I completely agree with you. It’s as if when we do this for our kids (i.e., draw firm boundary lines for them) that we take the pressure off of them and give them an “out” and a legitimate way to stand up to the peer (and other forms) of pressure that they face. I also agree that our kids don’t know how to verbalize this need to us–making it so much more important to stand up and be parents and do the hard work for them.