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Thursday, May 12, 2005

UUA-UCC sex ed curriculum in the news.

Bella English writes in today's Boston Globe about the vogue among teenage boys for online porn. She talks to alarmed parents, adolescent psychologists, and boys and girls about the phenomenon including a dozen eighth- and ninth-grade Unitarian Universalists enrolled in the "Our Whole Lives" comprehensive sex-ed program developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the United Church of Christ.

Aside from the fact that many liberal parents might be assumed to give their kids a bit more freedom in using the Internet, there's no reason to believe that the responses of these UU teens are especially unusual. Which is disturbing:

If adults are worried about children's constant exposure to pornography, the kids themselves don't seem too concerned. Hard-core porn has apparently gone mainstream. "All the boys do it," says one eighth-grade girl. "They kind of brag about it."

Another girl says when one friend, a boy, showed her a pornographic website, she scolded him: "Dude, that's gross. It totally objectifies women." The boy replied that it was "artistic."

The girls were among a dozen eighth- and ninth-graders interviewed recently by the Globe, along with boys of the same age, in separate sessions, at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Bedford. The teens are participants in a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum created by the Unitarian Universalist Association called Our Whole Lives.

All the boys interviewed said they had seen Internet porn that included heterosexual, gay, and group sex. "Even if you're not looking for porno, you get it," says one boy. "You need a pop-up blocker."

I co-taught the predecessor to "Our Whole Lives" to seventh- and eighth-graders in Salt Lake City almost ten years ago. That program, which was called "About Your Sexuality," was controversial for its use of explicit slides showing a variety of sexual behaviors. Not having been a UU teen myself, I was astonished at first by the candor of the curriculum, but quickly appreciated how successfully it answered questions and helped kids make responsible and informed decisions. One of the things that impressed me was that the program's non-stylized photographs defied the conventions of pornography, giving the kids a much more mundane idea of how couples make love. "Our Whole Lives" does not use photographs, which in some ways is too bad. English writes:

Adolescent curiosity about sex is normal. What experts fear about Internet pornography is the constant bombardment of violent and degrading images, which can skew boys' attitudes toward girls and can lead to earlier sexual behavior.

"What is a relatively normal thing is turned into an abnormal thing," says William Pollack, a psychologist and author of the best-selling book "Real Boys," who runs centers for men at McLean Hospital in Belmont. "Boys are looking for a normal aspect of what girls look like, biologically, but they're getting this hard-core movie-industry type of material. If they didn't have an interest in it before, they are drawn into a world that goes beyond the normal curiosity." . . .

Indeed, notes Pollack, most of the porn sites don't offer "the normal female body"; those soft-porn sites you have to pay for. "The most abnormal, the most bizarre, is what you get for free," he says. "It gives boys a completely objectified, diminished, and bizarre view of what the female body is, and what relationships between females and males are about.["]

Psychologist Cate Dooley, who works at both Brandeis University and Wellesley College, agrees that pornography disrupts relationships. "The bottom line is, it's moving away from emotional intimacy, and that's dangerous ground," Dooley says. "Boys don't learn how sex comes out of friendship and emotionally intimate relationships. Boys and girls are losing that in our culture, and I think it's a crisis."

Dooley, too, is bothered by the cavalier attitude of girls, who seem to accept that boys look at porn. "At least in a marriage, if the wife is unhappy about her husband downloading porn, she can bring him into therapy," she says. "But for girls this is just the way it is. There's no consequence for boys."

("The Secret Life of Boys," Bella English, Boston Globe 5.12.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 12 May 2005 at 8:43 AM

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May 12, 2005 12:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

OWL does use photographs, though maybe not in the same way that AYS did. We had a psychologist who deals with sexuality cases leave our church because he believes that showing photos somehow leads to maladjusted minds and it encourages pediphilia and child pornography. He appealed to the board to remove the photos from the classes and they declined, so he left. The photographs are definately not pornographic by any means and aren't for the purpose of showing positions. They show a diversity in body types and skin colors, and couple intimacy.

- a trained Adult OWL facilitator, former Directore of Religious Education, and parent of a teen who took an OWL class


May 12, 2005 12:51 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jonathan Kranz challenges English's reference to a scary figure that 12- to 17-year-old boys constitute the largest group of Internet porn consumers:

Hold on parents. Before you race upstairs to pull little Billy away from the computer, consider the source of the statistic: Family Safe Media, a company "that sells Internet filters and other blocking devices." Hardly a neutral source. And certainly one that has a vested interest in stirring parental paranoia. . . .

Well, I spent just two minutes on the Web and found something interesting. Take a look at this page on the Family Safe Media site. Scroll down to the subhead, "Children's Exposure to Pornography." At the second bullet, you'll find the statistic in question, "Largest consumer of Internet pornography" and in the adjacent column, "12 - 17 age group."

But doesn't the context for the statistic, under the "Children's Exposure to Pornography" header, imply that the 12 - 17 age group indicates the largest group of consumers among children, not the public at large? At the very least, isn't that a qualification that should have been noted in English's article?

I wondered about that figure, too!

Phil on the Prairie:

May 13, 2005 01:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

For an interesting view on this from a more conservative religious perspective, check out the September 2002 of "Marriage & Families," a journal published by Brigham Young University.

Steve Caldwell:

May 14, 2005 12:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's some related resources to this topic that may be of interest:

** Put Smut in Its Place (A courageous writer takes on liberals and conservatives alike in a treatise about reforming our sex-saturated media culture.),1284,67506,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_5

This article talks about the responsibility of pornography vendors to restrain themselves from pushing erotic images where they are unwanted (e.g. spam, popups, etc).

** "Sex Addiction: A Dangerous Clinical Concept" by Marty Klein, Ph.D (Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 5, August 20, 2002)

"Sex addiction" as a clinical concept may not handle the messy and sometimes scary complexity that exists in human sexuality.

Even with widely available erotic imagery and our commercial culture's tendency to manipulate others through sexuality, we also need to keep in mind that much of North American culture and North American religion is very sexuality-negative.

Sex addiction as a concept is reinforced by the sexuality-negative attitudes present in culture and religion.

Marty Klein closes his article with this suggestion:

"We need a model of sexual health that does not pathologize a broad range of eroticism. We need a model that is supportive of adult identity. Being an adult is complicated and it's scary, and sometimes it's very difficult, and a lot of people would like to make their sexuality so simple that it's not scary to be a grownup. And our job is to help people understand that while it is, in fact, scary to be a grownup, we can provide some tools that can help them deal with their fear. We don't have to strip down their sexuality to take away the darkness, the complexity, the ambiguity, just so people can be more comfortable.

And finally, America needs a model of sexual health that is sex-positive. And that's the challenge that the sex addiction movement is posing to sexology. They've come up with their model. Can we come up with something different that's culturally sensitive and has all those other sex-positive criteria?"

Finally, we need to be careful in presenting "sex addiction" as a topic when working with adolescents. If we're not careful, we might end up having a room full of adolescents think they are sex addicts just because they like to masturbate alot (when frequent masturbation is both common and normal for many adolescents).

Edmund Schweppe:

May 15, 2005 03:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just to clarify things: neither the Grades 7-9 nor the Grades 10-12 OWL curricula include explicit images. UUA and UCC congregations with trained OWL facilitators may order supplementary images - line drawings for grades 7-9, photographs for grades 10-12. As Joyce noted earlier, the images are not pornographic at all.

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