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Ciaran Bird was banned from teaching after a panel from the Department for Education found him guilty of bringing the profession into disrepute.While employed at a school in East Sussex, on January 28 last year, he used a computer to access an internet chat room during lesson time.Of course, gender inequality is still a reality in the United States, and the worst forms of gender violence fall disproportionately on teenagers.
This is just a sampling of stories I’ve heard from teenage girls over the past couple of years: “Being young, sex has always been extremely taboo to talk about.
I found out about it at an early age and always found it to be a beautiful thing and never thought of it as disgusting,” one 14-year-old American girl told me.
Reading this piece, you’d think that the Internet has turned all American teenagers into either suicide risks (if they’re girls) or potential rapists (boys). Teens are waiting because they feel that sex is “against their religion or morals” or because “they had not yet found the right person,” according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control study.
These teenagers’ individual stories are real and important, but they are not representative. Is the Internet really degrading this generation’s sexual and romantic lives? The rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in this country have dropped precipitously over the past half-century, even as a higher percentage of victims are reporting those crimes to the police. American women enjoy more economic independence than ever, a phenomenon that directly affects their sexual agency.
author Nancy Jo Sales returns to the teen beat to investigate how teenagers are experiencing sex and love in the Internet age.
She “uncovers a world where boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers.” Whenever “new social media appears, teens seem to find ways to use it to have sex, often sex devoid of even any pretense of emotional intimacy.” Relationships are now just “a disembodied coupling that takes place solely on a screen.” Boys want relationships “to be like a porno,” one teenager tells Sales.
The Internet has made it more possible for girls to engage openly in conversations about sex—and to consume sexual images—that were previously shared among networks of boys.
Pornography (which can often, but not always, be misogynistic, homophobic, and racist) has exploded across the Internet, but so have feminist and queer communities that offer support to people whose sexualities have always been marginalized.
Watching and talking about porn on the Internet “helped me realize that I am very open about my sexuality without being vulgar about it.” Finding other girls online who feel the same way “is kinda like when you meet someone who loves your favorite band.
You share a special bond and stick together like a family.” Said a 19-year-old New Zealand girl, “I think it's great women are being able to talk about masturbation and porn more freely,” particularly because “a lot of porn is so heavily influenced by male fantasy.” Sharing sexual images that speak to her sexuality—not to boys’—feels “rare and exciting.” Watching porn “has changed my sex life” for the better, an 18-year-old Australian girl told me.
“Culturally, we're insecure about young women's sexual agency, as well as new technologies that seem to be changing so much,” social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson told me (in a lovely conversation staged over Facebook chat).