If you Google search any question — “How do you get herpes?”, for example — a Yahoo Answers page will inevitably appear in the top five search results. The site’s user-generated questions and answers are rife with questionable grammar and even more questionable accuracy. Yahoo Answers has become a catch-all for all manner of questions; under the cloak of anonymous handles, anyone can ask questions. Not surprisingly, many of those questions revolve around sex.
For years, middle and high schools throughout the United States have been focused on promoting “abstinence only” sexual education programs to their students. Though the focus on these programs eased somewhat after the Bush presidency, many states still attempt to implement abstinence only programs, protecting teenagers from the desire that will naturally follow exposure to accurate medical information about their bodies and sexualities. Notably, Tennessee has just put forth Senate Bill 3310, a bill that would increase the rigorous abstinence-based sex ed programs already in place and would require educators to warn students against “gateway sexual activity.” Whatever that is.
“only if you like open your legs wide and sit there with your vagina open.”
Data released last week from the Center for Disease Control show that, across 45 states in the US, access to sexual education in grades 6-12 (covering topics like STDs and pregnancy prevention) has fallen in 11 states in between 2008 and 2010 and had risen in none. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the already-limited information available to young adults has been whittled down even more. Our strange puritanical culture of sex ed seems oddly predicated upon the idea that if we don’t teach kids about sexy things, then they won’t do them.
What’s especially enraging is that the assault on accurate sex education in school is concurrent with an all-out battle against Planned Parenthood, a government-funded organization that provides actual sexual education. They provide an excellent site for teens with questions about relationships, STDs, and sexual behaviors. But, if the GOP has its way, Planned Parenthood will lose its federal funding, making accurate sex information even more difficult to find.
Teenage birth rates are down to the lowest point since 1946. This is partially due to teenagers waiting to have sex but is mostly attributed to their increased use of contraception. If there’s one message that kids are getting about having sex, it’s that you should use a condom. And that’s a very good thing, but there’s a lot more to be explored around teens’ sexualities beyond the fundamentals. Sure, they need to use protection, but they also need to understand that pregnancy can’t occur from a sperm swimming through a hot tub and into an “open vagina.”
Sometimes it’s not the easiest or most comfortable path for a young man or woman to approach one of their parents with their sexual queries. It would seem reasonable for public schools to compensate for this gap in communication by providing teens with basic information on how all their parts work (and how to make sure they’re using their parts in safe ways). But, in the absence of facts, teens and young adults will sometimes turn to each other for information. More often they will turn to the internet.
Young people are turning to Yahoo Answers and earnestly asking their most personal sexual questions.
What are the mechanics of becoming pregnant?
“To get pregnant the girl’s egg…must be in season or whatever people call it.”
How should young women define their personal sexual “morals”?
“then after a couple weeks let him finger u, etc.”
The site is filled with examples like these ones, young people asking how they should do things and when they should do things. When our cultural discussions around sex exist at extremes—pornography at one end and chastity at the other—there’s very little honest talk about the middle. It can be difficult for real people to get a real sense of how they want to have sex and how to protect themselves when they do. Yahoo Answers provides many answers, but they aren’t always the right ones.
We can’t just expect kids to figure all this out on their own. They will try, of course, but reading a Yahoo Answers entry from 2009 about how to give a blow job isn’t providing young people with the tools to make informed decisions. We might as well all admit, together, that teens and young adults are likely going to be sexually active. If we don’t want a bunch of college Freshmen holed up in their dorm rooms, learning their sexual conduct from porn and scouring Yahoo Answer threads on masturbation, then maybe we should start teaching kids the things they really need to know.
Follow Kelly Bourdet on Twitter: @kellybourdet