Posted Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009, at 10:07 AM
The kids are more boring than you might think. Or that's the conclusion one is forced to reach after reading a Pew Research Center study about sexting and a University of Minnesota study about casual sex among college students . The latter got some play in the blogs and in the mainstream media for the headline-grabbing finding that screwing around doesn't mean you're screwed up, but researchers also found that there isn't as much screwing around as breathless stories about the "hook-up culture" would have you believe. Between these two studies, it was found that only 4 precent of teenagers have sent a sexually provocative photo through text message and 80 percent of college students' most recent sexual encounter occurred in the context of a committed relationship.
Don't expect these studies demonstrating that kids are boring to have much influence on the mainstream media coverage of youthful sexuality to budge one bit from the breathless hysteria we've all come to know and feel queasy over. As well we should. There is a line between titillating ourselves by disingenuously judging young people for having sex and expressing genuine concern for young people's well-being, but the day time talk shows that cover the "hook-up culture" not only cross that line, but they can't even see it anymore in their rearview mirror. A vicious, ratings-grabbing cycle has been established: Titillate the audience with images of adolescent sexuality and then lash out at the young people for having so much fun (in your imagination). Here's a classic example, complete with jokes about threatening young men with physical violence because of their youthful sexuality. Ha ha! You may think you're hot stuff, what with your legal right to have sex with teenagers, young man, but daddy's got a gun/phallic symbol!
The titillation/condemnation cycle is more than a ratings grab, however. It's also an excuse to exert control over young people's lives and bodies, under the ruse of concern. Lurid tales of casual sex do a much better job of selling virginity pledges and abstinence-only education and even keeping condoms off high school campuses than the much more likely, boring stories of young people falling in love and having sex within committed relationships much like your own. With that kind of incentive to keep pushing these stories about how kids don't date anymore and all sex is meaningless, how does a small thing like scientific evidence stand a chance?