SEX: Exciting New Technologies, Same Old Stereotypes

By Bill Taverner, Director CFLE
This past weekend I attended the Sex::Tech conference in San Francisco, CA. This was one of the more fascinating conferences I’ve attended in my professional life – one in which all things sexual merged with the latest and greatest developments in technology. I learned more than I ever knew about SMS & MMS, when and how to use Facebook, and when to “tweet”. Also, I learned what a “hash” key was. In my generation we called it the “pound” button. (Sidebar: I must say I never, ever thought I would find myself using the phrase “In my generation…”)

I was fascinated by STD partner notification programs via (which allows people to anonymously tell their partners they might be infected); captivated by the use of digital media to teach sex ed in Nigeria and research using cellular texting in the Philippines; impressed with a group of peer educators at Brandeis University who decided to launch a sex advice and referral service via text messaging.
Mostly, I was mesmerized as participants tweeted their impressions of the sessions in real time. I was a little bit disarmed when I learned – long after my own workshop presentation – that participants had tweeted the URLs for YouTube clips I was showing to an audience of 2,000 who were watching the conference through live streaming. (Watch the archives –

All this was utterly fascinating to me. You have to understand that while most of the audience was highly advanced on the technology side, this was a whole new world to me. As I told my audience, when I think of text messaging, I imagine data floating in and out of my BlackBerry, much like the way Willy Wonka transported a chocolate bar, with data molecules hovering overhead.
However, in the midst of all this progressive excitement was an alarmingly regressive video. We were shown a video clip from the website, sponsored by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The video, “What’s A Threesome?” features men talking about their girlfriends in a most vulgar way. What it features is a misogynistic rant, with more “bleeps” than I could count. Then one of the girlfriends was shown naïvely talking about “what a great father” her boyfriend would make. The video attempts to conclude with a responsible message at the end: “Guys are a@#$%^&. Be safe. Every time.”

See the video

Some of the audience erupted in laughter. Many of us sat in stunned silence, with our jaws hanging much lower than jaws should hang.

“Talk about offensive!” said my friend and colleague Rob Curry of Planned Parenthood Upper Hudson. “Is this what safer sex messages have come down to? I don’t appreciate safer sex messages that continue to insinuate that men are all jerks.”

The video insults women, too, portraying them as dumb, naïve, and needing protection from men. It insults boys who learn the key script that bad behavior is to be expected. It really insults everyone and it is surprising that it would pass muster with the National Campaign. The video does a disservice to much of the progressive work that sex ed leaders – such as Wayne Pawlowski and Elizabeth Schroeder have done to involve males in healthy sexual decisions. (See, for example, the exceptional chapter “With Boys in Mind – Teaching to the Minds of Boys” in Sexuality Education: Past, Present, and Future, vol. 3.)

While the new technology is very welcome as an ally in sexuality education, the old stereotypes are not. Let’s all take several steps back and recognize boys and men for their potential in responsible decision-making.

2 Responses to “SEX: Exciting New Technologies, Same Old Stereotypes”

  1. Wayne

    I appreciate this post, Bill. I too am a little behind the times with technology. I have my iPhone and Facebook account, but I could put both to work much more efficiently for me.

    I am disappointed to hear about the new National Campaign video, though I haven’t seen it yet. It always turns me off when someone says to me – either personally or professionally – “Men are such (fill-in your own negative word here)…except for you.” What a back-handed compliment.

    Insulting males, and then complaining about how they aren’t “involved” in the process is so self-defeating. If I were to put out anything like that in which females were insulted, everyone would be up in arms. I understand that overall males are not where we’d like them to be, but what about some positive reinforcement instead of insults?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    -the “other” Wayne

  2. Ryan

    Ugh. Insulting on many levels. Thanks a lot, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, for watching Knocked Up/40 Year Old Virgin and thinking they would make great a great PSA.

    -Ryan McKee