When It Comes to Teens, Sex, and Technology, We Should All Stop and Think

April 08, 2011


Are you sure you  want to send that?

Why now, of all times, did The New York Times devote two full pages in its front section to a news story about sexting? Isn't that so 2008? Nope. It's still very relevant. The piece is one of the best articles I've read on the subject (and I've read more than my share), in part because it forgoes the obvious salacious angle in favor of a deeper look at what might really be motivating teens who send naked photos of themselves, or others, for that matter, out into the ether forever.

The combination of teens + sex + technology is almost too much for adults to handle and, unfortunately, sometimes it is too much for teens to handle. But to paraphrase one of the many letters to the editor on the subject--and many of the experts who've written on the topic--teenagers always have and always will be testing boundaries when it comes to sex, and they will act on impulse more often than not. It's kind of their job to do that. Digital technology makes it so easy, and so tempting to test those boundaries in new ways. But it's not technology's fault when an impulsive move turns into something harmful and lasting.

The fact is that hitting "send" or "share" is something we do in a moment, without a second thought, all the time. So maybe the best advice we have is to simply stop and think. To imagine what would happen if we hit send, before we actually do it. To let the impulse pass instead of giving in to it. Which is what the SexReally.com podcast "Coming of Age Online - Get Smart, Get Ethical!", and the blog post that accompanied it, "It's a Digital Jungle! 7 Resources to Help You Find Your Way", did so well. They made me stop and think.

So did Dan, from the podcast, when he paraphrased what my dad has been telling me since I entered the adult world: "don't put anything in writing that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times." In Dan's words: "you learn a lot about someone from what they post. Don't put anything out there until you're ready for everyone to see it." Timely, and timeless.

Authored by: Marisa Nightingale

As The National Campaign’s Senior Media Advisor, Marisa Nightingale leads key partnerships with entertainment media executives to help harness the power of popular media to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy. She and her colleagues provide expertise, information, and hands-on help to media decision-makers whose content is most popular with teens, young adults, and their parents.

Marisa joined the Campaign in 1996, shortly after its founding, and is the architect of its nationally-recognized Entertainment Media program. She served as the program’s Senior Director for 12 years and continues to advise on strategy and cultivate message integration partnerships with outlets including NBC, FOX, ABC, The CW, Hulu, Marie Claire, Family Circle, Essence, Latina and more, with a special emphasis on reaching Latino audiences. Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaigns developed under her direction have won multiple awards and garnered millions of dollars in free placements. She played a leadership role in the conception, development and launch of "Thanks, Birth Control," a social media effort that engages individuals and organizations in a positive public conversation about all that birth control makes possible.

Prior to joining The National Campaign, Marisa was the Communications Director at Share Our Strength (SOS), a leading national voice in the fight against hunger. At SOS, she worked with journalists, chefs, corporate partners, and community organizations to address the causes and consequences of hunger and poverty. Marisa is a guest lecturer at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and is a seasoned speaker on the role of media in preventing teen and unplanned pregnancy and promoting social change. She has served as a Campaign spokesperson on The Today Show, The View, The Ricki Lake Show, NPR, USA Today, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Marisa graduated with honors from Yale University and lives in Washington, DC with her husband, two children and a lively mutt.

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