Politics & Policy

Toying Around with Us

Save the humans.

Sexting” gives the phrase “reach out and touch someone” a whole new meaning.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 20 percent of teenagers say they have sent out nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves by e-mail, or posted them on the Internet. Who knows how accurate that is? Presumably most kids won’t actually admit to an adult that they have done this. But a recent piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer had me on alert. “If I were to go through the cell phones in this building right now of 1,500 students, I would venture to say that half to two-thirds have indecent photos, either of themselves or somebody else in school,” one high-school official told the reporter. A principal at another school thought about half at hers had.

Kids are supposedly using the pictures as pickup lines. (We’ve come a long way from Happy Days.) Unsurprisingly, “the study also showed that 44 percent of teens say it’s common for sexually explicit images and text messages–sexting–to be shared with people other than the intended recipient.”

One high-school senior who understands this is not a good thing says: “When a guy gets a picture like that, he’s not just going to keep it between him and the girl. He’s going to take that and show every guy that he knows that knows that girl. And every time somebody looks at her, it’s going to be a loss of respect for her.”

R-E-S-P-E-C-T may not have not penetrated the psyches of these teenagers or the adults who are aware of what they’re doing. Worried about losing scholarships or being rejected from jobs after a potential employer does a Google search, “many kids have ‘wised up,’ taking photos of body parts, but not faces, to avoid detection,” the Enquirer explained.

Wising up, of course, would involve a lot more than leaving your face out of the picture. One can’t help but think of the whole debate over sex-ed again. When young people have no context for understanding their sexuality other than “sex is something you are programmed to do, so adults will provide mechanisms to help prevent the consequences and eliminate those consequences if they come,” it’s not surprising that dignity doesn’t play into their worldview. If abstaining from the exploitation of their own sexuality is not understood to be a normal, responsible, self-respecting thing to do–but seen instead as only for prudes–it’s a wonder there are any limits at all.

Odds are, the high-school kids who are sexting are not anxiously awaiting an evaluation of their behavior from the pope in Rome, but he made a point recently that is remarkably relevant to their lives. Benedict XVI talked about respecting the “ecology of man”–our very selves: “The rain forests certainly deserve our protection, but man as creature indeed deserves no less.” It’s about respecting the natural order of things. He recalled Paul VI’s prescient 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which warned that disrespect for ourselves, and manipulation of our sexuality, would lead down a slippery slope.

As Benedict XVI was saying this, I saw the cover of Rolling Stone. Britney Spears–no model of self-respect, sexual or otherwise–was on the cover. So was a teaser for “Green Sex Toys”–a story about eco-friendly sex-toy recycling programs.

Everybody wants to save the world, but what about man and woman? How about we stop toying around with this most beautiful gift we have, as precious as our lives?

Commenting on the alarming drama that is demographics in much of the developed world, Mark Steyn writes in America Alone that the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding is “the inversion of the truth”: The Greek fertility rate is “hovering just below 1.3 births per couple, which is what demographers call the point of ‘lowest-low’ fertility from which no human society has ever recovered.” The “big” families are in America and New Zealand, where the fertility rate is 2.1. “Hollywood should be making My Big Fat Uptight Protestant Wedding, in which some sad Greek only child marries into a big heartwarming New Zealand family where the spouse actually has a sibling.”

The decline in fertility rates has many causes, but at its heart is something that an “ecology of man” speaks to. While we get all apocalyptically worried about saving the earth, we give little thought to ourselves, beyond looking perfect. We could afford to put some more thought into the fundamentals of our existence. Love and marriage are a good building block. Figuring this ecology out is the stuff of religion, which is why we hear about it from Rome: Why are we here and what are we here to do? But you don’t have to follow the pope to get it.

A director at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s “Postponing Sexual Involvement” program observes: “Teens are trying to figure out how to express their sexuality appropriately. They are learning, and they are learning from adults.” If adults just do it with little regard for the context of love and marriage and family, or even within a family keep porn around, there’s going to be little respect inculcated in children for sexuality. There’s going to be little reason for them not to exploit and manipulate it instead of respecting themselves, one another, and real love.

© 2009, Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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