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Sex Ed 2.0

Why teachers want kids to watch more online sex vids.

By Allison Martell 5 Mar 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Allison Martell is a Toronto-based writer. She never used to watch television, but has been ruined by wireless broadband.

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Entertaining, unlike your gym teacher or an abstinence-only program.

At the SexTech conference a few weeks ago, North American public health types and web geeks got together to figure out how to bombard kids with sex videos.

No really. They're realizing that kids often see school sex ed as prudish and outdated: total turn offs. Plus they know watching videos is more fun than listening to the gym teacher. And there are plenty of popular, educational vids out there that are attracting viewers.

Sex ed (not just porn) is all over the Internet -- likely because real sexual education, that is, anything other than abstinence-only propaganda, is under siege in George W. land. Current teacher and government efforts are about as appealing and effective as Dubya (or Stephen Harper) himself. But Internet videos can be as edgy and entertaining as they like -- the more so the better -- which means people actually want to watch and learn.

The SexTech conference's video contest asked, "Why is sex so interesting and sex ed so boring?" My favourite entry is this send-up of the inspirational teacher movie trailer, about a gutsy, straight-talking sex ed teacher.

The Internet sex ed craze is far from a new crush. At SexTech were the makers of the pioneering Midwest Teen Sex Show, a video podcast that gets around 125,000 viewers per episode. Produced on a shoestring by a handful of aspiring filmmakers and comedians, the show (which has attracted attention from mainstream media) has info on contraception and sexually transmitted infections, presented between explicit scenarios and punchlines.

By all accounts, the show is putting solid info out there, but not everyone is thrilled -- it isn't reviewed by doctors, and some worry that content is lost between the jokes. Wikipedia describes it as merely "semi-educational." And while it consistently proselytizes about of the importance condom use and good communication, it's too heavy on the sex tips to please many parents. Take this recent episode: "Some people love anal sex, so you shouldn't be afraid to try it."

The other online mainstay isPlanned Parenthood, which is hosted by an excitable penis and a down-to-earth vulva. This vid is sciency enough to teach even Dr. Ruth something, but there is no shortage of raunchy humour either.

Educators are starting to take notice, but most of their vids are still about as exciting as your middle school health class. On our side of the border, the gynecologist-sponsored Sexuality and U has created a series of clips where young people earnestly talk to the camera about condom use, the pill and waiting until you're ready. The videos strike home because their anxieties are believable ("I'm not ready to be naked in front of him") but sometimes edge towards inane. Says one guy, "I want to have sex when I want to have sex, you know, with someone I want to have sex with."

Frankly, educators are going to have to pick it up. In a recent clip on The Tyra Banks Show, Dr. Debby Herbenick brings in a "wondrous vulva puppet" to talk us through some basic anatomy. As Feministing observes, it's all smooth sailing until Tyra chimes in. "So many women think that you pee and have a baby from the same hole," she says, "so it's good that you're saying that." Is Tyra way out of touch with reality, or the legacy of misguided sex-ed programs of yore? It's hard to say which is more likely. Either way, current school programs aren't going to solve the problem without some serious help.

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