Since we pretty much spend our lives on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram, those would be the perfect places to sneak in some much needed sex ed. The problem? Many social media outlets can't tell the difference between a tutorial on how to put on a condom, and a naked dude actually doing it.
Amber Madison, a therapist and writer on sexual health, really takes issue with this. She’s started a petition at Change.org asking the social media platforms to rethink their rules, and she's penned a piece for The Atlantic on why this matters. MTV News spoke to her more about the censorship rules, ways you can take action, and how we can all keep ourselves safe and protected.
MTV: How and why are places like Facebook and Twitter censoring content about safe sex?
AMBER MADISON: Many places like Twitter and Facebook are censoring sexual health content from reputable orgs simply because they aren't distinguishing the sex ed from porn. When these organizations want to promote their content, their ads are simply rejected. Twitter’s policy, for example, is that "sexual health" is okay, but it can't be talked about in a sexual way. This is tough because safer sex is still sexual – so all these creative and interesting campaigns that educate young people about sex are completely banned.
MTV: What sort of stuff is censored and what isn’t? What are the ramifications of this?
MADISON: It really depends on the platform. Some places say no sexual content, period. Others have policies like that described above. Many of these policies are written really vaguely – so there aren't enforced consistently. One thing you see a lot is hyper sexual images of women – and that's okay. But when it comes to using the word “sex” or talking about it in a straightforward way, that's not.
For example, Twitter didn't allow Bedsider to promote any tweets that linked back to their homepage where there was a condom article with the tagline: “see how good safer sex can feel.” Because that wasn't "dry and boring," Twitter wouldn't allow a link to the safer sex article. Another sexual health org was selling sex education kits through Google Checkout. There was a wooden penis demonstration model used as part of the kit [for showing people how to put on condoms] and because – according to Google--that could be used as a sex toy, they stopped selling the kit. Of course, by that logic, anything shaped like a rod could be a sex toy.
"Sex can be used to sell everything except sex – and that needs to change."
Yet another org had posted women's health videos on YouTube and the videos were taken down. The exact policies vary across platforms. Worst case: there is no sexual health content allowed at all. It's treated like porn and completely blocked. Best case: sexual health info is allowed in a nonsexual, high school sex ed way – basically the content has to be so boring that it's not going to get any attention. In a world where belfies [Ed: that's a butt selfie, just FYI] abound and sex is used to sell everything from perfume to hamburgers, sex educators need to be able to talk about sex like it's ... duh ... sexual. Sex can be used to sell everything except sex – and that needs to change.
89% of young people say their first stop for information about sexual health is the internet, so not allowing sexual health orgs to promote their messages online means we all miss out on a lot of great info.
MTV: How can people take action to let these places know we want access to information on safe sex?
MADISON: I started a petition on Change.org, asking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and Google to meet with sexuality educators and figure out policies that will allow for effective sexual health messages. Sign the petition and show these platforms that their users want access to relatable, quality information about sex. I just got word yesterday that Twitter reached out to a condom company they had previously banned and are now allowing them to advertise. So we are making a difference! Sign the petition, tweet about it, post it on Facebook, and let's make this baby go viral!
MTV: Beyond social media, how can young people make sure their schools, communities and doctors are ensuring they receive proper sex education?
MADISON: With a doctor you can always ask any questions you have. It can be more difficult to get schools to come around on the sex ed thing, but getting a group of people together and meeting with administrators is a good place to start. Come armed with the facts, and that is this: the U.S. has some of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies and STDs of any country in the developed world. We know that quality sex education helps reduce these rates. Young people deserve to get information that will keep them safe and healthy and potentially save lives!