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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sex in Media: Books, Magazines, Films, TV & More » Saying what you mean: Calling out news sites on their language about bodies and sex

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Author Topic: Saying what you mean: Calling out news sites on their language about bodies and sex
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A post was made on the Scarleteen facebook page the other day about a news article on the decline of teen sex ( The poster made a comment that got me thinking... "we assume sex means intercourse, though again, it'd be so helpful if journalists would just say so"

I think we should ask journalists to say what they mean, and I would like you folks to help me figure out how to do that, and to ask with me if you want. Here are some thoughts I have- I am working out how I feel about the issue by writing about it, and this is not a conclusive answer, it's more like a working draft. So please, edit, critique, let me know your experiences, and ask your friends for input.

As we know here in Scarleteen, how you talk about sex and bodies matters. The words you use are important, because they denote different things to different people, so it's important to be precise and clear up any confusions- i.e., you got to say what you mean. I remember being ten and my best friend telling me that masturbation was something that only boys could do, or being in grade nine and having another friend tell me that her boyfriend wanted her to shave her vagina... and of course, all the messiness around words like 'sex' and 'virgin', and even 'gay' (does doing xyz make you gay, etc). My own mom only ever referred to my genitals as my bottom, even when trying to talk to me about puberty and sex. There are lots of reasons to use the wrong words, but none of them are good ones. They don't help people understand what you mean, and they confuse concepts about the body in ways that make it harder for people to understand themselves and each other, and they sustain ideas about sex and bodies that are harmful.

So- tell me what you think. How can we educate news sites that this is an important issue? What are your experiences with using the wrong language- do you have people in your life who do this? Why is it a big deal, or is it not a big deal at all for you? Do you think news sites ought to use the correct language when talking about bodies and sex? I will try to parse out my own thoughts some more and post them below, but I'd really appreciate your feedback to help me along!

Posts: 2 | From: Canada | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Executive Director & Founder
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Glad to see you here starting this up!

Some points I'd bring up that I think are important and could also be very effective in influencing journalists are things like:

1. When reporting on sex research, when the kind of sex is not made clear, then the data also is not clear. That's obviously highly problematic or even dangerous with information about public health, but it's also a problem when it comes to readers simply knowing what research is actually about, just for their own use and comprehension.

2. Good journalism is supposed to inform and educate. So, like Cassierra mentioned with the vulva/vagina issue, when a reporter uses the wrong names for body parts or talks about sex with terms that make things so vague as to be useless, it does not achieve those ends.

3. Often, the big error here is saying "sex" in reporting, or gathering data, to mean intercourse. Not only is that a framework which excludes a whole lot of people who have sex lives, and also continues to enforce heterosexuality as a default, again, it can give incorrect or incomplete information. For instance, if we say that "sex" presents high risks of pregnancy, but only mean intercourse, misreporting has occurred.

4. I feel the need to point out that I, personally, find it really ironic when a piece talking about how poorly people are educated about sex reflects a poor education on the journalists part in the piece itself. Again, things like wrong names for body parts, a refusal to call specific sexual activities their names, etc.

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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