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10 Things the American Media Really Need to Learn About Sex

The sexual conversation often turns otherwise professional journalists and pundits into alarmists and preachers.

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4. Girls: Not significantly wilder.

When some historical context does manage to make its way into a sex story, it's often to valorize a past-that-never-was. In these stories, it's always the latest generation that's most under threat from whatever new danger faces them. Every good future-panic piece needs a damsel in distress: usually, it's quite literally the girl.

Author, housewife and famous-nanny-employer Caitlin Flanagan argued this for the  New York Times , claiming that  hysteria has actually returned with this generation, and that parents must protect their fragile young daughters from this condition at the onset of puberty by cloistering them at home – as if the Pill had never been invented and abortion were never legal. Boys, of course, need no such coddling and isolation, and if a girl does go astray by having sex or even desiring to, despite her requiring constant protection, it's still her fault. 

Teen abortion and pregnancy rates are at record lows in the United States , but that's no reason not to hit “publish” on stories warning parents that young women should be “protected” from access to contraception and abortion – especially if the president is the one making the demand

5. We know how much you love teen sex (and it's a little creepy). 

A slight offshoot of the “wild” theme can be found in the barrage of stories warning parents that their children are having increasingly risky, bizarre or just plain icky-sounding kinds of sex. The chief implication here is, parents themselves never did these things when they were young (not that anyone checked), which is followed up by the rationale that young people today face far more pressure than parents did. The proper response, then, is for parents to take control of them. 

The kinds of sex parents need to protect young people from changes only slightly with the times, all obsessively relayed so as to best allow parents to identify “warning signs” so benign as to make all young people suspect. Does your daughter not want you to look at her cell phone? Maybe she's  sending naked photos  to her classmates. Was your son vague about what he did while you were out of town last weekend? He was probably throwing a  group sex party  in your basement.

6. 20-year-olds: Not children! 

In some cases, these panic pieces aren't even about teens, but young adults who are then characterized as “children” by reporters. “The sexting panic has been a great example of this,” says Heather Corinna. “This really seemed far more to be about adult sexual behavior than the sexual behavior of teens. And lo and behold, it finally comes to pass, thousands of panicked reports and studies later, that that's exactly what it was: much, much more about people in their 20s and up than about teens.” 

7. We can tell when you're uncomfortable.

“With writers, their own discomfort and shame around sex seeps into the process,” Cory Silverberg says. "You can hear their issues. And if you're reading carefully, you can hear their editors' biases, too, way more than, say, if they were reporting on the death penalty, their fears about death.”  

It's no better when otherwise “legitimate” reporters actively put themselves in a the middle of a sex story as a device by which to distance themselves, the “normal person” (and the one the reader should relate to) from the subjects of the story. Jessica Pilot hung out with what she called “ hipster hookers ” for a story, playing the “will-she-or-won't-she” card right until the end, because we all know people who would actually have sex for money are incapable of  producing journalism on the same .

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