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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah, to be young, kinky and uninformed!

I worry sometimes about how little information is available to underage kinky teenagers. That is, Miranda brought this up to me about a month ago, and now I worry about it.

We know that a lot of teenagers are going to have sex before the legal age of consent. We agree that there are risks inherent in having a sexual relationship, and that even kids and teenagers whom I or you might think are too young to be sexually active deserve comprehensive enough sex education that they will be able to navigate those risks, when they choose to, in a way that leaves them physically and emotionally healthy. (If you don't agree with that, I'm not sure what you're doing here, but maybe you should go.) Many -although not enough - public school students are taught about safer sex, birth control, and basic relationship stuff, like how to handle partners who try to pressure you into something you're not up for. Even for kids who are left uninformed, misinformed, or taught that abstinence is the only way, there are resources available, like Planned Parenthood and the wonderful sex-ed website Scarleteen. All of these legally distribute information about sex to young teenagers, as well they should, because helping them to protect themselves is more important than trying to keep oneself from being somehow implicated in helping teenagers to have sex "too young." Teens are going to have sex, no matter what anybody says, and they are going to do it more or less safely depending on how much information and how many resources they've had access to.

Why does this reasoning not apply to kink? Kinky teenagers are going to tie up, flog, and collar each other, just as surely as their vanilla counterparts are going to fool around in cars. Lots of people don’t realize that they want to do kinky things until after high school, but enough do, and enough act on their (perverse, twisted) desires that it seems only responsible to provide reading material – particularly about physical and emotional safety precautions – for teenagers who want it. Some of the physical stuff that people do to each other can be pretty risky (hello breath play), and while it’s rare for anyone to get seriously injured from BDSM, it does happen. I’m honestly more worried for teens who get involved in power exchange and other mental games, or whose partners use BDSM as an excuse to perpetrate a more standard definition of abuse.

There are, of course, always books, for which there are no age restrictions. It is sometimes possible for a curious adolescent to go to a library or a bookstore and pick up a copy of SM 101. For many teens, though, this is not a practical solution. I live in a pretty big, notoriously left-leaning city, and our library system doesn’t even have a copy of The Ethical Slut, much less any how-to books on flogging. There’s no guarantee that the local bookstore will, either. Even if it did, not every teenager has access to reliable transportation. It is possible to order books discreetly online, even sometimes via money order, but then there’s the question of shipping, since parents and adult guardians will likely be curious about packages arriving for their offspring. (I once had a vibrator shipped to my best friend’s house, since her parents didn’t ask questions about things like that.) Then, there is the money question. Not every teenager has access to money of her own, and books can get pricey.

Really, a teen’s best option is the internet. Most people have access to the internet in some capacity – at home, at the library, at school. It is possible to look up information online discreetly, and it’s pretty simple to cover up one’s tracks. Lots of young folks get information about sex and BDSM online already; I remember my glee when I discovered that if I clicked the “I am eighteen” button to enter an adult-content website, the computer wouldn’t know that I was lying. But then, my parents, for whatever reason, didn’t use the parental controls. I know that it’s possible to block certain websites – probably all of those that you’re supposed to be eighteen to enter. That pretty much knocks out most of the available info about kink. Granted, I don’t know how well parental controls work, but I do know that I can’t check a good number of the websites I frequent when I’m using the library’s wifi. (Yes, I’m a big pervo.)

Actually, a lot of sex-related websites will re-direct under-eighteen people to Scarleteen, an all-ages website. I’ve been trying halfheartedly to find out what kind of content requires an age restriction – and thus how Scarleteen can talk frankly about sex to an unrestricted audience – but I think that might be a project for another day, because the Family Online Safety Institute website is really freaking me out. Too many families staring beatifically at laptops, presumably streaming episodes of Dora the Explorer, or something equally wholesome.

As to online content actually directed at kink-curious teenagers, Scarleteen comes through again. (I swear, I did look at other websites, but the pickings are really, really slim. I did find a site called Queer Youth Exist, but you have to be approved by the moderators in order to get to the discussion boards, and I’ve been waiting two weeks for approval. I think the moderators may be AWOL. If anyone knows of anything else, please send it my way. I will be thrilled.) Scarleteen only offers a brief overview of some kink-related terms and concepts. It is hardly an education in and of itself.

I think that the best solution is for some of us kinky adults (or, more likely, me) to get savvy about what kind of content gets you blocked, and to put out some good, solid all-ages material about kink. I’m really curious to hear if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions about this.