Exchange Sex

My earliest memory of using the computer can be summed up in three words, “You’ve got mail!” AOL was the first company my parents signed up for to access the Internet, and all I wanted to do was go on and play dress up for hours and hours after school. As I would slowly type on my gigantic Compaq keyboard, my mom would get mad that I was delaying my homework to play “silly” games online. Soon enough, she cancelled the plan and I no longer had access to the Internet for a few years. I was in the 3rd grade. Now, I’m a sophomore in college and I can’t imagine going a day without Internet and socializing with friends on Facebook or tumblr.

Working at an elementary school with second graders I get to see first hand how young children are starting to use the computer. In their computer class, which they have twice a week, they are learning how to type using Microsoft Word and online tools, PowerPoint and Excel. Back in my day we played I-Spy Spooky Mansion and Arthur. If I ask one of my bright second graders if they know what Facebook and Emailing is, they quickly reply, “Of course I do, Ms. Tahmina.” Should I be worried my 8-year-old student knows what Facebook and Twitter are?

An interesting study done by the UCLA AIDS Institute shows that nearly 8 out of every 10 homeless youth in the United States uses social networking sites, which may lead to risky sexual behavior. Now I think back to my second graders, and I worry that this type of risky behavior might be a part of them in a couple of years.  This study suggests that over 20 percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online, and more than 10 percent of sexually active participants reported engaging in what is called “exchange sex.” This is when they are exchanging sex for food, drugs, or a place to stay. Researchers found that those who used social networks to discuss safe sex were more likely to have recently met a sex partner online than those who hadn’t discussed safe sex. Those who had found online sex partners and discussed drugs and partying were more likely to have engaged in “exchange sex” than those who hadn’t discussed drugs and partying.

I find this study very flawed. It doesn’t say where these teens are getting access to the Internet, especially if they are homeless. Are they in school? Are they using the computers in the library? Where did they find these participants and how do they know the participants are being honest about who they are having sexual relations with? And are these sexual relations because of the social networking site? This article leaves me confused and asking for more information. Nonetheless, the results of this study are eye opening. If homeless children, who have less access to the Internet, can do this, what are children that have access all the time going to do? Are they also looking for sexual partners?

In Amy Hasinoff’s piece titled “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online,” she states that since the “internet and cell phones permit instant communication that is removed from traditional social contexts and consequences, these technologies make girls more likely to make inappropriate sexual decisions…practice leads to earlier sex, more sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy.” To an extent, this is true for boys as well. Her discussion on sexting goes hand in hand with the increase of homeless youth using social media sites for sexual purposes. Social media makes it easy for any one to meet someone else and even start exchanging sex for goods and/or pleasure.

Rabekah Willett continues to say, “media are seen to be exposing children to more adult content, thus blurring the boundaries between adults and children and causing the “disappearance of childhood”.” Not only do homeless children have a difficult life trying to survive daily, now they have media “helping” them meet strangers and have sex with them for food and clothing. This power dynamic makes me scared for the future generations including my siblings and future children. 

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1 Comment

  1. danirait

     /  March 29, 2012

    Hey Tahmina,

    In reading the study you found I had a lot of the same questions you did. What technologies were these homeless children using? How were they getting Internet access? Were they living homeless by themselves, or were there families homeless too? This last question popped into my head multiple times as I read your post. A lot of the points you make in your post point out how social media is sort of an instigator in children participating in sexual/adult behavior. I think you are totally correct in saying that, and that parents need to be communicating with their children more than ever because of that fact. With media exposing children to adulthood more readily, it is important for parents to address specific situations with their kids. Whether it be the birds and the bees, being careful about interacting with strangers, or just basic knowledge about respecting yourself and others around you, I think the only way to control the “power dynamic” you mention is by parents trying to raise their children right. This is why I wondered if the homeless children the study speaks of were part of homeless families, because if sexual exploitation over the internet was still occurring when parents were in the picture, a much larger problem would have to be addressed.


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