The Internet is a primary source of sexual information for teens, with 89% of teens saying that they learn about sexual health online. This means that cyberspace outperformers doctors, friends, school, parents, TV, magazines, and anything else that might provide teens with the knowledge they need to prevent unplanned pregnancy and STDs, making the censorship of sex education content such as the website Bedsider a very real issue.
Teen births have been halved since the 90s, but the US still has 150% of the UK’s teen birth rate, which is the highest in Europe. Teenagers that have children are much less likely to graduate from high school and much more likely to land in poverty.
Sexually transmitted diseases are also much more common in the US than in Europe. Together, STDs and teen pregnancy costs the US $28 billion a year, which is more than double the healthcare costs of child obesity. Haley MacMillen of Refinery 29 notes that the US has a sexual health crisis.
Three years ago, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy launched a Twitter campaign called Bedsider to provide followers with sex education, including sex tips along with messages about using proper birth control. Bedsider has more than 50,000 Twitter followers despite being blocked by Twitter’s ad policy from promoting its tweets.
Twitter’s policy says that it’s okay to promote “safer sex education, HIV/STD awareness campaigns, and non-prescription contraceptives” as long as they “do not contain sexual content and do not link to sexual content.”
Last spring, a tweet that linked back to the Bedsider homepage was deemed unacceptable because the home page’s featured article contained the tagline “If you think condoms aren’t for you, you haven’t found the right one yet. See how good safer sex can feel.” Amber Madison of The Atlantic reports that Twitter’s representative said it was censored because even though it was a sexual health article, “It paints sex in a recreational/positive light versus being neutral and dry.”
Bedsider, however, disagrees:
We need to be able to talk about sex in a real way: that it’s fun, funny, sexy, awkward… all the things that the entertainment industry gets so well. How can we possibly compete with all of the not-so-healthy messages about sex if we have to speak like doctors and show stale pictures of people who look like they’re shopping for car insurance?
Bedsider also had a Facebook ad rejected for language that is “profane, vulgar, threatening, or generates high negative feedback.” The article in question was titled “Six Things You Should Know About Your Well-Woman Visit” and had the tagline “You’re so sexy when you’re well.” It’s unclear what aspect of this ad led to its censorship, but it is less racy than other content frequently posted on social media.
Sex health educators who that disagree with this policy note that many Twitter feeds that include nude selfies or Playboy models do not face the same censorship.
Susan Gilbert, co-director of the National Coalition for Sexual Health, says:
Sexual images and content are literally everywhere, from suggestive advertisements and erotic romance novels to provocative TV series to sex-tip columns in magazines and on the Internet. Yet we have limited access to positive, credible sexual-health information and open dialogue that can keep us healthy.