The Infuriating Way Social-Media Companies Deal With Sex

Photographed By Alexandra R. Gavillet.
This country has a sexual-health crisis on its hands, and our favorite websites aren't helping. In fact, social-media companies — including tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — are compounding the U.S.'s dangerous lack of sexual-health information by refusing to allow sex educators to share their messages on healthy sex. And, sex therapist Amber Madison has had enough. "In the fall, I was at a conference with a bunch of different sex educators, and they were all talking about it," Madison told R29. "Of these major organizations, almost every single one had a story about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — any social-media giant that you could think of — censoring their content, and usually stuff that was pretty mundane."

The problem: 89% of teens count the Internet as their primary sex-ed source, and it's failing them. In her story in The Atlantic, "When Social-Media Companies Censor Sex Education," out today, Madison details example after example of social-media platforms denying organizations the right to promote safe sex. Twitter, for example, claims it permits the promotion of tweets about "safer sex education, HIV/STD awareness campaigns, and non-prescription contraceptives," with the caveat that these tweets cannot "contain sexual content and do not link to sexual content." This means that a tweet such as "A condom can actually fit over your entire head!" is A-OK, while a tweet linking to a website that discusses both condoms and sexual pleasure can get an organization in trouble. The website of sex-education organization Bedsider, for example, addresses how to have both safe and pleasurable sex — which is why Twitter informed Bedsider that it would not allow promotion of Bedsider's tweets, because Bedsider was "painting sex in a recreational/positive light versus being neutral and dry" (Twitter's words). If we don't want our sex to be "dry" or "neutral," why should our sex education be? 

Similar policies — vague, ambiguous, inconsistently enforced — exist across social platforms. "While Kim Kardashian’s bare butt is 'breaking the Internet' with click-throughs," Madison observes in The Atlantic, "sexual-health organizations must compete for attention with slogans fit for high-school health books." It's clearly not a fair fight. Sex doesn't exist in a vacuum, nor should sex education be sanitized and disconnected from the lives of those it targets. Yet, social-media policy continues to insist this be the case.

It's why Madison chose to cover the issue, and start a petition at change.org requesting that social-media companies stop censoring sexual-health information. "I get that you don’t want to fill your platform with porn — though the irony is that some [social-media companies] are — but, you have to be a responsible citizen," Madison told us. "While it may not be easy to figure out a policy that allows sex educators to share their content while blocking content that is gratuitously sexual, it’s better than what they're doing now."
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