Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CosmoGIRL!(s) confess to kissing each other and sexting: Should teen-girl pubs be asking such questions?

In its "Fun & Games" section, CosmoGirl! recently featured a quiz game for its readers. The "Never Have I Ever: Romance Edition" asked girls to choose in a series one of two sexual behaviors they had engaged in. Once a selection was made, statistics would indicate each choice's popularity. Some of the more notable options included "dressed skimpier to impress a guy," "went skinny dipping," "had my BFF take sexy pics of me for a guy," and "lost my virginity to my BF."

Perhaps more alarming is the number of respondents who admitted to engaging in these behaviors. In response to "made out with a girl to impress my crush," a stunning 24% of roughly 8,000 girls answered "yes," and 53% said they have "sexted."

"CosmoGIRL! has a fresh, well-defined identity and mission of its own: build strength and confidence in girls." Editorial statement (MRI+ 2009)

CosmoGIRL!'s editorial statement makes it clear that the online publication is designed to appeal to young girls and teens. But does its sexually advanced and explicit content empower girls or communicate and potentially misrepresent dangerous and risky "norms" of sexual behavior?

"CosmoGIRL! is the roadmap to teens understanding themselves and the world around them" Editorial statement (MRI+ 2009)

Not only do the quiz questions suggest it is okay to compromise oneself to impress a boyfriend or to appear confident, but options can encourage serious consequences. Consider "sexting" which means to send sexual or pornographic pictures via text messaging. Dangers of sexting include online publication, child pornography charges, and reputational harm when it comes time for college/job applications. The CosmoGIRL! poll revealed that more than half of respondents "sext" which sends the implicit message that the behavior is normal and appropriate.

That is not the case, however. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly 20% of teenagers have tried "sexting"; a vast difference from the 53% shared on CosmoGIRL!.

Implications stemming from questions about sexual behavior, and misrepresentations of their popularity, are great. As we know from Albert Bandura's widely cited theory of social learning, people (especially teenagers) can learn new behaviors and their social acceptability from the media. When a publication such as CosmoGIRL! frames "sexting" and kissing girls to impress boys as fun, inconsequential, and "normal," teenage girls may be influenced to adopt behaviors that would put them at risk.

--Posted by Michelle Weidner