Recapping SexTech: Keynotes and Special Presentations

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Last week I had the privilege to go to SexTech , hands-down the nation’s best conference on youth, sexual health, and technology. I’m still amazed, inspired, and just downright giddy over the things I learned and the people I met. Here’s my recap of the keynotes and special presentations:

Youth Reflect: Masculinity, Film, and Social Media

SexTech 2011 opened with a live brainstorm with the three winners of ScenariosUSA’s screenwriting contest on the meaning of masculinity.  The three young filmmakers presented previews of their film and then received feedback on how to promote it from a panel of community organizers.  Their videos reveal the nuances of masculinity, and the challenges young men face. Please watch these video clips!

Man in the Mirror by Treviny Marie Colin, directed by Joel Shoemaker (yes, that Joel Shoemaker)

Jason is the all-American guy: star basketball player, popular, good looking… He’s also wrestling with the fact that he’s gay. Man in the Mirror explores the challenges LGBTQ youth of color face in coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out.

Life’s Poison by Angileece Williams

Eliyah knows how to be a man: he learned it from his abusive father and his tough neighborhood. When Eliyah faces personal tragedy, he is forced to confront his concept of masculinity

A Man Made Early by Angelica Hernandez

Tony Rodriguez wants to go to Stanford. His mother needs him to be the man of the house. A Man Made Early explores the conflict Tony faces as a young Latino trying to honor his obligations to his family while also trying to build a better future for himself.


Deb Levine, Executive Director and Founder of SexTech hosts ISIS, Inc. , introduced a new white paper on the intersection of youth, technology and social media, and youth.  I definitely urge you to read the paper TECHSex USA: Youth Sexuality and Reproductive Health in the Digital Age

Behind the Scenes:  16 & Pregnant

Kudos to the SexTech staff for coordinating this panel which featured the producers of 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom and staff from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  The panel prompted tons of discussion from SexTech attendees. I learned a lot – perhaps more so from what was left unsaid.

Here’s my opinion:

Data from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy shows that teens who watch are taking away the right message: most who watch see greater importance in avoiding pregnancy. To me, that answers a lot of the questions about whether the show glorifies teen pregnancy. The sophisticated SexTech crowd had more questions about the ethics of the two shows, and producers Dia Sokol Savage and Morgan Freeman (no, not that Morgan Freeman) were dodgy about things like whether or not/how the girls get paid.

Why did they make the show? “There’s a pregnant teen at every school. Teens wanted to know: what makes me different from that girl.” Morgan Freeman, Producer, 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom

I feel like the producers are making a good faith attempt at creating a realistic show, and I feel like their intentions are good. They noticed that the girls on the show existed in a world of poverty, abuse, and neglect, and they attempt to highlight that. They intentionally show conversations about contraception when they occur. They seem to understand the complexity of teen pregnancy as an issue.  They turn away girls who wanted to get pregnant (“the show is about unplanned pregnancy).  

At some point, however, the well-intentioned filmmakers have to “collaborate” with MTV casting.  That means that the same people who worked so hard to bring you Snooki and The Situation, brought you teen parents Farrah and Maci.  And, I’m pretty sure those casting directors don’t have the best interest of the girls or their babies in mind.

The producers are real documentarians who want to create a real, truthful product. I can fist pump to that. But, they left a lot of unanswered questions about what happens to the girls and their families when their lives get the MTV treatment.

Coming soon… A recap of some of the great SexTech sessions.


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