Digital Dating

Whether you’re a 78-year-old widow or a 15-year-old high school student, meeting new people can be one of the easiest things to do. In recent years, personal computers and the Internet have fostered a new form of dating that has swept the romance scene by storm. Internet dating sites such as eHarmony.com, Match.com, Blackplanetlove.com, Gay.com and hotornot.com give anyone with a modem or satellite the potential to find a date. At MSU, thefacebook.com and a dating section on allmsu.com allow students to submit profiles and make contact with individuals they find interesting.
Sounds like a great way to get out there, right? Not always.
Valerie, an interior design junior at Central Michigan University who asked that her last name be omitted, has learned how easy it is to run into trouble with online dating.
[control] During Valerie’s senior year of high school, she began talking to a guy online from Web site called Face the Jury. He said his name was Michael, and as they started talking more and more, the conversations became more in depth. Valerie started becoming attached to the person on her computer screen, and eventually began calling him her “boyfriend.”
“He was a sweet talker, a pretty poetic person and he always seemed to say the right thing at the right time,” Valerie said. “He was a hopeless romantic, and that really impressed me.”
She virtually dated him for three years, even though they had never met. However, the online relationship Valerie had with Michael affected her social life and her relationship with her family. “We talked every day,” Valerie said. “When I wanted to go out with my friends he would make me feel guilty because he wanted me to stay online and talk to him.”
Finally, Valerie’s mother became so concerned with the situation she hired a private investigator to check out “Michael.” The P.I. informed Valerie and her mother there was no record of anyone by that name where he claimed to live.
As devastated as Valerie was to discover this, she confronted Michael, who then admitting to lying to her and claimed his name was actually Chris. Valerie continued talking to “Chris” online for about two months with the hope of working things out, before realizing she needed to stop.
“It’s almost like a cigarette addiction,” she said. “It was very hard for the first month or two, but I feel so much better about myself now that he is out of my life.”
Valerie was so caught up in her relationship she ignored warning signs that the guy was lying. For example, she never met Chris and never spoke with him on the phone, despite requesting that they do so. He also would never tell her exactly where he lived, claiming his mom wouldn’t let him give out their address. “He had an excuse for everything, and I believed him,” she said.
[laptoplove] While Valerie’s experience was not a postive one, it shouldn’t make anyone completely disregard online dating. Keeping your guard up can mean the difference between a bad experience and a good one. Paying attention to clues is key to ensuring you don’t end up in a similar situation. Tips for online dating safety can be obtained at many of the dating Web sites, and usually include things such as: don’t rush into meeting; talk on the phone; ask for a photo; use common sense and instincts. And if you do decide to meet someone, choose a safe, public place during the day.
In addition to the initial dangers of meeting a stranger, problems can arise because prior to actually meeting in person, two people might seem compatible, only to discover they lack the chemistry a good relationship needs.
East Lansing relationship therapist Marilyn S. Thompson has read studies illustrating the idea that while two people may look great together on paper, a real, live relationship is a lot more complex.
“I’ve read that sometimes people get their hopes up when they are e-mailing or communicating through the Internet,” Thompson said. “But…it can be a let-down because the chemistry just isn’t there.”
Despite dangers and doubts, millions of people worldwide are turning to Internet dating sites for anything from needing a date Saturday night to looking for the love of their lives.
Boasting itself as the “fastest growing relationship site on the Web,” eHarmony.com stands apart from other dating sites because of its method. Developed by a clinical psychologist from Pasadena, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the site offers a unique way of matching people. The site has each user take a 436-question personality survey, which categorizes people in 29 personality dimensions. The site then does the work of finding matches using each person’s individual results. The site is self-titled a “relationship,” not dating, service, as their goal is to find long-term relationship matches, not just casual dates.
Public relations manager for eHarmony, Joe Zink, is confident in the site’s ability to help people who are seeking meaningful relationships. “The people who use our site want to have long-term relationships, and our site is a safe way to go about doing that,” Zink said.
Zink also explained it’s the site’s use of screening and science which allows for the high success rates of its clients. “We have over seven million users internationally,” Zink said. “And [we] have record of over 10,000 marriages that occurred as a result of our matches.”
Zink credits the recent increase in people using the Internet for connections and networking with people becoming more comfortable with the process. He claimed, a year or two ago, many people thought “only weirdos use online dating.” After success stories began emerging through friends and relatives, however, more people began turning to the Internet as a healthy way to meet people, he said.
While eHarmony.com is an international service specializing in connecting people for the long-term, a local service with less of an agenda can be found right at MSU.
allMSU.com’s dating section provides a way for fellow Spartans to meet each other through the Internet. On the site, students can create profiles with their picture, a description of what they are looking for and the kind of person they hope to meet.
Mechanical engineering freshman T.J. Bertagnoli created a profile on allMSU earlier this year to meet new people, and ended up meeting his current girlfriend of seven months.
“I went into it without a lot of expectations,” Bertagnoli said. “But obviously it worked.” Bertagnoli believes the site works because it’s just MSU students, so people already have a lot of things in common by just being MSU students.
Stefanie Mueller, a psychology junior, agrees the site being for only MSU students made her feel more at ease about using it over other online dating services.
“You meet people that are your age, that go to your school, that do the same things you do, and quite possibly even know some of the people you know,” Mueller said. “So it seems as though they aren’t as much complete strangers as the people on any other dating site would be. Something about it being based from your own school makes it seem safer, and less weird.”
While it’s become seemingly easier to meet people online, it’s important to remember there’s a world of singles outside the glow of your computer screen. So put up a profile or two, but instead of going completely digital, think about actually asking for digits once in a while.

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Sex-capades

The lights are low and music plays softly in the background. The mood is set, and you and your partner, whom you’ve determined is perfect in every way, are ready to go. Time for the fun to begin. But suddenly, the ideal evening you’ve been anticipating comes to a screeching halt.
“You want me to do WHAT?”
You’re baffled. Whether you’re the person saying it or hearing it, the situation has become awkward.
As uncomfortable as these moments can be, misunderstandings like this can lead to important discoveries about the differences people have in their ideas about sex and sexual experiences.
For instance, what makes him or her think you would ever do something like that?
[sex] Perhaps the media is to blame. As ideas and illustrations about sex are rampant in our culture, it would be hard to argue that media, including pornography, don’t play a significant role in how we learn and what we perceive about sex.
English and film studies professor Jeff Wray believes the growth of the media presence in our culture has made sexuality less personal and more influenced by the media’s interpretation of sex. “Media paints these pictures of what sexuality, sex, desire, allure are ‘supposed’ to be and then people, particularly younger folks, are led to reach for that ideal of love, sex and romance,” Wray said. “And of course the ideal is generalized and very much an unattainable ideal. Real sexuality is personal, develops at its own pace and is sometimes less than ideal and sometimes much greater than any imagined ideal.”
Furthermore, the ideas and images presented in film, television and music don’t apply to everyone and may not be the best way for each individual to become acquainted with sex.
One of the most sexualized forms of mainstream media is hip-hop music and music videos. From R. Kelly’s “Ignition” of 2003 to the latest 50 Cent single, “Candy Shop,” sexual images and expectations are everywhere. “If you be a nympho, I’ll be a nympho / In the hotel or in the back of the rental,” 50 Cent sang. It’s obvious what he means by the term “lollipop.”
Brady Harris, interdisciplinary studies in social science junior, believes the images and ideas presented in popular music today have an influence on the way young people think about sex. “I think there are positive and negative effects, but it’s easier to see the negative sides,” Harris said. “I think a lot of music videos today make people think it’s OK for guys to be ‘pimps’ or ‘players’ and that it’s glamorous for girls to be promiscuous or think they have to dress or look [provocative] to get a guy to like her.”
But Eric Howard, a licensed sex therapist in Lansing, believes the product of the media’s representation of sex is not necessarily a bad thing. “The media many times is beneficial and helpful to people and their sexual relations,” Howard said. “It can open topics up for discussion and communication that might otherwise be hard to talk about.”
Speaking of hard to talk about, pornography, a highly pervasive, available media taboo, influences the way many people view sex and love. Whether hidden in closets, between mattresses, in computer files or wrapped in brown paper on magazine racks, porn is usually easier to get than an actual partner.
As the Internet has changed the way we see the world, it has also changed how porn is made available to us. All it takes is a double-click and you’re in for all the kink your eyes can handle.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt, a licensed sex therapist in Farmington Hills, said he is aware of studies that show “non-violent, non-derogatory, erotic material” has a positive effect on adults and their sexuality. For healthy individuals or couples, pornography may serve as a springboard to communication and sexual growth.
While this may be true, “non-violent, non-derogatory, erotic material” is very hard to come by.
For Jessica Nowakowski, advertising junior, some types of porn are offensive because they feature female degradation and objectification. “In some of the porn I’ve seen, they are really rough with the women,” Nowakowski said. “I think it sometimes degrades women and sets the impression that sex is for the man only, and in my head, it shouldn’t be. It should be passionate and for both parties equally to enjoy.”
Howard acknowledges the negative effects of pornography by pointing out it “de-emphasizes relationships and emphasizes performance,” and he suggests this puts stress on both men and women to live up to often unrealistic standards based solely on performance.
This lack of focus on relationships is a very significant aspect of pornography, which offers few to no depictions of love or respect shared by the actors. Does this then make us believe our own sexual experiences should follow suit?
MSU alumnus Charles Cooper argues it depends on the person and the individual’s personal desires about sex.
“Pornography lets people see things that they wouldn’t normally do in real life,” Cooper said. “I think people live their fetishes through pornography, so it may make someone curious to try something they see.”
Many women especially may be uncomfortable participating in “facial cum shots,” rough sex, anal sex, bondage, “ass-spanking” and other sexual extremes, which are common in porn. From pornography, men may get the idea that all women desire such experimentation. Whether your partner is male or female, don’t assume anything about his or her desires. Ask first.
Sex should be personal, regardless of media, pornography, peers or other outside influences. Prevent awkward situations later by talking with your partner before a conflict arises. Find out what you and your partner are comfortable with and have fun, porn or no porn.

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Un-Sexed Ed

As college students, we can now look back at ourselves during high school and reflect on the decisions we’ve made about sex and what factors played a role in those decisions. For many of us it has been a combination of things we’ve learned from our parents and friends, and some things we learned in our sex education programs at school.
Since the early 1900s, talks about sex education in schools have remained controversial. In 1940, the need for sex education in schools was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service, starting what is now commonly referred to as “sex ed.”
During the ’80s and ’90s, schools responded to an overwhelming need to educate students about sex and its consequences. Particularly after the AIDS virus was discovered, schools began taking the task of educating youth about sexual health and safe sex into their own hands. Teachers showed videos about condom usage and various STDs in classrooms across the country, hoping to educate America’s youth, prevent the spread of STDs and lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Since its inception, sex education curriculums in schools have faced criticism. There are those who support sex education, arguing that teens who are informed about sex will make better decisions about it, and those who believe sex education simply promotes promiscuity.
[sexed] During his administration, President Bush has changed the format of sex education in schools from a comprehensive curriculum including information about safe sex methods to an “abstinence-only” education, which teaches students one option when it comes to sex – don’t have it. Students in these programs are taught to refrain from sexual activity and are usually asked to sign a vow of abstinence. Bush’s abstinence-only program stems from his idealistic opinion, supported by many religious organizations, that if we don’t teach kids how to have safe sex, they won’t have it at all.
Bush has implemented this new curriculum by increasing federal funding to schools that utilize abstinence-only programs and cutting funding to schools who teach other forms of sex education. Since 1997, over $500 million has been spent on abstinence-only education. In 2004, Bush asked congress for an increase in funding for abstinence education and was granted an increase of $30 million to the budget, despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. Bush’s plan of giving federal funding to schools who implement abstinence-only programs and cutting funding to schools who don’t, the abstinence-only program is rapidly becoming the only type of sex ed program taught in public schools.
The national evaluation of the success of the program has not yet been released and isn’t expected until 2006. Maybe Bush is right, maybe he isn’t. The bottom line will be clearer after the release of the statistical results of his program. However, various other studies have been conducted and results released, leaving many questioning the effectiveness of abstinence-only education and its budget.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt, a psychotherapist familiar with the sex education debate, has seen studies that show, while abstinence-only programs have delayed intercourse by six months to a year in teens who have not already had it, the numbers of STD cases and unwanted pregnancies are still increasing.
While delaying intercourse for teens who have not already engaged in it is a positive effect, it certainly does not pertain to all teenagers. A government statistic states that over 40 percent of 15-year-olds in the United States have already engaged in full sexual intercourse.
“Abstinence-only programs do not stop teens from having sex,” Barratt said. “It simply ensures that they will go into their experiences ill-prepared, ignorant and uneducated about sex.” Barratt went on to say forcing these programs on our youth (the essential effect of Bush’s plan) is an abuse of young people, as it ensures them to be uneducated about sexual intercourse.
This view is shared by many MSU students who feel their sex education program in high school helped them make informed decisions about sex. Most college students today were not taught under an abstinence-only program in high school, as its strong implementation has been a relatively recent event in schools.
Kristin Dierwa, advertising junior, admitted her personal decisions about sex were not affected by her high school sex education program, but she feels comprehensive sex ed programs would be beneficial to students who didn’t have knowledge about safe sex. “In high school we were shown pictures of STDs and learned about the importance of using condoms and other forms of contraceptives,” Dierwa said. “I think it’s important that schools teach kids about it because some people’s parents don’t tell them about that.”
Brad Ellens, building construction junior, has a different opinion. “I think I would be more in favor of the abstinence-only programs than against them, because they counter-balance what the rest of the world is saying,” said Ellens. “Kids learn about sex and safe sex everywhere: the media, all those ads on MTV and from their friends.” Although at Ellens’ high school he was taught sex ed comprehensively, he feels his decision to stay abstinent came more from the values he was brought up with from family and church.
The answer to the issues surrounding sex education in schools is not clear-cut. Differing opinions stemming from distinct personal experiences and backgrounds make for never-ending arguments. However, one thing can be said: the decision to have sex is, for many, something that comes from the values or ideas they have acquired from their surroundings, family and religion. If this is the case, then sex education programs would not have a large impact on sexual decision-making. What the programs do have an effect on, though, is how educated a person is about the consequences of engaging in sexual activity and why and how they should be protecting themselves if they do decide to have sex.

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