Sex In The Student Newspaper: A Punishable Offense

An Omaha high school newspaper was pulled — and a journalism teacher disciplined — because of it published articles that discussed teen sex. Another possibly anti-sex newspaper? The Harvard Crimson.

According to Michaela Saunders of the Omaha World-Herald, the offending section in Omaha North High School's North Star bore the headline, "Life on the Sheets. Everyone has hormones, but learning how to control them is what matters." Topics included "sex drive; masturbation; the district's pro-abstinence human growth and development curriculum; the fun and risks of sexting; and how to put on a condom, using a banana in step-by-step photos." Saunders somewhat censoriously notes that "there was no mention of the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in Omaha and no perspective from teen parents or from teens committed to abstinence" — although the banana photos were, of course, a demonstration of how to prevent STDs. North High's principal blocked distribution of the papers because, according to district spokesperson Luanne Nelson, "the school has a 'very diverse student body' and that the material would have been offensive to some North students and their families." It doesn't seem that the paper's content was racist, so perhaps the "diversity" Nelson refers to involves religious students — or maybe she's just spouting buzzwords. Whatever the case, journalism teacher Hillary Aerts was apparently "disciplined" for allowing her students to write about sex (Nelson says she's now "back in the classroom").

The Crimson case is less clear-cut. Sex blog h-spot says the Crimson agreed to run their full-page ad, then reneged when h-spot posted a sex survey reporting that 73% of Harvard women masturbate. h-spot's Ryan writes,

While we don't believe that The Crimson truly hates female masturbation (btw, totally their loss if they do), something strange is going on behind closed doors at Harvard's newspaper. They are fine with advertising an instructional sex guide [that would be this], but the second a piece of blog content involved Harvard, they determined that this information was not appropriate for dissemination to Harvard students. Perhaps they see themselves in the role of junior cop for the administration. If so, this seems like a bizarre role for an independent student newspaper at a top university.

If h-spot's account is correct — the Crimson staff did offer an alternate interpretation involving content "that the Crimson had not previously reviewed and signed-off on" — then it's interesting that Harvard's newspaper displayed prudishness similar to that of a high school principal in a socially conservative state. Of course, dropping a private advertiser is a lesser move than disciplining a teacher and pulling an entire print run. And since "Life on the Sheets" isn't available online, it's hard for me or anyone else outside Omaha to evaluate its audience-appropriateness (though if someone has a copy, let us know). But what's striking about both stories is how fraught the notion of "appropriateness" is when it comes to sex and young people, and how those in positions of power often choose to solve this problem by simply withholding information. We wouldn't advocate that North High distribute h-spot's "instructional sex guide" — but why not publish "Life on the Sheets" along with the pro-abstinence voices it was supposedly missing? Teens — and college students, too — deserve to learn more about sex, not less.

North High Pulls Newspaper [Omaha World-Herald]
The Harvard Crimson HATES Female Masturbation [H-Spot]

Image via Sean Prior/Shutterstock.com.