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I’m going to sound old for a moment. I promise it’s in service of something good, so bear with me, OK? Here goes:

I am so thankful that I grew up before the widespread use of the internet, blogs and online social networking. (Heck, I didn’t even have email until college. Yes, I’m really that old.) You know why? Because when I grew up and started trying to be taken seriously as a professional, there was no digital trail of my youth to hold me back. And I assure you – there would have been a trail.

Would I have sexted my high school boyfriend, Andy? Would I have sent him explicit emails and NSFW pictures of myself? You bet I would have. I wanted to have sex with Andy all the time, every day, but between parental supervision and the hour drive that separated us, we got to be together in private a lot less than that. We would have been thrilled to have digital means to get it on with each other. (As it was, I was only allowed to talk with him for 10 minutes every day. This was before cell phones, too, and there was only one line in my house. I told you I was old.)

Would Andy have deliberately shared my private messages with anyone? I doubt it. He was a pretty good guy. But he miiiight have shown a little sample to his BFF Tom, just to brag a little. And Tom miiiiiight have decided to play a practical joke on Andy by stealing the photo or message and posting it to his Facebook wall. You see where I’m going with this.

But let’s say that didn’t happen. Let’s say Tom couldn’t figure out how to steal the photo, or Andy never showed it to him, or I never sent it. Let’s say I got through high school with nary a pixel’s indication that I’m anything but sexually pure. But then, at college, I decide to start keeping a blog of my life on campus – including my dating exploits. Or maybe I decide to write for the school paper, and I put together a first-person expose of an underground sexual culture on campus. I write about sexuality all the time now – it’s not hard to imagine I would have done it then. And that’s exactly what one Harvard student did – he wrote a very popular piece for the Crimson about his "use of Craigslist to look for sex with closeted Harvard jocks." Now, according to this story about him that aired on On The Media in December, he’s legally changing his name so that he can become a teacher without that article haunting him. Here’s what he had to say about the decision:

[The Crimson article] was a big hit. It’s my number one Google result, of course. But now, you know, three years later, I find that I’d really like to be an elementary school teacher. So I’m really wary of the possibility of that, you know, a 10-year-old kid coming across this, because, you know, if I were, like, in fourth grade I’d be googling my teachers all the time…
 
I picture a kid saying, I googled you last night and I found a really funny article or a really weird article. I picture losing my authority, in some ways, you know. I feel like I would have made a joke of myself in front of my students. There’s parents googling. I mean, I guess that’s another huge fear.

 

And even if I were hired by a school that was really understanding and might take the position of, well, you know, he was in college and things happen, I don’t really want to put any of my future employers in that position, of having to defend that.

 

It’s probably a smart decision, all things considered. I don’t think any of his fears are unfounded in the present day. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
 
Let’s break it down. Why would it undermine his authority if his students or their parents knew he had casual gay sex in college? Because it’s seen as a deviant thing to have done, and an even more deviant thing to have written about. 
 
But that’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, isn’t it? We don’t talk about sex because we don’t talk about sex. Except – what if we did? What if we all did, all at the same time? What would be deviant then?
 
We’re on the cusp of a generation of professionals who’ve grown up online. That’s you, Amplify readers. And all those juicy nuggets of info about your personal life that are floating around cyberspace, making you wonder if you should regret them? If you should change your name to distance yourself from them? They could just be the seeds of a new sexual revolution.
 
Think about tattoos. It used to be that a tattoo meant that you were low-class and possibly dangerous. Part of a fringe element. Nowadays, over 35% of Americans age 18-40 have at least one tattoo. You can’t write off people because they have a tattoo anymore – there are just too many people involved. It’s too normal. 
 
What if public acknowledgments of sexuality became like tattoos? What if, due to Facebook and Twitter and blogs and all the other ways we have to communicate with each other online, and the number of young people posting personal things about themselves through these media – what if it became normal for there to be some publicly available information about a person’s current or former sex life? What if too many people were in that situation for it to mean anything about your authority, or anything about your character at all? What if kids knew, via Google or whatever comes after Google, that their teachers – heck, their parents – are or have been sexual beings, and that there’s nothing wrong with that? What if the web made sexualitynormal?
I’m certainly not suggesting that you go post X-rated pictures of yourself as some kind of political protest. By all means – exercise caution with the information you post about yourself online, and always assume that it could wind up public, whether it started that way or not. But, if you ever find yourself in similar shoes to that former college journalist and future teacher, ask yourself this: what if instead of changing my name to conform to cultural norms, I could make the norms change to conform to my reality?

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