Effective Sexuality Communication for Social Transformation Reframed as “Meet Me Inna de Rampin Shop & on Facebook”

Effective Sexuality Communication for Social Transformation Reframed as “Meet Me Inna de Rampin Shop & on Facebook”

Marcia Forbes PhD

The topic given to me by the Jamaica Theological Seminary was ‘Effective Sexuality Communication for Social Transformation’. When I first saw this topic, I said WOW, that’s quite a mouthful and quite a task for me to take on! Social Transformation, that’s a huge challenge. And in today’s Jamaica, seeming impossibility, so entrenched are our formal and informal institutions and our practices. So far gone is the erosion of our moral and ethical standing as a people as daily we are exposed to the lies and deceit of the Manatt Phelps Phillips and the Finsac Enquiries. Both brought about by the incompetence of our leaders and seen as reality TV, especially MPP, with audiences cracking up over the theatrics.

Then sexuality, that’s a hot button, highly contested and contentious topic!! Seen by some scholars, Foucault in particular, as where all power struggles begin & end!! Sexuality relates to how we express and experience ourselves as sexual being. It includes issues relating to how we dress, how we dance, the age we start having sex, how many children we have, teenage pregnancies, sexuality transmitted diseases, the kinds of music we enjoy.

We know Jamaicans are quite sexy and that we value sexuality quite highly, going straight back to our history of slavery. Whether you’re a woman or a man you have to prove your sexuality, otherwise, as a woman you are denigrated as a mule or as barren and as a man you are disparaged as ‘saaf’ or ‘wutliss’.  And we all know ‘man a long distance stulla’ and woman haffi have ‘Benz Punnany’, since that’s what our much loved and highly sexual Dancehall music and its two most popular proponents, Mavado and Kartel, tell us. Our young people aspire to meet these demands and directives from DJs. As Lance Neita pointed out in yesterday’s Gleaner, “The metamorphosis of Jamaican culture is indelibly linked with the dynamic changes recorded in our music over different eras.”

In this topic of ‘Effective Communication for Social Transformation’ Communication too is no walkover either as this includes verbal and non-verbal via new and old media, interpersonal and even intra-personal as many of us grow to talk with ourselves. And always communication is governed by the great definers and final arbiters, namely context and culture!!

Even the seemingly innocuous ‘effective’ as in ‘Effective Communication’ is not at all innocent as one could question the criteria used to define ‘effective’ and the measurement tools used to determine effectiveness.  As we say in Jamaica, ‘anyweh me tun macka juk me’ with this large topic. You could say I was given an ELEPHANT of a topic. But my mantra of many years has been, ‘How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite!!’ So I took up the challenge and come to you today with by bite from a big topic.

From the foregoing preamble you have become sensitized to some of the variables we must contend with as we grapple with this topic. These include our history, our culture, our society, our values, our norms, our mores, our music. None of us must undervalue the role of music in our socialization process because based on our history of slavery and resistance, music has always played a critical role in our struggle for survival and continues to do so.

Reframing the Topic

My first step as I prepared to bite this elephant is to reframe the challenge of the topic and to consider the perspective of my audience; All of you looking on and listening. How can I present this to you in a more memorable way? In a way that will engage your thoughts and hopefully later action?

By reframing the topic as I enter the ring (although to be honest I snuck into the ring a little while back and started gnawing at the Elephant’s trunk), anyway as I now officially enter the ring I move from ‘Effective Sexuality Communication for Social Transformation’ to “Meet me Inna de Rampin Shop and on Facebook”.

By restating the topic I’m meeting this Elephant of a topic on my own terms and somewhat cutting it down to size because I know enough about Rampin Shop and Facebook to know that they are critical variables in effectively communicating about sexuality. I also know that these two variables are pushing social transformation in Jamaica today.

Rampin Shop is my metaphor for dancehall, its music, lifestyle, venue and all the tappings that go with dancehall, while Facebook is being used by me to represent social media in its widest sense and not just the social network Facebook.

Dancehall & Social Media
Dancehall music and social media are pushing issues relating to sex and sexuality and the type of ways we talk about them. So I propose that we harness the power of these media (because music is media). I propose that we:

1) Use New Media particularly Social Media for Message Dissemination

2) Use Popular Music for Social Transformation
Or vice versa -- So meet mi inna de Rampin Shop and on facebook mek wi talk ‘bout sexuality because that’s where the talk is happening – through our music and our media, especially new media – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, My Space and the rest.
In my recently released book, Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, I quote an urban based middle class boy, who said,
              “When you watch these music videos you kinda get an idea of societal norms

                 and you try to adopt these to fit in society. The norms are there but when you

                see a DJ pick up those norms and emphasize them, it takes a whole new turn.

               We who love the music video will now say, ‘Alright, that is what I am supposed to do.'”

And in the data being gathered toward my second book which explores and analyses how youths are using cell phones and the internet, one young girl, in response to what the internet means to her, wrote, ‘the internet help me to know how to French kiss so the internet is the best thing that ever happen to me.’

So you see what I mean?  Marketers know that they must meet their customers, their clients where they hang out. If you want to sell something you need to know where your purchasers are. Where they hang! If you want your message to be heard you must use the medium that your potential audience is engaging with.  In Jamaica our young people are hanging out in Rampin Shops and on Facebook and learning about sex and sexuality from them so we who want to communicate with them need to meet them there. I want to emphasize this point because it may seem simple or seem like a joke. I am not joking.

The first step in effective communication is to know your audience and know where to find them.  Another step is to know how to craft your messages in order to reach them. That explains why I am using digital ethnography as a part of my research methodology data gathering in writing about Youths Online. That is why I’ve immersed myself into Twitter for the past year. So that I can understand how those with internet access are really using this and what occupies their attention and time. This is helping me to understand the concept of sex online.

Trying to preach to young people in the old style won’t work. Trying to tell them sex is bad is a waste of time because that Genie is already out of that bottle. Our teenagers can teach us older ones about sex because they are experts. Teenagers in the focus groups sessions I’ve been having tell me how they watch porn to learn the various positions and as some rural area girls pointed out to me, girls with low self-esteem use their sexual prowess to bring them fame and recognition. The new technologies make it easy for all this. Now they download the porn to their cell phones so they have it with them all the time and they share it with friends as one 16 year old girl gleefully explained to me.

Sex is portable and available on demand. Sex can be virtual or actual. It now comes in many shapes and sizes!! Oral, Anal, boy/girl, boy/boy, girl/girl and most times they not shy to talk about it online although the homosexual ones may use coded language. Based on the bond and trust I’ve built up over the past year on Twitter, I feel a few of them will open up to me in focus group sessions. We’ll see.

To meet youths on Facebook you have to first learn Facebook. That is a challenge. Believe me I know, because since last year I’ve been on Facebook and I really do not like it and I struggle with it. Hanging out on Facebook is not my idea of fun. But I need to understand it because I simply cannot write a book about Youths Online unless I understand what youths are doing on Facebook because it is the largest social network and Jamaican young people have latched onto it and are using it for all sorts of things. Even those with no computer or internet access at home. Many of them are using Facebook at school during what is supposed to be class time.

I’ve spoken to Guidance Counsellors from ten different schools and it’s the same thing – the girls are using Facebook to pick all sorts of quarrels with other girls about boyfriend matters and the boys using it to pick up girls, even girls from abroad. Recent research out of Columbia University, USA reports that 83% of prostitutes have Facebook pages so they are there in abundance. And the boys know how to find them because it’s not just foreign prostitutes who are on Facebook. It seems Jamaica has a burgeoning porn industry and local prostitutes are on Facebook as well. They talk online and plan for action offline.

I’ve also talked with teen agers from uptown and downtown from country and from town and they confirm all the things the Guidance Counsellors say. Plus they tell me about their addiction to pornography and how much porn they are watching on school computers. One teenage boy proudly bragged about the Facebook girlfriend he has in the USA and how much money she has sent him. And Skype makes it possible for them to show off their nakedness to each other and to masturbate while they talk and watch each other—Sex Online.

We talk a great deal about the music but not enough about the media.
The main message I want you to take away regarding social media is that as a Parent, as Guidance Counsellors, as Social Workers, as Academics you cannot lock out either new or old media. So what do you do? This is where the real business of parenting and teaching comes in.



The laying down of solid values so children know right from wrong and we don’t encourage and support them when they are wrong. It was really painful to hear Guidance Counsellors talk about how parents lie for their children and how embarrassing it is when a parent lies in front of his/her own child.


• Then there is the matter of trust. And this ties right back into the values and morals that you inculcate in them because this will help to guide the extent to which you can trust them. Yet, you need to realize that the most holier than thou teenager and the most Christian ones can get up to all sorts of things, so never sweat on the Bible for what your children will or will not do.

In one focus group 3 boys professed to be big Christians, yet these same boys were enjoying porn online and these same boys were trying out different identities online. Meaning they were pretending to be a different person in terms of their age and all that. And, importantly, they didn’t see anything wrong with any of that. And even when I probed about trust and honestly online and spoke about lies online, they felt it was OK.

The research findings from overseas now talk about shifting and fluid morals and shaping your moral attitude and stance based on the context. And I’ve seen this with the youths in focus groups. They tell me that they are different online. One of the Christian boys described how he is normally shy but online he’s LOUD and he’ll say things that he wouldn’t say in real life.

• Importantly there are the Cs:
o Consistency
o Communication

You can’t make a rule and then simply turn a blind eye when the child flouts that rule. Children need rules and regulations. They do not function best when they are simply left to do as they please. And when it comes to the use of social media you need to establish boundaries and set time limits.

Many of them tell me about being on the computer or the cell phone all night. How they are ‘frasted’ next day. For the younger ones, in particular those 16 and under, computers in the bedroom is an absolute no, no. And it may even be good to have phone-out, the way some parents have lights out. So there are boundaries and limits because children need their sleep.
Pulling on some of the findings from Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, it is clear that for most households there are no restrictions -- 56% had no restrictions for watching any type of music videos.

Many households across Jamaica may set rules for media use but these rules are not monitored and enforced. Because, although many adolescents said that parents restricted them watching dancehall music videos, it was the most watched of the 17 different types of videos they were asked about in the survey. Heavy consumption of dancehall music videos can negatively influence adolescents, especially the 10 to 12 year old boys.

As important as consistency is the need to communicate with your children and not just leave them to watch TV or spend hours on the computer. Because, depending on what they are watching on TV or via the internet it can do more harm than good. Many inner city children told me how their mother felt good that they were inside watching TV and not exposed to community quarrels, crime and violence. But these are the same ones who were telling me about the amount of porn they were watching and the shows and music videos with sex and the cell phone chat rooms which were all about sex. Little girls are meeting up with big men from cell phone chat and Facebook.

So while their parents think everything is OK, it really isn’t as it was all about SEX, SEX, More SEX!! And we know about the incidence of HIV/AIDS among the 20 to 25 year olds and that many would have contracted this in their teenage years. We all know about the persistently high incidence of teenage pregnancies, coupled with the persistently unacceptable levels of condom use.
All this sex on TV, via the internet, on Facebook, on their cell phones and all this talk on radio about swiping and sorting is helping to foster sex addicts. I’ll tell you that the past month has been an eye-opener for me. The teenagers talk so openly to me about their addiction to porn.

Many of our children say they have never watched TV with their Mother much less their Mother and Father. They watch by themselves or with their siblings and they apply their own meanings to what they see and hear on TV. Sometimes the parents themselves don’t feel competent to watch with their children and to guide them. And this brings me to the important matter of media literacy.

Media Literacy
Parents need to lead children to quality media choices but too many times the parents themselves are not capable. They simply do not have the necessary skills. And many times even the Guidance Counsellors and the Social Workers do not know either and are frustrated and overwhelmed by the problems of highly sexualized children.

With persistent media proliferation, media literacy becomes even more essential for teachers, parents and children so they learn to understand media messages and to understand the motivations behind these messages and to arm themselves with knowledge & to use this knowledge to bring about effective communication about matters relating to sexuality.

In closing I want to come back to my Elephant and trust that at the very least I’ve eaten the trunk. Without its trunk an Elephant is nothing, you may not even recognize it as an Elephant. I reemphasize the need to meet our young people in the Rampin Shop and on Facebook if we want to effectively communicate with them about sex and if we want to transform our society.
Let us harness the power of our music, including our dancehall music, and enlist the support of the more socially aware and conscious artistes like Tarrus Riley, Queen Ifreka and Etana to help to reposition the conversation.