‘Teen Vogue’ Magazine Redefines Grooming

COMMENTARY: The magazine only tells part of the truth in a recent statement. And like all half-truths, the omitted part of the truth is precisely the point that needs to be addressed.

A view inside as Teen Vogue Celebrates New Hollywood at Grandmaster Recorders on March 23, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
A view inside as Teen Vogue Celebrates New Hollywood at Grandmaster Recorders on March 23, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (photo: Vivien Killilea / Getty)

The term “groomer” has become a flash point in the debate over sexual education in the schools, particularly around whether children should be instructed that it is possible to change the sex of their bodies. 

Social media companies have banned people who use the term “groomers” in this context. Most recently, a coalition of sexual revolutionary activist groups published an open statement in Teen Vogue, “to demand that the journalists covering this devastating and false rhetoric do so responsibly.” 

The Ruth Institute has published interviews with survivors of sexual abuse and their families, specifically about the topic of grooming. Our objection to the Teen Vogue coalition is that their definition of “grooming” points people away from one very significant aspect of protecting children from predation. 

Let me explain. 

Here is the definition the Teen Vogue coalition uses: 

“The word ‘grooming’ means something specific and serious: it is a secretive process by which someone builds false trust with a child they are intending to abuse.”  

True enough, as far as it goes. But like all half-truths, the omitted part of the truth is precisely the point that needs to be addressed. Predators do not merely groom the individual they intend to abuse. Frequently, predators groom the people around their immediate victims, including the child’s parents and other family members or sometimes even an entire community. Predators are masterful at gaining the trust of everyone around them, to divert suspicion from themselves and to isolate their victims from sources of support. This “social grooming” is a significant barrier to getting the support they need, or even being believed. 

When concerned parents refer to the self-described “sex educators” as “groomers,” they aren’t claiming that those individuals are trying to have sex with the children immediately before them. They are saying something much more fundamental and serious. The parents are saying that this type of instruction sets the children up, not to be protected, but to be victimized. The Teen Vogue coalition’s definition includes no such thing as grooming the rest of the community. By omitting this, the Sexual Revolutionaries divert attention from the issue that is really at stake for the parents who are objecting to the sexual education curriculum. 

Under the guise of providing value-neutral information to help some children protect themselves, the school-based sex ed curricula imparts sensitive, intrinsically value-laden information in a context where the children are separated from their parents. The setup itself implicitly conveys to the children that they should not trust their parents, that the people at school are really their friends. This is classic grooming behavior. “Don’t tell your parents about our special time together.” 

Convincing children that they cannot trust their parents, that their parents do not understand them or have their best interests in mind: These mind games set children up for predation. The lame definition of “grooming” that the Teen Vogue coalition lays out doesn’t even acknowledge that this aspect of grooming is a possibility. 

It is particularly galling for Teen Vogue to be leading the charge to misdirect the public in this manner. Some years ago, the magazine ran an article entitled, “Anal Sex: Safety, How tos, Tips, and More.” The article describes its mission thus: “Here is the lowdown on everything you need to know about butt stuff, no matter who you are, who you’re having sex with, or who you want to have sex with.” 

While presenting itself as a value-free source of uncontestable facts, the article labeled the illustration of the female as the “anatomy of a non-prostate owner.” This illustration didn’t even include the clitoris. So much for “science.” 

You don’t need to be a Christian conservative to have problems with this article and its tacit message to teenaged girls. As one (non-religious) commenter observed at the time, 

Not only is any potential pleasure a woman may feel during anal sex reduced to the lack of male body parts (she is a “non-prostate owner”) but the clitoris, the actual hub of female sexual pleasure, has been removed. The lack of a male body part is the focus of what defines the female body, and what is actually there isn’t identified at all.
What is this teaching the audience of a magazine aimed at teenage girls? It tells them their identity is not “woman”, but rather “non-man”. It tells them that should they consent to anal sex, their body is just a hole for the man to penetrate, and the part of their body that is most sensitive and reliable for the female orgasm is so irrelevant that it doesn’t even warrant a label. It tells them that consenting to anal sex is not about their pleasure, but about their partner’s.

Teen Vogue markets itself to teenagers. Their summit allows children as young as 13 to attend, only “suggesting” that they attend with a parent or guardian. The idea of anal sex does not spring unbidden to the mind of a teenaged girl. This thought has to be planted there. Teen Vogue was engaging in social grooming: Setting young girls up to consent to something that would not have even ordinarily occurred to them. There is nothing a 13-year-old girl needs to know about anal sex. 

When parents oppose mandatory comprehensive sexuality education in the schools, it is the social grooming they are objecting to. The idea that a boy can become a girl is not a thought that would spring unbidden to the mind of a child. And if it does, it most often is a form of fantasy born of immaturity. Placing ideas and normalizing activities in their children’s minds that would not otherwise be there: this is what parents are rightly calling “grooming.” 

For the advocates of sex education to deny and decry this, for them to insist that journalists conform to their constricted definition of grooming is a way of eliminating opposition that they cannot otherwise defeat in a fair argument. 

The facts are these. The idea that a person can change the sex of the body is NOT “settled science.” The safety of these medical interventions is highly contested. Many school districts have policies that deliberately limit parental involvement or even knowledge about their children’s thoughts and behaviors. Excluding parents is a classic tactic of groomers. 

The advocates of these aggressive education programs dislike being called “groomers.” Well boo-hoo. I will not be lectured to by them, or by Teen Vogue over what constitutes grooming.