The following article you’re about to read was an imterview between Peggy Orenstein and Sarah Fallon, I just felt like sharing it with you.
VISITORS TO PORNHUB, the largest porn site on the internet, watched about 92 billion sexytime videos last year. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I have two young sons; I don’t want them to end up incapable of being aroused by an in-the-flesh human because their first encounter with sex was a clip of a porpoise-pudenda’d MILF getting jackhammered. So I called Peggy Orenstein. The author of Girls & Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter is currently working on a book about boys, masculinity, sex, love—and yes, porn. As part of her research, she’s interviewing high school– and college-age males across the country. I needed her counsel.
- Are all the kids watching it?
The first thing I recognized when I started working on the new book was that the question to ask boys is not whether or if they watch porn. The question is, when was the first time they saw it? The most typical answer I get is 11, sometimes 13, sometimes younger.
- How do they come across it?
Sometimes they felt they needed to know what people were talking about, or an older boy had said, “Hey, look at this.” Boys will say things to me like “When I was 11, I looked up ‘big boobies.’” With just a couple of clicks, that search can lead them to images or videos they’re not prepared to understand or process. What I always say to parents is, if you’ve never gone on Pornhub to see what is there for free—on the opening page—then you have no idea what we’re talking about.
- What’s the effect on those boys?
Research suggests a positive correlation between heterosexual guys who look at porn regularly and those who support same-sex marriage.
Ah, but they’re also less likely to support affirmative action for women. And among young men, exposure to porn has been correlated with seeing sex as purely physical, regarding girls as playthings, and measuring their masculinity and their self-worth by their ability to score with hot women.
And one study suggests that female porn viewers are less likely than other women to intervene if they see another woman being threatened or assaulted.
See, this is why I want to craft a porn ecosystem that allows nothing but positive, friendly porn between realistic-looking people. Nothing with dogs or sex machines. All consensual and preferably partially clothed. And make it so my kids’ phones and computers can go there and no other porn sites.
There’s something weird about curating your sons’ porn.
I could just keep them off the internet entirely or set the parental controls to supermax levels of security.
I just got a text from a friend who said her children managed to end-run around Moment, an app that tracks how much you use your phone and how much time you’re spending on which apps. It’s an ongoing cat-and-mouse game: Websites and social media are trying to get your kid to stay on, and you’re trying to get your kid to stay off.
You mean … I just have to talk to them about … pornography?
Yep. It’s bizarre to me that because of our own squeamishness, we’re unable to engage with our children. The result is that we allow them to be educated by a culture that, at best, does not have their well-being at heart.
You know, some people are cool with their kids’ ideas about femininity and girlhood being shaped by Disney. Some people aren’t. Some people may be cool with their kids’ sexuality being shaped or influenced by porn, having it colonize their imaginations. And some people may not be—not because they’re anti-sex but because they’re pro-sex.
But we silo discussions about sex as if they have nothing to do with everything else. You should have already spoken to your kids about relationships and human behavior and sexuality. So that when you get to the porn conversation, you have a foundation. Porn shouldn’t be where you start.
When you talked to teens about how they reacted to porn, what did they say?
Generally, at first contact they don’t have an aroused response; they’re slightly repelled or unsure, or they think, “Well that’s weird.” They just don’t know what to do with that when they’re little. But when I’m talking to 16-, 17-, 18-year-old straight boys (I’ve talked to gay boys too, and that’s a different conversation), I’ve heard a range from “I recognize it as something separate, fantastical, and removed from my interactions with actual partners” to “I started feeling it was affecting my relationship and my sex life and the way I view girls, and I’ve stopped.” Some boys were concerned that real sex was feeling less arousing, and they didn’t like that. One boy said he stopped watching porn when he found himself idly wondering what one of his platonic female friends would look like with cum on her face.
He wasn’t even wondering what it would be like to have sex with her. He said he was so stunned that he just stopped watching.
Given that we live in a world where porn is as accessible as cat videos …
Yes. Maybe more so.
… what do I tell my sons?
The biggest surprise for me as a parent has been how hard we now have to work to protect our kids’ imaginations from predatory, addictive websites that want to sell things to them—or sell them to advertisers. So you have to lay the groundwork, to have conversations about what’s real and what’s not. Talk about how, when you see a movie, there’s violence, but that violence is totally unrealistic. Porn is really only the extreme end of an issue. We know these things are fake, that’s not the way the two people really interact. Kids have to be able to contextualize, to deconstruct it. Just like they need to do with other forms of media. Because yes, everyone is upset about porn, but the messages they get from garden-variety media are just as influential—maybe more so.