At any rate the title sounded ominous/sensationalist enough that I was curious about the nature of the “experiment”. What was the methodology? Who was conducting the experiment? And what was the outcome that had convinced author, Martin Daubney – a former skin mag editor – about the unequivocal danger posed by pornography? But by the end of the introductory my curiosity was replaced by big time skepticism:
The moment I knew internet pornography had cast its dark shadow over the lives of millions of ordinary British teenagers will live with me for ever….Before me were a group of 20 boys and girls, aged 13-14. Largely white, working class children, they were well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy.
I had trouble with the way the issue was framed. “Good” kids vs. sex. Goodness in this case being demonstrated by the students’ general whiteness and not-being poor. I guess it’s okay, or at least expected that ethnic kids from low-income families be exposed to pornography? Only when it infiltrates the sweet ranks of society’s most valuable children should we sound the alarm bells.
Right under this paragraph is a picture of the author, his wife and his very young son who looks three, maybe four years old. The grown-ups look concerned verging on frightened. The kid is nine kinds of adorable, with blond curls and a pursed-lipped smile. And I can’t think it’s a coincidence that the editors chose this photo to lead the article. You have the words “Children” and “Porn” looming over the head of this cutey-cute little person and whoa! Suddenly, porn does seem pretty threatening!
The subjects of the actual experiment are a group of 13 to 14 year-old students. Teenagers. I do think that it’s necessary for adults to be aware that youth today have unprecedented access to sexually explicit material. A kid has with a smartphone they can see porn. And not just the commercially available stuff. Snapchat and other apps have made sending sexy selfies super-easy. I don’t think it’s necessary for us parent-types to panic. But I think we need to be aware that there’s a high likelihood our kids will be exposed to more sexual content at an earlier age than most of us were.
Under instruction from a sex-educator, the youth are asked to write down the terminology they’ve picked up from porn. The lists are pinned on the board and according to the article, there are words that none of the adults know. This shocks the grown-ups. One of the terms is “nugget”. (Full-disclosure: I heard the term for the first time very recently and it did shock me. It’s slang for a porn performer – typically a woman – who doesn’t have arms or legs).
Daubry goes on to report:
But the more mundane answers were just as shocking. For example, the first word every single boy and girl in the group put on their list was ‘anal’.
Daubry explains that he hadn’t heard of sodomy at that young age and he’s deeply troubled by the thought that some of these youth may have a) seen it, b) may want to try it.
I was still annoyed by the sensationalism, but I can understand the alarm. It seems to be pretty common for adults to feel thrown when they discover that the kids in their life are more sexually knowledgable than they assumed. I was a pre-teen when my peers and I started flipping through romance novels to find the sex scenes. I heard guys talk about a stash of Playboy or Penthouse they’d unearthed from the basement or their parents bedroom. We started hearing terms like “blow job” and giggled when someone explained what it was. This started when were ten, eleven, twelve. I don’t think any of us were ready to have sex yet – I certainly wasn’t – but we were old enough to be curious.
Now that I’m a parent, I look at my son. He seems so very young. It’s hard to fathom that the talks about sex – not just “these are your body parts/this is how babies are made” talks – might start happening in just a few years. I think it’s totally understandable for us grown-ups to have an initial freak-out. THE KIDS ARE WATCHING WHAT?!! But I think the next step is to get it together and figure out what to do next. If my kid does find himself amongst a group like the one in the article, here are some things I hope I remember to bring up:
- What do you think about the fact that amputees are being referred to here as “nuggets”? How might it make that person feel? What message does that send about people with disabilities? What do you think about the fact that people with different bodies can and do have sex?
- Do you know the differences between having anal sex in real life and the way it’s shown in porn? Do you know why it’s important to use lubricant? Do you know reducing your risk of infection with barriers? Do you know why communication with your sex partner is super-important here.
- Let’s talk about why you’re watching this. How did you find it? Airial Clark a.k.a. The Sex Positive Parent had some great advice around kids discovering porn. Ask them if *they* think this is material is appropriate for their age. Remind them that the performers are real people, adults doing adult things. How do they think the people in the movie might feel if they knew kids were watching? How would they feel if a grown-up was naked or tried to have sex in front of them?
- It’s also an opportunity to find out from kids what they find compelling about the material. Because it may not be what you think. It’s an opportunity to talk about the difference between porn sex and sex-in-real life.
Daubrey does have some follow-up conversation with some of the youth after the class. He finds the ensuing conversation “horrifying”, saddened that these kid’s expectations around sex have been shaped almost entirely by pornography and shocked by some of the content the teens have been consuming.
These kids were balanced, smart and savvy. They were the most academically gifted and sporting in the school. They came from ordinary, hard-working households. This was not ‘Broken Britain’.
Once again, folks – sex is for bad people. Who’s bad? Kids who struggle in school. The one’s who come from weird, poor households. The ones who are “broken”.
Most of us become curious about sex long before we feel ready to engage in partnered sexual activity. Sexuality isn’t something that suddenly kicks in on our 18th birthday. It’s with us all of our lives and it develops over time. When I was a kid, my friends and I didn’t look at novels, or Playboy and unscrambled pay-per-view because we wanted to run out and do those things. We just wanted to know what it was about. We were trying to understand.
Youth today are curious too. They’re seeing more because there’s more material and easier access to explicit content than we had at that age. Unfortunately, that isn’t something that we can change. I knew more about sex at a younger age than my parents had…and they probably knew more than their parents. Depending on our kids’ ages and situations, we can limit their exposure to porn for a time. But at some point they’re going to get on the Internet. And if they want to find porn they will. And I think the best tool we can give them is a whack-ton of real-world information about sex, so that porn isn’t the only influence.
Daubrey does conclude with cursory call for parents to teach their kids that that real sex “is not about lust, it’s about love.”
So, I agree with the spirit but I don’t love the phrasing.Lust and love aren’t mutually exclusive. And personally I’m not interested in judging the rightness or realness of people’s sex based on how much of either is involved. I want to teach my child to honour his own ethics when it comes to sex. I want him to understand their options when it comes to safer sex and if it applies, contraception. I want him to understand why respect, consent and care for our sexual partners is essential. I want them to know that sex isn’t about being normal and doing what everyone else is doing, it’s about doing what feels good, what feels right for the people involved. And yes I will try to teach him about love and lust, just not as an either/or proposition. And finally, I will try my best to teach him to look at media with a critical eye, so hopefully he can distinguish between reality and a carefully crafted performance.
The very last sentence of Daubrey’s article tells us to communicate with our children. “By talking to them, they stand a chance”.
At least we agree on something.