PORN IN THE NEWS

The New Sex Educator On The Market

The porn industry is branching out. Diversifying, if you will. Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, is now attempting to offer actual sex education.

With all the voices out there saying that porn is a terrible sexual educator, some within the industry have tried to have a go a sexual education.  PornHub launched an online sexual wellness centre that gives a range of sexual and relationship advice.  You can read about it at the Guardian here.

As nice as it is to consider that the good people at Pornhub are wanting to give a more realistic depiction of sex and help their viewers out, the fact that they are doing so raises a number of concerns.

Firstly, pornographers are targeting minors.  Surely that’s an issue.  Young people are a big market for pornographers, but seeing as the content is illegal for minors to view, that they’re targeting them is a problem.

More than that, pornographers don’t care about the sexual health of their viewers.  They care about money.  Sure, they know a bit about sex; they’ve seen more than their fair share.  But they probably shouldn’t be trusted to give advice on sexual health when they’re making money, in many instances, from a distorted view of sex.

By creating videos designed to give an education to young people, these porn sites are also acknowledging that porn is a bad sexual educator.  They’re admitting the charge that so many have made.

In light of this, there are a few options for parents and schools.

We could do nothing and hope that young people don’t get their sex education from porn.  We could all leave sex education to Pornhub and trust that they have the best interests of our kids in mind.  Sound good?

So if that doesn’t sound like a great option, parents and schools could work together to begin a more honest conversation about sex.  Parents need to take the lead, but schools can go beyond sex education that is simply about plumbing. Sex education needs to answer the questions young people are asking, so that they don’t feel the need to head to PornHub for their education.  In fact, if this were happening, when they went to porn they’d be able to see what a poor educator it is.

Parents, are you having that conversation with your kids?  Are you creating an environment where they can ask you difficult and even confronting questions?  If no one loves your kids more than you do, then you are the best person to teach them about sex.  

As to schools, I often have people comment and say that schools should stick to teaching Maths and English.  That they shouldn’t take the place of parents.  Schools absolutely should teach the basics and not try to be parents.  But to say that schools should do nothing is to ignore the fact that they are so often dealing with inappropriate sexual behaviour.  Schools deal with behaviours shaped by porn.  It may be sexting, teen pregnancy or habitual porn use that leads to declining academic results.  And so to say they shouldn’t talk about it is like telling a doctor to just treat symptoms and ignore the cause.

We can do sexual education better than pornographers.  So take a deep breath, and start the conversation today.

 

The Not So Innocent Tumblr

Tumblr-logo.png

Tumblr is one of the biggest social media platforms on the net.  Over half a billion users monthly.  144 billion posts.  120,000 new users each day.  53 million posts per day.  Sure, it's no Facebook (but none of the other social media platforms are), but it’s still a big deal.

I’ll be honest - I’m not a user.  But I’ve heard from students that I teach that they like it.  They can share whatever they like on it, and they essentially create their own blog and interact with others’ blogs.

An article on cnet.com recently highlighted an Italian study that looked at how much porn is on Tumblr, and how many people are seeing it, either intentionally or unintentionally.  They looked at 130 million users and 7 billion posts; a huge sample size.

Here’s what the study found:

“Adult content has become so pervasive that more than one in four people on the site will end up seeing porn without even looking for it, according to the study. Tumblr didn't respond to requests for comment.
Only 0.1 percent of accounts on the Yahoo-owned social network are producing porn content, but 22 percent of the site's users follow, like or reblog content from those accounts. Because of those shares, another 28.5 percent of people on Tumblr are unintentionally exposed to porn, according to the study.”

That’s over half of Tumblr users either following porn or being exposed unintentionally.

They also found that:

"Men and women under 25 on Tumblr are following porn at about the same rate, according to the study, but as users get older a gap appears."

So, if you’re a parent and your child is on Tumblr, chat to them about the kinds of things that pop up on their dashboard.  Don’t assume that this is simply a male problem.  With half of the users on Tumblr seeing porn, this isn’t something to be ignored.  And if you’ve got younger children, think carefully about what social media you’re going to allow them to use.

Should We Show Porn At School?

I once heard a story about a rugby coach from my high school showing the rugby team some porn on the bus trip back to school.  I guess they played well and he wanted to reward them?  Today it would be a sackable offence, but back then I guess it wasn’t such a big deal.  

This week, Dame Jenni Murray (a journalist and broadcaster from the UK) has publicly advocated for showing pornography to students in schools. But unlike that rugby coach, she isn’t just trying to reward the boys; she has an educational argument.

Her rationale is simple.  She says that we need to help young people analyse pornography so as to minimise its educational power.  She argues that sex education that simply focuses on biology and plumbing is failing our students.  Just as we analyse Jane Austen, so too we should analyse pornography, considering its power and ubiquity.

Now, to lay my cards on the table, I think the idea of showing students pornography is unwise in the highest order.  Perhaps Dame Jenni Murray is giving an extreme suggestion to make a point.  Either way, to show porn to minors is illegal in Australia, and we teachers (most days) would like to keep our jobs and our freedom.

However, I don’t think we should throw away everything she says.

Firstly, she’s right when she argues that sex education that is simply about plumbing is failing our students.  She’s right when says that pornography is a powerful teacher that needs to be countered.  And she’s right that we need to help students analyse the pornography we watch.

So if we’re not going to sit down in class and analyse porn, what can we do?

Here are a few suggestions.

We can talk about porn.  Finding appropriate ways within the life of a pastoral or well-being program to sit and talk about porn would help many young people.  Sure, it’s not as simple as sitting down and talking about it, but open conversation brings something hidden into the light.  We can also talk about it in PDH/PE classes and religious education classes.

We can equip students to analyse the porn they watch.  We don’t need to watch and analyse porn in the classroom with them, but schools can, in a range of subject areas, teach their students to critically analyse the media they watch.  They can pull apart other types of media, and be challenged to apply the same critical mind to pornography, and see if they agree with the message.  We can teach skills in critical analysis regarding the images that portray gender and relationships so that they are equipped to be critical of the message of pornography.

We can teach students about the harms of pornography, especially when consumed habitually.  Helping students understand the harms will help them to consider their own behaviour.

So before we consider breaking the law and watching porn with minors, there is a multitude of things we can do in our schools to help young people make healthy choices for their own well-being.

 

 

Porn & ‘I Want That One’

One of the things that most humans are good at is looking at something we don’t have and wanting it for ourselves.  We want to own what other people own.  We want to have the skills and abilities of others.  And boy, do we want to look like other people.  Like Andy in Little Britain, we look at others and say in our hearts, ‘I want that one’.

We compare ourselves to others and rate ourselves in the light of others.  And while some men have the innate ability to look at themselves in the mirror and be mightily impressed with whatever they see (I mean, shower + deodorant = looking good), for many women, the world of comparison is crippling.  On the one hand, it’s normal and we all do it.  But as my Mum once said, just because everybody is throwing deer poo at each other, doesn’t mean it is good for us or even a good idea in general.  Wise lady, my Mum. 

One of the effects of porn upon young women in our society is seen in the rise of requests for cosmetic surgery of the inner labia, which is part of the female genitals.  An article in the Huffington Post recently noted that 35% of GP’s surveyed (443 were surveyed) had had requests from young women for this kind of surgery.

Another recent article also noted that between 2000 & 2011 Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty nearly tripled.  To be fair, some of these procedures were medically necessary, but many of them were simply cosmetic.

These doctors noted the increased practice of women getting a Brazilian wax has played a part in this, along with pornography.  Young girls see images of naked women and compare themselves.  They then begin to believe that their own genitals aren’t normal, not realising that there is variation in how people look.

Combined with this is the reality that young men also have the belief that a woman’s genitals should look like the women in pornography, and they expect all women to look the same.  

So now we’ve just added another thing that young women are worrying about when it comes to their appearance...as if there weren’t enough reasons already.  In fact, one of the articles mentioned a young woman whose boyfriend refused to have sex with her until she got surgery.  

So what do we do?  I write a lot about the educative power of pornography.  And I think that it is this aspect of pornography that needs to be powerfully countered.  

Young women need to be educated about their bodies in ways that are healthy and honest.  Maybe it’s older women talking to younger women.  Maybe mums need to have more awkward chats with their daughters.  Maybe sexual education needs to include single-sex classes that show young women that ‘normal’ doesn’t mean ‘porn actor’ and in fact, has a broad range.  Maybe we need to get graphic in a clinical kind of way.  

Maybe young men need something similar to help them understand how pornography isn’t a real depiction of real women.

For any women reading this, please know that any man who expects your genitals to look like what he sees in pornography is not worth your time.  He will likely remain a very lonely man-boy.

At the end of the day, we all want intimacy.  And intimacy is not so much about the specific look of genitals.  It’s about two people seeking the good of each other.  It’s about being vulnerable with another human and finding acceptance.  It’s born out of sacrificial love.  These things are at the heart of healthy and rich intimacy, not designer genitals (it seems so ridiculous even typing these words, but alas, this is the world we live in).

My hope is that young people look at the healthy romantic relationships around them and think ‘I want that one’ rather than airbrushed images of people and think that that is the surefire path to happiness and intimacy.  

Is Your Peep On The Fritz?

There’s this episode of the TV show Scrubs, where the main character JD is having some problems downstairs.  Lil’ JD is not performing like he should and its causing him grief.  In the episode, when he finally shares the problem with Turk and Dr Cox, it puts their problems into clear perspective.  At least they don’t have that problem.

A few years back, I was watching the FIFA world cup, and was struck by this ad that kept being played.  Now, to be fair, it was SBS I was watching and it wasn’t prime time.  But this ad, for medicine that treats ED (erectile dysfunction - or a peep on the fritz…) featured a young man in his twenties with a beautiful woman.  The confusion for me was that I thought these pills were for older men.  But here was a young man, supposedly struggling to get it up.  Surely this company had got its target market wrong.

Here’s what’s going on.  Over the last decade, the number of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction has skyrocketed.  What was once a small percentage of the male population with sexual dysfunction issues has become increasingly common.

For example, a report recently came out that surveyed men in the US Navy, and found a large percentage of these men could not adequately stand to attention (sorry - I know this is a serious issue, but I feel at least one piece of wordplay is warranted).  The article reporting on the study pointed out that whereas 15 years ago only 2-5% of men experienced ED, the number has now risen to 30%.  These scientists reported an increase of 1000% in the number of reported cases.  

So is there something in the water?  Are men simply increasingly lacking in libido?  Are the men in the US Navy so stressed by their jobs that its impacting upon their sexual health?

One prominent theory that is backed up by this particular study, and others, is that porn is the major contributing factor.  It’s even got a name - porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED for short. 

Here’s how it works: a man who frequently masturbates while watching porn slowly trains his brain to be aroused by porn, and not a real woman.  Over time, he needs increasing levels of more hardcore porn to get aroused, which is a result of porn’s effect on the reward systems of the brain.  This man eventually finds that he can’t gain and maintain an erection without pornography.  Often, upon realising the downtown issue, the man will go back to porn as that is the only time he can get an erection, and so he becomes stuck in a vicious cycle.

At this stage, some guys start taking viagra.  But viagra treats a lack of blood flow often found in older men and it does nothing for the guy whose issue is not the plumbing, but the brain.  

Add to this the complexity of a relationship, and a man will become increasingly frustrated and distanced from his partner.  He'll start to wonder whether he is the problem, or whether she is.  And this is only going to decrease intimacy within a relationship.  And as a man gets increasingly worried, and sexual intimacy becomes increasingly difficult, he will likely go back to porn because it makes him feel good for a fleeting moment and doesn't have the complexity and difficulty of a real-life relationship.  And so things just get worse.

How do you know if this is your problem?  Well, the Navy doctors suggested a simple test.  Men were asked to see if they could masturbate without porn and maintain an erection and orgasm.  It may seem ironic that continued and habitual use of pornography leads to ED, but the scientific and anecdotal evidence is clear.  

But here’s the good news.  When men stop watching porn and masturbating, their normal sexual function improves.  Just as the brain is conditioned to porn, so too can it be conditioned back to a real person.  

Porn by its very nature becomes used compulsively, and when the user is a young male, who already has a hard time exercising self-control on a good day, porn can grab hold of his mind and body and refuse to let go.  No longer can we maintain the idea that porn is harmless fun.  While the thrill for a short time might be real, the effects can be shocking.

So if you’re reading this, and can see some of the symptoms in your own life, maybe it’s time to stop.  And if the symptoms aren’t there just yet, it might be worth asking if your usage has escalated since you started viewing porn.  Because if you’re on a trajectory to watching more porn, more frequently and more compulsively, then you may be headed towards to the same problems as those men in the US Navy. 

If you want to read more why try this article from Robert Weiss, or check out Your Brain On Porn's page on ED and sexual dysfunction.