A few years ago, I worked on a multi-media project called Internet Safety 101, which focuses on educating and empowering parents to protect kids from online dangers. In one section of the program, we interviewed a number of teenagers to learn the impact pornography had already had on their young lives. As one 16-year-old boy explained (you can watch the clip here): “pornography shaped my want for sex and whatever I wanted to do when I started having sex… big time. It wasn’t just like ‘oh, I want to have a relationship with this girl and have sex with her’, it was like ‘I just want to have sex with as many as I can’, and sex was just pretty meaningless. You know, I just wanted to do what they did in porn.” When asked if the girls in real life were like the girls in pornography, the 16-year-old replies “no”, but it’s clear from his expression that he probably would have preferred that they had been.
In Frank Bruni’s article “Bleaker Sex” (which I touched on in Wednesday’s blog), Bruni covers the new HBO show, “Girls”. In a synopsis of the article from William Bennett this week on CNN, he explains that “Girls” is an “unglamorous, dull version of ‘Sex in the City’, in which a twenty-something plays second fiddle to the bizarre, dominating sexual fantasies of her boyfriend. Her first sex scene opens with her back to her boyfriend, inertly and joylessly submitting to his commands”. As Bennett continues to summarize, “Bruni goes to grapple with the loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today’s onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women only as objects. Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion—all at the expense of the humiliated and debased woman.”
In another NYT article out this week (“She’s Fit to Be Tied”), Maureen Dowd writes about a new book catching fire, “Fifty Shades of Grey” about a woman who agrees to sign a contract to be a weekend “sub”—i.e. submissive partner, whereby she agrees to allow the man in her life to flog, spank, corporally punish the Submissive as he sees fit, without explanation. In response to some people’s concern over the book, Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and Rutgers professor, warned “not to confuse the bedroom and the boardroom. This is a world of fantasy.” But doesn’t what we do in the bedroom, or online, impact our lives to some degree in the boardroom? The kids I have worked with over the year have shared again and again that the more they watch porn, the more likely they are to view the opposite sex as an object for use. Girls are reduced to their boobs and butts, and guys are reduced to the size of their penis.
As William Bennett ponders, is our world of loveless, deviant and S&M sex progress for women? Is playing whim to every man’s fantasy or attempting to keep up with our culture’s porn intake beneficial or harmful to women and men? As Bruni and Bennett posits “In the 1970s, we were told to respect women, treat them as more than sexual objects and treat their humanity as the same as ours. Is any of this still true today?” When I talk with young girls today, I often ask them what they most want to be. Often, their replies focus on their desire to be beautiful and or sexy. They feel as though they need boob jobs, Brazilian waxes and bondage-themed clothing to keep up with the pornography and sexualized media their peers are steeped in. More than ever in our culture, women are portrayed as objects, and the young girls that I talk to seem hysterical to keep up with that portrayal. Our daughters aren’t merely competing with the girls in their classroom to be considered “popular” or “beautiful”, they are fighting to steal boys’ attention away from fetish-filled, and often violent pornography. As a result, they’re pushing the limits and engaging in behaviors that they really don’t enjoy.
So parents: Are you going to let your son or daughter learn about sex from online pornography? Do you want your son or daughter to look at sex as “meaningless” as Justin shared? Do you want your son or daughter to start engaging in violent sexual acts or be competing for attention with pornography? Are you going to help fortify your sons and daughters to know that their worth does not rest merely in how they perform in bed?
If you want to protect your son or daughter from the harmful impact of pornography, then you’re going to have to take the time to have regular conversations with your kids about sex and their sexuality. You’re going to need to have filters and parental controls on all of your Internet-connected devices. You’ll need to take some action and take a stand so your son or daughter can view themselves and their peers as more than just objects, and instead as men and women with real value who deserves to be loved and respected. Are you willing to take a step? If so, we have a number of resources to help in the parent section of our site, which I hope you will start utilizing today. (Check out “The Talk“, our “Action Steps“, “Critical Issues” and “Resources“.)