Like many teenagers out there, my initial foray into the world of internet pornography started with searches on YouTube and Google images when my parents weren’t looking or had gone to sleep.
These searches would be some variation of the following terms “hot girl”, “boobs”, “ass”, “big butts” among many others to find some pixelated softcore porn. While I’m sure this porn origin story is familiar to many — why is it that for many porn remains so taboo to talk about?
With the advent of the worldwide web, internet porn has become increasingly more accessible for preteens and teens. It’s a time that can be confusing and naturally curiosity takes over. Whether it be through talking with their friends, family or accessing educational materials, it’s natural for teens to want all these new questions answered. Online porn is easy to find and accessible — plus you don’t have to share any potentially private thoughts or troubles.
Here’s where it all gets a bit weird to me.
We know that teens are watching porn in increasing numbers and we know that they know very little about porn… so why aren’t we trying to educate them on it?
Porn as an educational resource tends to be, um, lacking at best and outright harmful at worst. The mainstream porn industry depicts an ideal of sex that looks good, rather than it being anything that would feel good. It’s highly performative and at such a formative age paints a rather extreme ideal on people who are seeing sex for the first time. Not only that, but many pornstars have had cosmetic enhancements, or simply possess rare bodily attributes that teens might idealize but never be able to replicate (e.g. large penises, breast implants etc.). Teens often look to porn in an attempt to learn about sex when they’re struggling with their sexual identity.
So why do we leave them in the dark to do this exploration with virtually no guidelights? Just as we accept the “birds and the bees” talk to be a necessity when raising a teen, can’t we amend that to include the topic of pornography?
Porn sites might have everyone pretending to be 18 plus (any fellow lawbreakers out there?), so if we understand that porn can affect future relationships/sex lives, and can engender feelings of shame and even be outright addictive, then we should understand that it has risks that adolescents deserve to be educated about. Accepting that a teenager will watch porn is one thing, but the next step is having an actual productive talk about what it is they’re seeing onscreen. Where to start?
- Talk about the performative nature of porn, how if you choose to become sexually active, it won’t usually look the way it does online. Talk about how the key to good and healthy sex is listening to your partner. Encourage open communication about what feels good to you and your partner(s).
- Talk about the bodies in porn, how there’s no need to compare yourself with what you see on screen. Tell them they should never feel ashamed of their bodies. The sexual exaggeration should not be what you expect from your partners nor should it be what they expect from you.
- Talk about how porn can objectify people — particularly womxn, and how this depiction is harmful and something that they should be consciously aware of.
- Talk about some of the darker side of the porn industry, how it’s not always ethical and possibly even recommend websites, pornstars, and studios that produce ethical content and treat their staff well.
- Talk about the dangers of porn addiction and how it could adversely affect them in the future, let them know they can openly talk to you if this becomes an issue.
- Some porn plots and videos can be very problematic, talk about these and how, in real life, consent must be enthusiastic and can not be coerced out of people.
- Tell them they shouldn’t be ashamed of watching porn and exploring their sexuality in healthy ways.
These are only a few suggestions, and while they may seem obvious to some, for teenagers just starting to figure everything out, they may not be. It’s not fair to allow their future relationships to suffer just because we’re reluctant to broach the subject.
Some might wonder, with all these possible harms, why not just keep teens away from porn? Well, firstly that’s not realistic. But secondly — and most importantly — I believe that with education around conscious consumption of porn, the medium can be a useful sexual resource. Being a teenager and dealing with your blossoming sexuality, new fantasies, and bodily changes can be quite overwhelming. Having an outlet that is private to explore these feelings is incredibly important.
By talking about porn in a productive, open, and non-judgemental manner, maybe we can help make those teen years of discovery a little easier for some. Teens have it hard enough, the last thing they need is to feel ashamed about a safe method of exploration. By educating ourselves, and in turn educating future generations about being conscious consumers of porn, not only would we make people’s sex lives better — but we could also generate a shift in consumer expectation which trickles all the way up to mainstream porn production.
So when you’re talking about the birds and the bees — don’t forget pornography.