The Birds and Bees and… Porn?

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. 

 

Becoming Fluent in Love

If love is a language then I don’t understand it.

I can’t sympathize with those in love because I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the feeling. Even if I were to feel it, would I know I was feeling it? The word “love” is so personal, so subjective. What if I’ve been basing my definition of love off someone else’s? 

It isn’t really a question, I know that’s what we are all doing. 

I’ve always learned the meaning of a feeling after already going through the motions of it. When I first cried, I was comforted. When I first laughed, someone laughed along. But this raved about, hazy state of passion and sexual desire has always lived on the other side of the screen, hiding on the next page of a story book, waiting to be read about, never in my reach, sometimes scripted, always somebody else’s: this love thing has been getting under my skin since the eighth grade. I know I’m not the only one embroidered with the side effects of this subconscious peer pressure. 

I’ve patted the backs of pouty girls at my lunch tables for years. I’ve listened to them sulk and partake in pathetic conversations about this faux loneliness they’ve created for themselves. I have to admit, in the beginning I was very much an active member of these lonely lady luncheons, but one random day I lifted my head off the shoulder of the girl beside me and looked up for a moment, shocked at the sight of a room full of people. How could someone so lonely as myself be surrounded by so many living, breathing bodies? And yes, I really had been soaking someone’s shirt, while sobbing about not having a shoulder to lean on.

I don’t know if I have fallen in love yet. But I’m scared that my version of love isn’t what’s being advertised to me. Is love a universal feeling or is it only made to feel that way?

Lines often times get blurred in the land of romance. Even smaller signs of affection are difficult to decipher. How can we tell the difference between plain attraction and true feelings? Well, at first we can’t. But then we leave it up to body language, words, and signs to figure it out. If they kiss you on the first date then they must not be serious right? But maybe that thought never even crossed their mind. One person’s definition of “love” is another person’s definition of a fling. That’s just how it is. Whether they’re emotional or sexual, everyone has preferences, and those preferences change everything. 

I’ve felt intensely for a few boys throughout the years, but never considered those feelings to be love. Now, being a little older with a bit more experience, I realize I can come to love someone platonically after only knowing them for a short time. My Love for someone is often birthed on the night we first meet. But if this “love” wasn’t the friendly type, it would be labeled as lust.

So how do I know I haven’t been in love before? Maybe I have. Maybe I’ve just been hiding behind my age and assumed immaturity to distance myself from the reality that: love can be whatever I want it to be. Love can be comfort and convenience and passion, and even sorrow. 

 

Photo by Adriana Electra

 

Not Every Ending is Bad

Almost two months ago, I was in my car — a two-time broken down 2001 Subaru Outback, sitting in rush-hour traffic and confiding in a friend. 

I told him everything in my life had just changed over the past few days, and I didn’t know what to do next. He told me, blatantly but softly, something I will never forget. Quoting the TV show Frasier, he said, “Emma, you’re not mourning the loss of your relationship so much as you’re mourning the death of what you thought your life would be.”

And in that moment, hitting me like a ton of bricks — it made sense.

At the beginning of the summer, I thought my life was going to be completely different. I had planned it a certain way, with a certain person. But yet, a month into living in a new city, I was all by myself. I hardly knew anyone, except for a few co-workers. 

I looked around at the apartment we moved into together — so many dreams and future plans. I look where his clothing sat, and the kitchen where he made me breakfast every morning. I see the bed that was once “ours” and I see us intertwined together in it. I remember the mornings, where we’d both sit in silence as the sun rose, thinking this could be my life forever.

But then, just like that, it wasn’t my forever. 

Now, I sit in my overly hot apartment, like Carrie Bradshaw, minus the famous curls and designer clothing, as I write this. A 21-year-old with the world as her feet. It is terrifying. After an extremely difficult year filled with hardships via work, school, mental health, just being young, etc. this was the last thing I wanted.

But for whatever reason, it’s the most uncomfortable scenarios that always seems to be best for us. 

When my relationship ended, I didn’t know what I liked anymore, what made me happy, what my goals were, who I wanted to be or what kind of people I liked hanging out with. I felt like a cardboard box. Stale. Empty. 

My relationship, though I gloated about it on social media, wasn’t healthy. But I never wanted to admit it. Me? A girl who always stands up for herself was in a toxic relationship? It couldn’t be. But sadly, it was. Unhealthy, one-sided, and at times, our partnership took the life out of me. But it wasn’t something I ever wanted to walk away from. I was so scared to be alone. I told myself that despite all the bad, there was some good. And wanted to hold onto it for dear life, no matter the cost. 

But it ended. And to my surprise, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

This is the first time in more than a year that my life has been about me. Just me. What do I want for dinner? What am I doing this weekend? What movie do I want to watch on Netflix? And to be honest, it has been amazing to not have to compromise on anything for someone. 

I began painting — I never saw myself as artistic, but somehow it’s working for me (kind of.) I started watching my favorite movies, I made new friends, I started doing everything on my own again. I danced around my apartment like no one was watching.

When he left, I felt like the weakest person in the world. I couldn’t stand any type of upset in my life — it would crush me. But now, I’m beginning to remember that person who got lost on the inside. And there is something so freeing about being young and remembering who you are.

In high school, I dreamt about who I wanted to be: 20 something, living on her own in a new city, paying all her own bills, and doing what she loved — writing.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. 

But yet, it doesn’t always feel like how you think it would when you get to the “finish line.” It kind of feels like it just happened, and you ended up here. But that’s the thing we forget in the spiral of life: It never happens how we plan it, and we tend to not be in the moment for it when we should.

Recently, since the anxiety in my life seemed to subside with the absence of a certain someone, I find myself living in the moment more. I notice the woman at the store with her young son and the joy he brings her. I converse with the cashier and exchange laughter with them. See, when you’re tangled up in a situation, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least that’s how I saw it. You don’t feel the need to connect with others, or build new relationships because you feel like you already have everything you need. But in reality, you could be missing out on so much.

And this is not me being a relationship hater or a #SingleGirlSwag activist, because hey — if you’re happy in your relationship, all the power to you. But for the rest of us, who are young, naive, and still figuring this out — let us have this moment.

I remember being 17 and feeling like I knew everything. Then again at 19 when I got my heart broken for the first time, but now at 21, I know for certain, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. And that’s the beauty in it all. There’s so much to learn, to see and to experience.

If someone told me a few months ago how my life would be in this present moment, I would have kicked and screamed, done anything I could to avoid it. Now, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a reason people continue to say century after century, “everything happens for a reason.” Because it does. In the moment of being sad, stubborn, heartbroken, and angry — we don’t want to believe it. But it’s real. What happened made me find my independence again. The unthinkable, the one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything because I was in love. And at the end of the day, love is great. It’s breathtaking. But when you don’t know yourself, when you don’t love yourself and when you’re not strong on your own, it’s a vice. And it can take you down in an instant.

So be on your own. Deal with the unthinkable — or probably what is the inevitable. It’s going to happen either way. But choose how you deal with it. Because more than likely, it will be liberating. 

I’ve now realized that there’s nothing more powerful than an independent, strong woman who has finally realized her worth. Be that woman. 

 

Photos by Adriana Electra. Gifs by Jacqueline Jing Lin. 

 

Letter to My Rapist’s Mother

The following content may be triggering. Names have been changed.

Dear Marie, 

I am not sure if you are aware of a particular incident which occurred, involving your son, Jack, but I wanted you to be aware, as a woman and as a mother. I understand and appreciate how this may be incredibly difficult to read/hear but I think that you need to hear what happened from the other perspective. 

Jack raped me while I was under the influence of alcohol and strong pain medication that I take for a chronic pain disorder. I was very visibly inebriated and in absolutely no state to participate in any type of sexual activities. 

We were at a bar, I remember him putting his arm around me, I felt uncomfortable and also quite nauseous so I went to the bathroom, I told him this and then left to the bathroom. I spent around ten minutes vomiting in the bathroom, and when I exited the restrooms, he was waiting for me outside of the door to said bathrooms. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I continued to make my way back outside. He asked me whether I needed to go home, which I assumed was an innocent and caring observation that I was too drunk. He whisked me away and away from my friends. We were standing out front of the bar – my friends were on the right side. He grabbed my arm and told me to follow him left, towards a taxi.

I was too drunk at the time to have any judgement as to what was happening and why he was secretly ushering me away. In the Taxi I faced the window, he started asking me about my life: what I did, etc. I explained that I live with chronic irritable bowel syndrome and how it has ruined my life. He then proceeded to explain why Irritable Bowel Syndrome was the most “bullshit” excuse of an illness. I then don’t remember anything in between then, and going into my flatmates room and explaining that I thought this guy expected sex from me and I didn’t want to do anything. I then went into my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. From then on, I do not remember a thing. 

The next thing I remember is when I started to sober up, Jack was on top of me, he was inside of me and making loud noises. I felt paralyzed, I had no idea what to do. Never once in my life have I ever felt so terrified. I felt numb, staring at the ceiling until I figured out exactly what to say and what to do. I told him that I needed to go home and made up a lie about having a curfew. He then said, “Oh what?” He got off of me. I was getting dressed as fast as I could and I deliberated just grabbing my clothing and running out to get changed somewhere else. I asked him if he could pass me a lighter which was on the bed, Jack looked at me and said, “That is my lighter, you whore.”

I then went to leave and he followed me out the front door, when we were on the road he said nothing, put his hood up, and jogged off. 

When I got home, I stayed in the shower for three hours, for the following weeks I had at least three showers per day. My thighs ached. I constantly felt sick. I struggled to eat and I couldn’t sleep. I felt as though I was no longer in control of my own body, he had taken total authority over it. There has not been a day since where I haven’t replayed this event in my head. 

I have struggled immensely with my mental health the past year. I have experienced death, debilitating anxiety, depression, a pain disorder, and eating issues. I have worked harder than I’ve ever worked before to improve these things, and hopefully, my over all quality of life. It feels as though that night, what happened, has set me so far back and made my efforts of recovery almost redundant. 

Again, I apologize if this is difficult to read, but I believe that it is important that you also are aware of my side, and how I felt / feel. 

I sincerely hope that as a woman you can understand how traumatizing this was. If not, please think about how you might feel if I was your daughter. 

 

Photo by Delaney Shuler

 

Climate Strike or Coachella?

Freshman year of high school I decided to become a vegetarian, not really knowing my motives behind it or what it would teach me. I soon began watching all of the typical documentaries that introduced me to the idea of animal agriculture, and how these practices were one of the leading causes of fossil fuel burning. I was angry, hurt, and left wondering, “Why wasn’t I ever taught this?”

Since then I have always considered myself pretty conscious of my carbon footprint, so when I heard about the Amazon rainforest burning and the subsequent climate strikes, I felt called to join. I didn’t have many expectations, except that the strike in New York would probably be one of the largest in the world. But that day left me with very mixed emotions. 

I had no other plans for September 20th besides fighting to address the climate crisis alongside hundreds of thousands of other people. There were more children and teenagers who attended this protest than any other I’ve been to before, and after seeing them all I probably trust them with my life more than the people in charge right now. Even on the ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan, the J train was filled with families and young children with homemade signs, and I thought about how there was already a generational gap between me and these kids — kids who are literally forced to think about whether or not they will be able to live on a habitable planet for the rest of their lifetime, while my only existential dread as a child came from rumors that the world was going to end in 2012. 

I attended the march with my boyfriend and two other friends, and when we got off the train at Chambers Street along with what seemed like an entire freshman class, we were greeted by the roaring of hundreds of thousands of other people. The crowd marched from Foley Square down to Battery Park, and before we even rounded the corner onto Broadway, there were kids standing on the ledges of government buildings and chanting with the crowds. They were so fearless and there was no authority in sight to even try to stop them. We continued walking down to Wall Street, and I had my own sign that I made that morning that said “PROTECT OUR MOTHER” on one side and “CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW” on the other. The rest of the signs were a mix between calling for action in a serious tone, and memes, all of which were very thoughtful.

We chanted, we screamed, we walked proudly, all united for one of the most important causes of our time. Kids stood on top of garbage cans and hung from the railings of construction sights. For one day we all got to see a glimpse of what our future would look like — a generation of people who make their own rules, are creative, and actually give a shit about important things. 

There was anticipation as everyone neared the end of the route and began filling Battery Park, but the energy that I accumulated from the march itself slowly started fading as I stood in the lawn with songs like “Drogba (Joanna)” starting blasting into my ears. Sure, it’s a fun song to hear from cars driving by as I’m walking through my neighborhood in Bushwick, but there was something about hearing it in this setting that felt disingenuous.

If the people who organized the rally wanted us to be having conversations about how to help our dying planet, they were being drowned out by pop music. My boyfriend and a couple other friends I met up with after even said it felt like we were at a festival, not a climate change rally. The speakers began coming on stage, and the first were a group called The Peace Poets, who performed spoken word rap songs and compared us to indigenous people on strike, fighting for their native land to be protected… really?

Already feeling drained, I decided to move to the outskirts of the lawn where I could sit against the fence and listen from afar. I was feeling discouraged by the two hours that were ahead of me and the lack of service I had to even check the schedule of the event, so I looked up at the trees above me and meditated on the reasons why I was there in the first place. After two people spoke about the health issues they’ve dealt with as a result of fossil fuel burning, I heard a group of teenage girls next to me go “Jaden Smith”?! as they fled toward the stage. I sat and listened for a couple minutes, but I was not interested in even standing up to see the show. Then Smith started playing the song “Icon” off one of his latest albums, and suddenly I couldn’t even bear to sit there anymore.

As I walked out of the park, there was a middle aged man dancing around to the song, literally as if he was at Coachella. It’s not like I don’t understand or appreciate the impact of music when it comes to social change in the world, but at that point I felt like the day was full of empty promises. Even in between speakers when the organizers came on stage and asked, “How’s everyone feeling?!” and the crowd roared, I turned to my boyfriend and jokingly said, “I mean, I’m not happy we’re here.”  It’s like we were encouraged to dance and sing and forget about all our problems here, when that’s exactly what we shouldn’t be doing for like, two hours. Was it too much to just sit and listen? Did we really have to be entertained and encouraged to follow the acts on Instagram? As I walked out of the lawn back toward the street, a man stopped me to talk about an organization he worked with in the Bronx to fight climate change. While I usually do anything in my power to avoid handouts on the street, this person was actively using their time to get people involved in something that would actually create change. I listened to what he had to say, took a paper he was handing out, and thanked him, walking away with a little more hope than before. 

On the train ride home, my boyfriend and I had a thoughtful conversation about what the day meant to us and how it left us feeling — and the feeling wasn’t so good.

We questioned whether or not people were actually encouraged to do anything different, or whether or not these young children now had the idea in their head that protests were all about famous acts and a day off from school. The week following the strike, nothing felt different. Even after the UN Climate Summit, it seems like everyone in the world is putting the responsibility of this movement on one 16-year-old girl. There have been comments on Greta Thunberg’s Instagram like, “keep inspiring us.” Are we all taking a backseat because we see one person taking action?

I applaud Thunberg for her bravery and acknowledge the sacrifices she has had to make to fight for a cause she believes in, but is she now accountable for the success or failures of the climate justice movement? And while it’s crucial to address the change that needs to be done on a federal level to rid our planet of plastics and fossil fuels, does that mean we shouldn’t even try to change our individual actions? The point of this movement is to get us thinking about what we can do differently. If we are not consuming consciously, if we are still buying fast fashion, if we are still not aware of how much waste and plastic we accumulate, then how are we going to call out big companies for their carelessness?

I was sitting in class this week and the teacher had everyone say one thing they cared about. An overwhelming number of people mentioned the environment, sustainability, or climate change. Yet when I looked around, there were multiple people still scrolling on websites like H&M and Zara. 

I don’t think they even grasp the irony. 

 

Photos by Nate Jerome

 

When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Slut

I have a friend who is the most sexually adventurous person I’ve ever met. From threesomes to sex parties, she’s practically done it all. I absolutely love her because for it. Like, to death. If there were posters of her out there, I’d buy one, put it in a little frame, and hang her over my bed like the Virgin Mary.

She lives out my fantasies. She’s done everything I’ve ever wanted to do and done it well. Some months ago, my mom and I were having a heated debate about her. We were talking about my “wild friend” when my mom, honest to God, said that people who had threesomes or orgies were “mentally deranged.” 

At that moment, all I could think was: Thank God I’m not 12 years old anymore, because this would have fucked me up for the rest of my life.

Obviously I didn’t grow up in a sex positive family. The first time I said the word “masturbation” in front of my mom, she looked at me like I’d told her I was selling my soul to the devil. And for whatever sadistic reason, the universe or God or whoever, made me a really sexual person. It would eat away at me when I was younger. My heart sank like a ship whenever I touched myself — like I’d done the worst possible thing on Earth.  

The only people who talked openly about sex when I was younger were boys. My girlfriends only mentioned it between giggles, quickly followed by “I’m kidding!” I remember nights where after an orgasm, I would type on the Google search bar: “Am I a sex addict?” because I couldn’t imagine that anyone else thought about sex as much as I did. I felt alone. 

When we were 13, my friends would fantasize about their future boyfriends who’d hold their hands and kiss them on the mouths tenderly like they were made of paper. All I could think about were a bunch of different hands on me, and making out with two people at once against walls and doors and beds. I wanted the tender and soft experience of a boyfriend, but I also wanted him to be comfortable with me making out with other people at parties because one person didn’t feel like enough. 

When my friends started losing their virginities, they learned a new catchphrase to validate the act: “But, I’m not, like, a slut.” Whenever they said that, I would think, all I want to be is a slut. What’s wrong with that? 

They seemed to think that sex was only okay if you did it with the same person. I, on the other hand, wanted to do it with a bunch of people — sometimes, all at once.

It wasn’t until we turned 16, sitting among the debris of a party, drunk out of our minds, that we mentioned masturbation for the first time aloud. One of them asked us if we masturbated and we all said, “No, eww! Do girls even do that?”

The next day, hungover on the bus ride home, all I could do was hate myself because I truly thought that I was sick for even thinking of touching myself. That Monday, during lunch, I decided to come clean and tell them that I did masturbate — every day, in fact.

They didn’t shun me like I thought they would; those who also masturbated simply admitted to it, while the others asked us questions about it. It was really nice. 

Talking about masturbation with my friends in high school made me feel comfortable to start talking about all the other things I wanted to do. I told them about the threesomes I fantasized about, as well as the wild sex parties and being tied up and spanked and whatever else it was I had been made to feel guilty for wanting. 

And it felt freeing because women’s desires are always used against them. So much so that we’re called brave for doing anything outside of the “norm” — for not wearing makeup in public, for expecting and demanding pleasure from sex, for saying no. Things that we shouldn’t even have to advocate for. And we’re constantly being punished for this supposed bravery. Words like “slut” get thrown around whenever we express a love for something we’re supposed to pretend we don’t want. People don’t understand how heavy a word like “slut” can be. So heavy, we carry it around everywhere, and not uncommonly, for lifetimes. We even carry it home, to our beds, where the only ones who can judge us and our touch are ourselves. 

The reason why we keep fighting so hard against slut-shaming, why I keep arguing with my mom about it, is because I don’t want to have to be brave anymore. I want to masturbate, or have threesomes, or have multiple sexual partners without feeling like I’ve fought and won a war every time. I simply want to be. 

I’m proud to say that I’m a sexual person. It’s something I really love about myself now. It made losing my virginity so much less stressful because I didn’t care about impressing the guy; all I was after was the experience. It gave me the push to sleep with a girl for a year and a half without feeling confused or guilty about my sexuality. In a world that constantly insists this is a quality that should evoke nothing trouble and shame in women, I have discovered nothing but liberation and opportunity from it. I can’t wait for younger generations to have more sexually liberated parents like my adventurous friend, and now, myself.

Growing up in a sex positive family is my idea of the new American Dream.After all, isn’t a happier, healthier future generation the goal?

 

Photos/gifs (in order of appearance) by Alyssa Llorando, Sara Andreasson, and Daniela Guevara