I hate things that make me sound like I’m 90 years old. And that’s what online porn is doing. Beckoning our teenagers from their laptops, iPhones, and tablets, X-rated Web sites are causing me to curse technology and pine for the good old days when smut knew its place: on the pages of a shrink-wrapped girlie magazine on the periodicals shelf of your neighborhood 7-Eleven.
Back in my day, we pored over dog-eared Playboys, passed around Penthouse letters, and stared agog at warbly VHS tapes of Deep Throat — all lifted from our parents’ stash. Or our friends’ parents’ stash. Or our parents’ friends’ stash.
We had to work hard to see porn, and I’m not complaining; we had quite the work ethic. But today’s teens have to work hard not to see it. It’s free, it’s abundant, and it’s a single click away. Most of it is explicit, and much of it (what? I conducted a study) is so in-your-face graphic that you have to wonder if it’s intended to turn off the viewer.
Our teens — and, in some cases, ick, our preteens — are looking at this stuff. It’s not a question of if or when. They. Are. Looking. And how can you blame them? It’s a fascinating alien world. A big-box toy store. A freshly stocked cookie jar. I think it’s healthy for teens to explore their sexuality, and at least on-screen you can’t catch anything. Or create anyone.
But here’s my beef with porn: It’s not real sex. It doesn’t look or sound anything like intercourse between consenting human adults. And it’s not supposed to depict real sex, because it’s made to entertain adults who know better — the way action movies are stupidly entertaining or fast-food burgers are crazy-delicious but, if consumed in large quantities, will mess you up.
For young people who lack personal points of reference, porn can only skew their notions of sexuality and intimacy. Have you seen this stuff? How can it not launch kids onto their own sexual journeys believing that “safe sex” is a figment of their health teacher’s imagination, and that all women are hairless, spherical-breasted nymphos who make cool death-wail noises when you tug their pigtails?
“What do teens learn from porn?” says Sam Black, an Internet safety expert. “More partners are better. Stable relationships must be boring. Novelty provides greater satisfaction. Over time the brain that feeds on erotic media is trained to equate sexual excitement with the novelty and variety of pornography.”
Add what we know about the compulsive properties of porn, and the fact that many sex offenders were exposed to it at an early age — and I’m 90 again, ranting that the Internet is a plague on human decency and that Google is Satan’s search engine.
But clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin assures me that peeking at porn won’t topple our society — or corrupt our kids.
“If the child has already learned the basics of sex, has reached puberty, and if the sexual partners are treating each other with respect and sensuality and fun, it might be okay,” says Irwin, who has worked with both sex offenders and sex addicts. If you discover your kid’s been watching it, don’t react with shame, she says. “This is the time to ask what their feelings and questions are about sex and porn. Take this time to share your own beliefs. Empower the child to make his or her own choice about it.”
Back in my day, the birds-and-bees talk didn’t include the words “fetish” or “bondage,” but today’s parents have no choice. If we can spark an honest dialogue about a subject that for generations has been secretly, silently stowed between the mattress and the box spring, then maybe our kids have a shot at a normal, healthy sex life after all.
But they’d better stay out of my stash.