A 15-year-old boy confided in me after I addressed his class at a Sydney school last year. He cried as he told me he had been using porn since the age of nine. He didn’t have a social life, had few friends, had never had a girlfriend. His life revolved around online porn. He wanted to stop, he said, but didn’t know how.
I have had similar conversations with other boys since then.
Girls also share their experiences. Of boys pressuring them to provide porn-inspired acts. Of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy. Of seeing sex in terms of performance. Girls as young as 12 show me the text messages they routinely receive requesting naked images.
Pornography is invading the lives of young people – 70 per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
This is an unprecedented experiment on the sexual development of young people. The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
The 2012 report of Britain’s Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn had a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image. Cross-country studies link teens’ frequent consumption of porn with acceptance of sexual harassment and forcing someone into sex.
The globalisation of pornographic imagery has led to destructive ideas about sex. This is canvassed in the documentary Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, which screened on SBS Two on Friday night and will be repeated on August 15 on SBS One). Co-directed by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, the film draws on interviews with 75 young people.
It shows how healthy sexual exploration is distorted in a pornified world. The importance of consent and respect has become clouded. Boys are imitating what they see online and find that girls don’t always groan with pleasure at porn-styled sexual pounding.
According to a 2010 content analysis of the most popular porn, 88 per cent of scenes included acts of physical aggression and 48 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression. In 94 per cent of cases, the aggression was directed towards women who were often shown enjoying it.
Jake, 18, says of his first sexual experience at 15: ”First time I had sex, because I’d watched so much porn, I thought all chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them … all chicks love it there. So I tried all this stuff and, yeah, it turned out bad …
”When a guy watches porn: ‘that’s hot, I want to try that. You, do this, this and this,’ you know what I mean? And they will just keep pressuring and pressuring. I’ve got mates who do it. They will tell you, ‘Yeah, she didn’t want to at first but I just kept hounding her and hounding her and finally she let me …”’
The level of disempowerment in the girls is disheartening. Disconnected from their own sense of pleasure and intimacy, they often pretend to like certain acts to keep a boy happy. Often he doesn’t even ask permission.
Sara, 20, says, ”Girls, they love it in porn, so maybe boys think that girls like that and, you know, when you love someone, you know, you’re always willing to just … make them happy. [if] I’m in love, then I’ll do it for you and I’ll pretend that I like it … And in the end … I just became an object … ”
Porn has also contributed to body-image dissatisfaction. Boys think they need bigger penises. Girls have their pubic hair removed because boys who regularly consume porn think it’s disgusting. Sara says: ”[Porn stars] are really pretty … like they’ve got gigantic breasts and … perfectly moulded vaginas … my body does not look like that.”
Co-director Crabbe says what was most striking to her in making the film was the pressure porn put on young people.
”Young people are receiving very unhelpful messages about what it means to be a man, or a woman, and about sexuality,” she says. ”It’s selling sexuality short. Where do young people find mutually consenting, pleasurable experiences of sexuality in a culture in which the porn industry has such a powerful voice?”
One sign of hope is the young people who want just that. They have a desire for something better than what porn offers, a quest for authentic intimacy and love. As Joel says: ”It is all about being close to that person and showing them how much you love them.”
Whenever I pick up the latest issue of teen girl mags, I hope to find articles which might inspire a global vision in girls, expand their horizons and help them see they can make a contribution in the world. So I was very pleased to see the piece: ’Who runs the world? Girls!’ While the header is somewhat exaggerated, the article describes the different lives and rights of girls around the world and gives examples of young women working to change their cultures. The campaigning of Malala Yousafzai, 15, for the rights of girls to an education in Pakistan is included. You may recall she was shot by the Taliban in October last year and is now recovering in the UK. Readers can log on to educationenvoy.org to learn more. Arranged marriage and not allowing women to drive are examples of denial of rights of women in Saudi Arabia. Manal al-Sharif (who I had the pleasure of hearing speak via a Skype presentation at the Great Women Inspire event in Brisbane on International Women’s Day in March) was arrested for driving a car in 2011 and initiated the Women2Drive campaign which readers are encouraged to support on Facebook. Sexual violence in India is highlighted, with readers encouraged to join the OneBillionRising.org movement against it. In the US, Julia Bluhm, 15, collected 84,000 signatures for an online petition asking Seventeen magazine to stop retouching pics. Staff have now signed a Body Peace Treaty pledging never to alter a model’s face or body. My only quibble here is the treatment of North Korea. Amnesty International, writes GF, “alleges that North Korea imposes severe restrictions of association, expression and movement.” The horrendous human rights violations against North Koreans by its own rulers are not mere allegations! An estimated 200,000 are locked away in prison camps (gulags). First-hand accounts demonstrate the reality. “North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labour where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.” GF mentions North Korea’s imposition of officially approved hairstyles which yes, indicates a certain lack of freedom. But perhaps forced labour, being tortured in a concentration camp or watching your family starve as a result of your Government misdirecting money to create the world’s biggest militarised state are also worthy to include. North Korea is also described by GF as ‘a self-reliant’ state. That’s one way of putting it. Totalitarian is another. And I’m not sure how self-reliant is a country where 16 million people require food aid according to the UN. (I would love GF readers to read The Orphan Master’s Son, the 2013 Pulitzer prize winning novel by Adam Johnson. While fictional, it draws from real suffering of the people of North Korea. It’s one of the most profound books I’ve ever read). Read more here
When I speak in schools, I’m often asked for advice on how to help a friend with an eating disorder (and not just girls – a male student ask me in a school in regional NSW recently). So I was really pleased to see the piece ‘Help! My BFF is wasting away before my eyes: How to deal when your bestie has an eating disorder’. Lydia Turner, co-director of BodyMatters , says one in five diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from the illness, while other types of ED’s like bulimia nervosa are linked to high rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. While alarming, it is important for girls to know these harsh facts, especially in light of the raft of on-line pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) communities which encourage self-starvation as a life-style choice and post skeletal images as ‘inspiration’ for thinness.
While girls are advised to show patience and compassion, not centering conversations on food and appearance, it is imperative the need for professional help is stressed and GF does this. If the friend with disordered eating refuses to seek help, readers are encouraged to disclose to a trusted adult (such as a school counsellor) regardless – it could save her life. “It is extremely distressing to watch a friend deteriorate before your eyes, but it’s not your responsibility to save her and you don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. You need to let the experts take charge…remember that this is a complicated illness and you cannot deal with it yourself,” GF wisely advises.
Related is ‘Why diets are dumb’ about how fad diets compromise nutrition and health. Deprivation is discouraged in favour of learning to eat in a balanced, healthy way. Specifically addressed is carb cutting (some girls won’t even breathe around carbs let alone eat them) and informed of the benefits of carbs for health. Body detoxing is described as “completely unnecessary and bad for you.” Liver and kidneys perform that job. Skipping meals messes with metabolism and can lead to binging afterwards. Meal replacements are also discouraged, as they don’t allow the full range of foods for long term health. Read more here.
The time-wasting, body-hating self-objectification proved to go hand-in-hand with such “bold, sexy, powerful” ideals – though ideal for an industry raking in $5 billion a year and expanding across the globe – is not a great pathway to real progress as females or as a culture
You’ve probably heard VS rolled out a line of lingerie for teens called “Bright Young Things.”As part of the PINK brand for all the teenaged “things” across the world, these undies feature polka-dot hipsters with “Feeling Lucky?” printed on them, a lacey thong with the words, “I dare you” on the front, and so much more. This isn’t some conservative “too sexy, too soon!” cry. This is doctoral research into Victoria’s Secret — a company that profits by selling sexually objectifying and limiting messages to all ages and claiming it is “empowering.” This may give words to the feelings you’ve been having about how harmful this brand is, so read on.
Many girls and young women look to girl’s magazines for advice on life, relationships, bodies, health and sexuality. But too often they receive conflicting advice and mixed messages and even, sometimes, outright contradiction.
Take for example, information provided in the sealed section of Girlfriend this month, where, within four pages of each other, two medicos give different information about age of consent laws. A 15-year-old, in a relationship with a boy the same age, enquires about age of consent laws because the two want to have sex. Dr Philip Goldstone replies “generally, if you are both under the legal age of consent, it is still illegal for you to have sex.” However Dr Sally Cockburn, under the heading ‘What if you’re both under the age of consent?’ writes: “If two people are both under the age of consent, but are the same or similar age, and both decide to engage in sexual activities, it’s not a legal issue – as long as there’s no coercion, violence or power imbalance involved. Basically, as long as you’re both in control and making informed decisions, there are no legal problems.” So who is the reader to believe? Isn’t this important enough to get right? How does the editing process work at Girlfriend for a contradiction like this not to be noticed? Girls don’t need confusing advice about where they stand under the law.
Not a matter of legal confusion, but something that is consistent is that I have to comment on the ‘Project You Reality Check’ again like I have to on the equivalent in Dolly. The logo is used so inconsistently I have little choice. On the front cover the ‘Reality Check’ provides the vital information that a tag was removed from fashion girl Kylie’s top and that the water in the background was darkened. Seriously, why bother? Then inside, ‘Style School’ features four girls with the ‘Reality Check’ telling us “We haven’t retouched any of these images – we didn’t need to! All the girls look great just the way they are”. So if that’s the case, does it mean that when girls are airbrushed they didn’t look ‘fine the way they were’? Do some need to be airbrushed while others don’t? Also confusing is that the young women featured are specifically clothed to highlight and play down certain parts of their bodies. For example Alex, 15, is dressed to give “the illusion of longer legs” and a mix of large and small prints “also disguises any unwanted bumps”. Eloieese, 14, is lanky, so given curves and a defined waist and “fuller figured” Gemma, 18, is put “in a peplum top, as it draws attention to the slimmest part of her body – her waist”. No airbrushing – but they are still dressed to give the illusion of something other than what they are, and to hide unwanted bumps. I’m all for the disclosure…but it needs to be consistently applied and align with what else is in the magazine as a whole. Otherwise it loses all meaning. Read article here.
This issue contains an explanation of the ‘Retouch Free Zone’. “DOLLY is all about healthy body image – that’s why we only feature photos of girls that haven’t been altered or ‘perfected’ in any way. Whenever you see this stamp, you know the girls pictured are real and unretouched!”
Wonderful. But if only.
“Whenever you see this stamp”? What if you don’t see it? What does that mean? The declaration does not appear on every image of every female in the magazine. It occurs inconsistently, which raises doubt. Why ‘retouch’ free’ on this one and not this one? And what about the ads? They are never ‘re-touch free’.
Selena Gomes is on the cover. Not a ‘re-touch free’ logo in sight and Selena’s skin is as flawless as the day she was born. Was she re-touched? Don’t readers have a right to know that? A consistent approach would be helpful.
More helpful (though somewhat lightweight) is ‘The 7 deadly sins of facebook’, on online etiquette – how to avoid looking like a stalker, keep control of your online image by setting your privacy settings high (the context is avoid being tagged in ugly pictures of yourself posted by others prior to approval…not so helpful), taking it easy with the ‘like’ button and avoiding angry outbursts.
‘The downside of YOLO’ – the motto ‘You Only Live Once’ and LWWY, ‘Live While We’re Young’ discusses the risks to young people of living by these codes. Dolly asks: “Do these cute shorthand mantras really warrant their sometimes long-term effects?” Psychologist Gemma Cribb says these mottos attempt to justify crazy behaviour regardless of consequences. “When somebody tweets ‘Oh well, YOLO’ it means they’re already aware that their decision might not be sensible.” Another psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, says YOLO can be used as an excuse to deal with peer pressure or embarrassment. “Girls might be pushed into situations that they don’t want to face and instead of saying no, they think ‘What do I have to lose?’”. Rapper Ervin McKinness and four friends were driving in a speeding car when the 21-year-old tweeted: “Drunk…going 120 drifting corners…#YOLO.” Minutes later all were dead. Brain development is discussed. The frontal lobe – responsible for impulse control, problem solving and considering consequences – isn’t properly developed until 25. Girls are advised to think smart rather than by the YOLO mantra. Read more here
In its first edition for the year, Dolly brings readers some important content to help them launch into 2013.
‘Sexism: what’s it all about?’ examines how gender-based prejudice and discrimination is alive and well. Women continue to be paid less than men and hold a tiny proportion of board seats and CEO positions. They continue to be treated inappropriately in the workplace. A recent survey found 33% of women say they regularly experience sexism at work. Girls also experience sexual name calling and labels at school. They are encouraged to make a stand against gender stereotyping.
In ‘Inspiring Teen’s’, ‘I blitzed the HSC’ is the story of 19-year-old refugee Fatima who received 96.75 in the HSC. Fatima, her mother and five brothers and four sisters, who belonged to the minority Hazara group, arrived in Australia having fled the Taliban in 2007. Their father escaped earlier. She says she has changed from being a shy girl with no English to a “confident educated person” now enrolled in a Law/Communications degree. Stories like this can help readers value their education and aim higher. Read more here.
Primed to accept brutality as normal in romantic relationships
It’s not enough that classic works of literature like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights are to be given a 50 Shades of Grey makeover (read how Catherine Earnshaw enjoys bondage sessions with Heathcliff!). Or that there are 50 Shades of Grey mother and daughter cooking classes (whip up ’Playroom Pretzel Ropes’ and ‘Bondage Wrapped Shrimp’ with mum!) Or ‘My mummy pretends Christian Grey is my daddy’ slogans on baby jumpsuits complete with charming handcuff motifs.
The ‘50 Shades’ juggernaut rolls on, consuming everything in its wake. Now the latest market is teens who are being targeted with spin-offs from the phenomenon.
We know 13 and 14-year-olds are already reading this ode to sadism, receiving an early lesson in submission 101.
In the multi-million dollar best seller, Anastasia Steele has to sign a contract agreeing to do whatever her lover Christian Grey wants. She must be available on call.
One of the terms is: ‘The submissive shall submit to any sexual activity without hesitation or argument’. This is presented as true love rather than as a powerful man controlling a naïve young woman having her first sexual experience.
Anastasia feels “demeaned, debased, and abused.” But Grey is wealthy and showers her with gifts. Isn’t that so romantic? Cruelty is OK, as long as there is a happy ending.
Now teens are being sold their own versions, promoted as’ erotic fiction’ helping them ‘explore their sexuality’. But what is it that is being eroticised?
One of the most new popular titles for young people is Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. Here’s an extract about the reaction of main character Travis after Abby sleeps with him and leaves without saying goodbye:
“Travis is a fucking wreck! He won’t talk to us, he’s trashed the apartment, threw the stereo across the room… He took a swing at Shep [roommate] when he found out we helped you leave. Abby! It’s scaring me! … he’s gone fucking nuts! I heard him call your name, and then he stomped all over the apartment looking for you. …he tried to call you. Over, and over and over…His face was… I’ve never seen him like that. He ripped his sheets off the bed, and threw them away, threw his pillows away, shattered his mirror with his fist, kicked his door… broke it from the hinges! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Ah, young love. Travis, unhinged, goes around destroying things when he can’t get his way. He tries to blackmail Abby and limit her freedom. Obsession and jealousy are misread as love.
One young reader wrote on the Goodreadings site “I felt like Abby was in danger throughout the entire novel…anyone as needy as Travis is dangerous, in my opinion, especially when alcohol is in the mix”. Smart girl.
We are seeing a trend toward the acceptance of brutality as normal in romantic relationships. I heard a 15-year-old boy say he slaps girls and pulls their hair during sex because he read they liked it. Some girls expect to receive bruises from sex. Why say it with flowers when you can show it with beatings?
The view that ‘erotic’ fiction is an alternative to kids visiting porn sites has not been demonstrated. Even if they read one or two books, the bombardment of sexual imagery and porn online will barely be dented. Average age of first exposure to online porn is 11.
Age social affairs writer Michelle Griffin has argued that kids should be reading porn-themed books, recommending ‘House of Holes’ for the school library and family bookshelf. This is the book described by The Guardian as a “porn fest.”
There is a difference between literature which help teenage girls interpret their natural curiosity in sex and their bodies and literature which seeks to shape or exploit it.
Melbourne mother Helen Parkes wrote to me: “There are 12 & 13 year olds in my daughter’s class reading 50 shades and other ‘steamys’… I don’t think these are positive in any way even as a tool to ‘begin dialogue’. I want my daughter and her friends to spend a few years participating in school plays and sports instead of grooming themselves for men before they even know who they are and what they enjoy”.
Girls and young women describe cold, soul-less sexual experiences in which they are expected to be service stations for boys, pressured to ‘put out’, with no concern for their emotional wellbeing.
Will these so-called erotic novels help develop respect-based relationships? Real connection and intimacy? I doubt it. Yet that’s what girls say they want. In this months’ Girlfriend, the magazine’s sex survey shows 76% of readers are not sexually active – 56% say it’s because they are waiting for real love.
Reading material that portrays sex as a part of caring, complex, human relationships is a way of promoting healthy physical and psychological development. We should be equipping and empowering young people to make positive choices about their sexual lives rather than training them in domination and submission.
Perhaps it’s time for some explicit content on love and authentic human connection?
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