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Teens and P*rn: dealing with difficult truths

Please note: the blogging platform I use, Edublogs, filters out words like p*rn, hence the need to use asterisks. If you wish to comment, please use symbols to avoid your text being automatically deleted.

Warning: the sites hyperlinked in this blog post include sexually explicit personal accounts of sex and p*rn*graphy.

P*rn is nothing new, but it has never been more accessible than it is today. In the excellent 2009 UK television series The Sex Education Show, three out of ten high school students interviewed said they learned about sex predominantly through viewing p*rn*graphy on the internet and mobile phones, or in magazines. According to the show, the average teenager claims to watch 90 minutes of p*rn a week.

What messages will this generation receive about desirability if their emerging sexuality is largely shaped by p*rn? In episode one of The Sex Education Show, viewers saw the reactions of teens of both sexes when they were shown images of real breasts; they were unimpressed because these breasts didn’t sit up like silicone-enhanced ones. When shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. Presenter Anna Richardson surmised: “What’s sad is they are putting pressure on themselves and each other, convinced by the sexual imagery they see that porn-star plastic is perfection.”

Equally as sad is the very real risk that young people will get caught up in sharing things on line in a way that they may later deeply regret. Recently, a Sydney schoolgirl was investigated by police for sending a naked image of herself to her boyfriend via her mobile, an example of the growing phenomena known as sexting.

More research into the short- and long-term impact exposure to p*rn is having on our young people is vitally important. The Australian Government’s recent report Adolescence, P*rn*graphy and Harm is an essential starting point, and it addresses some very real challenges in its conclusion:

Though restricting exposure will remain a priority, an over-reliance on this approach to protect against the perceived harms of p*rn*graphy is problematic as it fails to recognise the realities of ready availability and the high acceptance of pornography among young people. Moreover, it fails to examine the holistic way in which adolescents’ sexual expectations, attitudes and behaviours are shaped in our society and the complexity of factors that give rise to the cited harms. Protecting young people necessarily requires equipping them, and their caregivers, with adequate knowledge, skills and resources (e.g. media literacy; sex education; education about pornography and rights and responsibilities of sexual relationships; safe engagement with technologies) to enable successful navigation toward a sexually healthy adulthood, as well as tackling factors predisposing to sexual violence.

This is not an issue we can afford to ignore. At my company, Enlighten Education, where we discuss a wide range of topics with young women in schools, including cyber safety and responsible use of technology, we have deliberately chosen not to run workshops on sexuality because families have their own values they wish to instill, and girls need to hear messages about sexuality at different ages, depending on their cognitive, emotional and physical development. We do believe, however, that by helping girls develop a strong sense of self, we are equipping them to be better able to make their own choices and to view themselves holistically – not just as a body but a heart, soul and mind, too.

How will you give the young women – and men – in your life the knowledge, skills and resources they need to move beyond X-rated visions of sexuality? I would love to hear how you’re all tackling some of these difficult truths.

PS Talk about timely: in today’s news there are reports that American comedian, actor and singer Jamie Foxx has been forced to apologise for urging 16-year-old tween idol Miley Cyrus to “make a sex tape and grow up”. A joke based on pressuring teen girls to make sex tapes is really no joke at all.

Published inCyber world / BullyingEnlighten EducationMediaMobile PhonesParentsSchoolsSexualisation of children

4 Comments

  1. Francesca

    So many images that our girls are surrounded by send a message that ‘desirable=fake’. With the professional make-up, lighting, plastic/cosmetic surgery and airbrushing, the printed images are just so far from the truth. No wonder those British teens were shocked to see real breasts! While the media focuses on outer beauty I intend to focus on inner beauty. Reminding, affirming and encouraging girls to value their inner beauty. I love those conversations. Teenage girls are just such dynamic, amazing creatures! They are ‘somebodies’ not just ‘bodies’. Seeing a girl respond with a new found level of respect for herself because she recognizes and appreciates all the wonderful things she is and all the amazing things she can do, now that is beautiful!

  2. On a personal level, I am raising a set of boy/girl twins. I took the approach when they were quite young in the hopes that as they got older, we could have comfortable discussions about all manner of subject.At all points, my husband and I were committed to having honest conversations and to accept alternate points of view as potentially valid.
    They are teenagers now and I can say that while they do get embarrassed at times, they trust their parents to not be judgmental and uptight about any subject so are still receptive.
    For both of them, I focused a great deal on body image and self esteem. You have to respect yourself before you respect others. Boys tend to go by the wayside in some discussions of things like body image but they can be just as affected by stereotypes, eating disorders, exploitation and expectations on top of which they are also being given the distilled image of what an ideal woman should look and behave like.
    Diligence, consistency and being comfortable with your own sexuality, plus a healthy respect for sexuality in general, can go a very long way in keeping kids socially, mentally and emotionally sound.

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