‘I just became an object’: the porn driven experiment on young people’s sexuality

Over exposure is making teens pawns to porn

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.''


As published in The Sun-Herald and Melinda Tankard Reist.

See also: ‘Is porn the new opium for the masses?’, Clive Hamilton, ABC Religion and Ethics, July 26, 2013

The documentary "Love and Sex in an age of pornography" will screen on SBS on August 15. The film can be watched online here.

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