“As a parent, we worry most about sex offenders exploiting and abusing our children in private spaces… But it’s not individual strangers who are corrupting our boys…It’s a billion dollar industry, intent on finding the next generation of customers at increasingly younger ages.”
– Jas Rawlinson
When I fell pregnant with my first child in 2016 and discovered I was having a boy, I’ll be the first to admit that I felt a rush of relief.
As shameful as it feels to admit to such thoughts, in a society where one woman is killed on average each week through domestic violence, and one in five women will be experience sexual assault throughout their lifetime, the reality is that I have always felt terrified of raising a daughter.
Conversely (and naively), I thought that the journey into parenthood might be somewhat simpler with a boy. 18 months on, however, I can say that I could not have been more wrong.
Instead, I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to prepare myself for the unique vulnerabilities and risks that he faces as a male.
Some of my fears are well understood by the public…such as the increased risk of men and boys dying at their own hands, as compared with women (75% of suicides in 2017 were attributed to men).
This, I am prepared for, and it’s why I’m such a passionate advocate for men’s mental health.
What eats away at my soul the most, however, is the blinding ignorance to the everyday slow and toxic corruption of male innocence.
…the brainwashing of young men to view women as sexual objects for their own gratification — particularly, via the sex industry’s continued assault on our public spaces.
We talk a lot in society about sexist attitudes and men’s entitlement to women. Everyone is quick to point out that ‘violence toward women starts with disrespect.’
Yet so few seem willing to make the connection between pornography and toxic attitudes toward women and girls — let alone the impact that early exposure to pornography is having on the mental health of our young men.
This was made evident to me in a heartbreaking account from a then-14-year-old boy named Tom, who last month, shared of the ways in which pornography had slowly but surely ‘embedded its parasitic ways into his brain’ since the age of 12 — eventually leading him to what had become a daily addiction.
In a heartfelt email shared with Author, Speaker and Women’s Rights campaigner Ms. Melinda Tankard Reist — who he credits for ‘saving his life’ after hearing her speak at a conference in 2017 — the now 15-year-old student explained the toll that pornography had taken on his life.
“I was not aware of the how it would dramatically affect my brain and the way I thought. I simply thought [pornography] was another way to enjoy myself.”
“My heart is all about kindness and justice in the world, and making it a better place. I find this more important than anything…[but due to my addiction] I could not stop thinking [sexually] about women in public and with my friends (especially girls),” Tom shared honestly, in his email to Ms. Tankard Reist.
“…I would want to constantly talk about sexual things or think about them. I hated the way I thought. However when I watched it my addiction was too strong and my self discipline was not high enough to stop.
“After your talk I swore to never associate myself with pornography again, and I told myself that this is not who I am, and that I will spend my life fixing it. If it had not been for you, my addiction may never have ended and my relationships would be ruined and my mindset.”
Ms Tankard Reist says that Tom’s exposure to pornography at such a young age, and subsequent addiction, is not unique to teenage boys.
Tragically, she says, in countries such as the UK, pornography recovery clinics are being established for boys ‘as young as 8 and 9,’ with many of these boys now ‘suffering depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and requiring psychological care.’
“I am hearing from more and more young men whose lives have been harmed by compulsive porn use” – Melinda Tankard Reist
“I am also hearing from growing numbers of parents whose little boy was exposed to porn when they weren’t even looking for it, for example, while searching their favourite cartoon character or while playing online games pitched to children as young as 7.
“The most popular genres of porn are those with the most violence,” explains Ms. Tankard Reist. “Boys are coming across rape porn, sadism porn, torture porn, incest porn…often at first exposure. There is no way they will develop healthy attitudes about women and girls when this is their formative environment.”
It is this parasitic destruction of male innocence and sweetness that terrifies me most about raising a boy in today’s society…
…The reality that before my son has even kissed a girl, he’s likely to have seen hardcore pornography.
…The knowledge that children in my city cannot even make it to school without seeing a billboard for one of several strip clubs, or visit our local Westfield without being confronted with floor-to-ceiling soft-core pornographic images of a woman’s shaven and barely-covered vulva (accompanied by the phrase ‘ask for your candy’).
The understanding that no matter how careful we are as parents, by age 11 he has an almost 50% chance of being exposed to explicit content (University of Sydney, 2012) — most likely by a peer in the playground, or on the schoolbus.
Indeed, if our son was already at school, he would have been one of the hundreds of children exposed in recent years to school buses emblazoned with Sexpo advertising (complete with web links to live sex cam shows).
It’s not just depressing and enraging; it’s downright sinister.
As a parent, we worry most about sex offenders exploiting and abusing our children in private spaces; but it’s not individual strangers who are corrupting our boys. It’s a billion dollar industry, intent on finding the next generation of customers at increasingly younger ages (according to Childwise UK, Pornhub is one of the top five favourite sites for boys 11-16).
It is an industry intent on brainwashing little boys’ attitudes toward sex and women — before they even have a chance to understand what is and isn’t healthy.
The way in which the sex industry (and retailers who rely on similar content) enthusiastically seek out the spaces where children frequent, and bombard their minds with explicit and inappropriate imagery, is in my opinion, typical of child grooming.
And it is women, as much as men, that are pushing for the desensitisation of young people to these images.
This is no more evident than the ‘female empowerment’ brand Honey Birdette.
Despite breaching the Australian Advertising Standards Board’s own guidelines 20 times in recent years, the retailer continue to expose children to soft-core pornographic content every year in ‘family friendly’ Westfield shopping centres.
Campaign slogans such as ‘Octopussy: Let’s get wet’ and images of semi-naked women being spanked by Santa are the norm for Honey Birdette; as is their penchant for displaying this content in their front windows (as opposed to in-store) and often in close proximity to children’s play areas.
Their response? ‘‘No one tells Honey B when to take down her signage’.
One might even get the feeling that they delight in exposing kids to imagery that, if given to a child by their parent, would constitute as sexual grooming.
With the bombardment of sexualised content in public spaces, one must ask: if junk food advertising is seen as detrimental to children’s health, and campaigns can be waged to limit or ban it from the children’s television viewing times, why isn’t more being done for soft-core pornographic advertising in public?
For example, when speaking with one of Westfield’s female retail managers (name withheld), I was advised that their company were ‘powerless’ to do anything about soft-core pornographic content displayed right next to the children’s play area and cinema.
Given that Westfield and Scentre Group have publicly shared that they remove ‘poor performing’ retailers from their stores, I’m not buying the excuse that they have no power to hold retailers accountable for their in-store advertising.
The reality is, Westfield are simply putting profits above ethics.
The constant onslaught of soft-core imagery and sex industry advertisements in public spaces is unacceptable, reinforcing archaic attitudes of women as ornamental sex objects whilst teaching young men that they don’t need to put effort into relationships, so long as they have money to rent a woman’s body.
For example, a study of 109 peer-reviewed journals between 1995 and 2015 discovered that both ‘laboratory and regular, everyday exposure’ to sexualised media content lead to a range of damaging consequences, including ‘greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women’…and ‘a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.’
Further, with recent studies revealing children as young as 4 to be demonstrating sexually inappropriate behaviour and sexually abusing other children (with experts correlating this behaviour to younger exposure to pornography), as well as police officers and Men’s Referral Services speaking out about the link between pornography and domestic violence, it’s clear that our young boys are in trouble.
We know that early exposure to pornography is heartbreakingly damaging to young men.
Responsible parents are doing all they can to try and protect their children, but at present, we cannot step out into public spaces with the knowledge that our kids will be spared from explicit content.
Soft-core pornographic advertising is no lesser demon than online pornography; what young boy isn’t going to curiously jump on Google after seeing a bright billboard with ‘Sexpo’ splashed across it, or an ad for a local strip club?
It’s time we addressed the seeds that allow violence towards women to take root and flourish; the rotten fruit that our boys are devouring daily whilst being sold the lie that it is nourishing their souls and sexuality.
Truthfully, you cannot address male violence and sexual entitlement, without naming pornography — in all its forms.
We need to become aggressive in the fight for our boys and young men to live free from explicit and toxic sexual messages. Toowoomba is a perfect example of a city standing against pornography in public. If their Council and locals can do it, so can other cities.
Children deserve the right to porn-free public spaces. It’s time for the strip club billboards, soft-core porn ads, and sex shop window advertising to go. No adult’s ‘right’ to an orgasm at the hands of a stranger (no pun intended) should trump the rights of our young people to grow up free of sexualised content.
1 Sign the petition asking Westfield to remove soft-porn advertising
2 Visit eChildhood for age-appropriate resources to start the conversation with your child/or address exposure to harmful pornographic images
3 If your child is in high school, ask your principal to host a teen speaking session by Author & speaker Melinda Tankard Reist
4 Contact the owners of billboards advertising sexual services and ask them to stop supporting sex industry adverts in public (for example, in Brisbane company ODNA regularly advertise strip club billboards…which is disgusting given that they are a charity partner for ‘Act for Kids.’)
Jas Rawlinson is an Australian Freelance Journalist, Mental Health Advocate & Author of the suicide prevention book ‘Reasons To Live’.