The adult "entertainment" industry and teens.......A Teenagers perspective.
***Trigger warning*** This article discusses sexual violence.
My generation, Gen Z, is the first to have grown up without knowing a world in which the internet was not an omnipresent and entirely engaging feature of everyday life. It has uprooted various social norms, provided access to vast amounts of information, content, and other online users, and remains unregulated in many aspects. While some in Gen Z may have memories of accessing the family PC desktop, used and monitored by their parents, over 75% of Australian kids today have their smartphone by the age of 13, increasing to over 90% for 14-17-year-olds, according to Roy Morgan Institute research. This is hardly a shocking revelation to anybody. Still, it can inform our understanding of the potential for widespread trends in how access to the internet can and is affecting young people.
One of the least discussed (at least in social and familial circles) implications of this ubiquitous and unbridled access to content are the availability of internet porn to anyone, anywhere, at any time. This has culminated in the rise of porn exposure and addiction as a serious phenomenon becoming increasingly common. Additionally, this phenomenon disproportionately afflicts young men and boys. Incredibly harmful outcomes flow into adulthood; the stunting of social relationships in the formative years, the creation of sexual conditioning that may be harmful to both the porn user and their sexual partners, and substantial alterations of brain structure similar to those observed in drug addicts. However, for most of those in my peer group, including myself until now, these effects have been vaguely understood, and porn is treated as an endemic condition of puberty and 'natural' sexual development. Of course, young people will be interested in sex during puberty and adolescence; hell, it's a genetic priority that our brains` incentivise! This availability, novelty, and variety of sexual content is not something that the brain has evolved for, let alone the adolescent one. Porn has even worked its way into popular culture, with pornstars branding themselves like celebrities to become known in the milieu of internet fame and' influencers.'
Young people today, particularly men, may be more familiar with pornstars than politicians, sports players, and actors. I could list some people right now that I know that the majority of my friends, as well as boys of the same age, will have viewed or at least been exposed to in memes or through conversation. Is this inherently bad? I don't think so. Nonetheless, it is a symptom of a generation that is incredibly familiar with porn, and the de-emphasisation of the effects of porn is not a healthy trend. It will continue to negatively impact young people until addressed in schools, social environments, and household discussions.
So, why is porn so bad for you, and what can parents or young people do about it?
Young and adolescent boys exist in puberty's intense and confusing period. Billions of neural connections are being created. The mood swings and wild variation caused by this, as the site 'Your Brain On Porn 'calls it, the "sex, drugs and rock and roll" phase of development, engenders more risk-taking and impulsive behaviour. Activities that we reinforce in this time will cause new neural pathways to form that make reactions to certain stimuli quicker and more addictive, especially if the activity releases a lot of dopamine. The activities you engage in while these connections are being made will determine what sticks around and is later pruned as new connections fall away in adulthood. The primetime of this frenzy is around the ages of 11-12. According to a Teacher Magazine article published in July of 2015 titled 'How Consuming Porn Affects Boys and Their Relationships,' the age most young boys are exposed to is to porn is around 9-12 years old. This means that the sexual associations young boys make, at this point in their lives, guided mainly by porn, will stick around into adulthood, proving difficult though not impossible, to reconfigure.
It has also been found that the intense variety and novelty of porn available triggers deep primitive mechanisms in the brain that can increase dopamine release when people are exposed to novel sexual stimuli. Coupled with the intense variety and novelty that online porn facilitates, you have a recipe for intense dopamine craving and release whenever a sexual stimulant is observed. This profoundly alters the brain, building dopamine tolerance and resulting in 'sensitisation,' a hyper-reactivity to certain stimuli, in this case, sexual impulses. Brain scans have shown that this effect is observable and that young people are specifically vulnerable to it.
In a study entitled 'Groundbreaking Neuroscience Study Finds Striking Similarities in Brains of Porn and Drug Addicts,' the findings were as follows. "This brain imaging scan shows the brain activity of healthy volunteers when shown pornography, compared to compulsive users. The response in the porn addict group was much higher, indicating much stronger triggers and urges." Furthermore, researchers found that the younger volunteers had intensified reward circuit responses when viewing porn. This shows that more intense dopamine spikes and higher reward sensitivity are significant factors in teenagers being more vulnerable to addiction and sexual conditioning. This evidence of brain change isn't to say that all those exposed to porn will become helplessly addicted or brainwashed into believing that porn is representative of real sex. Boys in secondary education are not dumb, and there is a bit of an implicit sense of what is real and what is not among high school boys. As boys interviewed for The Guardian entitled 'Here's an idea: why don't we get girls to talk to boys about their fears and desires,' stated, "Porn is stunt sex. It's not real". Another said: "We have emotions too. But everyone thinks we're just obsessed with sex". This is a sentiment that many of my friends share, and it's easy to discredit the adverse effects of porn on these grounds falsely. But the attitude that men can easily distinguish between what is 'real' and 'fake,' while maybe valid for some, sadly does nothing to counteract the subconscious mental changes that porn induces. Also, as boys who are younger and younger are exposed to increasingly extreme sexual material, the distinction might not be so readily apparent, especially if nobody is talking to them about it.
I'm not afraid of admitting that I've watched porn as often as any other teenage boy, though I don't remember the first time I watched it, which worries me. I've never watched it enough that it's affected me to a tangible extent, as far as I can see. It never seemed more appealing than going outside, hanging out with friends, or talking to real girls, but I haven't contemplated how it made its way into my life until now is distressing. Considering how profound and misunderstood the sexual act is for most young boys, porn to be the first avenue of exposure and knowledge seems confusing, counter-intuitive, and just plain weird. It's like strapping an L-plater into a high-performance drift car and convincing them that it is representative of the actual experiences they will have on public roads. It's not, and it would be just a bit of a public health hazard to educate kids in this way. Both activities occur in highly contrived environments created for entertainment, with teams of workers ensuring that the extreme display is executed flawlessly. But to an 11-year-old with no perspective or personal experience, how can they tell any difference?
I'm deeply worried that porn use is flying under the radar of parents and that the boys, girls, men, and women who watch porn are entirely unaware that their use of porn can have such a profound effect on their psyche, physical brain structure, social life and treatment of others in sexual situations. I'm sure that the vast majority, if not all of my male peers, view porn regularly, and they are just as likely to lack awareness as to how this affects them. There are rarely conversations with kids of young ages about porn, in an educational environment or at home. Many parents can't or won't believe that young children are exposed to it. Trust me, they are. On the school bus, at a friend's house, on their phones, on laptops, on social feeds, and even on school computers (much to the distress of school IT departments everywhere). It's all sitting there, just a click and a tap away. The question is, how do you discuss these things with children?
I interviewed a couple of Reddit users from the subreddit r/pornfree, a community of people dedicated to overcoming porn addiction. Their personal experiences matched the previously outlined effects to a great degree.
A Reddit user, who I will call 'Jackson' for anonymity, had this to say: "I started viewing pornography when I was ten years old in the summer of 2014. Unlike some members of the group, I hadn't fallen into things like pornography that conflicted with my sexual orientation or liked furry [stuff] but more videos that were rougher towards women and had some element of not being consensual. (I'm not talking about real rape videos but rough/struggle/forced videos that are still incredibly problematic)." As 'Jackson' describes here, the desensitisation that porn causes incentivises more and more extreme types of porn viewing. As the intensity of the content escalates, sexual behaviour can become more aggressive and damaging to both the porn user and any sexual partner/s. This is because porn often gives rise to what researchers from 'Your Brain On Porn call "unrealistic sexual values and beliefs." Essentially, a distorted view of healthy and 'normal' sexual behaviour can have damaging effects on sexual health. According to the aforementioned Teachers Magazine article, "Considering that 88 percent of porn scenes contain acts of physical violence or aggression towards women and 95 percent of females who are abused in porn scenes often respond with a neutral or pleasurable expression, GPs are reporting an increase in sexual injuries to young women as a result of boys attempting to replicate moves as seen in porn." This increase in sexually aggressive behaviour is incredibly unhealthy and may lead to increasingly misogynistic attitudes among men AND women.
Another user who we'll call 'Adam' had this to say: "As a teen, porn made me miss out on a lot. I often made the excuse that I couldn't hang out with my friends because I was 'studying.' But in addition to that, I think it made me waste my talents. The first videos I ever edited were porn compilations, the first time I learned Linux was to stop windows from spying on my porn. While I still care deeply about internet privacy today, many of the things I learned were ultimately to hide my porn. Seems silly now that the goal is to no longer watch it. …my first step to stopping was telling someone, and so I went to therapy. First [I] told my therapist, then my brother. Accountability is definitely huge."
'Adam's' experience brings up another critical area of concern surrounding porn use. The socialisation of young people can be completely hampered by the use of and engagement with pornographic material. Internet porn use often results in "lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behaviour, higher incidence of depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers." It can also cause a decrease in self-confidence and self-image, with girls reporting feeling 'physically inferior' to the women they view in porn and boys feeling fear about their inability to perform as well as men in porn.
My parents never talked to me until I was at least 16, and even then, I felt shame and embarrassment, even though there was none implied in the way they talked about it with me. It would seem that the internet has forced the hands of educators and parents alike, regardless of whether they are ready to have these conversations with their young people or not. The fact that sex is commoditised into bite-size packets of pleasure is the epitome of our age. What I feel is missing from the porn debate is this: sexuality is a hugely influential force in every single human, and we are driven to it strongly. It's about survival! In amongst all of this short-term stimulation, is there room for a discussion about sex as a sacred and ancient act? Maybe so, but the way these conversations are conducted, wherever it may be, better be well thought out, lest we further confuse kids by muddling words and equivocating out of discomfort. We need to teach children and teenagers about the power of their sexuality, how their brains are hardwired, and how porn manipulates this. Put the power in the hands of our young people so that they can make fully informed choices about what they choose to view. The wide availability of porn means we will be forced to have these discussions earlier and earlier. Still, I just don't think it will go away any time soon, even if porn, especially the violent sort, is miles away from the reality of the sacred impulse of humans to have sex.
So what can be done? Frankly, I just don't know. The porn industry is a behemoth, and people are increasingly spending more and more of their time watching porn. Pornhub says in their yearly statistics review that 33.5 billion visits were made to pornhub alone in 2018. They also say that an average visit duration worldwide is approximately 10 minutes, equal to roughly 635,000 years spent watching porn. As I conducted research for this article, I found an incredible wealth of peer-reviewed studies about the negative impacts of porn on everybody, especially young people, and meta-analyses of these studies reinforce their findings. Yet, a strong contingent of columnists, psychology journals, and newspapers claim that porn is no such social crisis, just a harmless habit that even does people good by allowing them to alleviate stress and anxiety. This is eerily reminiscent of industries like big tobacco, promoting harmful behaviour in the face of clear, peer-reviewed scientific evidence. It's unlikely that the widespread availability of internet porn will disappear in the near future. The industry is too large, and I believe that the consequences of such general availability have not come to full fruition yet for our young people who are going out into the new world of sexual experience. Educators and parents alike need to start getting informed and talking to their kids in an honest way about porn, a way that excludes moral judgement from the conversation. I suggest you read more on the subject and make up your own mind if you haven't been convinced here.
"The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research" Eric W. Owens, Richard J. Behun,Jill C. Manning & Rory C. Reid, Pages 99-122 | Published online: 09 Apr 2012
Words by Lenny, 18yrs
I'm eighteen, and I go to Cape Byron Steiner School in Byron Bay. I joined the Safe On Social Youth Advisory because I am deeply committed to learning about topics that interest me and spreading that knowledge to as many people as possible. By telling stories that often go untold, especially from the perspective of a young man, I hope to bring a diversity of voice that is incredibly important, especially in the online space. These new technologies affect us all, and whether you like it or not, young people are at the forefront of these changes and the challenges they present. Who better to learn from than the people who use the technology the most?"