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How Teens Struggle to Learn About Healthy Sex in Our Porn-Saturated World

By October 23, 2019 No Comments
Cover photo by David Kennedy. 5 minute read.

In 1953, Alfred Kinsey published his research about a taboo topic in America: female sexuality. During a particularly restrictive era, when sex was something never openly discussed, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was a dry but instant best-seller.

With findings like, “half of all women have sexual relations before marriage,” the country was shocked and fascinated. Some of Kinsey’s questionable research methods were criticized, though there’s no denying that he was one of the first to start an actual conversation about sex.

A lot has changed since then. Female sexuality is still a bit of a taboo, but not because people are surprised women have desire. Today, teen girls and boys struggle to navigate their newfound sexuality under the confines of old stereotypes telling them what they are and are not entitled to, in addition to porn painting an unrealistic and unappealing picture of what it means to be in a relationship.

Related: Popular Porn Site Launches “Sexual Wellness Center” For Sex Advice & Education

This is where quality and informative conversations about sex in family life and schools are important, but often seriously lacking. For example, only 13 American states require curriculum that relates to discussing sex in schools to be medically accurate.

Can you imagine what pops up on a teen’s phone, ready to “answer” all their curiosities about sex when the real-life resources aren’t enough? Unfortunately, we can imagine it—and it’s about as helpful as watching medical drama shows to become a doctor.

Join us as we try to understand how teen girls and boys think about their sexual experiences, the conversations about sex (or lack thereof) that shape those attitudes, and the negative part porn plays.

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Stereotype: “Girls only like to cuddle”

Girls just want love and cuddles, or so the societal stereotype goes.

It may seem like a harmless idea, but it subtly perpetuates the idea that women don’t enjoy sex, or worse, that sex isn’t about them or for their pleasure, too.

Author Peggy Orenstein spent three years talking to girls from ages 15-20 about their attitudes and experiences of sex. In her eye-opening TED Talk, she revealed that girls don’t feel entitled to enjoy sexual encounters. Even girls who felt empowered by strong women around them, didn’t realize the same attitude of speaking up for their wants and needs also applied to sexual relationships.

Instead, girls learn to suppress their own feelings to avoid conflict in a relationship. In an article discussing her research, Peggy wrote:

“The concern with pleasing, as opposed to pleasure, was pervasive among the girls I met, especially among high schoolers, who were just starting sexual experimentation. They often felt, for instance, that once they’d said yes to intercourse with a partner, they could never say no again, whether or not they were ‘in the mood.’”

Related: Sex Before Kissing: How 15-Year-Old Girls Are Dealing With Porn-Obsessed Boys

Teenage girls have a pretty low bar for their sexual encounters, according to research. They are more likely than young men to use their partner’s pleasure as a measure of their own satisfaction. In other words, if he was satisfied, then she figured she was, too.

Girls also reported pain during their sexual encounters 30% of the time and used words like depressing, humiliating, degrading to describe the experience. Teenage boys never used such language.

Peggy concluded in her talk that a girl’s “early sexual experience shouldn’t have to be something that they get over.”

Meanwhile, porn paints this insane picture of airbrushed female performers engaged in exaggerated and often extreme sex acts, all the time, always acting like they’re having the most mind-blowing encounters. Not a very helpful resource to the already complicated time of being a teen and discovering yourself, right?

For The Sake Of Love

Stereotype: “Boys only want one thing”

Teen boys also struggle with the long-surviving stereotype that all guys want the same thing. American society especially often assumes boys are uncontrollable creatures, slaves to their hormones and sexual desire.

But when researchers speak to American teenage boys about what they want, they crave intimacy. Given the choice between sex and a relationship, or sex and no relationship, they prefer option one. Boys are actually as emotionally-invested as girls are in romantic relationships, according to some data.

Related: What If We Told You Not All Men Enjoy Abusing And Humiliating Others?

The problem is, boys feel like they are at risk when showing that desire. Amy Schalet, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, interviewed American boys to better understand how the culture does not support their needs for intimacy. She wrote:

“I observed a conflict between their desires and the prevailing masculinity norms—if they admit to valuing romantic love, they risk being viewed as ‘unmasculine.’”

Assuming that a boy’s hormones and sex drive is uncontrollable can be a total disservice to his wants, which may be different, and his ability to learn to make choices and be responsible for his actions.

Bark

Porn is not the answer

We’ve come to a point where teens and the next generation are struggling with different ideas of sex and relationships. Depending on where they live, their parents or educationally-focused conversations about sex at school would have hopefully helped to clear up a lot of confusion, but no system seems to be filling in the gaps enough to keep our generation from turning to porn for answers.

Online porn is so easy and accessible, it’s become the default, whether the natural curiosity to know more about sex pushes them there or the urge to explore strikes.

But porn has only one goal: “To get men off hard and fast for profit. That means eroticizing the degradation of women. Even if what kids watch is utterly vanilla, they’re still learning that women’s sexuality exists for the benefit of men. ”

Related: How Hardcore Porn Is Sexually Crippling The Upcoming Generation

For boys, this looks like the way they measure their social status and even self-worth by their ability to “score” with “hot” women.”

Additionally, when boys start watching porn at a young age, their sexuality becomes linked to porn. Instead of exploring their own desires, they can lose their unique imagination as they become aroused by or attempt to copy what they see in videos.

Girls seem to have registered the same degrading message. They report feeling pressure to be the “porn star,” to doing things they may not like or may not enjoy, because they believe sex is more about how they look to someone else instead of their own desires.

Perhaps because girls don’t feel entitled to enjoy sex and boys don’t feel entitled to a relationship, teens look to porn.

But porn offers no solution, only a few hours of fantasy. And we think they deserve much, much better than what porn has to offer.

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