A doctor reveals how girls as young as 15 have come to her about removing hair. She says that teenagers don't know how to refuse sexual advances from partners.
Lilly came into my surgery looking more than a little nervous. Just 15 and still in her school uniform, she explained how she had been seeing her boyfriend for three months and they had started having sex.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary for most GPs up and down the country. Attending the appointment without a parent — also perfectly normal — I had no idea what she was about to say next. I’ve learned in 15 years of being a doctor never to presume anything about a patient until they start speaking.
Lilly told me that she didn’t feel normal. ‘Would it be OK to get everything lasered off “down there”?’ she asked, referring to her pubic hair. She went on to explain that her boyfriend, also 15, had told her that she didn’t ‘look right’.
She was worried that if she didn’t comply, he might leave her. Or worse, he’d tell his mates about ‘her problem’.
Two days later, a 23-year-old man called Jake came into the surgery, very worried. He’d started a relationship with a woman he’d fancied for a long time, but as soon as they’d tried to have sex, he couldn’t perform. He was terrified he could have some kind of erectile dysfunction.
Ten years ago, I would see patients like Lilly or Jake on a rare handful of occasions. Today, I’ve noted a dramatic increase, with at least one patient a week visiting my surgery in North London worried over ‘problems’ with their bodies in a sexual sense.
They’re ‘too hairy’, ‘too small’, ‘too big’, ‘the wrong shape’, ‘the wrong colour’. Or they simply feel they’re not doing sex ‘right’.
Take Amy, 19, who felt pressure to engage in an act with her boyfriend that she found painful, and didn’t know if she could refuse. Or the many young patients I see who feel they have to take part in threesomes or other sexual acts they’re not keen on or otherwise be labelled frigid or lose their relationships.
I can safely say that in the majority of cases where there is concern about the appearance of genitals, there’s nothing wrong at all. And certainly, no one should feel they have to do anything sexually. But psychologically, patients suffer low self-esteem, anxiety and in some cases even depression because they believe there is something ‘not right’ about their body.
So where has this paranoia and pressure come from? In my mind, there’s no doubt one of the major contributing causes is the proliferation of pornography.
Whether it’s on a laptop at home or a mobile phone passed around the classroom, porn is having a damaging effect on how a generation sees their bodies and it’s one of the reasons they feel bad about themselves. And I believe it’s getting worse.
While I’m grateful that young people feel able to ask me for help, I’m sad that society has changed in this way and they haven’t been protected enough online, or educated enough both at home and at school.
Even if there were sufficient forms of emotional support available, young people don’t feel confident enough to tell a loved one, a teacher or friend about their insecurities.
And while we are better connected as a society than ever before thanks to social media, young people tell me that they feel increasingly isolated. They may have hundreds of friends on Instagram, but no one to actually talk to.
Government statistics show that around 1.4 million children — boys and girls — in the UK visited a pornographic website in just one month. That’s around 10 per cent of children in the country. Sixty per cent were 14 or younger when they first saw pornography online.
Interestingly, data on safer internet.org also shows that 53 per cent of boys who had seen porn thought it was ‘realistic’. Perhaps not directly related — but worrying nevertheless — 36 per cent of children in this survey who had taken nude or semi-naked selfies, reported that they had been asked to show these images to someone online.
Around two thirds said they first saw pornography when they weren’t expecting to, or were shown it by someone else.
When I was young in the Eighties, people had to go to the newsagent’s or know someone’s older brother with a ‘dirty magazine’ to access porn. Children were educated about sex via bonkbuster novels by Jilly Cooper or their parents’ own battered copy of The Joy of Sex or Playboy magazine, which are less graphic than the images they see today.
But the easy accessibility of porn has turned extreme sexual practices into everyday viewing, and the gradual adolescent exploration of sex — the teenage fumblings most of us experienced — have been sped up. Children are now catapulted from zero to 100 into an adult world which they may be ready for physically, but not emotionally.
From speaking to parents — and with young children of my own at primary school — I know that even something as innocent as researching the body’s circulatory system for homework can easily lead to a child seeing explicit images if parental filters are not in place. Children of eight and younger are only a couple of clicks away from hardcore porn.
In one survey by Childline, almost one in five children under 16 said they had seen explicit images that shocked or upset them. Other research says four in ten boys aged 14 to 17 have regularly watched pornography.
It also said that nearly one in ten 12 to 13-year-olds are worried that they are addicted to porn.
Patients like Lilly, Amy and Jake are the result: a generation of youngsters who are unnecessarily stressed, anxious and sometimes depressed about their bodies and sex lives.
The proliferation of porn is also leading to alarming changes in the way their brains develop. If a child is exposed to porn at a young age, they may experience something called autonomic arousal, meaning their body will become aroused, but they won’t understand why.
The more they watch, the more they will need to watch to become aroused, the more desensitised they will become and an addiction to porn may even ensue.
Addiction is a cycle of craving a reward that you believe outweighs its negative effects.
For example, you may know that cocaine will increase your likelihood of a heart attack, but the ‘reward’ of the craved high seems to outweigh this. With porn, it’s the same. You may know you are finding it hard to have satisfying sex with a partner, but you can’t stop watching because the stimulation porn gives you seems greater — which is the situation Jake found himself in with his new girlfriend.
And who knows if youngsters in the future will even bother with relationships? Certainly, I’m aware that porn can lead to relationship problems because it can set unrealistic goals.
For many of the women and girls I see (whether they watch porn or not, many of my patients are affected by their partner’s porn habits) this can create wholly unrealistic expectations of them when it comes to sex.
... I welcome the recent news that porn users will have to buy a pass before they can access websites. It’s by no means a perfect solution, but it may help protect children and prevent them from stumbling across pornography.
Published by the Daily Mail. Read the full article here.
Please note: The GP suggests to her young client that he cut back on porn or watch it with his girlfriend. From a public health perspective, this is not an approach that eChildhood supports. In 2017, eChildhood produced a Statement of Research indicating that pornography’s impact on children and young people includes poor mental health, sexism and objectification, sexual aggression and violence, child-on-child sexual abuse, and shaping sexual behaviours. The Reward Foundation offers further supportive evidence of mental and physical effects, as well as explanation on how internet porn affects the brain.