The things our kids are learning

The things our kids are learning

In the discussion about porn, it often seems that adults are speaking on behalf of young people. 

But what about young people themselves? Are adults voices consistent with what young people are asking for? How is porn impacting their lives through their eyes? What are they seeing? How are they interpreting it? What do they want to see done about the widespread availability of porn?

Research from Australia, New Zealand and the United States provides us with pertinent insight. Studies confirm that many young people copy what they see in porn during their own sexual encounters, feel pressured to make or to imitate pornography, and feel they would be better off without access.

Providing detailed comments when asked what they have seen, some teens responses include:

It’s called public humiliation. Which means they tie the girl up, say on the statue or pole or something. Then they strip them down naked and a guy or girl will embarrass them in public. But the person wants it, so they ask for it . . . so they’re, like, forced to do things like give head or even if they haven’t did it in the butt before, they have to, ‘cause they asked for it.
~ 17-year-old female

Like, basically they had her in this room, this dirty mattress on the floor, she was laying on the mattress and then, like, six different guys keep goin’ back and forth. She just layin’ there. And then after, they was bein’ mean to her, they was throwin’ all her clothes at her, tellin’ her to get out and stuff.
~ 18-year-old female

[I saw] men slap girls in their mouth, like in their faces, or like, open up their mouths when they’re doing back shots . . . like slapping them on their boobs. Like, slapping, like that would hurt me. Yeah, they just do crazy things.
~ 18-year-old female

Unfortunately, this can result in teens engaging in these acts.

If I watch porn and, like, I see a male porn star, and sometimes like, if I’m with a female, I try to do the exact same thing as they’re doing, ‘cause I figure that they’re stars.
~ 17-year-old male

Statistically, it's not uncommon for young people to imitate what they see. A 2018 study found that amongst 19-30-year-olds, 91.4% of those surveyed wanted to engage in one or more rough sex acts they had seen in pornography. Just over three-quarters had actually engaged in one or more rough sex acts, and almost half had engaged in behaviours four or more rough sex behaviours. These sex acts included hair pulling, spanking, scratching, biting, bondage, fisting, and double penetration.

A young woman shares what it felt like with her boyfriend when they were experimenting.

[The position is] with me laying down on my stomach and him laying down on top of me. It often, um, I know it is kind of extreme, but it feels like rape. Like, I don’t know [laughs]. I just feel like I can’t move. I feel like even if he’s not being rough or anything on me, I just feel like stuffed, like it’s not right. I feel like that’s something that—it just doesn’t—it just doesn’t feel like . . . it’s not comfortable. Yeah, it doesn’t feel like that’s what couples do [laughs]. It feels like I’m being forced. I don’t like it.
~ 18-year-old female

A 17-year-old female describes learning anal sex from pornography then trying it herself.

What shocked me is how those females can take anal sex. I tried it once. I seen how the woman and stuff is so—they look like they get an orgasm from it. But when I tried it, I was so stunned, like, I ended up getting ibuprofens [sic] and stuff because I was in so much pain.

Porn also encourages young people to produce, possess and distribute child sexual exploitation material.

Me and my buddy, you know, we make videos of our own, and then like one time, my boy made a video. So we was on the train, it was like quiet and he just—he turned it up like real loud, and all you hear is the girl moaning, and everybody was just looking. It was his video, just stuff like that, like, you know. We watch it and like, nobody’s ashamed of it.
~ 17-year-old male

One young guy reported that he felt uncomfortable because it encouraged degradation of women.

I don’t think porn is helpful. . . . I think it’s really degrading to both men and women. And I don’t think that it should be there. But it was a resource that I had, so I took it. Um, I didn’t want to do it, but you know, since you know, it was there, I did it, so . . . it makes a woman seem less than what she is. And it’s like, they call her slut, bitch, take this and that, and I don’t think that’s really, you know, nice to say. So I wouldn’t recommend it, but it was there, so I took it.
~ 17-year-old male

Some young women find their voice to overcome the pressure they face. This one shares:

He likes [pornography]. He been telling me to do most of the things, but I don’t. I’m like, if you don’t like how I satisfy you, then go find you a lady that does porn!
~ 17-year-old female

Porn is prolific in young people's lives, including in schools.

When I used to go to school, I used to go on porn sites sometimes, ya know? ‘Cause I knew my boys, whenever we went to computer class or whatever, they knew like how to—to get on Facebook, to get on everythin’. So we could have really done everythin’, everythin’ we wanted. Go on a Web site, whatever.
~ 17-year-old male

Whilst these accounts are from Hispanic students in the U.S., similar trends have been observed in Australia and captured in The Porn Factor documentary - short clips can be viewed below.

There are of course, some young people who consume porn and seem to have no issue with it. Most often, this is due to normalisation—first defined by Cordelia Anderson, who dedicated her life to the promotion of sexual health and prevention of sexual harms, including the impact of pornography. Normalisation is defined as the process by which an idea, concept or behavior becomes an accepted part of societal culture. Once this occurs, it is considered “just the way it is” and becomes viewed as beneficial or preferential. When something is normalised, it's very difficult for young people to understand the pressure surrounding their choices as they navigate our toxic hypersexualised culture.

It's encouraging to know that the vast majority of young people surveyed in New Zealand agree that porn shouldn't be accessible by kids. 71% indicated that it should be filtered, blocked or that some sort of age restriction should be implemented to limit access by people under 18. This opinion is also held by half of regular porn viewers, with many young Kiwi's who regularly watch porn wanting help to reduce their viewing time.

Young Australian porn consumers report:

I think it has been a negative influence in many ways but at the same time I can’t stop using it.
~ 18–19-year-old male

It makes me feel guilty, and I’m trying to stop. I don’t like how I feel that I need it to get myself going, it’s not healthy.
~ 18–19-year-old female

As we listen to young people's voices, it's clear that they need our help. There's several ways we can respond.

  1. Teens need safe and responsible adults in their life to provide education to counteract the violence and degradation they see in pornography. Websites such as The Line. That's Not Cool and I am Courageous offer young people advice to counter sexist and harmful messages. Parents can find resources on our Parents of Teens page, and we've also put together a list of resources for use in educational settings.
  2. Teens need clear guidance on what sexual behaviours are positive and healthy. Sex therapist, Wendy Maltz, indicates that sexual energy can unite a couple in a dance of tenderness and passion, heightening their self-awareness and strengthening their self-esteem and commitment to one another. Or, if used in a violent act like rape or humiliation, sexual energy can shatter trust and destroy one’s sense of self-worth and safety. Wendy's work highlights that negative relationships (such as those modeled on porn) include a sense of entitlement, treating others as sex objects, manipulation, coercion, violence and abuse. Alternatively, healthy sexual interactions are caring, safe, have a sense of equality, trust, mutual respect, open communication, creative expression and emotional intimacy.
  3. And finally, teens need us to act on their behalf and work towards reducing access to online pornography. Their Future. Your Voice. Take a stand by joining the eChildhood movement, and be proactive by educating those who represent us in parliament so they can effect change in the best interests of children and youth safety.