FOXSexpert: How Teens Really Feel About Pornography

They’re one of its biggest consumers. They’re watching it in their own homes. They’re reporting that “conventional hardcore” is their main preference.

And “they” aren’t even adults.

Porn is proliferating, and children under the age of 18 have become one of its biggest consumers. Most of them have viewed it by the age of 11.

Understandably, parents have become angry, alarmed and worried, because it's so easy for their children to access pornography.

But what is the reality of teen's exposure, experience and consumption of porn? What do girls and boys think about their experience?

A few studies have made some surprising findings about how young people are affected by porn and offer insight as to how parents should go about broaching the subject with teens.

One study, conducted at Malmö University in Sweden and published in 2006, answers many of the questions parents have about youth porn consumption. It is based on conversations with 73 Swedish youth, ages 14 to 20, about their experiences with and perceptions of porn.

Not surprisingly, teens and young adults think they are continuously exposed to sexually explicit images and messages, and not just on the Internet, but in everyday life situations. All of them reported having come into contact with porn, either voluntarily seeking it out or involuntarily being subjected to it.

As found in other Scandinavian studies, significantly more boys than girls are active porn consumers. Boys are more positive in their general attitude about porn; girls consume more porn as they get older, although still much less than boys. Studies also found that girls tend to watch porn with someone they are involved with.

Older girls tend to become more positive about porn, but are most critical of it. Girls feel much more ambivalent about porn than boys, finding it arousing, thrilling and intriguing, while more disgusting and offensive. They struggle with the fact that “everybody watches it,” yet the enticing materials evoke conflicting emotions about the taboo and dangerous.

While sizing up youth porn consumption, investigators found three main uses for it:

1. It’s a form of social interaction between viewers. Youth who observe porn together end up gauging their reactions as compared to others. Viewers create a norm as far as what’s “normal” or “deviant” via information that’s communicated, such as comments, laughs, jokes and sighs.

2. It’s a “reliable” information source. Youth learn new things from porn -- for example, tips on different positions. Yet they are processing this information critically, comparing it to life experiences and information from other sources. Young people are able to evaluate the materials as overstated, distorted or incorrect. The ultimate reaction: They tune out or distance themselves from the source.

3. It’s an inspiration for sexual excitement. For boys, interest in porn grows less as they get older and have their own sexual experiences. They actually become more critical and negative about porn with age. Porn for them becomes something more for stimulation and ideas than a source of information or socializing.

Another 2006 study, which examined the porn perceptions of 1,776 Danish, Norwegian, and Fenno-Swedish 12- to 20-year-olds, had interesting findings as well.

These researchers found that boys are more likely to attach desire to the use of porn, whereas girls do it more out of curiosity or “for the fun of it.” Half of the participants, mostly boys, thought that porn could improve their lives. One-third of them, the majority of whom were girls, thought porn could damage their sex lives.

Girls further reported that porn made them feel inadequate about their bodies or resulted in performance anxiety. Boys were likelier to say they were not affected by porn at all.

Hardly any of the participants considered the pornography actors as celebrities, but rather as “cheap” and “ridiculous.” Many said that porn should not be banned, but regulated.

Overall, both genders think that porn:

— Depicts sex that is enjoyable;

— Shows how sex can be practiced in a number of ways;

— Is made for men;

— Never puts women in charge.

Depending on your thoughts about youth porn consumption prior to reading this article, you’re either slightly relieved or panicked and depressed. In either case, if you’re guiding a young person into their adult years, this is a matter that needs to be addressed. Take the time to learn about their thoughts on porn. Use this article as an opportunity to have a discussion.

Let your thoughts and values be known without preaching. Sit down and figure out together how you can control exposure to sexually explicit imagery in your home. Talk about the appropriateness of such materials on a personal, relational, social and societal level.

And remember: Give your children credit for their perspectives. It appears they are doing as good a job processing a pornified culture as the rest of us.

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."

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