Experts agree: Porn is giving teen boys a skewed version of relationships, body image and female desire

14. April 2016 Parenting Guide 10

Teenage boys are one of the most maligned demographics in the human species. Compared with girls, they drive too fast, drink and smoke pot too much, and are more likely to drop out of school. In the sexual politics of adolescence, they are the aggressors, and, as a trio of new books only reinforces, the parents raising them should be plenty worried.

Are their sons the same odious cads demanding blow jobs like kisses from reluctant dates, as detailed in Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Girls and Sex? Perhaps they’re the predatory jerks begging for “NOODZ” from their female classmates, so they can trade the pics for liquor purchased by a high school student with a convincing ID, as described in American Girls, a book on social media and the “secret lives of teenagers” by Nancy Jo Sales. Or maybe they are simply the socially-stunted, porn-addled sloths, doomed to perpetual immaturity, in Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s new book Man, Interrupted.

To sum up, if you happen to have a 15-year-old male texting quietly in his bedroom upstairs (so you think!), batten down the parental hatches. But if the situation for girls is a “complicated landscape,” to quote Orenstein, rife with sexting and slut-shaming, then is life for boys today – so often cast as the lecherous villains in this adolescent apocalypse – that much simpler?

Here’s a disturbing calculation, cited in Zimbardo’s book: Let’s say, Zimbardo suggests, that a 15-year-old boy watches a couple hours of porn a week. He has sex for the first time around the average age of 17. That’s nearly 1,400 pornographic experiences, a huge dose of virtual sex education, before anyone actually does the deed in the real world. Mix in drugs, add video games, Zimbardo says, and the moodles (“man-poodles” unable to care for themselves) may never grow up.

At least, that’s what he says young women keep telling him when he gives public talks. “Today many of the young men who do manage to find a partner feel entitled to do nothing to add substance to the relationship beyond just showing up,” he claims (though without supporting stats) in Man, Interrupted, which he co-authored with Nikita Coulombe.

Zimbardo’s conclusions are dire – like most books of this ilk – and not always entirely convincing. Let’s remember that the sexes have made important progress: fathers are more involved, there’s more equality at work and home, same-sex marriage is legal, many men are engaging in conversations about consent. Canada, it’s worth noting, now has a Prime Minister who proudly defines himself as a feminist.

But these books are all raising a common alarm: When it comes to teenagers, sexual equality still appears to have stalled a few decades back – or has even regressed. In her book, Orenstein pointed out that the same girls who spoke about women’s rights and their own lofty career ambitions were still giving oral sex often just to keep boys happy, or because it was expected, not thinking of their own pleasure. And boys were still bragging to their friends about their conquests – only now on social media, for everyone in every school to see.

Ask the experts what’s behind these retrograde attitudes and they point to online pornography. Porn, they say, is giving teenage boys a skewed version of relationships, body image and female desire: after all, in pornography, there is little conversation, no condoms and sex is from the (well-endowed) male point of view. And that’s just the vanilla version – hard-core porn is an Internet search away.

“Porn is not a good teacher,” says Dr. Frank Sommers, a Toronto psychiatrist who specializes in sex therapy, and treats young men struggling with sexual disorders. (He’s yet to treat a male patient, he says, who doesn’t report watching porn excessively at a young age.) “In porn, you don’t see the ups and downs of a relationships, there is no depiction of tenderness, sooner or later the men turn into sexual acrobats, and this is the picture young men grow up with,” Sommers says. “Then they enter into the real work, and they flounder. … What other sources do they have to enable them to nurture a relationship of equals?”

Certainly many mainstream sources endorse just the opposite, dancing – literally – on the shades-of-porn line. Check out just about any Robin Thicke or Lil Wayne song on your son’s iPhone. “Boys don’t have to watch any porn to see women being objectified,” points out Crystal Smith, the mother of two sons, who self-published a book called Boys, Sex & Media. She worries that these mainstream examples are often more pernicious than porn because society gives them tacit approval. She points to Drake, who contributed to a Lil Wayne song, in which women are “hos” and “bitches,” and writhe in cages in the music video; in February, Drake received the key to the city of Toronto from Mayor John Tory. Add in the alpha, chest-thumping of social media, where the aforementioned NOODZ are valuable currency, and the low road isn’t just more travelled, it’s rolled out in red carpet.

Dylan Schentag, a 23-year-old University of Windsor student who leads workshops with teenage boys about sexuality, reflects on his own teenage years: “I was often trying to fit that goal of what it meant to be a man, but it wasn’t the nurturing, compassionate person I wanted to be.” The usual stereotypes come with “enormous pressure to have sex, and to have sex with as many girls as possible.”

In her upcoming book, Talk Sex Today, Saleema Noon, a sexual-health educator in British Columbia, relates this anecdote confided to her by a Grade 10 boy. At a house party, a girl he barely knew offered to give him oral sex in a back bedroom. “Nah, I’m good,” he told her. As he explained to Noon, he “made the mistake of telling his friends,” who called him a “wuss” and a “fag” for turning down a “hot chick.” In the context, it’s not hard to see why boys either lie – and contribute to the slut-shaming that girls experience – or just say yes in the first place. Says Noon: “Peers have immense power.”

So what do we often tell boys to try to inoculate them against this negative messaging? Don’t rape. Get consent. Know the law. That’s important, Noon says, but insufficient. The boys she teaches respond more to the emotional and moral arguments. Why are women caged and nearly naked in music videos? How does it feel for girls – and boys – to be pressured into having sex or pursuing it? What does compassion look like in relationships?

The suggestions that Zimbardo and Coulombe offer at the end of their book target all the players in this narrative. Young women are told to hold men to higher standards. Young men are ordered to “turn off the porn.”

And parents, especially dads, are advised to talk more to their sons about sex, including how pornography is a multibillion-dollar business. “It’s rare that parents sit down with their children,” Zimbardo says, “and say, ‘Let me tell you about this wonderful thing that has be to used carefully, and wisely, and well.’ ”

Sommers also argues that sex education is as important as all the academic coaching parents do these days. He urges parents to talk about sex with their teenagers over, say, lasagna at the dinner table, so it becomes an everyday subject. Expect plenty of trademark eye-rolling.

Basically, the advice from experts amounts to this: Parents need to be as explicit talking about sex as the porn they hope their boys aren’t watching.

In a recent workshop, Schentag asked a group of teenage boys, what would be different if they could resist those “be-a-man” expectations? One boy’s answer: “there would be a lot more peace in the world.”

At the very least, the parents of both boys and girls might sleep a lot more peacefully.

Also on The Globe and Mail

Parents discuss the various sex-ed lessons they want to teach their children
(The Globe and Mail)

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

10 thoughts on “Experts agree: Porn is giving teen boys a skewed version of relationships, body image and female desire”

  • 1
    Grekoff on May 13, 2016 Reply

    What’s that guy doing in the caption?

  • 2
    biltmoreyes on May 14, 2016 Reply

    Many females today portray as much skin as possible, and look and act as if they belong in the porn industry. It is not only boys who have been affected by the media.

  • 3
    EOL on May 15, 2016 Reply

    Who forces those reach women to take pictures of their own naked lower backs and put on social networks? Or some female singers to perform semi naked? Are 16 year old boys to be blamed for this?

  • 4
    to YOU on May 16, 2016 Reply

    The media lies – Feminists appear to think that their style of sex is right and porn-style sex is wrong. But who are they to dictate?

  • 5
    WorldNetizen on May 17, 2016 Reply

    As a father who has successfully raised a 22 year old daughter and a 16 year old son, I would start off by stating that many kids are smarter than some give them credit for. Indeed, I think that today’s kids are smarter and better behaved than we were at their age. We’re taking about a minority of kids with problems – it’s nothing new. I’m sure my kids would find this article extremely patronizing.

  • 6
    BonneyLass on May 17, 2016 Reply

    Agreed with the comment, stop trying to divide the genders into opposing camps. They deserve far better than what this article is attempting to serve up. I keep hearing the demands for equality of the sexes but all I really hear is that this is to be done at the expense of the other, how does one argue equality???? and do so with any credibility.

  • 7
    Outside Box on May 18, 2016 Reply

    Third wave feminist complete nonsense. The boys would be fine if not for their vilification, silencing, shouting out about rape culture, victimology, and the academic disease that are the feminist studies groups. Trudeau, the feminist prime minister, is a lightning rod for all that is wrong with these beta males being churned out by our politically correct education system. The war on males continues and time for men to fight back. Follow Milo Yiannopolus and Christina Hoff Summers for enlightenment from the spurious, illogical and non evidence based ramblings of this author.

  • 8
    MIke1512 on May 18, 2016 Reply

    Another article where all men and now boys are bad and women or girls are the victims of the evil purported by maleness. As the farther of teenage boys I am afraid for them and the messages they are receiving, but not from porn or entertainment media but from poorly written and researched articles like this and the seemingly endless need to tell them how wrong their masculinity is and how great the world would be if they were not in it…disgusting really

  • 9
    Stan Duptall on May 18, 2016 Reply

    Or maybe, as a society, we’re revering sex too much.

  • 10
    BagginsBilbo on May 18, 2016 Reply

    A poorly-written, clearly feminist-inspir­ed article based on a couple of obviously feminist books and couple of dubious anecdotes. You credit boys with nothing more than animal instinct and behaviour (you could not get away with denigrating females so much), and, very typically of feminist writing, ascribe absolutely no personal responsibilitie­s whatever to females (girls). I hope no parents take this kind of writing seriously

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