Feminists who are critical of porn are often painted with the “anti-sex” brush. I’ve always maintained that porn itself is often anti-sex. A pair of articles in New York Magazine has demonstrated why I see things that way. The first–“They Know What Boys Want”–consists of interviews with tweens and young teens in New York City, who describe their Internet habits and the sexual pressures they face (photos at the link may be NSFW).
There’s no doubt that some kids, and even some schools, remain far more sheltered than others. But the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is widely cited as 11. “It’s pretty much intensely available,” one 13-year-old told me, before adding that he’s actually not as into online porn now as he used to be.
A 13-year-old, not as into porn as he used to be. I realize this is not a scientific survey, and I would like to know more about these kids, but I bet their experiences are familiar to kids around the country (and beyond).
The girls know to be wary of strangers on the Internet—but they’re also wary of how the web is affecting the boys they might actually want to date.
“Basically, with certain guys, they’ll see something on the Internet and then they’ll want their girlfriend to do it,” Cristal says when I ask her how the Internet influences dating among her friends—a sentiment that is largely shared by the girls in the Brooklyn pizzeria.
“I wouldn’t mind if they said, ‘Send me a picture of you,’ just a regular picture, with everything on,” says Samantha on that December afternoon. “But it’s like the way they ask for it? Naked?”
Tricey nods. “It affects them, the Internet. The guys expect to just chat girls up online, but when y’all see each other and y’all go out or whatever, the only thing that they want to do is get in the bed.”
Concerns about children and sex are often dismissed as Won’t Someone Think of the Children-ism in feminist communities. But I feel so much sorrow for these girls who describe a sexual gauntlet in school, on dates and online.
This is the paradoxical fear of many heterosexual 14-year-old girls: that the Internet is making boys more aggressive sexually—more accepting of graphic images or violence toward women, brasher, more demanding—but it is also making them less so, or at least less interested in the standard-issue, flesh-and-bone girls they encounter in real life who may not exactly have Penthouse proportions and porn-star inclinations. (“If you see something online, and the girls in your neighborhood are totally different, then it’s, um … different,” one 14-year-old boy tells me.) This puts young women in the sometimes uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the gap.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time in human history when pubescent boys weren’t preoccupied with sex, or when female sexuality was treated or appreciated as anything but performative. But it seems like boys are being groomed to have a predatory sexuality at a much younger age, and in turn, girls must learn how to satisfy the Male Gaze and play defense at the same time.
[W]hile it’s not surprising that adults believe today’s youth are navigating a brave new world, what is surprising is that the kids themselves—who’ve never known anything different—feel that way, too. They get that they are in a strange, uncharted place. “I think kids kind of mature more because they have computers,” Alexa tells me. “Sometimes it can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bad thing.” It’s a version of the idea I heard from every group—an awareness that, sexually speaking, the web may be doing them a disservice.
For a glimpse into their futures, see the second article–“He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.” So enamored of their porn, grown (straight) men lose interest in sex with women.
“I used to race home to have sex with my wife,” says Perry, a 41-year-old lawyer. “Now I leave work a half-hour early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn.” Throughout the course of our conversation, Perry insists that he’s still attracted to his wife of twelve years. Still, he says, she can’t quite measure up to the porn stars he views online. “Not to be mean, but they’re younger, hotter, and wilder in the sack than my wife,” he says. “Me and her, we still ‘do it’ and everything, but instead of every day, it’s maybe once a week. It’s like I’ve got this ‘other woman’ … and the ‘other woman’ is porn.”
“I don’t like to believe that porn is replacing anything I have with my girlfriend,” [another guy] says, “but I’ve always loved sex, and I’ve always had a lot of it, so I really had to stop and think about it when she asked me recently why she always has to be the one to initiate things. And she was right; I guess I’ve been fading from her. It’s like all that time with these porn stars was subduing any physical desire for my girlfriend. And, in some weird way, my emotional need for her, too.”
I don’t really care about these guys’ struggles, but I do care that their dysfunction is having a negative effect on their significant others and/or potential sex partners.
Sadie, 29, a real-estate agent in Boston, quotes performance artist Nicole Blackman to make her point: “ ‘There is no glory in trying to make love to men who only know how to fuck—man after man after man after man raised on porn.’ There have been times in the past,” Sadie continues, “when I would be with someone and thinking, Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck kind of stupid porn have you been watching? Did you just smack my kitty? Dumbass!”
Other women describe trying to emulate porn stars in order to keep their men off the computers and in the moment. It doesn’t work.
Tony, 48, a web designer in St. Paul, who separated from his wife a few years ago after twenty years of marriage, echoes the thought. “I’ve always thought it’s really hot when women in porn movies say dirty stuff,” he says. “Usually, they’re just literally narrating the shit that’s happening, giving the play-by-play: ‘You’re fucking me! Your dick’s in my ass! I’m sucking your cock right now!’ For whatever reason, that’s what does it for me. But recently a woman I was with started saying all that stuff, and it just kind of spooked me. She seemed slightly nuts.”
Just like the girls featured in the first piece, these women can’t win. It’s like their very humanity is the roadblock. I don’t particularly believe porn alone is to blame for the problems explored in these pieces, nor do I think the web is at fault. They are vehicles for patriarchy. Really fast, flashy vehicles.