I’ve been thinking about the issue with blowjobs ever since I wrote the last column, and I’ve realized that the reason it matters to me isn’t because I’m afraid somebody will try to shove himself further down my throat than I want. It’s not really about me—I’m pretty outspoken about what I want in the bedroom. No, it’s about the larger picture, about how these borderline abusive BJs might end up affecting all of us. About how all these numbers and statistics keep coming in, saying that over a quarter of us watch porn at work (Newsweek_), SEC staffers and execs watched porn while the economy went to crap (every media outlet everywhere), eleven percent of internet searches are for porn (The Witherspoon Institute), young kids have easy access to porn (duh), and so on and so on. They make me really wonder how much the ubiquity of internet porn and the somewhat more laissez-faire attitude we have toward it these days (relatively speaking, of course) will affect my generation and those following it. Many of the people I know who admit to using online porn (and of course I travel in some relatively porn-friendly circles, so take this with a grain of salt) say that their earliest education about human sexuality came from stumbling upon internet porn when they were quite young. And I mean young; I didn’t find out about online porn until my late teens, but I have friends who somehow discovered it on the late-nineties internet—at age twelve. With more tech-savvy kids in our midst every year, I wonder how early many of your children (_your children, because I don’t have any) are now seeking out the hidden wonders of the internet’s XXX treasure box at younger ages than my friends.
I don’t necessarily think it’d be a bad thing if they were quite young. As Nina Hartley, one of porn’s smartest and sexiest proponents, points out frequently, porn can be a great learning tool, and it’s a hell of a lot more forthcoming with details than your average parent during the dreaded “sex talk.” With the battles still (somehow) raging about abstinence-only vs. full disclosure sex education in the classroom, and with parents still determined to make teaching children about their bodies the responsibility of the schools, our young people have been growing up with strange and often untrue ideas about sex for generations. Easily accessible pornography, on the other hand, could bridge the awkward generation gap, take out the middle man, and be useful in teaching kids about anatomy, positioning, basic mechanics, and less mainstream options for sex that might suit them just fine. They won’t get these details from their parents; who’s going to sit down with their ten-year-old and explain the benefits of doggy style vs. missionary, or how some women like anal but some don’t, or how the clitoris is hard to find but worth it? Pretty much nobody I can think of. But these are important things to understand if you’re growing in America’s sexual climate today, and porn will pretty much show you how it’s done, if not exactly provide the appropriate context.
Furthermore, studies have consistently shown that exposure to porn doesn’t negatively affect our brains or sexualities, from LBJ’s Commission on Obscenity in the late sixties to a recent study in Montreal (in which the aim was to study differences between men who use porn and men who don’t—except the researches couldn’t find any who don’t, so they studied those who do). With these years of research in mind, kids watching porn ostensibly shouldn’t result in increased rates of delinquency or criminality. But studies about the effects of porn are difficult to find funding for, unless one’s agenda matches that of the group providing the funding, and that often results in skewed results like those recently “revealed” by the Witherspoon Institute’s conservative take on “The Social Costs of Porn.” And trying to study the effects of pornography on the development of sexuality in minors? Pfffft. Not going to happen. Nobody would ever fund it—too politically risky. Porn is too taboo to do legitimate research on, or so say the institutional powers that be, and much as I think we need a new Alfred Kinsey to take on the emerging sexual frontiers of omnipresent porn’s influence on young people’s maturing sexuality, nobody is forthcoming at the moment. As far as I can tell from my layman’s stance, porn can’t possibly not have some kind of effect on its viewers, particularly on young people who don’t know much about the real-world dynamics of sex. And that’s where my concerns arise.
Looking at it from a seasoned smut consumer’s perspective, porn’s educational value isn’t all kittens and bubbles. Depending on the emotional maturity of the kid watching, and on what exactly he or she watches, porn can also teach things that aren’t exactly true, useful, or healthy. Like, say, that women love being hosed down with semen; that women want sex all the time (and so do men); that group sex is standard; that foreplay consists mainly of dirty talk; that anal sex requires no preparation; that most men have gigantic cocks that stay hard for hours; that women never need added lubrication and have orgasms at the drop of a hat; that pile driver is easy to perform; and, not least, that blowjobs are to be deep, dirty, and violent. There are tons of other deductions that could be drawn by kids, but you get the idea and I’m not trying to get into a gender relations debate here. The point is that porn isn’t exactly a stronghold of your average American’s sexual values: it’s the stage upon which outrageous fantasies most of us don’t get to play out in real life are enacted. Many of these fantasy scenarios aren’t necessarily appropriate for the young and uninitiated. Just like Disney films can distort kids’ views of what to reasonably expect from fairies and spinning wheels, porn can lastingly distort kids’ ideas about what happens between consenting adults behind closed doors. If those views are affected lastingly enough, then what actually does happen behind bedroom doors is bound to change.
And again, let it be said that the change might not necessarily be for the worse. Porn isn’t some evil institution out to destroy lives by seeping in through the genitals. If you really step back and look at it, porn stars tend to have pretty honest, open, and (at least many of them) healthy attitudes about sex and desire, so why not take a page out of their books? Porn can teach people that the things they dream about doing are ok to do, as long as everyone involved wants to do them. But it can also convey messages about the ways in which adults relate to each other sexually that are neither representative nor healthy. Calling a woman a filthy bitch can be a turn-on in the right setting with the right woman, but otherwise it’s dehumanizing, morally repugnant, and outright wrong, just as having unprotected penetrative sex is a terrible idea, but one that kids might walk away from an online porn session with.
I wonder: 20 years from now, what will college students exploring their sexuality in earnest for the first time look like? What will future sex be like, and how influenced will its practitioners be by the porn they started watching as kids? Will Justin Timberlake release a comeback album called FutureSex/PornSounds? (Ok that was reaching, but hey, it was just begging to be said, right?… right?) Will people be more relaxed about sex after having learned from an early age that it’s ok to be sexual, to want sex and to talk about it? Maybe they’ll have figured out that it’s something almost everyone does, and that so is masturbation, and that that’s ok. Maybe deep throating and anal sex will be par for the course. Will young women have grown up knowing that female genitals are hugely varied in how they look and operate and being liberated from the fear that they are abnormal, ugly, or dysfunctional? Or will women, perhaps, have grown up thinking they should love facial shots because porn stars do, and feeling badly if they don’t enjoy them? Will men be ashamed if they’re not sporting ten-inch members and permanent erections? Will surgeries and enhancements and therapy tactics have evolved to give everyone the sex life porn has taught them they need? Or will a new openness about porn and sexuality have taught them they don’t need to emulate the porn stars to have amazing sex themselves?
Looking at the situation as is, any and all of those possibilities seem possible, but what may be more probable is a situation in which the extreme nature of pornographic sex will have lodged itself into young people’s brains and led them to have more of it themselves. I can see sex becoming more aggressive and violent in the next few decades. Porn may become the replacement for honest discussions of sex between parents and children, or even educators and students. I hesitate to say that it’s parents’ or teachers’ responsibility to educate children about sex: in case anyone’s been out of the loop about sex issues in politics, religion, education, and the news lately, it would seem that the majority of American adults are nowhere near ready to deal with talking to kids about it. We’re so freaked out by the topic that the closest we get to honest discussions about desire is often in the pages of Cosmo. Adults who think they are ready for the leap into talking about sex, alas, are often the ones who are likely to tell kids that sex is bad and that you should never ever do it unless you love someone very much and have already tied the knot. This kind of “education” about sex helps exactly nobody, and any child receiving said words of “wisdom” will very likely end up seeking more well-rounded answers, from—you guessed it—internet porn. (Case in point: me.) And internet porn will pretty much teach these youngsters exactly the opposite of what their tight-assed parents and teachers did.
It’s kind of a vicious cycle and I wish I saw a brighter light at the end of the tunnel for the advancement of healthy sexuality, but unless there’s a sea change in the way we talk about sex in America, it’s looking pretty dim. The good news is that I think we’re almost ready for it. I mean, Brazil’s president just issued a statement urging his country’s citizens to have more sex because the exercise will keep them less prone to high blood pressure, and that country has not yet blown up, been rushed by godless heathens, or collapsed under the weight of its own sin. Perhaps we could take their lead and remind ourselves that sex is natural, normal, and healthy, when undertaken responsibly. Or at least be willing to talk and write about what we think, like I’m trying to do here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m the only voice of sanity out here; there are plenty of other sex-positive people throwing similar sentiments into the wind. But until parents can tell their children unabashedly that sex is an important and enjoyable part of adult life; until schools can teach their students about safe sex; until porn can come out of the dimly lit basement and into the common parlance; I won’t be satisfied, and I’ll be freaked out by the dimly illuminated future of porn-fueled sex in the future.