Has Pornography Become the “Go To” Sexuality Educator for Our Youth? Part 1 and 2

Has Pornography Become the “Go To” Sexuality Educator for Our Youth? 
(Part 1)

Like it or not, agree with its availability or not, pornography has become the ‘go to’ place for sexuality education, and is here to stay.

This generation is known for using the internet to learn about a topic and, in particular, “how to” YouTube clips from, how do I change my password on my phone? To, how do I back up my data? For questions about sex, many are turning to internet pornography for answers as well.

In 2008, the University of New Hampshire surveyed college students asking them about their pornography use. 93% of males and 62% of females reported having seen pornography as an adolescent. 53% of males and 26% of females said the reasons the viewed pornography was, “Curious about different things people do sexually” and 39% of males and 19% of females stated, “wanted information about sex.”

Before we dive into the impact of pornography, especially on people with developmental disabilities, I want to acknowledge that there are many different types of pornography, some professional and intended for educational purposes, but most is not.

Pornography can portray heterosexual, homosexual, or transsexuality, and some explore fetishes and different kinds of role plays. The articles I am referencing asked teenagers mostly about heterosexual messages from heterosexual imagery. It must be noted, however, that some LGBTQ+ students mentioned that one positive aspect to pornography is that they receive positive messages about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Their sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t invisible in pornography like it can be in mainstream media.

In Maggie Jones’ article in The New York Time Magazine titled, “What Teenagers are Learning from Online Porn,” one teenager states, “There’s nowhere else to learn about sex and porn stars know what they are doing.”

If teens are using pornography, what are the messages they are getting from pornography about sex?

  • Men and women’s bodies are always perfect
  • Their breasts are like perfect melons and the penises are very large
  • Women will moan a lot and act as if everything he is doing is just right
  • Men should dominate women
  • Men can flip women over and pull on her hair without asking
  • Men will last a very long time
  • Sexual acts are done a certain way and gentle sex is boring

Many young people understand that pornography is over exaggerated and unrealistic, but what happens if someone believes pornography is real. How do these messages impact young people?

Young people wonder:

  • Will I measure up?
  • Are my body parts the right size and shape?
  • Will sex be just like sex in pornography?
  • Do I even need to ask before I do a sexual act?
  • When do you ask and when don’t you?

One can imagine the consequences of these messages. But, layer on to that, what we know about pornography and people with Developmental Disabilities. (Although, we don’t know actual numbers of user, but we do know that people with developmental disabilities have the same access to pornography and even less access to sexuality education than the general public.) Some people with I/DD are getting in legal trouble for accessing pornography. Given the nature of their disability, they may be less likely to understand that pornography is not real and over-exaggerated.

I believe the best way to become sexually healthy and avoid the consequences of pornography as the sexuality teacher, is by mandating medically accurate, age appropriate sexuality education for everyone. Only 24 states mandate sex education, and only 13 require that it be medically accurate. Teenagers aren’t getting enough sexuality information or are getting fear-based messages when what they really want is to understand what sex is.

Part two of this series will review and explore how to teach pornography literacy to people with I/DD. Some young people are receiving “Pornography Literacy” classes. According to Jones, these classes “examine how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body image are portrayed in pornography.”

Bringing the problem into the light of day, and taking positive steps to counteract the negative implications of pornography-based sexuality education makes good sense.

Attached is a link to a survey to see your level of knowledge regarding the use of and effects of pornography on how teens think about sex.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/07/magazine/11mag-porn-literacy-kids.html?module=inline
Pornography Literacy and People with Developmental Disabilities Part 2

Respond, don’t react is a great strategy for dealing with anything unexpected …even pornography.

I remember having a conversation with my son about pornography when he was 17 years old. I was on our family computer and found porn. Upon seeing those images, all I could think was, does he think all partners want this? After gathering myself to have a conversation with him, the message I wanted to convey, among other was; many partners don’t want what you saw, and to ask before doing anything with a partner.

While it’s not our job as professionals to impose our values on the people we work with; (it is the job of parents), many people feel strongly about pornography, and it can challenge our values at best, or create strong, visceral reactions at worst, impeding our ability to respond in a productive way. The intention of the article is to open up the conversation and offer new perspectives, not be a thorough exploration of all the implications of pornography.

Marty Klein, the author of “His Porn, Her Pain” describes our reaction as “Porn Panic.”
When we feel panicky, we react, and as soon as we react, we stop the conversation that could happen and needs to happen.

Understandably, there are many fears about pornography; such as, it will cause violent behaviors or rape, will lead to an addiction, or cause your libido or sexual functioning to stop. However, research tells us that these thoughts and ideas are just not true. Numerous studies have found that an increase in access to pornography actually decreases sex crimes. Porn addiction has not been considered a diagnosis within the clinical community and doesn’t have the qualities of other addictions such increase in dosage and withdrawal symptoms. Lastly, a U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) study found that increased porn usage does not result in increased rates of erectile dysfunction.

That said, there are still other issue and consequences with pornography use we need to address.  Starting with, as parents, we may struggle with simply accepting our children as sexual beings who may look at and use porn. We may think we did something wrong and our child is bad for watching porn. But, if we can see an upside at all, perhaps the prevalence of pornography is pushing us to begin talking openly about sex.

This is where porn literacy can help. According to Naomi Hutchings, porn literacy is “a framework where young people can critically examine and make sense of the sexual images they see.” It’s a perspective that can help bridge the gap between reacting and responding.

Add to this, when people with developmental disabilities see these images, they may believe pornography is real life sex. This is another example of why porn literacy is an important part of your toolbelt.

Here are some ways to apply porn literacy with the people you work with:

Find the meaning behind the behavior
Whether you’re a professional or a parent, stop and take a deep breath before approaching, and try to figure out why the person is watching pornography, find the meaning behind the behavior. Ask yourself:

  • Is it for stimulation?
  • Is it to learn about sex?
  • Is it because they are very lonely?
  • Is it because they feel connected to the people in the porn?

Then, once you have a hypothesis to work with, problem solve from there.

Give positive messages
I am a firm believer in giving positive messages about sex and sexual relationships. I also believe that we want to let people know it is okay to be curious about sex. Conversations about pornography can open the door to related topics that are important and often sidestepped. Pornography shows many types of sex that isn’t just heterosexual sex in the missionary position. This can lead to a more inclusive conversation for people exploring different behaviors and receiving validation for their sexual orientation.

Knowledge is always power 
What facts do people with developmental disabilities need to know about porn?

  • Pornography with children in it is illegal. To download or watch porn with minors can get you in trouble.
  • Adult pornography is for people who are 18 or older.

If you’re looking at porn, there is important information for you to know:

  • Just like the movies and television, porn isn’t real. It is made to entertain and increase a person’s sexual feelings.
  • The actors rehearse and practice these scenes. Certain camera angles and lighting is used to make it look real.
  • The actors are paid and wouldn’t be doing it for free.
  • Most people don’t have sexual parts like porn stars have.
    • There are some vulva illustrations on the Scarleteen website that are more realistic.
    • Plus, Scarleteen covers the average size of a penis as well.
  • Most people don’t have sex like the sex in porn.
  • Partners are moaning to increase the viewers sexual feelings. Not everyone will moan like a porn star.
  • Sometimes in porn, people don’t ask each other or get consent. In real life, people make sure to get consent and need to get consent. It’s the law.
  • Porn leaves out lots of parts of being sexual like kissing, hugging, touching, giggling, telling each other what you like and don’t like.

Let’s not be afraid of pornography, let’s use it to have open and honest conversations about what it is instead. Try not to react to porn or someone’s use of porn. As I have said before to many parents and providers, if we don’t teach healthy sexuality, something else will teach unhealthy sexuality, like the media and pornography. We can help people with developmental disabilities understand the images they are seeing and how to have healthy relationships.