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.