When I was ten years old, I logged onto danny.com. I was curious what sort of website shared my first name.
Several naked women danced across my computer monitor and asked if I was eighteen years old. I panicked, turned off the computer and ran to my mother, having joined the 66 percent of American boys who encounter pornography before age fourteen, according to a University of North Carolina study.
Porn is everywhere. Somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the internet is pornographic according to Psychology Today. Forbes reports the largest site, pornhub.com, receives 81 million visitors each day. It is the 19th most trafficked website in the U.S. according to Alexa, just above Tumblr, CNN and ESPN. With smartphones, tablets and laptops, today’s young people have more access to explicit content than ever.
Idaho law does not require schools teach children about sex, asserting the responsibility to provide sex education “rests upon the home and the church.” But inadequate sex education leaves a gap that porn fills.
A Boston University study interviewed 16 to 18 year olds about their experience with porn, and found that “almost every participant reported learning how to have sex by watching pornography.”
It is difficult to imagine a worse place to learn how sex works than mainstream porn. Female pleasure is an afterthought, rough sex is the norm, racist tropes abound and a disturbing fascination with teenage girls frames a lot of porn on the internet.
Porn teaches young people the most extreme, aggressive sex acts are normal and to be performed with little regard for consent. The New York Times Magazine interviewed a high school boy who “assumed girls like (anal sex) because the women in porn do.” Another boy said “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”
When we don’t provide young people a vocabulary and a realistic set of norms with which to navigate their sexuality, they turn to porn for answers. The present #MeToo moment shows the porn playbook may not be working.
Some see prohibiting porn as a solution. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently called for a ban on porn, arguing it birthed a generation of young men “shaped by unprecedented possibilities for sexual gratification and frustrated that real women are less available and more complicated than the version on their screen.”
Douthat goes too far.
While much of porn is exploitative and presents problematic attitudes toward sex, there does exist valuable porn that gives adults, and couples in particular, a platform on which to explore their desires. The ease with which a ten-year-old can stumble onto porn does, however, indicate that some sort of restriction is in order.
In the U.K., all pornographic content is blocked until users call their internet service providers and ask to remove the restriction on adult content, according to the Telegraph. A similar system in the U.S. would mean children would not have access to pornography, but adults could call Verizon or CenturyLink or whoever and gain access to whatever they wanted.
This solution has a number of problems. Internet service providers holding giant lists of people who want to look at porn presents privacy concerns. In addition, the content block is not very difficult to get around. But, restricting porn in this way prevents the most vulnerable children from stumbling onto porn, and seems at least a step in the right direction.
Restricting porn is only half the job.
Realistic sex education describing not only anatomy, but safety, communication and other crucial aspects of sex is the only way to prepare young people for the scary, confusing world of adult sexuality. Many young Idahoans receive this sort of education from their homes and churches. But many don’t.
Schools need to provide sex education that is realistic and comprehensive — not a paean for abstinence. Otherwise, that education comes from sites like danny.com
can be reached at