Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm thankful I didn't grow up with the Internet

And I will tell you why in just a second, but before I get into that, a necessary disclaimer: Yes, I love the Internet and I'm extremely thankful for it. Now. I love the social aspect of it and that it has allowed me to keep in touch with (or get back in touch with) friends across the years who I no longer live near. I love the news aspect of it. Shopping on the Internet? Yes please! And on and on. Probably the only downsides of the Internet, for me at least, is my propensity to waste hours on it, and the revelation of how stupid and ignorant so many people are. BUT. That often fuels me, too, and really the Internet ultimately exposed my own ignorance about the amount of stupid in the world. Which is A Good Thing.

A couple other things you should know, for reference. I am 33. I graduated from high school in 1994, college in 1998. Really, I just missed out the Internet as a youth. I might have gotten my first e-mail account in 1994; I think my parents got dial-up toward the end of my first year of college, so 1995? My first dorm didn't have any Internet connections, though my second one did. (I actually bought a word processor for my first year of college!) Bringing a computer to college was seen as a luxury item. Most of us hiked to the computer labs or the library if we had to type up something. We also still did research at a place called the library. And the Internet back then just wasn't the Internet of today. Video on the Internet? Nope. No social networking sites past very early chat rooms and bulletin boards. Heck, e-mail was still a thing of wonder! And in case it doesn't go without saying, no cell phones either. (Car phones FTW! Oh, and the long-distance carriers. Sigh.)

So, I don't mean to get all "When I Was Growing Up" on you, but seriously? When I was growing up, I did not have to worry about things like this. The headline on that story is "Teenage boys watching hours of internet pornography every week are treating their girlfriends like sex objects," and it was published recently by the Daily Mail. It starts off talking about how girls are inviting "chaperons" to dates -- in the form of another girl -- "because they want protection from the sexual demands of their boyfriends." And the article says these girls believe the demands come straight from porn. It never mentions anal sex by name, but I have to think that's what this is referring to:
'Boys just want us to do all the stuff they see the porn stars do,' one 16-year-old girl told me. 'It's as if we have to pretend we are in a movie. They want us to dress like porn stars in sexy underwear, have bodies that look like porn stars, and sound and behave like them too when we are alone. That's why we like to have our friends around us now.'

Another 15-year-old told me that what her 16-year-old boyfriend had wanted her to do had made her cry. The sexual request is not suitable to be described in a family paper, but as the mother of three daughters aged 16,15 and 13, I found it particularly upsetting.

The girl told me the act was now considered to be the final frontier by dare-devil teenage boys; the so-called 'fifth base'.
The article goes on to talk to more girls about their experiences, attempts to talk to some teenage boys about it, mentions a couple stats on time spent viewing porn, other studies, etc. It also touches on cyber-bullying, with naked photos or revealing intimate details about someone's body/sex life as a way of getting revenge. It's not the best article ever, there's no doubt about that. But reading things like this got me thinking (emphasis mine):
'He even starts talking as if he's in a movie,' she says. ' Suddenly, when we are being intimate, he'll say something that he must have heard in a porn film. For example, he'll call me a "bitch" and use dirty language that he'd never use normally. It's awful. It's so obvious he's copying his actions from watching porn. No boy would call you beautiful. They use words like "hot" and "sexy". That's why my friends and I like using third wheels. We want protection.

'We don't, of course, want a world where we are not equal, like it was in Jane Austen's day. But in some ways we've gone back to inequality anyway because we are not being treated equally when it comes to what boys want from us when we are alone with them.

'It's all about performing sexual acts for them, and they assume we'll love it.'
I can't imagine dealing with this when I was 15, 16, 17 years old.

This is not to say there weren't sexual demands when I was growing up; of course there were. And I can't even say for sure if kids were or weren't "demanding" things like anal sex back then. My experience says no. It was never brought up by anyone, male or female, that I remember in my teens. No guy I dated, not even in college, ever brought it up. (But since then? Ha. It's everywhere.) Was I in the minority? I don't think so. My girlfriends and I were never shy about talking about sex; if this were a common demand, I hope I would have heard about it. (Anyone else my age have a different experience?)

The sexual demands we dealt with were the first four bases, and looking back on it, they seem almost quaint. You know what I mean? It's almost like the sexual demands my generation dealt with, and the way they were demanded, are more comparable to the 1950s than to today.

But more than what the demands were: We simply didn't have the Internet to deal with. If someone wanted to share a naked photo of me out of spite or as a joke, they would have to 1. somehow take the photo, 2. develop the film, 3. photocopy the picture, 4. push-tack it up everywhere or hand it out in person. Or carry it around and just show it to everyone, I suppose. Point being, it was not a push-one-button process. And neither was porn. Teens got their porn from parents, siblings, other teens or Cinemax. It was in magazine form or on VHS. It was often soft-core porn, or "just regular sex" porn. There was no stringing together 10 adjectives and finding thousands of sites devoted to that exact kind of porn. There was zero chance of a guy I was friends with or dating sending me a link to a video of porn, or of naked women, or anything else that falls under that category.

The sexual pressure we went through could be bad at times, sure, but at least it made sense: the ultimate goal was (vaginal) sex, and we all knew it. There was a common ground, in that sense. A goal that was worked up to. If I had been making out with a guy and he called me a bitch, I probably would have fallen apart. In my view, that could be a changes-the-rest-of-your-life moment. And being pressured to have anal sex at age 16? I don't appreciate being pressured about it now*. Realizing at age 16 that you're performing acts, as the girl above said, "FOR THEM," is so heartbreaking. How does that not radically affect your views of sex for the near future, at the least, if not for the rest of your life? The article mentions that the porn viewing is having a negative effect on how boys view and treat girls; what about the girls these boys are dating? Is anyone doing studies on their views? (And what about the girls who watch porn? Cause we all know they are. Does it affect them negatively? Make them feel worse about sex? Make them feel better? Anything?) What about sex education? Are there any sex-ed programs out there that deal with and address the amount and kinds of porn teens have access to these days? Any that say things like "porn is a business, and not real life"?

Maybe I was just lucky, I don't know. I hope not; I hope many, many people who grew up in the same years I did had similar experiences -- experiences that did not scar for life, that can be looked back on with something like fondness. Part of me also hopes the girls interviewed for the article aren't the majority, or even a big minority, but I think that would just be kidding myself. I suspect that's how it goes more often than not now. And I am so thankful I didn't have to go through that.

Or maybe I'm just making all this up in my head, which is entirely possible. Maybe sexual demands are sexual demands, regardless of anything else, and it's something we all go through, regardless of the generation we're in, and it affects us all differently. I'm sure it's entirely possible that when these girls are in their mid-30s, they could be thinking how grateful they are that so-and-so or such-and-such wasn't happening when they were teens. Thoughts on that?

*I say "now" in the vague sense of "in general, at my age." To clarify, I am not being pressured now, in the sense of "at this very moment." But I dislike being pressured about it because it's not for me, and that answer doesn't seem to be acceptable to the many guys who want it to "be for" every girl. I don't think 15-17 year old girls are the only ones out there suffering from male minds being over-saturated by anal sex porn. However, if it's for you, wrap it up and have it! 

1 comment:

Michelle Bell said...

I read the thesis as "Boys consume porn on the internet, which causes boys treat girls like sex objects and this didn't happen before the internet, therefore the internet is a bad thing for young people". My critiques are going to be based upon that assumption -- my apologies if that was not the intent of this article.

I don't buy it. Boys have used derogatory language, attempted to control their girlfriends, and pressured for sex since my grandmother's day (and I'm sure much beyond). That's about society not teaching good healthy sex roles and having honest discussions about sex -- we treat women like sexual gatekeepers and tell them they're sluts when they don't play that gatekeeper role. This is not the fault of pornography or the internet; it's a fault of our inability to discuss sex honestly.

I can't come up with a clever and witty way to compare the 1940s sexual mores of my grandmother to what we find "acceptable" sex acts of the 1980s and 90s. Oral sex was something that you did with only a few people, ever. Usually after one was married for a couple of years. Brave, racy women might let naked photographs be taken of them for a special someone who was serving overseas, but probably not.

As far as misogyny goes, he probably used derogatory language if he was abusive, and he might take a swing at you; if you called the police they would ask you what you did to provoke your husband because it takes two to fight.

I will second the call for better sexuality & relationship education, and a better teaching of discussing sex. And I'll be interested to see how other people agree/disagree.

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