BOYS CONSUMING PORN: A BLEAK FUTURE FOR HETEROSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

If you talk to the truly caring parents of any young girl, you will be dismayed by the appalling panorama they paint of what should be a placid childhood but is not at all. I refer here specifically to the way in which the boys’ consumption of porn from a very early age is poisoning the basic relationships between boys and girls and, indeed, the present and the future of heterosexuality. A recent survey–the Barómetro 2017 of ProyectoScopio produced by the Centro Reina Sofía sobre Adolescencia y Juventud de la Fundación de Ayuda contra la Drogadicción (FAD)–indicates that 27’4% of Spaniards aged 15-29 find couple-related violence and abuse ‘normal’ ( https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2017/11/13/actualidad/1510588777_948585.html). What I’m going to discuss here today might offer a clue about why legislation and education are not altering this disastrous situation.

Here is what is happening, in a nutshell: the moment boys are provided with cellphones they use them to satisfy their curiosity about sex. Their Google searches soon lead to porn, which they watch with no parental control whatsoever, and any place they feel like (not just their room but also the school bus and even the school grounds…). The habit of watching porn may start as soon as 7, depending on when the boy is given his first cellphone. Let’s suppose it’s, rather, 10. By the time their own sexuality starts emerging, say around 12, they have been accumulating a long series of images from their porn consumption on which they base their own approach to sex.

The girls, who are far less curious about sex and not much interested in porn, do watch it anyway, sooner or later, to understand what the boys are talking about… and urgently demanding from them. Pre-teen and teen boys learn from porn not just a series of practices (which are not that common–think anal sex) but also an attitude: they develop a strong sense of entitlement over the girls’ bodies in imitation of male porn actors. This manifests itself through a constant stream of completely inappropriate, bullying, sexualized behaviour which puts a lot of pressure on the girls, and to which many conform out of fear of being unpopular with boys. By the way, the cockier boys also happen to be the most popular ones. The better educated boys (who, surely, must be the majority) do nothing to shame their peers because they also submit to the abusers’ alpha male strategies of command. The teachers may notice irregularities but do little, assuming that these are private matters. The parents may remain totally ignorant (most girls do not report what’s done to them out of shame), or even downplay the abuse which their daughters endure as something trivial or, worse, mere child’s play.

Does this sound crazy? I thought so, too. But a) ask the younger girls in your family what is going on, and b) do some online reading.

I started by googling “child porn consumption” and soon got a lot of links. I learned, for instance, that back in 2008, a 12-year-old boy was investigated by the Guardia Civil as part of a Spanish network of child porn consumers. Yes, correct: a consumer in the ring, not a victim. See https://www.europapress.es/sociedad/sucesos-00649/noticia-nino-12-anos-investigado-consumir-pornografia-infantil-internet-20081010120059.html.

An article in the magazine Mujer Hoy, of February this year, simply titled “¿Por qué ven porno nuestros hijos?” (https://www.mujerhoy.com/vivir/psicologia/201702/23/porno-nuestros-hijos-20170223103740.html), mentioned a worrying report (also referenced in other articles) by Bitdefender, a company that sells online security systems. They may be exaggerating for purely commercial reasons, but, apparently 10% of all porn consumers in Spain are children under 10 (I’ll speculate that 95% of these are boys).

The figure is corroborated by the 2016 report issued by the Women and Equalities Committee of the British House of Commons, “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools” (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf). According to this document, section 6 “Tackling the impact of pornography”, “There is extensive evidence that children’s perceptions of sex, consent, gender roles and relationships are changing as a result of the pornography they are seeing”. The report adds that a 2014 study in which over 1,000 British 16-21 year-olds were surveyed found that “Almost a quarter of young people were 12 years-old or younger when they first saw porn online (24.6%) and 7.3% were under 10” (my italics). A majority of 74% agreed that “pornography affects what young men and women expect from sex”, particularly men’s expectations. “The most common answer was that young men expect young women to behave like the women in porn films”–young women actually meaning here children of 12 upwards.

The article in Mujer Hoy to which I have referred is very critical of the parents’ casual approach to how their children use their computers and smartphones. Whereas home computers have often been the object of parental advice about how to prevent the little ones from being cyberbullied, or accessing inadequate websites, parents seem far less concerned about smartphones. This magazine article informs that 30% of all Spanish children have been given a smartphone (not just a plain cellphone) by the age of 10; 70% by the time they hit 12. Do the maths… Kaspersky Labs contributes a scary figure: 39,9% of all the websites visited by Spanish children have pornographic content; 53% of children aged 11-16 have seen explicit online porn–33% using a smartphone. I’m by no means a technophobe but I see no need at all to put in children’s hands smartphones, not just because of concerns about porn consumption but, needless to say, because children have learned to use these gadgets to bully each other mercilessly (as any child will explain if only you listen).

Following the internet thread I came across the names of Allison Havey and Deana Puccio, authors of, apparently, one of the best volumes offering parental advice on these thorny matters: Sex, Likes and Social Media: Talking to our Teens in the Digital Age (2016). They also run the website The Rap Project (https://therapproject.co.uk/), which aims to “raise awareness about personal safety and prevention in areas of rape and sexual assault, while openly discussing how pornography and social media influence attitudes and expectations. We also address how media can negatively affect body image and self-esteem”. As you may notice, they target teens but my impression is that, the way we’re going, the target demographic should be, rather, children 6-10. And I’m not mentioning the obvious elephant in the room: the rampant porn consumption by adult men, many of whom are fathers in charge of educating little boys. Check the internet and you will find dozens of links about employees watching porn at work, and even winning cases after being fired by rightly indignant employers.

All this has a very direct effect on girls’ self-image, in ways you would never guess. Back in 2012 The New York Times published an article, “Off to Camp… but First to Wax?” (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/fashion/off-to-camp-but-first-a-wax.html?_r=2&ref=fashion), which is an early example, it appears, of a piece discussing a new parental concern: should you let your 12-year-old daughter wax her armpits and legs, and even get a bikini line wax? This seems almost quaint, thinking of the many pieces published online from 2013 onward in which teen girls discuss intimate grooming, including matters such as whether to opt for a Brazilian wax (leaving only a ‘landing strip’ of hair) or a Hollywood wax (complete pubic hair removal). Guess where teens girls got the idea of shaving or waxing their pubic hair… Right indeed!! From their boyfriends’ demands that they look like porn stars.

There is worse–brace yourself for what’s coming now. An article published by The Guardian (in their Lifestyle section, sub-section Women!!!) reports that “More young girls asking GPs about genital cosmetic surgery, study finds” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/06/more-young-girls-asking-gp-genital-cosmetic-surgery-study-finds). The study, lead by Dr. Magdalena Simonis, of the University of Melbourne, found that 35% of Australian family doctors “reported seeing females younger than 18 years of age requesting FGCS” (female genital cosmetic surgery) (https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/9/e013010). Labiaplasty has increased threefold in Australia, the Guardian article explains, “over the previous decade despite there being no increase in genital abnormalities”. What Simonis found out is the “sociocultural influences” that lead to demanding labiaplasty affect all women; yet, whereas the older ones ask for this procedure after childbirth (or divorce), girls from 15 upwards are affected by “peer comments, the pressures of the fashion industry and exposure to pornography”. Peer comments? I should say boyfriends’ comments.

A similar piece run more recently by the BBC, lowers the age of British girls asking for labiaplasty to 9 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40410459). A 14-year-old explains in an interview quoted in the article that she asked for an operation because “People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out”. Luckily, she was shown the right images and realized that she looked perfectly normal and, so, there was no need for any procedure. However, Paquita de Zulueta, a very experienced GP, is quoted saying that “I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva–that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust”. They all want to have what is now known in cosmetic surgery parlance as a Barbie vagina… And although the NHS claims that its doctors only operate on girls above 18 and always for medical reasons, it turns out that “In 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15”. Dr Naomi Crouch, presented as a “leading adolescent gynaecologist”, declares in this report that, she finds “it very hard to believe there are 150 girls with a medical abnormality”, adding that this type of surgery is beginning to be too close to (illegal) female genital mutilation.

It’s only going to get worse. Facebook has just announced the introduction of a new app, Messenger Kids, aimed at 6-12 year-olds. Yes, that’s right: 6 upwards. They promise to offer parents total control but, then, this is the company spectacularly failing to prevent all forms of trolling and bullying from affecting adult Facebook users… or should I say mostly women?

I’ll go back to what I have been preaching again and again: when gentlemanliness was lost, a valuable tool to curb down patriarchal men’s inappropriate behaviour was lost. There is absolutely no shaming mechanism that can tell young consumers of porn that they should never force girls into doing what they see on the screen. Legislation does not even apply to this matter and education is not addressing it because many educators simply do not know how to tackle what is going on under their own very noses. The parents are very much confused about the need to control children and might be themselves very often in need of counselling… Girls are not taught to defend themselves because the issues I am raising here are not raised at home, or only rarely.

How all this will lead to healthier heterosexual relationships in the near future is beyond me… unless the silent majority of well-educated boys and men speaks up. Because they’re the majority, right?

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

4 thoughts on “BOYS CONSUMING PORN: A BLEAK FUTURE FOR HETEROSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

  1. Dear Sara,

    I’ve just read this and I really enjoyed it because it’s a topic I’m very interested in.

    The most important part to me is women’s body image and how it’s heavily impacted by the porn industry (but not only, also by movies, magazines, photography…), particularly like you say in terms of waxing. Most men my age have never seen a woman with pubic hair, which is surreal. Most of my girl friends don’t know what their own body looks like naturally either.

    However, I’m not sure watching porn is only a boy’s thing to do. You write “The girls, who are far less curious about sex and not much interested in porn, do watch it anyway, sooner or later, to understand what the boys are talking about… and urgently demanding from them”. I think girls are just as interested and just as curious about porn, and not just because that’s what boys do.
    More and more porn is geared towards female viewers (as in women, not young girl viewers) and it’s getting more and more popular! Simply, women don’t say they watch porn – another taboo that seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

    I also think porn affects homosexual relationships as much as heterosexual ones – especially lesbian porn.

    About men’s behaviour towards women during sex based on what they see in porn, I think that’s a fundamental idea to reflect on. What’s worrying is that women themselves have internalised the behaviours they also see in porn and so don’t really know how to tell the difference between what they want and what they think they should want.

    Basically, I think we both agree that porn itself is not the problem, but rather the kind of porn available today, and how and when it’s watched. I do agree that 7 seems very young to be watching sex scenes on a mobile phone…

    Anyway, I thought this was very interesting, thank you !

    Ps: I recommend the short story that recently went viral – ‘The Cat Person’, available on the New Yorker website. It’s not exactly about porn – but it’s worth a read.

  2. Thank you very much Lola!
    I do get now and then female students telling me that they enjoy watching porn and I’m aware that some women are producing porn aimed at us, women, but to be honest this is a trend I don’t know well. Or not at all! Also, I have not mentioned gay or lesbian porn because, again, I don’t know what the situation is like for young persons in the sense I comment on. It would be interesting indeed to compare situations.
    I have already read ‘Cat Person’ and discussed it in my Gender Studies class, let’s see what my students think… I found it very sad in many senses and, yes, worth a read.
    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.