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Teens and porn: School used to be about the three Rs – now it’s XXX

Teens are watching porn more than ever, changing their behaviour and identities in ways we need to address now.

Teens and porn has been a source of concern for some time. Now we know: It’s much worse than we thought.

“Girls feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up,” said Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s Chief Inspector as she issued a new report into sexual bullying in our classrooms. After visiting 32 state and private schools and colleges and speaking to 900 pupils, she declared herself “shocked” at the occurrence of sexual misconduct.

“It’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised – whether the harassment is happening at school or in their social life, the girls simply don’t feel it is worth reporting.”

The report reveals boys sharing ‘nudes’ of girls like Top Trumps, 90 per cent of girls experiencing sexist name calling and a culture in which receiving an explicit video from a boy on your phone is as standard a part of the school day as a maths test.

Why are teenage years becoming more sexualised?

The coarsening of teen sexual culture has been accelerating over the past decade as Generation Z has grown up with a smorgasbord of easily-accessible explicit free sexual content. A year of lockdown in which teens have been “home-schooling” unsupervised alone in their bedrooms, hormones raging, has definitely not helped. As numerous testimonies on the website Everyone’s Invited attest – the consequences of learning about sex from porn for teen romance are not pretty.

“The moment that haunts me is when I said no to giving him head 10 times in a row,” wrote one teen girl who attends a prestigious London day school in her testimony on the site. “I kept saying it and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He proceeded to forcefully make me do it while I was choking and crying. He got pleasure out of this. I feel violated – so weak and silenced.” If you haven’t looked at the site – you should; it is the tip of the iceberg.

A new survey of 2,000 teens this week revealed 40% of school girls who have had sex say they had a sex act performed on them while asleep or drunk, a third had had anal sex and 31% hadn’t even been kissed on the lips before penetration. The catalogue of abuse, shame, sadness and the brutish behaviour of the boys these girls encounter is rightly being identified by the head of Ofsted as a national scandal.

What this culture means for us as parents

As the mother of two teenage girls (16 and 18) such tales of sexual bullying amongst adolescents are particularly resonant to me. I am not naïve – boys, as they say, have always been boys. I went to Westminster as a girl in the Sixth Form in 1987. Back then there were 60 girls and 600 boys. It was a bear pit. Girls were publicly rated for attractiveness. Walking into College Hall for meals your score would be yelled out. It was humiliating. I had large breasts. No one ever looked me in the face, They’d look at my chest: “Hello Leftie, Hello Rightie, Hello Eleanor…” It was constant – and it wasn’t just the boys.

One day the Head of Discipline (later Headmaster) – a purple-faced whippet of a man whose rages were legendary – yelled at me in front of 150 boys: “Lassie! That skirt! Too short! You look like a PROSTITUTE!” The whole hall roared in approbation. I fled in tears.

I told my mum, who was furious. We told my housemaster, he told me to suck it up. We went to the Headmaster, who also tried to brush it away. It was only when we insisted, I got a brief, private apology. It is depressing to me that schools are still too often turning a blind eye, as the Ofsted report shows. Hopefully things will now change, but only last month I heard how one public school head had told his boys at assembly: “Innocent till proven guilty, lads!”

Things are worse now than they were for us

I am staggered that in 2021, 30 years since my time at Westminster, things are even worse for my daughters.

The culprit I’m afraid is online porn and I’m not surprised. Back in 2010, I wrote a a magazine cover story called ‘Generation XXX’ about the effect on kids of exposure to unlimited brutal porn. Back then it was a new phenomenon; sex shops in Soho – where I grew up – served up material for every conceivable fetish. But pre-internet, most adolescent boys could not get hold of hardcore/violent material; forcing, choking, group sex, bestiality, MILFs, anal – all at the vanilla end of what kids see now – were not then search terms bandied around in the playground. The truth is that in 2021, a pornified aesthetic  underpins youth culture. No Gen Z teens have pubic hair (porn stars are hairless, teens now think pubes are gross), hotness is all and social media means teens are constantly stars in their own Instagram reality show.

How porn affects boys

A decade ago I was curious to see how unlimited access to porn was starting to affect the sex lives of the boys who watched it. The early signs weren’t good. I interviewed a young man who’d been an early adopter, watching porn online from when he was 11. By the time he got into bed with a real live girl he had so many weird scenarios in his head, most of a rough nature, he confessed that he’d damn near raped his first girlfriend. He was full of remorse but also confused. The porn, he said, had set his sexual dial to ‘extreme’ before he had so much as kissed a girl.

The initial porn campaign

I wrote then of my fears for the future; it resonated. Claire Perry MP took up the charge. Stopping children accessing porn became a front page issue. David Cameron’s government and then Theresa May’s promised action. Specifically forcing the porn sites to insist – as gambling sites do – that their users were over 18. Well, it’s now 2021 and that ‘porn block’ is still stuck in technical and political nowheresville.

Instead families were encouraged to install ‘parental controls’; we know how well they work – a recent study by Dr Elena Martellozzo of Middlesex University found that “the proportion of male adolescents viewing porn is between 83 and 100%”.

We now know the effects of porn on girls and boys

My questions about the effects of internet porn are now answered; writ large in the grim testimonies of Everyone’s Invited and this Ofsted report. I have been working on a book about this for Aurum, and conducted my own poll of teenage girls. Every girl I asked said that when they “linked” with a boy at a party it was normal for them to be “choked” or throttled (the link is to today’s teens what ‘get off with’ or ‘snog’ was for us).

“The biggest change in the last decade is the level of aggression girls today are encountering from boys,” explains Alison Havey, cofounder of the Rap Project which goes into schools to talk about consent. “It is normal now for girls to be forced, for boys to intentionally get them drunk to assault them. This generation have been bred on internet porn, which is all about violently pounding different orifices – there is no consent, no condoms, no foreplay and terrifyingly no sexual pleasure for women. The levels of violence are shocking and have got worse as viewers get desensitised to the material.”

‘…There is no consent, no condoms, no foreplay and terrifyingly no sexual pleasure for women.’

What can be done? She believes the answer is improved sexual education. “We have to teach the kids about empathy, these boys need to put themselves in other people’s shoes. This brutality has been normalised by the porn they have watched. We need to talk to our sons about intimacy, connection, seduction, the imagination, erotica.” She praises the TV show Sex Education for showing teens asking: “Do you like this? And ‘May I’ and sex is shown to be something mutually agreeable.”

Porn is bad for boys too

The kind of toxic masculinity exhibited by men in porn, is of course harmful to boys too. It is not only girls who are victims of laddish behaviour. There are worrying increases in eating disorders and ‘biggerexia’ amongst teen boys who feel they don’t measure up to the male studs they see in porn. And more sensitive boys or those who are gay or trans have always been bullied by laddish cliques; boys may go along with toxic behaviour out of fear of retribution or being bullied themselves.

How to empower our boys for positive sex

Many I’ve spoken to are confused about what women actually want. They need an honest, direct conversation from an older man they trust, who explains that men don’t hurt women during sex, and extols the divine male virtues – protection, strength, steadfastness, comfort, playfulness, nurture, support. We need to explain to our sons that sex can be lusty and physical, sure, but it is not about inflicting pain. We need to empower our boys and girls to call out peers who behave badly to women and other men and teach them this is abusive behaviour

Most of all we need to tell our young people that learning about sex from porn is like learning to drive by watching The Fast and the Furious. Parents need to sit down with their kids and explain about consent and sexual pleasure – that women do not achieve orgasm from orifice pounding but require oral stimulation too (most teen girls say boys expect blow jobs, but don’t want or know how to reciprocate as oral sex and female pleasure don’t feature in the porn they watch).

Encourage our girls demand sexual pleasure

Similarly we need to empower our girls to expect orgasms and pleasure as their right and to say no to painful sex, to explain to them that a generation ago no-one was throttled during a first snog, and anal sex (risky and physically dangerous for women) just wasn’t a thing. One of the saddest things is that today’s teens don’t realise how extreme their ‘normal’ really is – traditional sexual mores are being warped with worrying consequences.

“Some more vulnerable teenage girls are saying they like being choked, or want rough sex because they think that is what the boys want and they want to be liked,” reports Havey. “Four Year 10 boys told me last month that the girls were ‘gagging for it’ and that two of them had given them all oral sex during lunch. The boys had filmed the sex acts and sent them round the school. The girls told me they were more upset that their phones had been confiscated than by the video being circulated.  They said, ‘Kim Kardashian makes sex tapes, why shouldn’t I?’”

Another disturbing trend: sex lives online

Conversely another trend is for girls to take their sex lives online; sending nudes, or performing titillating acts over the internet to avoid real life pain (not entirely safe, 60% of sexts are passed on to another user). Others opt out altogether: “I see more highly educated girls at 18 or so who are still virgins, and there is also a trend for them having relationships with each other, they just don’t want to go there with the boys,” says Havey.

As grown-ups we need to wake up

We cannot say any more that we don’t know about the effect of internet porn, that it is just fantasy with no real-world repercussions. We live in a society which has a 9pm watershed on TV and 18 certificates on movies but allows violent sex to be accessible to any child with a laptop. The evidence of the behaviour this causes is now clear; a generation of traumatised young women and emotionally deadened young men. The story we tell ourselves about our society is that it is getting better, that each generation builds on the progress of the one before. When it comes to sex that is no longer true.

Schools have a part to play, and sex education needs to be beefed up – sure. But we cannot leave this to teachers – we Brits are often squeamish about talking about sex. We can’t be anymore. We owe it to our young people to have awkward conversations about what loving sex looks like. We must all step up and do our bit. The consequences if we don’t are too awful to contemplate.

Telegraph Porn teen case study

Claire, 17, lives in the South East and goes to a top rated sixth form college. Her parents are affluent professionals and she is going to a good university in the autumn.

“You get choked as a matter of course, no one asks you. I didn’t even question it till I talked to you for your book and you said it wasn’t ok. Amongst my friends it is as normal as someone touching your bum, or your face. It’s like holding your hand.

If I ‘link’ with someone at a party the next day I will be covered in bruises and have scratches which have broken the skin on my back. Boys don’t ask if you want that, they just do it as a matter of course. It’s not pleasurable, it hurts. But in our teen world it is normal. The more inexperienced the boy, the more likely they are to do those rough things. My first encounters were with boys who slammed me against things, armed pinned down, every single time.. choking. On the first or second ‘get with’ – they push your head down so forcefully to give them a blow job without even asking, even when you are unconscious and crying and telling them to stop. They think that is normal.

Boys don’t ask about rough things – and if you do say no, often they won’t stop. The only time anyone ever asked me it was hilarious – this boy had been writing about consent for the school newspaper, so he said, “for the purposes of consent, may I kiss you” as a joke. That was the only time.

Me and my friends are mentally scarred. This has been happening since we were 13 or 14. We are all still virgins because we are scared of what would happen. Lots of us have opted out. In our generation to be called vanilla when it comes to sex is an insult. If you want to be cool you have to be sexually ok with this stuff, a normal pick up line is “Let me use my hand as a necklace”. I’ve been bitten so I bled, scratched, bruised. There is a normalisation of girls being sexually assaulted; when we were 15 we didn’t know a single girl who hadn’t had a bad physical experience with a boy and two years on it is even worse.  One of our friends was given concussion during sex by her boyfriend, and it’s become something everyone jokes about. One boy raped a girl and one girl spoke out about it and she has been ostracised. Sexual violence and harassment is so normalised for us you feel stupid for making a fuss, like you are a bad sport. If we made a fuss about the way boys behave, we wouldn’t be invited to parties and stuff.

This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.

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