I was directed last week via Timaree’s Friday sex links to an article from the Sydney Morning Herald’s comment section about how online porn is turning young men into violent, sex-crazed hornballs who are now demanding anal sex from their teenage girlfriends; the subheading reads, “We need to educate and embolden our daughters to fight back against pornography, which is warping the behavior of boys.” This immediately set off a red flag in my head. No, two red flags. First of all — the phrase “fight back against pornography” seems kind of funny to me. I’m imagining a porn movie with its fists up in little red boxing gloves. It’s important to create and support alternative pornography and to have critical discussions about pornography with young people… but the way this is phrased suggests that porn as a whole should be eradicated.
Second — how about we educate our boys about the differences between the sex they see in pornography vs. real sex? How about we have critical discussions with them about gender roles, consent, the meaning of masculinity, and healthy relationships? A program in Canada is doing just that, and it would be the greatest thing ever if that program were available everywhere.
Despite these red flags, I continued to read the article — a scare piece — and was shocked when I came to this paragraph:
There was stunned silence around that table, although I think some of us may have let out involuntary cries of dismay and disbelief. Sue’s surgery isn’t in the brutalised inner-city but in a leafy suburb. The girls presenting with incontinence were often under the age of consent and from loving, stable homes. Just the sort of kids who, two generations ago, would have been enjoying riding and ballet lessons, and still looking forward to their first kiss, not being coerced into violent sex by some kid who picked up his ideas about physical intimacy from a dogging video on his mobile.
I wasn’t shocked by the fact that teenagers are having sex. It wasn’t the mention of teen girls having to have surgery for incontinence that made my jaw drop, though that is certainly shocking and disturbing. What caught my attention is the implied racism / classism in Pearson’s writing. That her outrage stems from the fact that it’s privileged suburban white girls who are being coerced into sexual acts that they’re not entirely comfortable with and not lower class girls from the “brutalized inner city” teems with racist and classist implications. As though it wouldn’t be newsworthy if a teenage girl from an inner city neighborhood needed surgery because her boyfriend had aggressive sex with her. In addition, the fact that she paints being from the inner city in opposition to being from a “loving, stable home” really got on my fucking nerves. In doing so, she is tacitly stating a mutual exclusivity between making less money and providing stability or love for one’s family.
Pearson longs for a time when teenagers were “looking forward to their first kiss” at the age of sixteen (the age of consent in Sydney). This is 2015. We need to be talking realistically to young people about their lived experiences and having conversations with them about desire, communication, and consent, and we need to give them safe spaces to speak freely and advocate for their own agency. That includes recognizing that young people have sexual desire and that that desire is part of their humanity. (I also think it should be said here that anal sex is not by definition violent sex.)
Coercion and social expectation are real for young people and have tangible consequences on their lives. So it’s imperative that we talk to young women and young men about media images of sexuality and how they influence behaviors and expectations. Because while it is shocking that there are young women having fistula surgery from anal sex (which, again, is not inherently aggressive, and when done right should not result in injury), it is equally shocking to hear young men say that they feel like they are socially expected to pressure their girlfriends into doing it.