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Sex Education via Pornhub

It is virtually impossible not to accidentally land on someone else's fantasy.

Pexels
Source: Pexels

On the 45-minute drive to hockey practice in a city in the Northwest, my grandson said to my daughter, “Mom, I don’t think I’m through puberty yet; I haven’t had a wet dream.” The comment is charming because of its combination of sophistication and innocence.

He had had sex education as part of his health curriculum throughout his elementary and middle school education, and he had learned that topics like periods, masturbation, and wet dreams can be discussed without shame.

By contrast, my sex education during the 1950s came from an eighth-grade classmate one summer night as she told me about the film the fifth-grade girls had watched about menstruation. The boys got nothing. I remember searching for the word hermaphrodite in the Oxford English Dictionary that stood on a stand in the corner of every classroom, and then I followed the chain-linked clues in the list of synonyms. The most sexually explicit thing we read was a passed-around copy of Valley of the Dolls that fell open to the pages with its most descriptive scene, albeit rather tame by today’s standards.

I grew up in a small town in Nebraska, more tribe than village, where everyone looked alike, thought alike, and believed alike. Our identity was collective, not individual. When I was about 10 years old, I stole a pack of cigarettes from the Rexall drugstore, and before I got home my mother had heard about it. Transgressions from acceptable behavior were everyone’s business and were met with shaming of the transgressor. In a community of that size, shame is the fundamental method of control. The community enforced what they considered the shared laws of nature.

Pexels
Chimps and benobos
Source: Pexels

I recently read Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, which has a lengthy description comparing human sexual behavior to the sexual behavior of bonobos, sometimes known as the “pygmy chimpanzee.” They are thought to be the closest living ancestor of humans. When I searched online for the “sex life of bonobos,” I was shocked. The first references were from Pornhub and presented graphic pictures of humans having sex with bonobos! If my grandson decides to prepare a report on the DNA of bonobos compared to humans, this is what he will see first. No matter how inclusive his sex education was, I doubt his progressive sex education will have prepared him for that.

In Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, the author writes that Pornhub has something for everyone, and my internet search seemed to confirm that. Sometimes people have fantasies they wish they didn’t have and are afraid to mention to others. Even having read Everybody Lies, I wasn’t prepared for what my research revealed: Porn is so ubiquitous, and it is virtually impossible not to accidentally land on someone else’s unusual fantasy.

Sex education remains controversial even in more progressive places like Seattle and New York City, but in nearly one-third of schools with a district-wide policy to teach sex education, the abstinence-only approach—which promotes totally refraining from sex outside of marriage (including masturbation)—is generally the only option presented to students. Critics say that such edited presentations rob teens of critical information and ignore the realities of teen sexual behavior.

Being successful at sex means developing confidence that you understand your role in it. Adolescents are naturally curious about sex; they will find their way to Pornhub, but they won’t find information about family values or sex in a loving and committed relationship. They will see sex videos filmed almost exclusively from the male point of view; what they will be exposed to on Pornhub is that men are insatiable, ever ready, and never refuse an opportunity. They will encounter the idea that sex is about power over women who are infinitely disposable and replaceable. They will see bodies that rarely look like their friends’ or family members’, much less their own. They will likely examine these videos uncritically, suspend disbelief, and accept that what they view is real.

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash
What isn't learned
Source: Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

What they won’t see are the essential developmental steps for healthy relationships: falling in love, physical intimacy connected to emotional intimacy, vulnerability, and healing a broken heart. They will see legal sex but not ethical, moral, or reciprocal sex.

Behind the anonymity of their keyboards, adults as well as adolescents will explore, with only limited fears of consequences, fantasies they want but don’t want to want. I regularly hear from men in areas like the Middle East, where sexual expression is religiously and culturally suppressed. In broken English, these inquiries often begin with “How are you, handsome? What are you into?” Although these men address sex first, as if it were necessary to capture my interest, most of these men are hungry for a connection—not just a sexual connection but an emotional one, too, in which they can discuss their hidden desires with someone who is nonjudgmental and accepting. Many fear that exposing their desires could cost them their lives. But these searches for fantasied intimacy also often come from regions in the United States, where the majority of people believe they have a lock on family values.

Loren A Olson MD
Applause or pleasure
Source: Loren A Olson MD

Many of these men have learned the tribal “natural laws” of masculinity: conquest over connection, sex as status, and the disposability of partners. They have anxieties about sexual performance that lead to avoiding sex outside of the virtual world. (Shouldn’t we be thinking about sexual pleasure rather than considering it a performance?) They want to know how to make their penises bigger, how to make sex last longer, and whether to use steroids to make their bodies look like porn actors'. Fat shaming is real for both men and women, and most judge their own bodies more harshly than they are judged by others. These fears of failure become self-fulfilling prophecies. I have yet to receive a question that probes into how to make sex more satisfying for a partner.

While adolescents are just learning about sex, men in their fifties and sixties must relearn to have sex in ways that are consistent with the natural physiological changes in men’s sexuality that come with aging. As I’ve written in “Men’s Sexuality Across the Life Span,” as men grow older, strength of erections decreases, ejaculatory volume diminishes, and sex drive subsides, but sexual satisfaction can remain constant if the changes are accepted and understood. You won’t learn about that on Pornhub, but you will find ads for snake oil that promises to give you world-class erections.

My work has been mostly with men—gay, bisexual, and straight—and I don’t want to be accused of trying to mansplain women’s sexuality to them, but I suspect people of all genders experience many parallels. While I am not opposed to watching porn, I am opposed to the idea that it represents mutuality, or sex that involves both physical as well as emotional intimacy.

I’m pleased that my grandson has a good foundation for, and understanding of, his sexuality, but I’m also aware that he’s on the cusp of moving into mid-adolescence, when the boy code involves talking about sexual experiences and exploitations, both real and imagined. Locker-room banter will begin to include demeaning comments about women, and attempts to challenge those comments will be met with pressure to suppress emotion and not to depart from the mask of masculinity that demands silence in the face of cruelty and sexism.

Read an excerpt from Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight.

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