I think I was all of fifteen years old when my father accosted me one day and said, “Don’t leave your porn in the VCR. Your mother nearly shit herself,” and handed me that coveted VHS find of that teenage year. To my credit I never forgot to remove the tape ever again.
Possibly a year previous I had come home from whatever glibly goofy shit I was doing and my mom caught me at the door with, “your magazines are on the bed not because you’re in trouble, but because the cat crawled behind your headboard to have her kittens.” True to her word, my bedspread now showed in full glory all the spank material I’d thus far managed to collect. I had no idea how to react; then, too suddenly for my comfort, my father walked in and sat on the bed, thumbing through my magazines. “Oh, Club,” he said opening to a busty redhead, “I remember Club.” I sat unmoving, wondering how to respond in any manner to anything at all in that rather alien afternoon.
How is it that I have never written a blog about pornography? I feel strangely remiss in having not touched on this base at all yet. I’m sure I’ve spouted off on sex in some manner or another, but porn? I can recall not a smattering of that sort of smut in the previous pennings on this page.
For what it’s worth, I have few issues with porn in general. And, relax, this is just the disclaimer paragraph. I’ve no intention of delineating my preferences or fetishes, or in creating some kind of Santa sin wish list. I come not to praise Caesar nor bury him. I neither endorse nor condemn pornography here. This all comes from something I heard Deborah Roffman say on NPR’s All Things Considered.
If you didn’t click the link and listen to the audio offered within that page, Roffman, at one point, offers up a story of a conversation between two sophomores (let’s recall the root of the word, while we’re at it, and, further note that she starts by saying it was an exercise; more on that later…). These two young males talked about how lucky they were to have access to internet porn. “How did previous generations learn about real sex?” she quotes him as saying.
Let’s go ahead and reel on the knee jerk reaction to that statement. Learning about real sex from internet porn? Insert your own exclamation of profound disappointment and incredulity here. Go ahead, say it aloud; it feels better. Even if the kids are listening I give you permission to intone ‘What the fuck?’ in that same voice you use when you’ve just found that your daughter’s new puppy just shat in your shoe. Who confuses porn with real sex? Well, maybe kids do. And maybe I’m eschewing a bit too many too true stories by delineating between the two, but, for all intents and purposes, I’m talking here about those new to sex, specifically not the seasoned warriors with safe words or adult ambulations toward what might seem nefarious in certain, more polite, circles. I’m not talking about adults with an adventurous side or tried and true lovers embarking on new-found territory. I’m talking about kids who, I’m more than willing to bet, don’t know that DeSade was a rather repetitive novelist and that Masoch wrote Venus in Furs.
Somewhere around fourteen years old, surrounded by my slowly, oh, so slowly, accumulated ill gotten gains of pure porno, my father (with my Club magazine beavered wide before us) told me, “You know this is not sex, right? This is pornography. There’s a difference.” Now, at that age, I was not overly sold on myself. I knew that Cherry on page 32 was not going to be my first sexual experience and had no disillusions that I might walk into a small town café and run anything near the same escapade as that sailor with the two waitresses just a few pages later. I nodded and mumbled numbly to him during the whole conversation, but, here’s the rub: he took the time to assure both he and me that I understood the difference.
It seems such a simple question, but do your kids know? Trust me on this: they’re hearing it somewhere. We all had that friend that knew more than we did and, in my case, it turned out that kid was filled with simple misinformation and more than a little bullshit bravado. I remember a teenager telling a ten year old me about what happened when you took a girl’s virginity. I’m just saying, guard them all you want or are able to, they’re still soaking up everything anybody else is talking about. At what age does doubt become the norm? Does it ever?
We talk about imprinting. A goose was once imprinted with a ping pong ball in its youth. It spent the rest of his life trying to impregnate a small plastic orb (there’s also a story of a baby giraffe and a jeep, but maybe for another blog). Few humans would succumb to such extremism, I should think, but I still wonder. I remember the shower scene in Dressed to Kill and Bo Derek on the beach in Tarzan the Ape Man and dear old Blue Lagoon before I had any stirrings of sexuality. Care to guess what movies I still enjoy to this day? Certain things shape us.
The imprinting bit spooks me. What of the first sexual experience? How much can it be said to define your sexual character? I doubt the likelihood of a sudden generation of people having scores and scores of intimacy issues, but I do wonder at roughly a generation of kids first learning of sex through old Ron Jeremy clips. These kids’ll grow, I do not doubt, to level the physical field and eventually recognize the emotional components of such acts, becoming no worse or better than the kids I grew up with. And, don’t get me wrong here, my youthful escapades were not entirely prurient and sublimely blithe and wholesome, but neither were they marred by cameras, trust issues, or general degradation. That said, I still had a lot to learn from those rompish teenage years.
As ever, when I talk of children, I think of my niece Abs and her newly added brother Jerry and of two more, one of which who’s far more likely to run into this scenario. I can accept them seeing porn, but I can’t accept them accepting it as the norm, as real sex, as an endearment or honest basis and build, as any way they should act or react in that situation. “You know this is not sex, right? This is pornography. There’s a difference.”
I’m tempted to play the devil’s advocate and point out that Roffman was conducting an exercise with these students. Putting anybody on stage is dangerous (take it from an actor). These kids could have been spouting anything with impunity for representing what a teacher wanted to hear. That’s fair. It’s even a distinct possibility, but I’m sadly recalling the outbreak of syphilis in Conyers, GA.
What the fuck, again, right? If you’ve watched that documentary you may well remember a young girl showing the sexual positions of numerous young teens at parties with her stuffed animals as stand ins as she wasn’t comfortable describing them to the camera before her. Orgies, daisy-chains, and gang-bangs before you can legally drive? Oy vey.
Now, I’m no prude, but I’m also thirty-eight. My experimentalism is a damned sight different than that of a fifteen year old. Neither do I think that kids can’t handle any harsh truths or off-colour material, but I worry that maybe all some are getting is the off-colour stuff. The glamorization of Jenna Jameson was a little off to me. I’ve nothing against her, but I’d rather her not be the success story that any young loved one aspire towards. Had Langston Hughes wrote The Negro Speaks of Strippers I sincerely doubt it would have carried the same weight of history and depth of soul…however, ee cummings did sonnet prostitutes, but I digress. I simply don’t like the idea of anyone learning porn before sex. Later is their own business.
I’m loathe to even begin to start into the conversation of sexual assault in teens mentioned in the NPR bit above as I’m still having trouble with the idealism that maybe kids really can’t tell porn from reality. But, that would pan, wouldn’t it? Is assault simply a part of not being able to recognize sex from intimacy? I babble on about prefrontal lobes, but, Jesus (and pogo sticks) do we now have to worry that children learn the ABC’s of the bases from the porn thematic pay off of fellatio, cunnilingus, coitus, money shot?
Maybe Roffman’s got it. Maybe she hit the nail on the head. Remember, though, that porn is nothing new. Porn is historically the first to embrace any new technology. I’m thinking that we’re missing some dirty cave paintings only because of the possibility that censorship is the second oldest profession. Regardless of how out of hand it may get (I dare you to think of a fetish not already out there, really, I do), sex is going nowhere and is not really changing much in however many thousands of years you may believe that it’s been around.
Don’t mistake any of this for anything new. My worries bear no more weight from algebraic x thousand years past. We think we’re stumbling into new ground with our problems and our immediate links and all our velcro, but the fear is nothing new. The question still remains, though: how do we teach our children better?