You may have noticed in the papers last Tuesday the disturbing reports on the exposure of young children to pornography. We are told that one in ten of 12 to 13 year-old children have made, or been part of, a sexually explicit video, that 9% of children of this age group are worried that they are addicted to porn, and that around 18% have been shocked or upset by porn images.
While I have in mind eventually writing a full column on this subject for the Catholic Herald I thought it prudent to get a view from the community of this blog. Confining myself to as modest language as I can muster, typical modern porn shows a series of scenes in which pretty well every form of possible sexual contact, heterosexual and homosexual, is repetitively filmed – between couples or groups. There is no tenderness, merely the exploration of real or simulated sensation in the most extreme form which the director’s ingenuity can muster. But I am not concerned here with the whole topic of porn but with the possible long term effects on the children who view it.
At the age of 12 or 13 my mother had long before given me basic facts of life but I was then only at the airbrushed Lilliput nude stage – although pubertal fantasy life was just around the corner. Had I been faced by modern pornography I would simply have been astounded, and probably initially disgusted – and yet I strongly suspect I would have kept the images in my mind. Perhaps, with familiarity, I would have built up the idea that married sex was routinely conducted along those lines. And that would have been a great danger. If this were my only experience, I would have assumed that marriage was simply a lifetime of extremely tempting romps.
In fact, as the long term married know, the attraction of romps is strictly finite. Romps on their own quickly exhaust their possibilities and may eventually only be revived by romps with another person – and yet another person. It is only when sexual expression is motivated by love, affection and commitment that passionate sexual attraction to another can be maintained indefinitely. I fear that the new generation is going to grow up with assumptions about sexuality through which they may damage their lives.
The young who report that they have been shocked or upset by pornography are in a sad case. We all know that intimate sexuality is always shadowed by the possibility of disgust. What a terrible introduction it must be to start with such a mental picture! No doubt some get over this with time and experience but I wonder if there are those who carry the elements of their early reactions throughout life. It could be a high price to pay for yielding to a friend’s request to share the viewing.
Are there remedies available? I am told that the peer pressure to join in the use of pornography are considerable. Social media provide easy ways in which a sexual subculture can flourish well below the parental sightline. In even the strictest of households there is no certain way of protecting the young.
In the absence of such protection how do we prepare the children? At what age must we start? How well is the school going to help us? Remember that we are considering not just the biology of sexuality and conception – which is by comparison easy — but the emotions of sexuality. Yet those emotions are meaningless before they have been experienced and truly difficult to discuss when they are already present.
I am looking for answers here, or concrete suggestions. We are not going to change society, or indeed human nature, we must work with what we’ve got. And if we cannot find answers, are there ways at least in which we can mitigate the damage to the young, and give them their best chance of good sexual lives? The alternative is not attractive – either for them or for society.