Jones, M. (2018). What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn.

A new study says the lessons that teens are learning from watching porn aren’t quite what you think.

Emma Jones, “What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn.” Also available as a book. Brown Paper Books.

Following in the footsteps of presenters like Ryan Holmes and Jon Tyrrell, Emma Jones will speak in Washington, D.C., about what teenagers are learning from online porn. The event, hosted by the Center for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is being billed as a live panel discussion on sex, porn, and online teens.

Jones is the co-director of the Citizens Research Initiative in Social Science and Culture, which uses government data to study teen attitudes toward porn. Her recent study found that nearly 40 percent of girls and a quarter of boys have viewed sex videos, and an additional 11 percent have watched them. There’s also a perception that teens are more willing to engage in sex than they are, and that they’re more likely to use porn as a template for sex.

“The good news is that teens are actually capable of changing their behavior,” Jones told me. “What we’re finding is, it’s really cool to be able to see what your peers are doing, what the people around you are doing—it’s good practice for life, really.”

So what lessons are teens learning from these sex videos?

When asked what they see in the videos they watch, teens agreed that they learn that porn actresses can be as attractive as actresses in real life. “I’m told a lot of the girls look as good as the girls in the videos,” one high school student said.

Another teenager told me that the majority of the videos they watch show porn actresses have sex with men, so they are intrigued by what these women can do with a penis. “It’s all about the sex. We’re taught about using our voices to get boys to agree with us, but we don’t really learn what sex actually looks like,” she said.

Age isn’t a barrier to viewing online porn, and some young people—especially those who see a lot of online pornography—think they look like adult performers. “I’d never seen porn before, but they’re always like, ‘Oh, you look like a porn star, you’re pretty,’” one high school senior said.

Another key message that Jones has found is that online porn reinforces stereotypes about sex and gender. These children have learned to accept that men are the dominant, dominant sex, and to sex in order to be attractive to men. “There’s a problem with that message,” Jones said. “You can actually get sex injuries—there’s a real possibility that you’ll get injured physically while having sex for you have someone climax.”

These children are being taught that the most important thing they need to do is grab a partner and make them climax, Jones told me. This creates a different kind of risk for a young girl who is sexually assaulted: ‘I have to do something sexy and offer somebody sex to get pleasure, but what does that say about what I can do if someone’s feeling unsafe?’” Jones asked. “It’s a much different cycle.”

The messages from porn are instructive in other ways, and not just in terms of how to attract a man’s attention. These same young people who are taught that sex should be a product to be bought are taught to accept sex between consenting adults, Jones explained. “So the pleasure-grabbing value, the profit-grabbing value, everything else is what’s taking over the whole system.”

Many of these young people seem to look at porn as porn, and they define sex by what happens in a porn video. “It’s the whole pitch for having sex,” Jones said. “You have all the fun of watching someone else do something, but you still have to catch the guy.”

These teenagers will hear from experts at the event about what to do to protect themselves when they become vulnerable to predators. Sex and porn among teenagers will certainly be a topic for future talks, Jones told me. What they’ll learn at the panel will be helpful, but the overall takeaway is that if we’re going to help young people make healthy choices, we need to be looking for new ways to let them know what’s good and what’s bad.

“It really is exciting to know that we’re finally approaching a point in our history where we’re talking about sex rather than seeing sex as something dirty and bad,” Jones said. “Not every porn is scary, and so hopefully we’ll be able to talk about it—and give more tools to young

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