The death of innocence

Pornography often degrades, humiliates and physically hurts women, and no one deserves that sort of treatment.

WHEN I was 10 years old, I made a surprise discovery while I was searching through the cupboard where my father stored his tools. It was the eve of my 11th birthday, and I was looking for the presents that I was sure my parents had hidden somewhere in the house. But when my hands ran over the topmost shelf of that cupboard, all I could feel were the smooth pages of a magazine.

Intrigued, I pulled it down. A voluptuous woman with enormous breasts and bright red pouty lips stared back at me from the front cover. It was the first time I’d seen a woman’s naked breasts. As I flicked through the pages of that publication, I was confronted with more images of women with large breasts in various stages of undress.

My first reaction? “Yuck!”

My second reaction? “I hope I don’t grow up to have breasts that size.”

My third reaction? “What is my father doing looking at pictures of naked women?”

I returned the magazine to its hiding place, retreated to my bedroom, and tried not to think about those large breasts or the disturbing image of my father looking at them. For a long time afterwards, I couldn’t look at my father without thinking about those women.

When I was 12 years old, I began developing breasts of my own. Around about this time, I was also subjected to sex education lessons at school. My classmates and I were given illustrations of male and female genitalia and told how everything worked. It was all very cold and clinical – a bit like an Ikea assembly manual: align the two component parts, slot A into B, making sure the legs are straight and the arms aren’t getting in the way. After tightening the screws, replenish with a bowl of Swedish meatballs.

In my mind, that’s all there was to sex, and I really didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Then, when I was 14, a girlfriend and I snuck into a cinema to see Last Tango In Paris, an X-rated movie starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. To make ourselves look older, we wore a lot of make-up and stuffed wads of tissue paper into our bras.

As this is a family newspaper, I can’t describe the sexual explicitness of some of the scenes in that movie. Suffice to say that I watched some segments with my mouth wide open. I also squirmed uncomfortably in my seat and used the work “yuck” a lot.

Of course, what I was exposed to that day is nothing compared to the hardcore porn that many of today’s teenagers are able to access on the Internet. With just a few clicks of a mouse, anyone can obtain a whole smorgasbord of sexual preferences and positions, some of them humiliating and dangerous. Indeed, pornography is teaching our teenagers that it’s acceptable, even desirable, to engage in irresponsible sexual activities.

Teenage boys are naturally curious about sex, but regular exposure to porn creates a distorted view of sex and what constitutes healthy sexual norms and attitudes. I think it’s gotten to the stage now where many of the teenagers who frequent porn sites have no idea what couples in a loving, committed relationship really do behind closed doors.

Some young men, especially those who are addicted to such sites, also want porn sex in real life – monkey see, monkey do.

It’s also possible that some young women feel pressure to comply with their partner’s demands, because that’s what they think everyone else is doing, and it must, therefore, be normal. But pornography often degrades, humiliates and physically hurts women, and no one deserves that sort of treatment.

I’m not a prude, and I think that whatever two informed, consenting adults decide to get up to in private is entirely their business, as long as it’s not illegal and no one gets hurt. But we need to provide young people with balanced information and advice about sex, sexuality, sexual health and relationships in a way that leaves them with no doubt that pornographic sex isn’t real, and that real sex is grounded in respect and love, not lust.

The Internet is robbing many children of their innocence and we can no longer afford to sit back and let it happen.

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The death of innocence


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