WHEN eighteen-year-old Jake had his first sexual experience three years ago, he believed all the readily-available porn he watched had prepared him for the real thing.
But instead of the plethora of sexual positions and experiences the teen might have imagined was awaiting, an awkward reality dawned on the adolescent.
“First time I had sex, because I’d watched so much porn I though all chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them … all chicks love it there. So I tried all of this stuff, and yeah, it turned out bad.”
Jake’s story features in a documentary called Reality and Risk: Love and Sex in and Age of Pornography, directed by Australian sexuality educator Maree Crabbe and academic Dave Corlett.
The film features teenagers speaking candidly in their own words about how pornography is distorting and destroying the sexual development of an entire generation of young digital natives.
It is an issue that is finally beginning to get attention. A major symposium was held in Sydney this week to discuss how profoundly porn is harming today’s teens, and a federal Senate inquiry into the problem is now on foot.
Crabbe, who was one of the speakers at the symposium, says pornography’s role and influence in the sexual development of children is now something “we can’t afford to ignore or obscure”.
“Jake is not alone, many young men have spoken to us about aspiring to engage in the sort of sex they have seen in pornography,” she said.
“And when we interview young women about their experiences of sex they confirm that their partners are initiating the signature sex acts from pornography.”
“These girls and young women are struggling with wanting to please their partners, wanting to be accommodating and generous in their sexuality, but usually, not wanting to engage in the sort of sex that pornography promotes.”
What many parents don’t realise is that pornography today is nothing like the Playboy and Hustler magazines of 15 or 20 years ago.
At the click of a button children have free and anonymous access to hundreds of millions of porn sites online, displaying any and every sexual predilection imaginable.
There are now more than 430 million porn-related search items online, and on average in Australia kids are 11 when they are first exposed to internet porn.
The most popular sites stream hundreds of thousands of short, amateurish, hardcore porn clips, filed under dozens of categories like facials, anal, lesbians and gangbangs. It is a style that has come to be known as ‘gonzo’ porn and the clips have no pretence of a plot line.
The vast majority of modern porn is also aggressive, with studies showing 88 per cent of scenes include some form of physical aggression, like gagging, choking and slapping, overwhelmingly directed at women.
The University of Wollongong’s Michael Flood says there is an increasing body of evidence linking pornography to sexual assault, in effect, suggesting porn might be a form of rape training for adolescents.
“Pornography is an important risk factor for sexual violence. Young people — and adults — who use pornography are more likely than those who don’t to see violence against women as okay, to agree with rape myths, and so on, and they’re also more likely to behave in sexually aggressive ways.”
But Flood stresses the risks are not equal, and pornography will prove more influential and problematic for some young men than others.
“If a 16-year-old guy already has hostile and sexist attitudes toward girls, he is more likely to be drawn to violent pornography, and this pornography will have a greater influence on the likelihood that he will pressure or coerce girls into sex,” he said.
In a sign that the insidious impacts of pornography are already being felt in society, teenagers and pre-teens are now alarmingly the perpetrators of 25 per cent of all sexual assaults.
While the numbers of young people under 20 committing serious crimes including homicide, theft, and causing injury have all gone down over the last five years, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows number of youths committing sexual assault offences has soared from 1,497 in 2008-09 to 1,855 in 2013-14.
Australian Children’s Foundation director Joe Tucci, who deals youths demonstrating troubling sexual behaviours, describes today’s brand of pornography as “jet fuel” for young vulnerable kids.
“What we are seeing now, is an increase in the numbers of kids engaged in problematic sexual behaviour, sexually aggressive or harmful behaviour,” Tucci says.
“I can’t see how what they are doing is not related to what they are seeing it … we are seeing kids today engage in sex acts that 15 years ago they never came close to doing.”
Women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist spends a lot of time talking to teenage girls about sexual exploitation and pornography at school across the country, and she agrees the time to act is now.
Tankard Reist says one young teenage girl told her the boy she liked would only kiss her if she first agreed to give him oral sex, another 15-year-old girl said her boyfriend was not able to have sex with her unless he put porn on in the background.
“This has gone on for too long, it’s getting worse, the kids are getting younger, we are seeing a rise in more damaging and more problematic sexual behaviour,” she says.
West Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back agrees that something needs to be done about the growing problem. He and Labor Senator Joe Bullock have now established a parliamentary inquiry to examine the issues, acknowledging that while there is a problem, there is no clear solution to it.
“We are having a fully bipartisan inquiry, this is a concern which is not confined to partisan politics, and it is giving everyone an opportunity to come forward,” he said.
“The strength of these inquiries is in direct relationship to the breadth of input we get, if we get a wide spectrum of input we will have a good inquiry and we will get good outcomes.