Thursday 14 November 2019

Stella O'Malley: 'In today's pornified world, teens 'sext' each other before they've even kissed'


New norm: Many girls now see receiving graphic images via text from a boy as just another part of life. Picture posed
New norm: Many girls now see receiving graphic images via text from a boy as just another part of life. Picture posed
Stella O'Malley

Stella O'Malley

We're in the middle of a live experiment and it's not going very well. Ten years ago very few 13-year-olds had smartphones in their pockets, while these days almost every 13-year-old has easy access to the wildest part of the web.

Unfettered access to the internet is akin to allowing children to play next door to the red light district - it might all work out fine but, if it goes wrong, it is frighteningly easy to fall into a disturbing world filled with seedy and violent sex.

This is why I welcomed Brendan Howlin's suggestion in the Dáil that we in Ireland should look to the UK to review our effectiveness of online safety.

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In the UK, an age block will come into effect that will require commercial pornography sites to verify that their users are over 18, but it has been delayed by legal arguments.

What we have learned from the Ana Kriegel trial suggests such a limit would be worth examining.

We do need to reduce easy accessibility to the darker side of the web.

Even though researchers tell us that this age verification system won't work, it is perhaps worth trying it out - or we can, at least, study the impact on the UK.

The teenage brain is not fully formed, it is malleable, it is impulsive. In my experience as a psychotherapist, teenagers are horrified by the idea of their parents checking their phones mostly because they are either sending or receiving a lot of sexual content and they don't want their parents to see this.

The teenagers who I meet in my work often speak about the relentlessness of the sexualised content - one 14-year-old recently told me that she had received three graphic images already that day.

When I seemed disturbed by this, she was quite jaded about it all; for her, it was just another part of life. Some of the boys who sent these pictures were her friends and she just rolled her eyes at these; while some of the boys were really quite creepy and she was nervous around them.

One boy sent her a similarly graphic photo every morning along with a demand for oral sex.

She blocked this boy's number but then his behaviour in school became increasingly aggressive in real life.

The school said it was powerless. Gardaí were pretty ineffective and she is now deemed a hysterical, frigid snitch by the cool kids.

Many ordinary, decent boys I meet seem disturbed by the early sexualisation of their lives.

These boys' minds have been degraded by the insidious structure of online pornography whereby every video clip that they watch is immediately followed up with an invitation to watch something that little bit darker, that little bit weirder.

They never get bored because there is always something new to see.

It is chilling to hear teenage boys dehumanise their 'girlfriends' and they seem nonplussed when I point out that they speak about girls in a cold and brutal manner.

It is sad that teenagers' initial sexual experiences seldom involve stolen kisses in the park and a quick fumble - instead they become sexually experienced in a virtual manner, as they exchange nudes with one another without ever touching.

When the couple actually physically meet there is often a strange disconnect as they have already sexted but they haven't yet kissed.

When one girl described to me how her first boyfriend had anal sex with her without any prior consent, I was reminded of 'Teen Vogue's' step-by-step graphic guide to anal sex.

The girl didn't enjoy it at all; months later she wondered whether she was still a virgin.

Teenage girls might be very impressive these days when they speak about the gender pay-gap or when they speak about feminism, and yet, when it comes to their own sexual gratification, they seem entirely clueless.

The girls I meet are mostly satisfied to be on the receiving end of boys' attention and aren't particularly conscious of their own desires or sexual needs.

Adults of my generation thought that once we shed the heavy weight of Irish Catholic guilt toward sex we would then at last be free to enjoy satisfying sex, cheerfully and without any hang-ups.

Sadly this didn't happen as today's pornified, sexualised culture is weighed down by violence and dehumanising attitudes to sex.

Some people argue that 'ethical porn' is the way to go while others argue that sex education needs to cover porn, consent and the joy of intimate and connected sex.

We don't know what the solution is because we have little long-term research about any of this, but if we are to overcome the relentless sexualisation of teenagers' lives, perhaps removing easy access to hardcore porn from children's lives is a reasonable place to start?

Irish Independent

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