How porn changes the way teens think about sex | Emily F. Rothman

How porn changes the way teens think about sex | Emily F. Rothman


[This talk contains mature content] Six years ago, I discovered something that scientists
have been wanting to know for years. How do you capture the attention of a roomful of extremely bored teenagers? It turns out all you have to do
is mention the word pornography. (Laughter) Let me tell you how I first learned this. In 2012, I was sitting in a crowded room
full of high school students who were attending
an after-school program in Boston. And my job, as guest speaker for the day, was to inspire them to think
about how exciting it would be to have a career in public health. The problem was, as I looked at their faces, I could see that their eyes
were glazing over, and they were just tuning out. It didn’t even matter that I wore what I thought was
my cool outfit that day. I was just losing my audience. So, then one of the two adults
who worked for the program said, “Aren’t you doing some research
about pornography? Maybe tell them about that.” All of a sudden, that room
full of high school students exploded into laughter, high fives. I think there were some
loud hooting noises. And all anyone had done
was say that one word — pornography. That moment would prove to be
an important turning point for me and my professional mission
of finding solutions to end dating and sexual violence. At that point, I’d been working
for more than a decade on this seemingly intractable problem
of dating violence. Data from the US Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrate that one in five
high school-attending youth experience physical and/or sexual abuse by a dating partner each year in the US. That makes dating violence more prevalent than being bullied on school property, seriously considering suicide, or even vaping, in that same population. But solutions were proving elusive. And I was working with a research team that was hunting
for novel answers to the question: What’s causing dating abuse,
and how do we stop it? One of the research studies
that we were working on at the time happened to include
a few questions about pornography. And something unexpected
was emerging from our findings. Eleven percent of the teen
girls in our sample reported that they had been
forced or threatened to do sexual things that
the perpetrator saw in pornography. That got me curious. Was pornography to blame
for any percentage of dating violence? Or was it more like a coincidence
that the pornography users also happen to be more likely
to be in unhealthy relationships? I investigated by reading
everything that I could from the peer-reviewed literature, and by conducting my own research. I wanted to know what kinds of sexually explicit media
youth were watching, and how often and why, and see if I could piece together if it was part of the reason
that for so many of them dating relationships
were apparently unhealthy. As I read, I tried to keep an open mind, even though there were
plenty of members of the public who’d already made up
their mind about the issue. Why would I keep an open mind
about pornography? Well, I’m a trained social scientist, so it’s my job to be objective. But I’m also what people
call sex-positive. That means that
I fully support people’s right to enjoy whatever kind of sex life
and sexuality they find fulfilling, no matter what it involves, as long as it includes
the enthusiastic consent of all parties involved. That said, I personally wasn’t inclined
towards watching pornography. I’d seen some, didn’t really
do anything for me. And as a mom of two
soon-to-be teenage children, I had my own concerns about what seeing pornography
could do to them. I noticed that while
there were a lot of people who were denouncing pornography, there were also people
who were staunch defenders of it for a variety of reasons. So in my scholarly exploration, I genuinely tried to understand: Was pornography bad for you
or was it good for you? Was it misogynist or was it empowering? And there was not one singular answer
that emerged clearly. There was one longitudinal study
that had me really worried, that showed that teenagers
who saw pornography were subsequently more likely
to perpetrate sexual violence. But the design of the study didn’t allow for definitive
causal conclusions. And there were other studies
that did not find that adolescent pornography use was associated with certain
negative outcomes. Even though there were other studies
that did find that. But as I spoke to other experts, I felt tremendous pressure
to pick a side about pornography. Join one team or the other. I was even told that
it was weak-minded of me not to be able to pick out the one
correct answer about pornography. And it was complicated, because there is an industry that is capitalizing
off of audience’s fascination with seeing women, in particular,
not just having sex, but being chocked, gagged, slapped, spit upon, ejaculated upon, called degrading names
over and over during sex, and not always clearly with their consent. Most people would agree
that we have a serious problem with misogyny, sexual violence
and rape in this country, and pornography probably
isn’t helping with any of that. And a critically important
problem to me was that for more than a century, the anti-pornography position
had been used as a pretext for discriminating
against gays and lesbians or people who have kinks or have fetishes. So I could see why, on the one hand, we might be very worried about
the messages that pornography is sending, and on the other hand, why we might be really worried
about going overboard indicting it. For the next two years, I looked into every scary,
horrifying claim that I could find about the average age
at which people first see pornography, or what it does to their brains
or their sexuality. Here’s what I have to report back. The free, online, mainstream pornography, that’s the kind that teenagers
are most likely to see, is a completely terrible form
of sex education. (Laughter) (Applause) But that’s not what it was intended for. And it probably is not
instantly poisoning their minds or turning them into compulsive users, the way that some ideologues
would have you believe. It’s a rare person who doesn’t see
some pornography in their youth. By the time they’re 18 years old, 93 percent of first year college males
and 62 percent of females have seen pornography at least once. And though people like to say that the internet has made
pornography ubiquitous, or basically guarantees
that any young child who’s handed a smartphone
is definitely going to see pornography, data don’t really support that. A nationally representative study
found that in the year 2000 16 percent of 10-to-13-year-old youth reported that they’d seen
pornography in the past year. And by 2010, that figure had increased. But only to 30 percent. So it wasn’t everybody. Our problems with adolescents
and sexual violence perpetration is not only because of pornography. In fact, a recent study found that adolescents
are more likely to see sexualized images in other kinds of media
besides pornography. Think about all those
sexualized video games, or TV shows, or music videos. And it could be exposure
to a steady stream of violent media that instead of or in addition to
the sexualized images is causing our problems. By focusing on the potential harms
of pornography alone, we may be distracting ourselves
from bigger issues. Or missing root causes
of dating and sexual violence, which are the true public health crises. That said, even my own research demonstrates that adolescents
are turning to pornography for education and information about sex. And that’s because they can’t find reliable and factual
information elsewhere. Less than 50 percent of the states
in the United States require that sex education
be taught in schools, including how to prevent coerced sex. And less than half of those states require that the information presented
be medically accurate. So in that Boston after-school program, those kids really wanted
to talk about sex, and they really wanted
to talk about pornography. And they wanted to talk about those things a whole lot more than they wanted
to talk about dating or sexual violence. So we realized, we could cover all of the same topics
that we might normally talk about under the guise of healthy
relationships education, like, what’s a definition
of sexual consent? Or, how do you know
if you’re hurting somebody during sex? Or what are healthy boundaries to have
when you’re flirting? All of these same things we could discuss by using pornography
as the jumping-off point for our conversation. It’s sort of like when adults
give kids a desert like brownies, but they secretly baked a zucchini
or something healthy inside of it. (Laughter) We could talk to the kids
about the healthy stuff, the stuff that’s good for you, but hide it inside a conversation
that was about something that they thought
they wanted to be talking about. We also discovered something that we didn’t necessarily
set out to find, which is that there’s a fantastic way
to have a conversation with teenagers about pornography. And that is, keep the conversation true to science. Admit what we know and what we don’t know about the impact of pornography. Talk about where there are mixed results or where there are weaknesses
in the studies that have been conducted. Invite the adolescents
to become critical consumers of the research literature on pornography, as well as the pornography itself. That really fits
with adolescent development. Adolescents like to question things and they like to be invited
to think for themselves. And we realized by starting to experiment, teaching some classes in consent,
respect and pornography, that trying to scare adolescents
into a particular point of view or jam a one-sided argument
down their throat about pornography not only probably does not work, but really doesn’t model
the kind of respectful, consensual behavior
that we want them to learn. So our approach, what we call
pornography literacy, is about presenting the truth
about pornography to the best of our knowledge, given that there is
an ever-changing evidence base. When people hear that we teach
a nine-session, 18-hour class in pornography literacy to teenagers, I think that they either think
that we’re sitting kids down and trying to show them
how to watch pornography, which is not what we do, or that we’re part of
an anti-pornography activist group that’s trying to convince them
that if they ever saw pornography, it would be the number one
worst thing for their health ever. And that’s not it, either. Our secret ingredient
is that we’re nonjudgmental. We don’t think that youth
should be watching pornography. But, above all, we want them
to become critical thinkers if and when they do see it. And we’ve learned, from the number of requests
for our curriculum and our training, from across the US and beyond, that there are a lot of parents
and a lot of teachers who really do want to be having
these more nuanced and realistic conversations
with teenagers about pornography. We’ve had requests from Utah to Vermont, to Alabama, to Hawaii. So in that after-school program, what I saw, is that from the minute
we mentioned the word pornography, those kids were ready
to jump in to a back-and-forth about what they did
and didn’t want to see in pornography, and what they did
and didn’t want to do during sex. And what was degrading to women or unfair to men or racist, all of it. And they made some
really sophisticated points. Exactly the kinds of things that
we would want them to be talking about as violence prevention activists. And as teachers, we might leave
the class one day and think, “It is really sad that there’s
that one boy in our class who thinks that all women
have orgasms from anal sex.” And we might leave class
the next week and think, “I’m really glad that there’s
that one kid in our class who’s gay, who said that seeing his sexuality
represented in pornography saved his life.” Or, “There’s that one girl in our class who said that she’s feeling
a lot better about her body, because she saw someone shaped like her
as the object of desire in some tame pornography.” So this is where I find myself
as a violence prevention activist. I find myself talking about
and researching pornography. And though it would be easier if things in life
were all one way or the other, what I’ve found in my conversations
with teenagers about pornography is that they remain engaged
in these conversations because we allow them
to grapple with the complexities. And because we’re honest
about the science. These adolescents may not be adults yet, but they are living in an adult world. And they’re ready for adult conversations. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How porn changes the way teens think about sex | Emily F. Rothman”

  1. This is weirdly dumb.. obviously she’s not had many real relationships and spends her days looking at sexual statistics

  2. ok our teacher was watching a video then it autoplayed to this. everyone started laughing but our teacher gave us a lecture

  3. Interesting… but upbringing is huge. An adolescent will understand so much more about respect and consent if parents take an active role in showing good virtue. No, I’m not talking about anything sexual.. just parents instilling good values and demonstrating them through good behavior. I know there will still be a problem, but good parents are a big part of the solution that kids deserve.

  4. This lady is completely wrong. She's talking about missing root causes; well she missed the biggest one, and then a few. Her TED talk incredibly superficial.

    The reason there's violence against women or in fact anybody of the opposite gender is that we live in a hyper feminized society. Women are beautiful and enjoy an immense amount of privilege whereas men are more and more being thought of as disposable and useless. It's probably really difficult for a woman to truly understand how much men are programmed to like females, and the lengths we are willing to go to to get lucky. It's almost at the root of every man's thought. The fact that for about 20 years now women out there have been dominating movies, games and TV shows has put women on a huge pedestal everywhere. Men are feeling threatened and unappreciated and yet they are still expected to do all the work (in courtship) while being fully respectful to beings they feel to be superior (or more respected) than them. It's only normal that 1) there will be some violence from men and 2) men will seek to join womanhood.

    The video mostly talks about adolescents but even they can instinctively feel how the world works. Male violence happens because they feel powerless and because they are expected to be submissive (female desire/feelings trumps theirs) even though they need to lead. On the female side; they have the power but are confused and frustrated when they're being forced to lead.

    The hyperfeminization of our society will be everybody's problem but in the end will hurt women the most.

  5. 6:58 The grandmas remembering their wild youth.
    Yeah, those were times man talked less and did more to them…

  6. i tried to watch this thinking it may be objective and informative but nope I saw the agenda she was pushing and just couldn't do it. had to turn it off.

  7. 8:09 yeah that's the percentage that is willing to tell you. The rest are worried their parents will be pissed.

  8. Ok another one of these videos . Woman are on a war path. Woman stop taking off your clothes to make money . Problem solved

  9. So the rate goes up 100% and her take home fact is that it's still a minority so it's ok? How is that critical thinking?

  10. I love being abused and I'm not sure why. I went into debt buying a $700 brain to machine interface however feel like I can't stay focused long enough to program it.

  11. Lol when I was in highschool whenever my teachers mention the word "Love" we gooo all ears and eyes to her/him. And when I went to college I have these teachers who always spend 15-20 minutes of life and love talk every time or sometimes connects the subjects to the real life and I swear I learned more with them.

  12. Here’s a singular answer from someone who’s used it. LIFES BETTER WITHOUT IT. Hands down, it’s not a good thing.

  13. More lies and efforts to control society through shaming and goverment. This women is evil and another reason why men are going away from society.

  14. Cant get abused by your partner if you dont have one
    sometimes my genius is…. almost frightening

  15. All good, but you do realise that the agenda for "education" is to switch off critical thinking, right? A genuinely educated population that can think for itself terrifies all governments!

  16. Very good talk. but fun fact if you smoke weed you could realize that without all this research!

  17. 1 like = god will forgive us 🙏🙏 💝💔💖
    😥 😂 43:29💜💔💙❣️💚
    Yang milih allah like 800 ya yang milih dajal abaikan saja 😢🙏
    20:39 😘😘

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