The Pornification of Generation Z

Are today’s teenagers so immersed in a culture where porn defines the contours of mainstream pop culture, that they are not even aware why adults would be concerned?

Teenagers have always been, and will always be interested in sex. It is a natural curiosity associated with growing up.  I am sure all of us have tales of sneaking a peak at an adult movie or magazine, or taking more than a passing interest in a mainstream movie sex scene when we were growing up.

However somewhere along the line highly sexualised images and concepts ceased being confined to brown paper bags, mail order videos, or adult theatres, and broke out into mainstream culture.

The issue came to prominence again in Australia last week with reports that increasing numbers of teenagers under the age of 16, some as young as 12, are attending beauty salons to get brazillian waxes.

The reports suggest that this is due in part to girls feeling pressure from boys to achieve a look that is being normalised through the mass consumption of porn. Intimate beauty treatments are becoming popular with girls because their boyfriends desire they look more like porn stars.

Yet this is just one story in what is an increasingly popular trend.

The Pornification of the Mainstream

One doesn’t have to look far to see how highly sexualised mainstream culture has become.  Whether it is sexed up Bratz dolls or the term “cougars” becoming more common place in the English venacular as a reference to female sexual behaviour than a species of large cat.

Every weekend on free to air networks in Australia kids can watch PG rated music video shows with highly sexualised images and lyrics like those to the song Take Your Shirt Off by T Pain ”I know you don’t care when your titties everywhere, homegirl . . . Take your mother-f—g shirt off, hey.”

Earlier this year in the UK a report titled the “Sexualisation of Young People” found that mainstream culture was saturated with highly sexualised images.

Author of the report Dr Linda Papadopoulos concluded that while “sexualised images have featured in advertising and communications since mass media first emerged, what we are seeing now is an unprecedented rise in both the volume and the extent to which these images are impinging on everyday life.” The report found that because of this proliferation young people “are facing pressures that children in the past simply did not have to face.”

Her report reveals some telling stats about modern culture. 75% of videos contain visual presentations of sexual intimacy and 56.6% of videos contain violence. While a staggering 81% of pop videos contain violence and sexual imagery. On television since 2004 violence against women on TV had risen by 120 % and violence against teenage girls has risen by 400 %.

Music producer Mike Stock (part of Stock, Aiken and Waterman) has recently identified mainstream video clips as pop culture “sexualising” children. “Ninety-nine percent of the charts is R ‘n’ B music and 99% of that is soft pornography. Kids are being forced to grow up too young” he claimed early this year.

But it is not just music videos. The rise in popularity of “lad mags” with highly sexualised images of women have blurred the lines and contributed to the normalisation of soft porn. TV has increasing amounts of sexualised images in the form of both advertising and content. Research has shown the number of sex scenes in US television have reportedly nearly doubled between 1998 and 2005.

The Internet & Mainstreaming of Porn

There is little dispute that the internet has provided unprecedented access to a virtually endless stream of pornographic material.  The sheer volume of content and widespread viewing must be having an affect.  Below are some figures collected from various news sites on the internet:

  • Every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.
  • Every second 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography.
  • Every second 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into search
  • Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the U.S.
  • Every day there are 68 million porn search engine requests
  • There are 420 million Internet porn pages
  • There are 4.2 million Porn websites

With nearly 90% of teenagers having regular access to the internet, and only 3% of commercial porn sites requiring formal age identification, the internet has become the primary portal for access to hardcore porn amongst teenagers.

While reliable data on teenage viewing habits is hard to obtain due to legal restrictions and the honesty of teen self disclosure, there has been some telling findings.

An Australian survey of 16 -17year olds found:

  • 84% of 16-17 year old boys & 60% of girls claimed they had been exposed to sex sites on the Internet.
  • 38% of boys had actively searched for sex sites
  • More than 20% of boys claimed to access Internet sex sites every couple of months
  • However 88% of boys believe looking at sex sites on the net is commonplace amongst males their own age.

Other research has demonstrated similar trends. In its report on pornography the Witherspoon Institute sites research carried out amongst US college undergraduates which found 69% of male and 10% of female students viewed pornography more than once a month.

According to a 2007 study from the University of Alberta, as many as 90% of boys and 70% of girls aged 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.

Canadian researcher Sonya Thompson, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, found in her research of teenagers that 90% of males and 70% of females reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. Of those surveyed 74% reported viewing pornography on the Internet.

While less scientific, a credible 2009 poll in the UK concluded that the average UK teenager spends “At least one hour and 40 minutes a week – that’s just under 87 hours a year” looking at soft porn online.

Helping Our Teens

Amongst the many harmful effects such a sex saturated culture is having on our teens are:

  • The disconnection of sex from emotional intimacy
  • The need for more extreme material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest
  • An increased risk of developing a negative body image
  • An increased risk of depression and eating disorders
  • Self authoring or allowing others to take sexual images of self, especially for girls
  • Submitting to sexually extreme behaviour
  • An acceptance of promiscuity as a normal state of interaction
  • Increasing objectification of women

Adults need to take responsibility to educate and guide future generations.  Some simple things that parents and adults can do are:

  • Have open and honest talks about sex and sexuality with your teen
  • Know about what your teenager is doing online
  • Educate them about digital citizenship
  • Have a discussion with them when you see images or concepts that concern you

A significant step adults can take is to educate their teens in media literacy.  Helping teenagers to deconstruct the images and stories they encounter is crucial to help them survive in the current environment.  The Center for Media Literacy suggests using “Five Key Questions” to deconstruct media:

1. Who created this message?

2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

3. How might different people understand this message differently?

4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

5. Why is this message being sent?

These are a great start.  If you would like to learn more about media literacy I recommend browsing through the  following blogs:

Shaping Youth

Rosalind Wiseman

American Academy of Pediatrics

If you have other thoughts or resources please share them with us in the comments below.

Images by erikadotnet

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