There’re not a lot of things in life that make me uncomfortable.

I have been asked just about every sex-related question you can imagine, often addressing topics that are wildly outside my areas of expertise — the difference between sociologist and (I assume) psychologist are often a bit unclear in peoples’ minds, le sigh. I’ve also been asked presumptuous questions, rude questions, questions that alarm me, and questions that make me really sad. None of these questions, however, make me especially uncomfortable. That’s not something that really happens.

Until now.

I was contacted by a young writer working on a story for her high school paper, El Estoque.

This was the message I received:

Hi Chauntelle, My name is Jai and I am a part of El Estoque, a national awarding winning publication, and I am writing a story which is a part of an overall theme: the loss of innocence. I am doing a story on porn, why students watch it, how it affects them, and what promotes young people to watch it. After reading an article which you were mentioned, I thought it would be great for you to be an expert source in my story. Please let me know if you will be willing/available to conduct an interview with me, either over the phone or over email. Thank you for your time! 

In addition to — I confess — being somewhat taken aback by this young person’s precociousness (“Hi Chauntelle” — wtf?!), I found myself somewhat challenged by the idea of just talking about adult content with a person who I was fairly certain was not of age. For a brief moment, I had sympathy for all those parents out there who would apparently rather turn their young people loose on the interwebs unsupervised and/or unguided to learn about sex from porn…

…then I got over that shit! I quickly realized I must answer this young person’s query because I am an adult and an expert and a young person was asking perfectly reasonable about human social behavior. So I did.

The young writer had eleven (11!) fairly involved questions, which I requested she winnow down to what she felt were the two or three most important. I had to laugh when she sent back six — this young person is def going places with that reporter tenacity, for sure.

Here’s my responses to the questions I chose to address from her list — enjoy! You can read her story — “‘Advisory: Adult Content’ — Discovering Why Teenagers Watch Porn” — right here.

Jai/El Estoque: What draws teenagers especially to porn?

DrCT: There are an array of reasons teenagers may be drawn to porn. From a sociological standpoint, it’s important to look at relevant social patterns and trends, especially regarding sex education and norms about sex behavior.

Teens are humans, and humans – regardless of how they choose to express their sexualities – are sexual beings. Simple biology and psychology tell us that, humans are becoming sexually aware and curious are they mature into adults. If you take a young person at this stage in their life and treat sex as a mysterious, shameful, factually inaccurate,* and/or simply uncomfortable phenomenon, a young person may in turn seek information from the source that’s both accessible and seems the most relevant. Thanks now especially to technology, that’s porn.  

The simple answer then regarding what may draw teens to porn is natural curiosity about sex while living in a social world that makes information and answers difficult to access.

* I believe that, in schools that do teach some form of sex ed (because not all of them do), scientific accuracy is only mandated in 29 states. This means that the other states are free to teach whatever the heck they want – or, nothing at all. It’s been a while since I have checked the number 29 though so please bear with me there.

Jai/El Estoque: What effect (emotional, psychological, etc) does porn have on teenagers?

DrCT: No one knows what emotional or psychological impact porn may have on minor-aged teens, nor do we know what impact it may have on of-age adults, because no rigorous scientific studies have ever explored such questions. This lack of study may be for a variety of reasons. 

Porn is not material intended for or marketed to young people. Couple that with IRB restrictions on conducting research involving minors, which most teens are, and you will not see an easy “sell” for research attempting to explore these types of questions. This is also the case in over-18 age groups (though there may be fewer restrictions in terms of research ethics), which ties back in with negativity and phobia regarding this form of media. 

But, though there is no scientific answer, the idea that porn must have some impact on young people is compelling. Though porn is not marketed to teens, it is still easily accessible. And though teen sex behavior patterns are not my area of scholarly expertise, I have read reports of increasing types of sex-related behaviors that seem porn-related. Though one cannot say these behaviors are linked to porn, it is also impossible to say that they are not. 

To whatever degree, part of the reason why we may be seeing porn “influence” young people has to do with context and media literacy. If we lived in a world where accurate, diverse sex education was accessible, as well as media literacy surrounding adult content, we might see fewer behaviors that seem to be linked to the narratives in adult content. Just like we understand Hollywood filmmaking and fantasy and stunt driving, thus we don’t see rampant mimicking of Fast/Furious-esque driving styles and heist behaviors, if we educated young people and understood the production and fantasy that goes into adult content creation, we might see fewer behaviors that seem to be copying the content. 

This doesn’t even address the fact that adult content is not intended for young people, sex education and media savvy aside, but the idea that it may be beneficial to both understand sex and understand adult content in order to mitigate potential negative impacts is compelling.

Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

Get your copy of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon here.

Photo by Fox from Pexels.

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