Sex and the Single Teen: Internet Porn and Body Image (Opinion)

Posted on August 20, 2012, in Opinion, Self-Image, Teens

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The Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vivian-diller-phd/internet-porn-body-image_b_1777026.html
By Dr. Vivian Diller
8/20/2012

One has to wonder what the late Helen Gurley Brown would make of the sexually explicit world now available to young teens, both for viewing and experiencing. While HGB spent her life encouraging woman to “have it all,” even she may wonder if we’ve gone too far when it comes to “Porn and the Single Teen.”

NY Times reporter KJ Dell’Antonia raises a similar issue in a recent Motherlode column, posing the question to parents, “How do you steer a teenager away from the worst porn?”

Her article focuses on the quandary faced by parents of adolescent kids — sons, in specific — as they deal with their inevitable exposure to Internet pornography. She acknowledges that they are likely to explore “what’s out there, on their own or in the company of friends,” just as most of us did when we were their age. The issue Dell’Antonia raises is less about exposure to porn — we survived those hidden centerfolds, didn’t we? — but rather how to deal with access to what she calls “the wrong kind” of porn.

Dell’Antonia writes, “It’s every bit as easy for a boy looking for the Internet equivalent of Playboy to come across something that, to put it delicately, is an even more distorted representation of sex and the female gender than that august publication, and is neither accurate nor healthy.” What’s out there has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, she writes, and is moving in a disturbing direction that may require additional parental attention.

An interesting challenge facing parents, but one that made me wonder not only about the “right” versus “wrong kind” of porn, but about how our young daughters fit into this discussion. How does the changing landscape of “what’s out there” influence the way young girls view their own maturing bodies? And, maybe even more worrisome, does it shape their perspective on what is arousing to others?

Teenage girls generally tend to be less fascinated with pornography than with heart-throbbing romance — think Twilight — yet clearly they have equal access to sexually explicit imagery (owed, in part, to the efforts of HGB and her cohorts). And while this young generation is almost surely viewing porn more often than did previous ones, exposure to it influences girls in ways that are different than boys.

I believe the distorted, enhanced imagery burdens teenage girls with unrealistic expectations about beauty and body image and with damaging ideas about what is attractive and sexually appealing to others. From the perfect waif-like models in teen magazines to the perfectly voluptuous ones on internet porn, the common theme is that these body shapes are unrealistic and unattainable. Consequently, when it comes to young females, the question better asked may be, “How do we steer our teenage girls away from distorted images of women, not only in porn, but in the media in general?”

In “Bridging the Authenticity Gap,” I wrote about a growing movement — started by Baby Boomer women, but joined increasing by their teenage daughters — pushing toward authentic imagery in the media. In another post, “Is Photoshop Destroying America’s Body Image,” I described how overuse of airbrushing and non-stop exposure to digitally altered photos has contributed to the current epidemic of eating disorders among young girls.

A recent survey in Glamour showed that 97 percent of the young girls surveyed are critical of their bodies and have an average of 13 negative body thoughts each day. By the time they reach college age, over half of young women are already suffering from disordered eating. I wonder what statistics would reveal about how teenage girls feel about sexual attractiveness? What percentage do you imagine view their bodies as appealing to others — a different question than the one about how they see themselves. With the number of teens lining up for cosmetic surgery before entering high school and college, the answer seems clear — too many.

Back to the boys for a minute: If adolescent boys grow up regularly aroused by images of women with enhanced bodies — whether through Photoshop or cosmetic surgery — is it possible their expectations will continue into their real relationships? Will they not only expect their mates to look and feel like the porn stars they watch, but expect them to have the same kind of insatiable interest in sex? Willing to do anything and everything, while looking beautiful doing it? Won’t everyday adolescent girls — turned sexually active young women– feel undue pressure to measure up? And when they can’t meet these expectations, will it undermine their already fragile self-esteem?

So my response to the issue raised by Dell’Antonia in Motherlode is this: We need to help our teens understand distortion in the media — pornographic and elsewhere — in order to stay grounded in reality. With girls, it is especially important to help them distinguish between airbrushed models and authentic beautiful women (along the lines of the efforts by Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and Spark’s Keep it Real Challenge). We need to remind them more than ever that in our youth- and beauty-obsessed culture, perfectly shaped bodies and faces are media-driven illusions and place unrealistic standards that undermine confidence.

Read full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vivian-diller-phd/internet-porn-body-image_b_1777026.html

 

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