Friday, May 7, 2010

Kids and porn.

In the ongoing debate about how to protect kids from porn (latest development: Google putting parental controls on "adult" Droid apps, even though the Droid can access the entire Internet uncontrolled), I think it's important to point out that there's a couple different kinds of "kid" we're talking about here.


1. The totally innocent. These are very young kids who don't seek out porn. Their risk is that they're going to Google something innocuous and get hit with something they aren't old enough to understand. This is the only category that I agree should be protected by straight-up censorship. (By parents, not by society.) No one of any age should have to look at porn when they don't want to, and particularly not little kids.

On the other hand, this totally-innocent demographic is not that likely to be really hurt by porn. Momentarily disturbed or confused, maybe, but any kid young enough to be asking mommy why the lady is naked is probably too young to absorb truly harmful messages from the lady. "AUGH WHAT IS THIS LADY DOING" is actually a much preferable reaction to "I guess that's how ladies show they like you in the real world."


2. The corruptible innocent. These are kids who seek out porn, but don't really know what they're going to find. These are kids who've started masturbating, who've had sex ed, but haven't really put all the pieces together in their view of sexuality. They Google "vagina" and type www.vagina.com in the search bar. They know enough to be secretive about this, but they're not terribly clever about it and they can be deterred.

This is the demographic I'd consider most vulnerable. They're the most apt to pick up weird ideas. When you genuinely don't know what most people look like naked, your body image can get all fucked up. I had a friend in high school who thought his dick was on the small side--only seven and a half inches. Nine is average, right? And even that's benign compared to the ideas you could take away about human behavior--that lesbians are there for male entertainment, that sex doesn't require negotiation, that hot women give it up to fugly men just for showing up. In fact, strike my assumptions in the previous clause--the worst message kids can get from porn is that anyone gives it up to anyone just for showing up.

Kids like this, who want porn but can't fully contextualize it, are tough to protect. Censorship does more good for them than it does the other two groups, but it's tough to shield their eyes without infringing on adults' rights, and it's impossible to shield anyone's eyes forever.

(Incidentally, I think censorship of things like nipples and the word "fuck" is always stupid. I'm talking here about porn, not body parts and words. A woman on her knees in a "come get me" pose in a bikini is sending a much more worrisome message than a woman running around having fun with her tits fully out.)

This is the group I think parental filters make the most difference on. As they become Stage 3 it'll become useless, but a little obstacle on how fast and easily they can get to GapingAnuses.com doesn't seem like a bad thing. I particularly like the idea of monitoring what kids do, if parents respond appropriately. That is, saying "this is bad and now you're bad" is useless or even harmful, but being able to say "If you're going to look at that, we need to talk about what you're learning from it" might do some good. (Also, sitting them down for a frank talk about sexuality is probably the worst punishment of all.) I think that punishing kids for sex can create the idea that sex is bad, and punishing kids for looking at naked women can make it seem like those women are doing something wrong.

Still, I always worry tremendously about abuse of parental monitoring, because I don't really trust parents. I always worry that a kid's going to get cut off from their friends or get hit for being curious about porn, or that parents are going to use the snoop ability to monitor a kid's entire social life. There always seems to be a slippery slope from "I just want to make sure she's not meeting pedophiles" to "oh my God, there's a bad word on her Facebook, MELTDOWN."


3. The corrupted. These are the professionals; kids who know all about porn and have defined preferences and they're determined to get their porn. They may be under 18 but they know that their favorite site on Kink.com is Hogtied and their favorite model is Madison Young. They have Mossad skills for circumventing parental controls and getting premium content for free, and they will not be stopped.

I don't care at all about protecting these kids from porn. I think they still need to be discouraged from making stupid real-world choices, from meeting creepy people or giving away their personal information, but when it comes to simply viewing porn the damage is done. They're going to fight furiously and deviously against attempts at restricting or monitoring them and there isn't much they haven't seen already.

What these kids need, I think, is the same as what adults need, which is the opportunity to think critically about the messages they take away from porn. Simply censoring porn gives no benefit after a certain saturation point, but being able to understand and discuss how Porn Women (and men!) and Porn Sex are different from reality is crucial. Innocence can't be restored, but context and critical thinking can be gained.


No, I'm not a parent, I don't know anything, but I was all three stages of pornhound kid. Why, I can remember being so young that "I certify I am over 18" buttons scared me, because they'll know I lied! I also thought I was Stage 3 for some time while I was really Stage 2. You see one penis, you think you've seen everything... and then you see Goatse. But oh well. Everyone has to see Goatse eventually.

At this point I'm at the stage where I don't even see anything wrong with Goatse, because really, that man is just doing what gives him pleasure.

20 comments:

  1. As a (step)parent who came of age before computers, I don't sweat it much. We found magazines & such: the kids'll find porn. I do believe in frankly talking about things, & I think that'll make more difference than all the filters in the world. Basically, I'm with you, Holly.

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  2. Too bad there aren't more levels you can set your internet safety software thingy to. I mean, I assume it's all or nothing: "nothing remotely sexual or naked" vs. "meh, whatever, go nuts." What we need is an in-between stage where it filters out everything but feminist-friendly porn that features humans of all body types communicating well and giving informed consent. I'm being serious here.

    If I had a kid, I think I'd leave old "naturist" magazines lying around the house for him or her to find. I'd like my kid's first images of naked people to involve normal bodies (OMG pubes! OMG breasts that have a little "hang" to them!) frolicking around outside.

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  3. LOL, I've definitely given it up to some fugly men just for showing up. There weren't any children around, though.

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  4. Lastnightsclothes - Literally just for showing up, without even knowing or liking them? I'm not talking about whether he buys dinner, I'm talking about whether you have any reason to sleep with him.

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  5. Two Laws of Porn:

    1) It is impossible to keep a sufficiently determined teenager from finding porn. Fanfic sites can be really innocuously named, y'know? Parents won't necessarily realize that "Library of Moria" means "omg my child is reading hobbit porn."

    2) Any attempt to keep a sufficiently determined teenager from finding porn will end up blocking many things that are entirely innocuous ("breast cancer prevalance," "sussex").

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  6. The sad thing is that legally, in the US, we have to pretend that people under 18 are complete innocents, and that on their birthday they suddenly acquire libidos and desires and all that. When, of course, people are sexual beings and have sexual feelings--people masturbate in uteroffs!

    But it is impossible to have a dialogue about pre-adult feelings, porn, growing up frustrated (which I think everyone is) without becoming OMG CHILD PORNOGRAPHY!!!!! Even innocent pictures of the kid in the tub can be used against people. It's very split brain.

    I mean, the average age when a person becomes sexual in the US is 17. So for 50% of the population, it was earlier. I've seen too many pregnant 12 year olds in my career. But I moderate an adult social networking website and we can't say a word about people under 18, even in the context of our own past.

    Is crazymaking.

    I'm a regular commentator, but I'm not signing this one.

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  7. I [redacted] have been lurking around here at your blog for a bit, but I feel like I have something to add.

    Having a computer programmer for a father and parents who grew up in a country where they probably didn't know what porn was until they were over twenty, I got access to computer and plenty of opportunity to read anything I wanted, and I grew to take full advantage.

    At first the porn I saw was in heterosexual-romance fanfiction, and it was I was around 11. I wasn't particularily interested, and I usually skipped any sexy parts. It wasn't until around a year or so later that I found myself interested in femslash, then as I began to realize that no one writes about lesbians, slash.

    The internet, and by some extension internet smut has always sort of been a part of my life, so I can't really judge how it's affected me, but the one negative thing that I think came from me reading smut was skewed real-world expectation. For a short while fanfic was my most reliable source of sex ed, and that's terrible and hilarious in too many ways to count. Now I make sure to remind myself that what I see in fanfic or written porn is not always a reflection of reality.

    Other than that, I think the internet has been more of a positive influence than a negative one. It's encouraged me to be more critical of what information is presented to me, and to do my research. It's allowed me to explore my sexuality in a safe way. I actually think that it's developed in me a healthier sexuality than a sexuality formed purely on local societal cues and ideas about sex.

    The internet helped carry me through my "OMG, could I be gay?" crisis, and my "is it okay to have a spanking kink?" worries and a whole bunch of others things that I'm not sure I could've handled nearly so well without the internet to reassure me that it's okay, I'm normal. And most importantly, that weird or strange doesn't have to mean bad.

    ...well, there's my overly long, aimless post.

    Cheers!

    Sasha

    [Editor's Note:] Sasha left a very thoughtful and interesting comment with one part that I unfortunately can't have up on this blog. It's very unfortunate and I don't think it's fair, but this is the only way I can let the comment stand.

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  8. >.< Oh, oops.

    Yeah, I should've been more careful about that.

    Sorry.

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  9. Anon - I realize you can't say here which site, but I'm curious.

    The average age when someone has intercourse may be 17, but I'm guessing the average age they "become sexual" is a whole lot younger.

    The problem legally is that hand-wringing about how sexual maturity is a gradual process and it's different for each person leaves too much room for scumbags to say "she was a very mature ninth grader," so there's a hard line drawn at a relatively old age. But we seem to have internalized that as a society, so that reasonable rules like "porn models have to be over 18" have turned into "referring to anyone under 18 and sex in the same sentence ever = angry mob."

    I don't have a good solution, though, because oversexualizing young people really is creepy, and I worry that any rule other than "no one under 18 exists in the same universe as sex" would be exploited by creeps.

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  10. Speaking as a US citizen: the United States has really uptight and backwards views about sex, sexuality, etc. We focus on all the wrong issues in all the wrong ways. We blind kids instead of educate them, and when we DO teach them, we insist that boys wear blue and girls wear pink; we teach them that there are "female" traits and "male" traits (and that anyone who thinks otherwise is a deviate); we teach them about normativity; we teach them that sex is somehow embarrassing, crude, wicked, or impure; we teach them that blood and violence are fine but tits and cock are bad, but we also teach people (women AND men) that they are valuable only for their bodies and that there are certain things men and women are "supposed" to do for one another.

    *sigh*

    Just writing about it makes me want to unravel it in some way, but I don't know how. I will never be a parent, nor would I make a good one. If I were a teacher, I would be crucified for teaching my idea of fairness: the idea that traits are gender-neutral; that sexuality is not a crime; that curiosity is not a sin; that monogamy is important to some but a shackle for others; that sex and love, though often found together and mutually beneficial, are not the same; and that we should be unafraid of each other.

    There is no book that could be written or movie to be made that could disseminate all that needs to be said on this subject. And even if there were, information and fair play and egalitarianism are ever opposed by superstition, willful ignorance, fear, and unwillingness to think. I know of no balm for the different fears of the old guard, nor do I know any way to convince to turn from superstition, face their fears, and THINK. Many cling to superstition (be it Christianity or neoliberalism) as a talisman against a world that rebels at their attempts to make sense of it, and I know of no solution.

    Instead, I act as rightly as circumstances permit and keep my head down so as to avoid angering the lowest common denominator with my beliefs.

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  11. Well, I'll just say this.

    By age 7, most children's brains have fully developed, and they are capable of understanding (at least intellectually) anything an adult is capable of understanding. They may lack the general knowledge and experience to get overly-simplified explanations of complex subjects, but that's the only thing they're missing.

    Keeping anyone who is 7-17 in the dark about "adult issues" (including but not limited to sexuality) is just as much of a violation of their person as keeping an 18+ person in the dark about the same things. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that they should engage in adult activities or responsibilities, but they should have the right to know about them.

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  12. "...blood and violence are fine but tits and cock are bad."

    Thank you, Anon! That's one of my biggest pet peeves - that sex, even healthy, consensual, loving sex is considered "worse" than explosions and gunfights and whatnot in terms of TV and movie ratings. Swear words, too. It's perfectly ok to see torture on 24 or any number of other shows and movies, but gods forbid someone accidentally be exposed to Janet Jackson's nipple or the word "fuck!"

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  13. Another regular commenter who's not signing this post.

    I'm sure I was in stage 1 for a while, but I don't really remember much about that.

    Most of stage 2 was pre-Internet for me. So I was "corrupted" by looking at Playboy, or at romance novels, or nudity on TV (PBS mostly; I didn't have premium cable). I got in trouble once or twice for the Playboys, and told that I shouldn't be looking at them because they were degrading to women, with no further information. Today I can understand arguments behind that, but at that time the message that came across at age 11 was that sex and desire were inherently degrading to women.

    But what really got me picking up weird ideas wasn't the stuff that society was trying to keep away from me so much as the stuff that society was trying to actively market to me. Things like the idea that sexual touch was something (for men) to initiate slowly and stealthily--the ideal apparently being that he'd be having sex and she'd be totally unaware of it or something. Or the idea that sex was something that a man enjoyed and a woman engaged in because they wanted the man (non-het wasn't ever acknowledged) to feel good.

    Stage 3 coincided with Internet availability, but I don't think it caused it. Helped bring it out, maybe, since I had a lot more opportunity to explore my own preferences rather than just going with whatever I could get. Still wasn't great - BBSs didn't have all that much to offer, and on the Internet there was a lot of trash to wade through - but there was also a much wider variety, and ways (Usenet newsgroups and story tags) to focus on what interested me.

    Also, Holly, "no one under 18 exists in the same universe as sex" is *itself* heavily exploited by creeps, who try to frame sex with them, on their terms, as the only alternative to that.

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  14. Not Me - Seven is a weird and wayyyy too young age to claim people understand adult concepts. Certainly kids are able to learn lots of things from that age, but they don't process it and think critically the way an adult does.

    Most recent Anon - Also, Holly, "no one under 18 exists in the same universe as sex" is *itself* heavily exploited by creeps, who try to frame sex with them, on their terms, as the only alternative to that.
    Unfortunately, that's the problem in talking about these things--the creeps come out of the woodwork, the earnest libertarians sound like creeps, and the normal people are afraid of sounding like creeps. These three different Creep Factors work together to very effectively shut down rational discussion.

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  15. Holly: Perhaps generally true, but the fact that they don't doesn't mean they're incapable. When I was 7 I understood that images aren't reality, how pregnancy worked (but not how it started; I couldn't find any information on where sperm comes from and adults wouldn't tell me), that when my parents separated it had nothing to do with me (and when someone suggested that I might feel that way, I considered them to be insane), why a household budget is important, etc. Meanwhile there are plenty of adults who seem barely capable of thinking critically, possibly because as children they were trained not to.

    Now in order to get the breadth of knowledge and experience needed to actually process things like an adult it takes around another 7 years on the average (meaning not until they're around 14) but that won't happen unless they actually have access to that information before they're 14.

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  16. But oh well. Everyone has to see Goatse eventually.

    Ha ha! Not true. My wife has not seen Goatse, and in fact didn't even know what Goatse was when I made a Goatse ref.

    "You've never seen Goatse? Well... I'm kind of envious, actually. You're probably happier leaving it that way."

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  17. Not me: I head a book about pregnancy at that age, which called sex 'a special cuddle in bed'. As much as I thought about it, I could not work out how a cuddle could make anyone pregnant.

    Stage 1: I remember accidentally stumbling on Farscape porn when I was about 11 or 12, because the rating wasn't clearly marked. I was horrified.

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  18. I'm not really concerned in any direct way that Madison Young might one day be my son's favorite model, but rather that he might consequently find the pictures of *me* with Ms. Young, which might in turn lead to the sort of questions that even the most enlightened parent could not but find embarrassing.

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  19. Hopefully you'll raise your son in such a way that he knows the appropriate response is a hearty father-son high five.

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  20. Rereading this in light of a discussion at Pandagon. When I first saw Goatse I didn't understand what the big deal was. I don't know if that's good or bad.

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