Rough porn has become teen sex educator

LEAH MCLENNAN
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013

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Love & Sex

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''Boys definitely watch porn and then expect something like that to be done in real life,'' says a 20-year-old female.

Pornography is not new, but the internet has made it so accessible that it's become the main sex educator for many teenagers. Before they've even encountered "real" sex, many young  people have watched online porn.

This needs to be challenged, says adolescent sexuality expert, Maree Crabbe, whose behind the new documentary Love and Sex in an Age of  Pornography.

Research shows that nine out of 10 boys aged 13-16 years, and 60 per cent of girls in the same age bracket, have seen online porn, according to the University of Canberra.

''Pornography has become mainstream,'' Crabbe says, ''and it's become rougher.''

What young people are seeing in porn is shaping their sexual imaginations, expectations and practices, she says. Over 70 young Australians, as well as Los Angeles-based porn performers and producers, including Larry Flynt, were interviewed  for the documentary film directed by Crabbe and David Corlett.

Acts of physical aggression, the majority directed against women, occurred in 88 per cent of the most popular DVD and video porn of 2010, Crabbe says, citing a content analysis by US academic psychologist Ana Bridges.

''Physical aggression depicted in pornography includes gagging, choking and spanking,'' Crabbe says.

A profound problem is that the majority of those acts of aggression were met with either neutral or positive responses from the target - the female porn performer.

''A viewer doesn't see the target reacting to the aggression, they see a woman who likes being choked, gagged and hit,'' she says. 

Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights abuses. Intimate partner violence contributes more to the poor health, disability and death of Australian women aged 15-45  than any other risk factor, including obesity and smoking,  according to VicHealth.

The two key underlying determinants for gender-based violence have been shown to be gender stereotypes and unequal gender  relations.''Porn not only routinely portrays gender stereotypes and unequal gender relations, it says that they're sexy,'' Crabbe says.

Several porn performers interviewed for Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography said there's been a shift to more aggressive porn as  the global adult industry, estimated to be worth $US25 billion ($NZ31 billion) annually, has become more competitive.

Veteran porn performer, Nina Hartley, says extreme, sexual  ''circus acts'' have become mainstream. Imre Pager, who performs as Anthony Hardwood since 1997, says  there's been a shift from ''lovey, dovey sex'' to ''one girl with four guys''.
While the adult industry did not sign up for the role of sexual educator of young Australians, that is what it has become, says Crabbe.

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''Young men are initiating these sexual practices with their female partners," she says.

''Their partners are left in the position of wanting to please their partner, but also feeling like it's not what they want to do.''

This has serious implications for young people's capacity to negotiate ''free, full and enthusiastic consent'' and has confronting  implications for parents and the wider community, says Crabbe.

Last week in Australia, the federal government was urged to push internet service providers to automatically block pornography sites unless customers opt in. The move follows a comment by British Prime Minister David Cameron who said filters would mitigate the hardcore pornographic images that are ''corroding childhood''.

Meanwhile, in the absence of filters, Crabbe says ''we need to be realistic that young people are likely to see it''. The next step is for parents and educators to promote critical  thinking among young people about pornography and the messages it  conveys about women, men, sex and power.

Besides being able to critique the imagery, it's also about having frameworks in which to understand these images.''We need to help young people to think well about gender, power  and consent,'' Crabbe says.

Adults can do this by having conversations with young people -  in schools, at home and in society more broadly - and Crabbe's film will be a springboard for discussions.

''Sex can be fantastic, or terrible, or anywhere in between.

''Part of the challenge is to inspire young people that things might be different, and indeed better, than what is being broadcast  at them from pornography.''

*The film is part of a philanthropically funded project,  Reality and Risk: Pornography, Young People and Sexuality.

- AAP

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