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February 07, 2018

New York Times Magazine Probes Teens' Porn Habits

CYBERSPACE—Is porn shaping the way teenage boys and girls understand human sexuality—for better or worse? That question appears to be a media favorite, covered by outlets as diverse as the U.K.'s Guardian and the magazine Psychology Today, as well as in personal accounts from parents coping with the fact that their kids have easy access to adult content online. But the issue is about to get a new flood of attention after a lengthy New York Times Magazine article from the upcoming issue appeared online Wednesday, in which writer Maggie Jones interviews a group of teens taking a high school class in “Porn Literacy” at the Boston, Massachusetts “peer-leadership program for teenagers” Stay Strong—and finds to the surprise of no one that even in the age of internet porn, teens are just as confused about sex as they ever were. While Jones, a New York Times Magazine “contributing writer” who also “teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh’s M.F.A. program,” takes a less alarmist tone than might be expected, the article focuses mainly on anecdotal evidence from the group of teens who agreed to act as her interview subjects. By Jones’ own admission, hard data about how teens consume and perceive porn remains in short supply, leading her to write such sentences as, “We don’t have longitudinal data on the frequency of ejaculating on a girl’s face or choking among American teenagers to know whether either practice is more common now.” However, Jones does cite an Indiana University study that found 36 percent of teen boys (ages 14-18) and 25 percent of teen girls “said they had seen videos of men ejaculating on women’s faces (known as ‘facials’).” She also portrays the teens in her article, many of them top students, as not only baffled about sexuality, but notably ignorant on topics that seem elementary. For example, after an instructor informs the “porn literacy” class that “lubrication decreased friction,” Jones quotes one student declaring, “I never learned this before,” even though the principal of lubrication applies equally to automotive maintenance as to sexual contact. Judging by reaction on the social media platform Twitter, initial reaction to the New York Times article has been mixed to say the least. Author, performer and sex worker rights advocate Conner Habib posted a lengthy thread on Twitter registering his objections to the piece. “I saw this truly terrible article in the New York Times about teenagers and porn,” Habib wrote on his Twitter feed. “Here are the points it makes: “• anal is scary! “• porn affects teens (but we don't know how) “• we interviewed two pornographers who aren't really part of or respected by the industry. Cool!” Habib concludes by recommending that his readers “avoid the article. It's shallow and, especially given its word count, a tremendous waste of time.” Indie porn performer Jiz Lee also posted reaction to the piece, stating, “If only we were this morally panicked about the lack of adequate sex education.” Not all responses on Twitter were negative. Right wing blogger Ashley Rae Goldberg called the article “surprisingly good” and chided critics for “unfairly mocking” the story, which, Goldberg said, “depicts the harms pornography does to young people and how they view intimacy.” To Jones’ credit, however, the article does address the lack of quality sex education, or in many cases any sex ed at all, for teens, noting that even at the Stay Strong program, discussion of porn is treated as acceptable, but lessons in how the human anatomy actually functions are mostly off-limits. “As controversial as it is to teach kids about pornography, it can be more taboo to teach them how their bodies work sexually,” Jones notes. Also on Twitter, former Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum pointed out that she had authored a “rebuttal” to Wednesday’s Times story—that was published six months ago. Her June 2017 New York Times piece was titled “What Americans Get Wrong About Porn.”  “If we create a culture where sexuality is accepted as a healthy, positive part of life,” Alptraum wrote, “then we’ll be able to appreciate porn for the wild, unrealistic fantasy that it was always intended to be.”

 
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