The Kids These Days, Pornography, and Pleasure

Sasha 2Sasha Grey, via her Twitter feed

Cuddle Party would exist in my personal ninth circle of hell. Nevertheless, the sex/relationships guru who came up with the concept, Reid Mihalko, made some interesting comments in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday that back up the ideas I was getting at in my critique of Katie Roiphe's Newsweek article on women, work, and S&M. 

In short: Greater interest in sadomasochism has less to do with economic trends and more to do with increased access to porn and erotica online. Mihalko spends a lot of time conducting workshops for college students, and he has found that many of them are exposed to really kinky stuff via the Internet, yet lack basic information on sexual health and pleasure, in part because they are graduates of abstinence-only sex-ed programs or received no sex education at all. He explains:

About 30 to 40 percent of what I do is lecturing at colleges. I do a lecture called "Sex Geek Chic," which is about using peer pressure in a positive way to encourage young adults to get their shit handled. If you don't know your STD status, if you don't know how to use a condom, if you're not savvy with consent and how to navigate your emotions in intimate relationships, you're uncool. …

There's an interesting dynamic going on among college students. A lot of them grew up with federally funded, abstinence-only education. But they also grew up with the Internet. So for visual learners, especially, they're getting their love-making cues from watching porn.

 Trying to learn how to be a better lover from porn is like trying to learn how to drive from watching "The Fast and the Furious."

Yes. I began high school in 1998, before pornography could be easily streamed online. It could be downloaded, but this took some real time and effort; guys I knew figured out how to do it, but if any of my female friends were experimenting with this in the late nineties and early aughts, we weren't talking about it openly with one another. (We were reading Anais Nin, though, don't get me wrong!) And way back when we were first hitting puberty in the mid-nineties, it was still scandalous and fascinating to get one's hands on an issue of Playboy.

Obviously, everything changed during my first few years of college–not just because my friends and I were getting older, but also because of technology. I don't want to be all old-ladyish at 27, but the last decade has seen a sort of epochal shift in how teenagers and young adults explore their sexuality. It used to be you had to go to an adult movie theater or the adult section of a video rental store or a sex club to watch other people getting it on; you had to actually interact with other human beings in those places and you risked getting "caught" by someone you knew. (A somewhat separate category of consumption would be the semi-ironic screening of retro porn movies on college campuses. Been there! And how prevalent was buying video pornography via the mail back in the day? I don't really know. Commenters?)

Now you can watch other people have sex anytime you want, for free, and in total privacy. This is a really significant development in the history of human sexuality, and I think its effects are both positive (less shyness about sex) and negative (more exposure to unrealistic, staged sex; more sexual outlets other than one's partner; and possibly more body anxiety as a result of comparing oneself to hundreds and thousands of other naked people).

Today it seems like we're having a constant, national conversation about porn and how it is changing our culture. Pornstars like Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey have achieved some modicum of mainstream respectability, and pornography is regularly opined upon in the kinds of publications nobody would be embarassed to read on the subway. Porn has gone mainstream before, as it did in the "Deep Throat" era. But the shock and moral panic is, for the most part, missing these days (pace Rick Santorum); the general assumption is that almost everyone over the age of 12 has seen video porn at least a few times.

In any case, Reid Mihalko is on to something about young people and kink, even though he also seems a bit kooky. I really love the site MakeLoveNotPorn, and would like to especially refer my younger friends and readers to it (make sure to click on the arrows to see all the tips!). A more comprehensive resource on these matters is ScarletTeen.

4 thoughts on “The Kids These Days, Pornography, and Pleasure

  1. Person on the internet

    Fun fact: Mihalko is a huge fan of Ayn Rand. The company he founded for his Cuddle Parties was called Atlas Spooned.

  2. Drew

    I don’t know what some of these young kids now-a-days really expect to get from the porn they watch besides some type of arousal maybe just some cheap thrills or maybe even some slight type of sexual knowledge but they should also take into consideration that if they think everything is just like they see it in the porn movie industry,well that’s just not so,I mean they should take time to think & also take responsibility for their actions have some respect for your self & for your partner or partners if the case being that you have more then one of which many people do now-a-days just have the common sense to at least protect your self & your partner from the downfalls of not thinking before you do something stupid that could end up killing you for what a few minutes or hours of pleasure you could very well be ending you & any of your partners lives it’s just not worth it some people just don’t learn until they find out they have become infected with some type of an STD & then it’s to late life is short but should be cherished for we never know when it can be taken from us it can end in an instant so for those of you who take it for granted it will soon be gone far to quickly you must learn to have not just the desire for sexual gratification but to have the compassion & real love for the people whom you tell you love for if you say “I Love You”
    Then you should mean it or don’t say it or for that matter even the give people the impression that you love them for without these True human qualities how can we truly be the human beings that we claim to be I only hope that by making this attempt to share my feelings about this that I have enabled more of the young & old alike to see more clearly things for what they really are some people will simply use you for sex to exploit you for they’re own selfish wants & needs so before you fall victim to this just take the time to stop & think of the consequences for the life you save may very well be your own I have often just sat alone in a quiet room & reflected on these thoughts I hope many others will do the same to try to be better human beings let us become the wiser for using our minds & to develop the ability to show that we can share the knowledge that we posses to help others to be better people These are Truly my feelings I am Drew

  3. annajcook

    I’m behind a lot of what you’re saying here, Dana, about the lack of sexual knowledge and unrealistic fiction (mainstream porn) standing in for more reliable forms of sexuality education. However, I want to suggest that we now have “more sexual outlets other than one’s partner” than we’ve had in the past is both a) dubious as an assertion, and b) not necessarily problematic. People have always had many sexual outlets beyond their primary partner (if they have one). If nothing else, we’ve always had solitary sex built-in as part of our sexual repertoire. Solitary sex and partnered sex can co-exist in a relationship without detracting from the connection between the people involved in that relationship. Likewise, partners with negotiated poly or open, etc., relationships, can experience sex outside of their own interactions that don’t threaten the couple.

  4. Dilanesper

    I’m with Anna. Indeed, if anything, “more sexual outlets other than one’s partner” has gotten a lot less bleak than it once was. I suspect the primary, close to sole way this happened in the past was through cheating and doing things behind the partner’s back. Nowadays, there are many more such outlets and many of them involve either the consent of one’s partner or not promising monogamy in the first place.

    And I suspect, as well, that this is a good development on balance from a feminist perspective. In patriarchal societies, only women are really punished for cheating anyway. A society where most of the time, neither gender gets sanctioned for finding additional sexual outlets is a real advance.


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