Porn, a new age, an old age, and all that

By Razib Khan | May 10, 2012 10:53 pm

I’ve been commenting on internet porn for nearly 10 years. One reason is that as someone who graduated high school in the spring of 1995 I’m probably in the very last cohort of American males for whom pornography was an item subject to scarcity. Those who are 2-3 years younger already experienced a totally different world. The furtive quest to find a friend of a friend whose dad was less than vigilant in guarding his porn stash was a rite of adolescent male passage in my cohort, but would seem totally laughable by 1997. There’s a lot of commentary on the effect of porn on society and sexual relations, but from what I can tell nothing much has really changed between then and now, except that hardcore porn has become harder. Before I see hard data I’m skeptical that American males accept more perversion because of watching porn. Read the Kinsey Reports; farm boys long knew some farm boys lost their virginity to animals.

All this must be kept in mind when reading pieces tinged with moral panic, such as this one in The New York Times, So How Do We Talk About This?, which details the reaction of parents to their children discovering porn. There are few specific elements which strike me as manifestly stupid. For example:

Bonnie, a university administrator in North Carolina with a teenage son and two stepdaughters, realized only after discussing the matter that she and her husband had been sending unintended messages by emphasizing safety and self-protection with the girls and limits with her son.

“Later, we realized how terribly, albeit unconsciously, sexist that was,” she said.


I recently argued to Chris Mooney that the cultural Left in the United States has still not reconciled itself to sex differences,* and that is one of the clear areas where liberal ideology trumps the science. Now, I can understand the reasons why some might object to the idea that males and females have different cognitive profiles, which might result in differential representation in different fields (e.g., more men in engineering, more women in medicine). But at some point if you are going to hold the position that the Left has made its peace with human nature you have to be open to sex differences, there are compelling biological reasons why a species which exhibits physical sexual dimorphism would also exhibit behavioral sexual dimorphism. Do people truly entertain the idea that adolescent boys and girls react to visual pornography in the same way, if not for social or cultural pressures? If so, that’s really stupid, and reiterates why I refuse to identify myself as a liberal.

But more generally, I wonder if our perception of the development and maturation of children and their encounters with sexuality is ahistorical. From what I have read before the modern era private rooms were not common. Peasants lived in an open house, with children sleeping in a corner, and parents in the other corner. During winter the family might sleep together in one bed. Obviously sexual relations did occur, and there were a set of norms which governed this so that everyone could continue on their way.

My point is that for most of human history children have had some exposure to sex, whether because of lack of privacy in the home, or through observation of farm animals. I personally do not think this is optimal. For most of human history infant mortality was rather high too. But, it does remind us that the rapid rise of awareness of sexually explicit material by children younger than puberty, or just on the cusp, is not a totally novel phenomenon.

* Actually, Althouse’s Rule,  you can discuss sex differences if it is unflattering to males.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
MORE ABOUT: Porn, Sex
  • ADS

    Slightly related, any thoughts on this guy?

    http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/great-porn-experiment-given-tedx

  • Eurologist

    I agree with your description that (in the US) current ideas about sexual maturation in the social context are “ahistorical. ” But I don’t subscribe to your stereotype of “the” liberal view on this. Perhaps my view is slanted because of my European upbringing (making a centrist a socialist in the US, and a liberal a communist). Nevertheless, all the “leftist” or liberal people I know would full-heartily agree that boys pick up sticks to fight and play gun, while girls instead would make dolls out of things.

    I grew up in an era and place where nude bathing was almost the norm. Still, everyone was aware that girls and boys were into this for different reasons. It was clear that girls had a chance to find “jocks” who actually turned out to be caring and career-bound, or immediately see that someone looking and talking on the caring side was perhaps otherwise, well, less than average. On the flip side, guys quickly found out that some of the hot girls were brain dead, which after some heavy doses of exposure did seem to re-align many male brains enough to re-emphasize and re-evaluate their beauty standards – and quickly some of the brainy girls no longer appeared all that nonathletic or unattractive, after all. Also, both sides got a much wider appreciation for the breadth of human variation than current TV, ads, or porn films supply.

    It was rather apparent to everyone that both sexes had a completely different approach, but nevertheless could reap benefits from this. Again, I fail to see how “liberals” don’t recognize and fully embrace sexual dimorphism. Perhaps the liberals I know are different. They want more male teachers, more attention to male students and their initial deficiencies (especially at young ages), and more attention to have teenage girls get less distracted and turned away from what at a prior point they are on average better at than boys (math and science).

  • Darkseid

    All I’m gonna say is that finding porn with a dial-up connection was very, very annoying.

  • I_Affe

    I know a few people who are into the whole blank slate thing when it comes to behavior differences based on sex. There seems to be a feeling, amongst some, that culture is the only reason that men and women are different, and if people are given enough opportunity then there would be little to no differences in educational, job, or life outcomes between the sexes.

    Some of the popular liberal sites (e.g. Slate and Salon) have stories/opinion articles about this. One of the more extreme is the Swedish couple that is trying to raise their child without gender.

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    @ 2. I almost cried when my parents finally got DSL . . .

    I think the description of liberals is accurate, at least in the USA. Can’t speak for the average European lib. And it’s funny because many of these same liberals who talk about “the social construction of gender” also decry anti-gay therapy on the grounds that sexual preference is not a psychological issue or a social construction. An oddly selective vision of the world. I stopped identifying as a liberal as an undergraduate because so many of my professors treated science (and history) like a cafeteria line: we’ll pick what we believe when it fits our ideology, but ignore all the rest.

  • April Brown

    I didn’t realize there was a liberal position that males and females react to porn in the same way – might be true, I just haven’t run into it.

  • pod

    Being open to sex differences does not mean assuming them or encouraging them.

  • http://www.brownpundits.com Nandalal Rasiah

    @#1, I don’t think a gender-neutral pronoun like “hen” would become a feature in north america anytime soon nor would gender equality, and quotas, become codified in law (as it has been in parts of Europe.) I do take your point that being frank about the reality of sex necessitates accepting a priori some differences. Everyone else, try reading pandagon, feministe, feministing, etc for a while and tell me that feminists of the firmament, the torch-bearing pioneers for those who look to be educated about their ‘privilege,’ are not arguing that women are just as visually stimulated as men. When presented with the relevant research, often evo psych, that contradicts their position, cries of ‘just-so’ and the like are heard. “Sex at Dawn” is the only kind of evolutionary psych that is tolerated on the cultural left. If you want to get your work discussed in a positive way, make sure to emphasize that ‘anything men can do, women can do just as well or better” no matter how foul.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    As someone two years younger than you Razib, I can agree that there is a tremendous gulf. I got into the internet in 1996, the summer between my Junior and Senior year, and within those first few months I probably saw 1,000 times as much porn as I did up until that point. My friends and I started this game my last year of college to see who could find the most disturbing porn online (this was pre goatse of course). I try to forget some of the things I saw, but I don’t think it hurt me in any real way – nor did the dismembered corpses I saw on rotten.com.

    As to your more general point, I think the lengths to which parents go to shield their kids from any sexual information before a certain age is kind of odd, as most children who are not abused in some fashion seem to show a natural disinterest/disgust in sex before puberty. Of course, most boys, and many girls, show a great interest after puberty, but access or absence of porn won’t really make much of a difference here. I’m certainly not going to filter the internet when my daughter gets older.

    And I agree with the first poster that you often seem fixated on the “PC” part of the left-liberal coalition in the U.S., which is only a small portion. Honestly, sometimes it seems like your conservativism in part springs from how much you dislike such people.

  • jb

    I do wonder how much actually seeing things affects human sexual development. Humans and our close primate relatives don’t have much of a sense of smell, which for most other mammals is a key sexual stimulus, and a very ancient one. So what replaces that? In particular, how do males know that females are supposed to excite them, if they can’t smell that special female-in-heat smell?

    One thought is that since primates are visual, and primates are smart, they can learn by example. The young ones can see the older ones “doing it,” so when their own hormones kick in they have a good idea of what they want to do. But humans generally go out of their way to hide sexual activity from children, who have to try to figure things out for themselves, often with very little to go by.

    I wonder if this could be a factor in the high level of perversity in human sexuality. We know from twin studies that homosexuals are not just “born that way,” but that there is also a substantial environmental influence. Could it have something to do with what children see? In particular, with the ideas they get from what little they are allowed to see? Young children do think about such things on their own (I know I did!), and come up with ideas on their own, and if they don’t have access to good information would it be any surprise if some of them ended up with mistaken ideas, and if the course of their sexual development were influenced by those ideas? This makes sense to me, because deviant sexuality in humans can’t all be genetic. (Is there a gene for Abasiophilia?) And it could certainly explain how identical twins might end up with different sexual orientations — something that happens at least half of the time.

    My point is that I do think there is good reason to be nervous about the influence of perverse pornography on young children. (Also, I would really be quite interested to know if those peasant children growing up in one room cabins had rates of homosexuality that were different than what what we consider the norm today!)

  • http://www.brownpundits.com Nandalal Rasiah

    @Karl Z,
    what part of the left-liberal coalition is not P.C.? Do they not produce knowledge, teach, occupy prominent positions in all forms of media? Are some not dinged by their ideological compatriots for perceived contraventions of the ever evolving speech code?

  • Paul

    #2: dial-up connection was very, very annoying.

    xkcd, as usual, anticipates the subject.

    http://xkcd.com/598/

  • http://sjespositoweblog.wordpress.com S.J. Esposito

    I love how you emboldened the “university administrator”… :)

    I fully agree with your statement of this being a case of ideology trumping science. I’m a lefty in a great majority of respects, but I simply cannot stand to be lumped into a category where people commonly make various errors in common sense in favor of purporting an ideological standpoint. Unfortunately, this is so very common in the American liberal community and rears its ugly head in a plethora of situations.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Being open to sex differences does not mean assuming them or encouraging them.

    sure. the cultural left has a lot of null hypotheses as assumptions. you should assume them in many cases. as implied by a commenter above a major exception to the leftist bias is in regards to homosexuality. if parents started getting a sense that their son was gay in elementary school, they shouldn’t “assume” that the kid is gay right? that would be stereotyping. also, you might send them to reparative therapy! biology is not destiny.

    i don’t think so. all of a sudden the motivated reasoning goes in the other direction. with all due respect to my gay friends, the male-female difference is just a much bigger deal than the gay-straight difference (cuz there aren’t as many gays).

    And I agree with the first poster that you often seem fixated on the “PC” part of the left-liberal coalition in the U.S., which is only a small portion. Honestly, sometimes it seems like your conservativism in part springs from how much you dislike such people.

    just replace “PC” for “religious right” and “liberal” for “conservative.” many liberals don’t agree with amanda marcotte, but she’s part of the coalition, and her bailiwick is hers. people who agree with me privately wouldn’t dare agree with me in public.

  • dave chamberlin

    “All I’m gonna say is finding porn with a dial up connection was very very annoying.”

    Back in the day of dial up connections a lot of people had no control of pop ups so it wasn’t as if you found the porn, the porn found you. My eighty year old mother quit using the internet because she couldn’t go online without constant interuptions of porn ads which of course came with explicit pictures. The pill was supposed to cause the sexual revolution and unlimited porn placed in front of the eyes of our impressionable youth was supposed to lead to moral decay. I don’t think much has changed. To paraphrase what Erica Jong once said you watch porn for five minutes it makes you horny, if you watch it it for a half hour makes you wish to never have sex again in your life.

  • Cathy

    It’s actually quite possible that females between the 1970s and 1995 had more access to material in the form of romance novels than the guys had access to the visual stuff. I picked up my first full length Lavyrle Spencer at age 13 (my mother wondered where it went from her bookshelf) and moved on to the teenager version of harlequins shortly after that. (Yes, they existed and I had a whole bookshelf of them. ) I think that particular topic needs a deeper look – does it count as porn if its only words?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Perhaps my view is slanted because of my European upbringing

    there is no such thing as a european upbringing. there’s a french upbringing, there’s a german one, there’s an italian one, there’s a swedish one. different european national cultures have very different attitudes toward this issue from what i can tell. from an economic perspective, female labor force participation varies a lot, for example:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lab_for_par_rat_fem_of_fem_pop_age_1564-female-population-ages-15-64

    (from what i recall germany’s numbers exhibit strong within nation variation, with eastern germany traditionally having higher participation than the former west germany)

  • Stephen

    Nowhere in this discussion do I read any distinction between porn and sexual knowledge more generally. Porn comes with an appallingly narrow and specific attitude. What’s lost lately is the opportunity to discover sex independent of porn attitudes, and with full knowledge of its role in personal identity. People actually do sex differently in the post-web-porn era, and I worry that the hydraulic theater is all kids think there is. Henry Miller is cogent on this: “Obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.” You can’t expect a commercial juggernaut to tenderly cleanse repression, and stop there. Much of modernist art in the 20’s and 30’s — the stuff deemed obscene at the time but in fact simply liberated by today’s standards — was much better at this.

  • Andrew Groen

    I really wish you’d have actually said *why* it’s stupid to “entertain the idea that adolescent boys and girls react to visual pornography in the same way, if not for social or cultural pressures.”

    Rather than just saying it’s dumb and calling it a day.

  • Kaviani

    There is nothing manifestly stupid about teaching both genders about self protection AND limits. They converge at some point, especially for non-heteros.

    It’s the assumptions that the genders have absolutely nothing in common psychologically AND that they have everything in common psychologically that are stupid.

    Communication is the key. Parents actually need to engage their kids to know where they’re at, not refer to a 3rd party because they’re so out of touch with their own flesh and blood. And it needs to be a lifelong thing…sitting a 13yo down and expecting him/her to bare their soul after years of passive parenting is ludicrous.

  • Lise

    ” there are compelling biological reasons why a species which exhibits physical sexual dimorphism would also exhibit behavioral sexual dimorphism”
    Beautifully stated.

    I wonder if our perception of the development and maturation of children and their encounters with sexuality is ahistorical.

    I’ve read on an off for several years about the declining trend of the average age of menarche. I could see this as well as the violent nature of some online images adding to the panic.

  • mulligan

    i don’t understand why you chose the topics of discussion with male and females about sex to make a point about reactions to porn.

    obviously a more useful and balanced conversation would include both topics for both genders- considering despite biology- many women both enjoy, overindulge and can even get addicted to porn. while men can, especially if we are talking about children get preyed upon.

    and while traditionally women seem less interested in porn. your daughter may be one of the MANY who react very normally to it? i don’t really get get what your hang up is here.

  • http://www.brownpundits.com Nandalal Rasiah

    don’t know if anyone remembers but Matt Yglesias used to say that women are less reckless risk-takers in international finance and foreign policy than men–lending an advantage to female CEOs and commanders-in-chief. Not sure if he got flack for that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    People actually do sex differently in the post-web-porn era, and I worry that the hydraulic theater is all kids think there is.

    people assert this, and present anecdotes, but i haven’t seen the lit evidence for this. have you? don’t keep babbling on, just answer the question plainly. you hear in the media that guys are learning sex from porn all the time. any guys who crave a DP want to speak up?

    I really wish you’d have actually said *why* it’s stupid to “entertain the idea that adolescent boys and girls react to visual pornography in the same way, if not for social or cultural pressures.”

    frankly, i’m kind of busy, so i don’t want to go back to first principles. though the fact that this has to be reexplained is a commentary on exactly the kind of crap that karl zimmerman thinks is so marginal.

    It’s the assumptions that the genders have absolutely nothing in common psychologically AND that they have everything in common psychologically that are stupid.

    no one holds to those extreme positions.

    I’ve read on an off for several years about the declining trend of the average age of menarche. I could see this as well as the violent nature of some online images adding to the panic.

    whatever happened to correlation, not causation? :-) though seriously, i think the circumstantial evidence for more straightforward biological rationales probably make more sense (fatness, chemicals, etc.). girls/women who grow up in food deprived environments have late menarche.

    obviously a more useful and balanced conversation would include both topics for both genders- considering despite biology- many women both enjoy, overindulge and can even get addicted to porn. while men can, especially if we are talking about children get preyed upon.

    the balanced model de facto seems to result in total neglect of real statistical differences. in some areas these differences are trivial or marginal. in other areas, there are large. if you see evidence that your daughter is a “tomboy”, “update” expectations and your model appropriately. there’s no reason to go into it with a total blank slate.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    don’t know if anyone remembers but Matt Yglesias used to say that women are less reckless risk-takers in international finance and foreign policy than men–lending an advantage to female CEOs and commanders-in-chief. Not sure if he got flack for that.

    michael lewis used that as an explanation for iceland. when he brought up his theory on the radio i recall people thinking it was funny. again, althouse’ rule: sex differences are OK if it makes men seem inferior or incompetent.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #23, there are also theories that women make better heads of state for the reasons that yglesias/lewis have mooted. again, they don’t get shouted down, though people sometimes get uncomfortable with the implications (i.e., generalize the mode of thought, and might lead to less politically palatable inferences).

  • Stephen

    people assert this, and present anecdotes, but i haven’t seen the lit evidence for this. have you?

    Well, I guess it’s time for another Kinsey report, if by “lit evidence” you mean statistics. And the problem of social representativeness would be greater today, what with our gillions of subcultures. I live in a dense University district, and what’s apparent generally, and specifically on hot summer nights, more resembles web porn than it does Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s only logical that theatrical sex is inspired by what it most resembles in the cybersphere. Of course the tenderness in LC might be the cultural aberration. :-)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #27, one of the most famous stories in the bible alludes to homosexual gang-rape (lot). i don’t think things have changed that much :-(

  • D.G.B.

    The human is a sexual being like all the other animals, and curiosity does begin at a young age. The Liberal-Conservative thing does not really fall into play here I believe, unless religion is added to the mix. In Canada, our Conservatives are slightly further left than your (U.S.) Democrats, and being a more secular society allows true Liberalism to find its mark. Sexuality in Western society has been repressed for many hundreds of years, due to religion, but more so to different levels in the United States where at times, seems to have no separation of church and state, where both Liberals and Conservatives get the same message every Sunday in a society not open to sexual freedom except in Vegas.

  • Stephen

    #28 — Yes, and the best defense of pornography I’ve ever read was about the need to recognize the darkness of human nature — not just abstractly, but within oneself.

  • Anthony

    #18 – In my promiscuous days (about 2000-2003) the sex I was having (with women born between 1965 and 1980) was more varied than what I saw then (or now) in mainstream porn.

    In particular, there are some things which just don’t film well, and so are very under-represented in commercial porn, which were enthusiastically done by some of my partners.

    #3 – Fortunately, my dialup connection was very, very stable. So I could run downloads from usenet which would take 8 – 10 hours, and just let it run overnight, and it would all be there in the morning.

    #23 – Margaret Thatcher was one of the best heads of government in the world in the post-war period. Does that confirm or rebut Yglesias’ thesis? How about Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir?

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    @29 “Sexuality in Western society has been repressed for many hundreds of years”

    Gross oversimplification. It changes generation to generation, even decade to decade. And during the generations when sexuality is “repressed,” I think you mean that an overblown sense of propriety trumps blunt, public discussions of sex: people continue to bang and be pervy, but they go through periods during which sex simply isn’t talked about.

    Please do go back and re-read Shakespeare, Tristram Shandy, Henry Fielding. Dripping with innuendos. The opening lines of Shandy (1759) are about Tristram getting jizzed into his mom’s womb, for God’s sake. And as Razib pointed out, there’s plenty of blunt sex in the bible. There’s a whole industry of books about sex during the Civil War, about sex during the Roaring 20s, et cetera, et cetera. Any arguments based on how “repressed” Western society is sexually run contrary to history. What you mean is, again, that sometimes Western society has been loathe to talk publicly about how much banging they do.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #32 is right. people tend to confuse the aspirations and propaganda of the victorian era up to 1965 as the entire past. the 18th century mores of europe were well known to be rather lax, ergo, the victorian ‘reaction’

  • Anthony

    #32 – for that matter, read Benjamin Franklin on the advantages of older women. If it didn’t have Franklin’s name on it, it would have been banned through much of American history, and even today, it probably wouldn’t be allowed in a lot of schools.

  • Marmot

    “Do people truly entertain the idea that adolescent boys and girls react to visual pornography in the same way, if not for social or cultural pressures? If so, that’s really stupid, and reiterates why I refuse to identify myself as a liberal.”

    “If so”? Bullshit. You freely admit that you believe this to be true–in the very same sentence. And without trying to establish that it’s a widely held belief among this amorphous Left.

    This says more about your own willingness to identify with a set of cultural assumptions than it says about anything else. You’re just writing a post-hoc rationale.

    I like the fact that this bolsters a my hypothesis, though. Seems conservatives are far more prone to tribal thinking — you’re certainly a smart guy, but the weird need to lash out against a strawman marks you as a conservative, and I suggest that that’s mainly what drives you to adopt conservative political positions.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I like the fact that this bolsters a my hypothesis, though. Seems conservatives are far more prone to tribal thinking — you’re certainly a smart guy, but the weird need to lash out against a strawman marks you as a conservative, and I suggest that that’s mainly what drives you to adopt conservative political positions.

    your hypothesis is retarded. i’m an atheist and a non-libertarian conservative. what fucking tribe is that smart-ass? though i’m sure you’re quite the heterodox thinker with an odd combination of beliefs.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #35, hey wait, i went and reread what i wrote, this is not on point at all:
    “If so”? Bullshit. You freely admit that you believe this to be true–in the very same sentence. And without trying to establish thatit’s a widely held belief among this amorphous Left.

    i didn’t say it was a widely held belief. obviously it’s not. my point, which i think is obvious in the thread, is that the majority of liberals are generally going to be silent when a minority of ideologues make all sorts of crazy assertions about human nature for coalitional purposes. don’t mischaracterize my position again, or i’ll ban you.

  • Chris

    You just tell your wife you are doing research for your column, right? :-)

  • Jess

    I don’t think it’s wrong for the parents to feel they were being sexist. For one thing men and boys ALSO get raped. So not advising the boy on how to protect himself is pretty ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous to assume that girls would not need to be taught about limits. Yes, boys and girls experience things a bit differently but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t inform them equally.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I don’t think it’s wrong for the parents to feel they were being sexist. For one thing men and boys ALSO get raped. So not advising the boy on how to protect himself is pretty ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous to assume that girls would not need to be taught about limits. Yes, boys and girls experience things a bit differently but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t inform them equally.

    interesting. since when universities hire the mentally disabled? this might make a lot more sense of budget problems in academia…. more seriously, of course boys and girls shouldn’t be treated totally differently. the point is that it isn’t sexist to understand that in a time constrained circumstance you take prior information into account. sex is one of those. i can’t believe that the parents were operating under such an extreme heuristic. in any case, i think both boys and girls should be warned equally about sexual predators, though there may be differences. the main difference is that i’d be worried a lot more about “porn addiction” in a teenage boy than a teenage girl.

  • Nihaya Khateb

    ‘Biology is not a destiny”…….. I think that biology is at most a distiny, especially in the gender defferences. hpweaer,we as “smart creatures” could not help being under biological destiny . As Darwin said we are animals in many aspects’ including sexual behavior. Environment is not more than a catalizator for the biological traites to be accomplished. If every one examine him/herself under a zooming glass he/she would realize how much biology controle our behavior. We are slaves of our hormones, transmitters’ neurones and so on. Environment could have a deep inflouence onley after consistant effect for thousends of years and not for one generation or tow.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    for that matter, read Benjamin Franklin on the advantages of older women. If it didn’t have Franklin’s name on it, it would have been banned through much of American history, and even today, it probably wouldn’t be allowed in a lot of schools

    Ten minutes spent looking at “mature” porn shows that Ben was quite right. “Below the girdle,” you really can’t tell the difference between a younger woman and an older one.

  • http://noseenohearnospeak.blogspot.com AndrewV

    I suspect that the ready availability of porn among other things, has had at least some impact on currently normative sexual mores among young people.

    I have no citations, nor can I recall any recent studies on the matter, just the observation for example, that many teenage girls who shoot naked “self shot” pictures of themselves have shaved pubes, leading to the assumption that porn consumption is perhaps responsible for the transmission and adoption of this practise.

    Examination of the GPS tags in the EXIF data of many of these self-shots, could perhaps reveal some interesting and inferred socio-economic patterns for those interested in such matters. As a side note, there appears to be a distressing lack of awareness among the girls who take these photos, that they are also publishing the exact location that they were taken, presumably in their homes, and hence there is some exposure to the possibility of unpleasant consequences in the future.

    Obviously there is a problem with assertions of the like, and there may well be other obvious socio-cultural factors of which I am either unaware, or have discounted, such as the influence of celebrity sex tapes, which may be posited as just amplifiers of an existing signal.

    In any event, I have encountered individuals who self-censor themselves, like my children when they were pre-adolescent, to other teenagers, who not only deliberately do not seek out porn, but quickly shut it down when they encounter it.

    We also tend to ignore I have noticed, the possible impact on porn on the more senior members of our society, no doubt for obvious reasons, but their reactions when exposed to such material tends I think we can agree to a large extent, to not induce moral panic, but amusement such as this example, where some Grandmas watch the Kim Kardashian sex tape.

  • Revereche

    It’s not that there aren’t differences between men and women – it’s that the individual has to be accounted for. Growing up, I was markedly feminine in some ways, and markedly masculine in others – no one side of the scale could account for a little girl who loved to wear dresses, make dandelion chains, and cuddle kitties AND collect worms, play violent video games, and draw monsters. That’s still the case. The individual is a collection of traits, however the mass of data skews, and should not be forced to choose from a binary (particularly when the very establishment of that binary allows for all kinds of arbitrary cultural decisions on what is masculine or feminine).

  • omar

    Someone brought up the “declining age of menarche”. This is actually NOT true. Here are the facts about menarche:
    Age of menarche declines in every society where pre-modern malnutrition is replaced by modern increase in caloric intake. But then decline stabilizes at around 12 to 12.5 years of age. In the US the age of menarche declined until the sixties and has remained steady since then (about 12.5 years for European girls, closer to 12 for African-Americans…I may be off by decimal point or two). The “age of porn” has NOT been associated with any decline in the age of menarche.
    What MAY have declined is the age of THELARCHE or breast development. For reasons that probably are mostly related to increasing body mass index, the average age of breast development does seem to have declined. But even this remains somewhat controversial with some authorities insisting that A. we didnt have an accurate age earlier (thelarche being less well defined than menarche..every girl remembers when she had her first period, most cannot remember exactly when breast development started) and textbooks reported an average age that was higher than the reality. We may just be noticing something that was already there. B. People are looking at fatty breasts and mistaking them for true breast tissue.
    My impression of the data is that the age of thelarche probably has declined a little, but even so there has been no dramatic change. The TIME magazine stories about early maturing girls are mostly hype (that girls may be dressing or acting more maturely at an earlier age is a separate phenomenon)
    In short, porn does not seem to have lowered the age of menarche at all. If porn has caused a detectable PHYSICAL change, its not in the form of earlier periods.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    . The individual is a collection of traits, however the mass of data skews, and should not be forced to choose from a binary (particularly when the very establishment of that binary allows for all kinds of arbitrary cultural decisions on what is masculine or feminine).

    no. shit. please see my comments above.

  • http://noseenohearnospeak.blogspot.com AndrewV

    Razib said:

    interesting. since when universities hire the mentally disabled? this might make a lot more sense of budget problems in academia…. more seriously

    I infer from the above statement that we share similar attitudes towards the first sentence that Jess made.

    You may, or may not recall my previous comment about people who are only superficially educated, and if I remember correctly, have seen at least one photo of you, with people who I believe fit that criteria.

    However, quite apart from that the fact that the term “sexism” appears to have a strongly negative moral dimension as currently defined, I believe an argument can be successfully made, that it is an effective tool of boundary control for the Politically Correct, and it’s use is a strong signifier of such.

    Other signifiers are of course “feminism” and “racism”. At this point it should be beyond obvious that I am not addressing you Razib, or for that matter, many of the people who post here, but to those who may be unaware rather, that crossing the boundary of what is acceptable in academia, could have consequences.

    What is truly unfortunate in my opinion, is that I do not believe that you were too far off the mark with your statement either. I despair of the current education system at times, and examples such as the above do not offer any comfort.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #47, in “real life” i socialize almost exclusively with people who are liberal but have strong science backgrounds. don’t know how it fits into your picture. the main issue i have personally is that people like to talk about stuff they don’t know much about.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    I have no citations, nor can I recall any recent studies on the matter, just the observation for example, that many teenage girls who shoot naked “self shot” pictures of themselves have shaved pubes, leading to the assumption that porn consumption is perhaps responsible for the transmission and adoption of this practise.

    A salient fact about shaving – a practice I consider absolutely nauseating – is that while it may have begun among porn stars, it has become almost universal among women who have little or no exposure to porn. Even among women who abhor porn. A 40-year-old, minivan-driving, church-going, Republican-voting suburban Soccer Mom may consider porn utterly evil, yet it’s a near certainty that she would not think of allowing a single hair follicle to go unshaved.

    I think that particular topic needs a deeper look – does it count as porn if its only words?

    Written porn seems to appeal mostly to women. Men are more visual in this respect.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #49, lol. your comment and passion in this area is relevant to the thread for once!

  • omar

    Peter, if you want to slow down the shaving trend, try letting people know that its an orthodox Islamic practice (true). That should force a few islamophobes to pick between shaving like a Muslims or looking outdated…
    btw, the practice may not be as universal as you think. As a pediatric physician I do get to see the private parts of adolescents and at least in our area I dont find the shaving rate to be anywhere near 50% among adolescent females (I dont see adults, so cannot say about older women). Maybe my sample is skewed. I wonder if there is objective data out there..
    Are men shaving their pubes too?

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    Are men shaving their pubes too?

    I believe so, though it’s certainly not as common as among women.

    What’s interesting is that while shaving among men began in porn, as it did among women, in the case of men it served a valid purpose: shaving makes a man look bigger, which obviously is important in that particular industry.

    I wonder if there is objective data out there..

    There have been some surveys of women, IIRC one of them showed that the shaving rate is about 50% among women in their early 20’s and drops off significantly after age 25 or so. I simply don’t believe it, the survey must have been completely flawed. My best estimate is that about 75% of women in the 18-55 age range are completely hairless.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    11 –

    My dealings with the uber-PC brigade have essentially ended since leaving graduate school. And this is despite being in a profession (the labor movement) where I’m surrounded by left-wingers all the time. Such people are irrelevant in the wider world. I realized even back in graduate school that in a weird way, the social function of universities is to domesticate people who in other times would be agitators, perhaps even revolutionaries, by giving them cushy jobs and letting them argue about useless “thought crime” bullshit instead of actual social and economic policy.

  • Doesn’t Need Bifocals

    @Peter: If you’re a leg/ass man, it’s patently obvious the difference between a young woman and an older one. In fact, the legs probably go before the face does.

    (Although any woman who stays in shape will be somewhat attractive in the legs/ass area, whereas there are many odd facial characteristics that can ruin a woman’s facial attractiveness even at her peak.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    And this is despite being in a profession (the labor movement) where I’m surrounded by left-wingers all the time.

    liberals focused on fiscal issues don’t strike me as PC at all. so i am not surprised you don’t encounter them. living in the real world disabuses you for childish things.

  • Brel

    Out of curiosity, Razib, do you agree more with liberals who focus on fiscal issues? Because most of your dislike for liberals does seem to center on the PC police (I can hardly blame you).

  • Revereche

    “no. shit. please see my comments above.”
    Sorry I didn’t peruse the entire comments section =P The point I was making is that it’s not that the Left doesn’t acknowledge differences between the sexes on the large, but that it has good reason to believe in treating them the same way anyway. A topic-relevant example: Sure, the immediate impression is that you’ll want to be more concerned with safety with girls and impressing limits on boys – but failure to adhere to sexual precautions will come back and bite boys these days as well, and on the topic of physical safety, girls are certainly not entirely harmless (and you never know when you’ll land a crazy – beware of drinks and things that can be slipped into them!); conversely, girls are definitely capable of pressuring boys into doing things they don’t want to (though the boys will be damned if they admit it).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Out of curiosity, Razib, do you agree more with liberals who focus on fiscal issues? Because most of your dislike for liberals does seem to center on the PC police (I can hardly blame you).

    i tend to agree on a lot of specific with social libertarian types, though i think they sometimes lack perspective (i.e., people should be free to have different social arrangements, but that doesn’t mean that some arrangements are inferior in furthering human flourishing). when it comes to issues of the public fisc, the disagreements are clean and straightforward where they exist. my issue with PC is that it has the same unpleasant aspect as many religious conservatives; righteousness, and no personal accountability.

  • Zora

    I didn’t see the comment re different sex cautions for girls and boys as so obviously wrong as the rest of you seem to do. If you teach boys to limit themselves, you’re teaching them that you expect boys to be aggressive. If you teach girls to protect themselves, you’re teaching them that they aren’t aggressive, that they are to remain passive and protect themselves against male aggression. The teaching assumes the mainstream 19th-20th-21st century version of Euro-American expected gender behavior. Children who don’t fit the stereotypes will feel like misfits. Even if you believe that men, on the whole, will *naturally* be aggressors and women will be defenders (which I am not prepared to admit without more data and better studies — especially historical and cross-cultural data and studies) you must also admit that there will be those of each sex who don’t sit at the peak of the bell curve … those who are more, or perhaps less, aggressive than the norm for their biological sex. To implicitly tell children that you expect them to be what you consider NORMAL is to police behavior. To enforce roles rather than admit that the bell curves for male and female sexual aggressiveness are not totally disjunct, and might overlap (perhaps even to a great extent).

    As to the influence of pornography — I see a buncha guys reveling in their prejudices here, and little in the way of dispassionate enquiry. It is not at all clear that women don’t like visual porn. I like some visual porn. Most of it leaves me utterly cold, because it’s cheap, ugly, made by men for men, and doesn’t push my buttons at all. Watching Hrithik Roshan or Ranveer Singh … now that pushes all sorts of buttons. Females objectify men, oh yes we do.

    Off to watch Dum Dum Mast Hai again :)

  • pod

    #59 put it better than I could. But at the most basic level: what’s wrong with treating everyone the same, without prejudice?

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    @60 Because not everyone’s the same?

    @59 “The teaching assumes the mainstream 19th-20th-21st century version of Euro-American expected gender behavior. Children who don’t fit the stereotypes will feel like misfits.”

    Every population has its outliers. It’s silly to make arguments based on outliers. And anyway, the whole “aggressive/defensive” dichotomy you’ve set up would not actually be argued by anyone. You’re setting up straw women. Oh, and every society polices behavior. It’s how societies function. Not sure why this bothers you.

  • http://www.eurasian-sensation.blogspot.com Eurasian Sensation

    “My point is that for most of human history children have had some exposure to sex, whether because of lack of privacy in the home, or through observation of farm animals. “

    True. But while historically lots of kids may had some exposure to a grown man and woman having sexual relations, they most likely did not see 2 grown men unloading in a woman’s face, or whatever else is popular in the porn world these days.

    I don’t have a problem with exposure to sexual imagery to some extent, and I admit that if I were a teenager again today in the age of porn, I’d probably never leave my room. But it is the content of so much porn today which is one of the major problems. I too had very little chance to view porn as a teenager, so I would have been pretty satisfied with even a glimpse of bare breasts. What sex scenes I did encounter in TV and movies were pretty “normal”, as in usually clearly consensual and within the realms of what a real couple might do. But 12 and 13 year olds today don’t have a clear baseline for what “normal” sexual activity consists of. I’m trying to push for sexual prudery or missionary-only sex; but I don’t think it’s good that a lot of teens think it’s normal to try to choke a woman during sex, or invite your friends to join in the act.

  • Isabel

    I remember watching a couple of episodes of “Lovelines” or whatever it was called, on MTV, with Dr. Drew and that other smartass who would take calls from young people. They would ***never ever*** accept that a female caller liked or desired casual sex. They would flat out not believe her, ignore her stated reason for the call, and spend their time instead explaining her true nature to her- that despite her (sometimes adamant) protestations, she was becoming emotionally attached to these partners because it was in her nature, and how she was setting herself up for hurt, beccause women have a need for emotional attachment during sex, that she should respect herself, blah blah.

    It was incredibly sexist and offensive, and as an adult woman I was outraged, especially that this was on MTV in the modern era. Who the fuck did these dudes think they were to tell young women what they should be feeling and desiring?? Jerks. Women are visual creatures, they are aroused by porn, even if their tastes often do run to soft-core, and they don’t want to marry every guy they are attracted to. And they definitely do not need men to preach to them about their differences, jeesh.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    @Peter: If you’re a leg/ass man, it’s patently obvious the difference between a young woman and an older one. In fact, the legs probably go before the face does.

    When Ben Franklin wrote about “below the girdle” he didn’t mean the woman’s legs.

  • Mark

    Are men shaving their pubes too?

    I believe so, though it’s certainly not as common as among women.

    It’s ubiquitous among gay men.

  • Eurologist

    there is no such thing as a european upbringing. there’s a french upbringing, there’s a german one, there’s an italian one, there’s a swedish one. different european national cultures have very different attitudes toward this issue from what i can tell. from an economic perspective, female labor force participation varies a lot, for example:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lab_for_par_rat_fem_of_fem_pop_age_1564-female-population-ages-15-64

    (from what i recall germany’s numbers exhibit strong within nation variation, with eastern germany traditionally having higher participation than the former west germany)

    Razib,

    Yes on all points.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18021714

    (relatively poorly written, though, and I disagree with the author’s characterization of nudity in the Third Reich (plenty of counterexamples) or East Germany. The first “full back” and “partial front” nudity I saw in movies was a trailer/ad shown to kids’ audiences in an East German movie theater before 1960 – when I visited).

  • AllenM

    I think one can draw the distinction on the differences in perception of porn to be based on the male versus female viewpoint.

    Men are the primary consumers, and women hate the competition implied by that consumption.

    All the rest of the discussion is mostly social dross.

    Razib- this article is far more interesting in terms of nature versus nuture:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/can-you-call-a-9-year-old-a-psychopath.html

    Complete with actual brain differences resulting in at least some of the behavior- and a genetic assertation of some causation.

    In the New York Times!

    Now, notice how they end up sort of lost at the end- how does a liberal outlook deal with evil disassociative outcomes?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    And they definitely do not need men to preach to them about their differences, jeesh.

    yes, some of you do, as your whole comment indicates.

    which I am not prepared to admit without more data and better studies — especially historical and cross-cultural data and studies

    that’s what evolutionary psychology has been attempting to do for nearly 30 years after sociobiology became political toxic. and your rejection of this body of evidence (or ignorance) is another point in favor of my argument with chris: sex differences are simply not a given on the cultural left, they’re to be problematized away. evolutionary psychology has not succeeded in making it “politically correct” to accept sex differences. most on the left agree on principle with the concept, but concretely the threshold of skepticism is set very high.

    second, To enforce roles rather than admit that the bell curves for male and female sexual aggressiveness are not totally disjunct, and might overlap (perhaps even to a great extent).

    are you talking to me? or talking to your strawman of me? in fact, some of you refuse to give up on the strawman of taking into account sex differences. did i use the word ‘enforce’ anywhere? or are you using your commenting license. i can enter into psychologizing about why some of you insist on shadow-boxing an interlocutor which doesn’t exist. as for you zora, you read me well enough to know i don’t like being mischaracterized. and thanks for schooling me about a bell curve, i needed that!

    barring more quantitative data my original probability as to my argument re: chris about liberals and sex differences has now increased my confidence in this position. even people who read my stuff (e.g., zora) simply can’t get away from assuming those who admit the reality of sex differences have some retarded model of disjoint trait values, and wish to enforce neo-feudal sexual norms. if that’s who you think you are arguing with, you just aren’t having a serious discussion. fucking disgusting.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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