Thursday, 6 February 2014

The impact of a 15 year old girl being made to watch pornogrpahy - Grace's story,

Today on BBC Three Counties Radio I heard an interview with 20 year old Grace talking about her experience of being pressured into watching pornography by her then boyfriend when she was 15 years old. She was incredibly honest and open about how she felt it had negatively impacted her. If you would like to listen to the interview it will be available for a week at the BBC, skip to 1 Hour 7mins into the programme or you can read my typed up complete transcript of the interview. In this blog I want to pick out a few of things that Grace said. 

One of the first things Grace says is 
So the boy I was currently dating at the time, was obviously at that age where he had been watching it since about the age of 12 and he had heard from some of his friends that they watch it with their girlfriends. So he came up with a suggestion to me and I said no and I kept saying no and then he just kept on pushing, so I then said “well ok lets check this out, I’ve never looked at it before but lets have a look at it.
The first thing that leaps out to me in this is that he nagged her into watching it, persistent pressure made her go against what she originally clearly said she wanted. To me coercion of any kind is never acceptable. It highlights how good quality Sex and Relationship Education must have a firm foundation of exploring what makes a healthy relationship. Beyond just encouraging the positives I feel the messages needs to be made explicit. It is never ok to force and pressure your partner to do something they do not want to do. At any age and on topic.  The more 11-13 who hear, accept and put this into practice this the less problems we would have with 13+. 

The interview continues. and she says it was the first time she had ever seen any pornography and her first impression was that
It seemed quite forced, that the women, it was kind of like [She was] just there to be used for it. No expression of love between them. And I think that was what was most shocking really.  
Now obviously one person's experience can not be used to say everyone who watches porn will have the same reaction. However I do think it is a useful window into how some young people are encountering porn. A strong gender bias is evident in lots of mainstream pornography. Female objectification and degradation is a common observation. An adult might see this and feel outraged or appalled at the sexism. But i believe we should not assume the reactions from young people, without the framework of adult thinking, will be the same. Would a teenage male notice the sexism? Clearly this interview shows the 15 year old Grace noticed it wasn't what she liked and she can now reflect on why. i personally wonder if she had the same awareness as a teenager or just the emotional reaction.    

i don't think this is something we can ethically investigate in a formal study. Showing various types of porn to under 18 and trying to measure their emotional and cognitive reactions sounds very dodgy. So the question may remain unclear of what is the impact of porn on a brain that is still forming compared to the impact on an adult brain. My personal fear is that many of the sexual inequalities and violence common in much of the porn industry could be internalised and accepted by male and female young people exposed to it. Long term implications of this could be horrific. 

Later in the interview the radio presenter asks
So when you watched this pornography how did your boyfriend respond to it.

Grace replies
Well obviously he wanted to try everything he had seen on it. and it just really freaked me out, it almost felt like he was a different person after watching it with him. It was almost like “am i not good enough in this relationship for you?"
I think this may be a common reaction and the boys desire to try out what he had just watched is something I have heard boys expressing in schools lessons. Lots of variations of "I just wanted to try it after it looked so good" or "I think porn helps me find new things to do to my girlfriend". Monkey see Monkey do? Yet without a deep understanding of the biology of porn sex many young people end up confused, in pain or injured. High quality SRE can help especially when we peel back how fake porn is and show how much preparation, stretching, warm up, lube etc is needed to film the scenes they do.

Grace is also explaining how it immediatly put pressure on the relationship. Her view has be altered and damaged by the experience and particullary she is concerned about what the porn says about her boyfriends opinion of her is. 

One question and answer did surprise me a little. 
JVSDid you talk to any of your friends at the time, any of your girl friends, to talk it through with them? 
Grace Not at the time no but having spoken to them after a couple of years they were going through exactly the same thing as me. And even in some cases it was actually the girls that wanted to watch it and the boys were like “this is a bit weird why do you want to watch this with me, this is my personal kind of thing”. So it just affected all of us really in different ways.
I wish the interviewer had followed up this question asking why Grace thought the girls wanted to watch porn with their boyfriends. Was it because they were enjoying the porn? If so why was their experience of porn so different from Grace's. Was it because they just wanted to be involved with what their boyfriends enjoyed sexually? Was it curiosity? Was it trying to shame the boys into stop watching it? kind of like an ultimatum of "if you're too ashamed to watch it with me, should you really be watching it at all?" I just don't know but Grace did say that some of the boys at least find porn to be a very personal and private thing. Would an equivalent be a partner asking their girlfriend to read out loud passages from 50 Shades of Grey or some of the explicit One Direction fanfiction. Is privacy during teenage sexual development just a natural normal aspect of discovery and exploration. I'm certain many adults would be worried about their partner knowing every sexual thought that pops into their head. 

Near the end of the interview Grace explains what impact she think the experience had on her. 
You kind of put yourself in the frame of mind that all boys want to do the same and it is definitely not the case. It is the case in some instances but you just get in this frame of mind that boys just want one thing and its so not true. But because I’ve seen that and I’ve heard of other things you kind of protect yourself a little bit and you don’t give yourself over as much.
Negative sexual experiences in someones teenage years are known to have long lasting impacts. I think it is impossible to protect young people from all negative experiences. Partly because what is negative for one person might be a positive for another. But I hope we can help give young people more tools to identify earlier warning signs and equip them to avoid some pitfalls. Overall I think a healthy level of resilience is needed amongst young people. It is misguided of adults to assume that what shocks us the most is what will damage young people the most. We have to listen to young people constantly to ensure the provision we offer help young people with their biggest issues not our biggest freak outs. 

The interview ends and they move into discussion with Jason Royce from the Romance Academy. They discuss a lot of aspects of the issue and its well worth a listen (I didn't have the energy to transcript the whole thing). Jason does a great job of exploring the issue and offering so positive steps. 

I was very impressed with the BBC for doing this interview as it is such a sensitive and volatile topic. Grace's story shows how clearly we need to keep pushing for better Relationship and Sex Education in schools, youth clubs and at home. Many teenagers get caught up in situations they don't feel comfortable with and with people who don't take one "No" as an answer and think pestering coercion is acceptable. I think this emotional abuse needs to be a focus of SRE if we truly want to help people. Pornography doesn't look like it will be going any where soon and young people will continue to access it. So we must help give them the skills to navigate and avoid the unhealthy pressures it can create.