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Sex ed: the Web is a bad teacher

Note – This article was originally written for the Italian edition of Wired.

No, no matter what countless websites may say, bukkake wasn’t a fertility ritual in ancient Japanese wedding ceremonies. In fact, it was invented in 1998 by director Kazuhiko Matsumoto simply to get round the local law forbidding to show uncensored genitals even in pornographic videos. But do you know what the really weird thing is? That you knew what I am talking about at all.
Indeed, for obvious reasons (organizational, at the least) almost nobody actually practices this strange sexual act. Same goes for squirting: only 5% of women experience it in the real world and very few people even heard of it before 2000 – yet today it is such a staple that Italian comedian Ruggero de I Timidi made a career out of singing about it (here is the vastly inferior video-less English language version). So what’s happening to sex ed?

The answer is clear. In a mere few years the Internet removed all the barriers that for centuries had impeded access to pornographic materials. No longer than thirty years ago, just to watch a slightly unusual porn flick you had to be in a big city, find one of the very few specialized adult shops, muster the courage to enter and pay over $100 for a VHS tape you then had to hide somewhere in your home. Now a smartphone is all that is needed: it provides no-embarrassment, no-cost, unlimited and immediate access to every kind of exotic genres – including squirting and bukkake themselves, not to mention much weirder stuff. With such an offer readily available, it is no surprise if the average link-hopping user can teach a thing or two to all of the biggest libertines of the past put together.
This revolution comes however with a disturbing side effect. Since anyone can access online porn, it is inevitable that it is also seen by ‘digital natives’ – who in most parts of the world means everyone under 20. According to statistics, the first encounter with online erotic content today happens on average under the age of ten, and for over 80% of teenagers it constitutes the sole form of “sex education”. The topic is thorny enough that media and institutions seem to compete on who addresses it the least, yet ignoring it only serves to worsen a situation already exhibiting rather troubling implications. This is why it is always best to pay attention whenever a new study about sexuality among the youth pops up.

The most recent example comes from Steve, an Italian online project to identify emerging youth global trends. The method used is simple: to shower with questions of every sort a sample of subjects between 17 and 23 years old –several hundreds worldwide – then correlating those answers tracing any growing phenomena. The authors are the first to admit that they are working with a subject population too small for a normal statistical study, yet large enough for discovering meaningful trends. After the first two studies about drug use and videogames, Steve just dug into sex. The results identified some “strong topics” we should better think about – especially institutions.

  • Pornography is a part of daily life

Every interviewee knew at least one porn website. 86% of them up to three, and 14% more than that

  • Youngsters know the words and techniques of extreme sex, yet they don’t practice it (much)

In example, 72% of them know what fisting is, 80% facial and 88% knowingly talks about gangbangs… but only 8% has ever experienced any of these

  • Some preferences are just imaginary

This is the case of bisexuality, which is affectedly declared as a preference even if practically nobody has had a gay experience yet

  • Virtual socialization makes live meeting difficult

Online chatting is a second nature, yet meeting face to face is often experienced as awkward – so much that sex is considered a good way to melt the ice between online “friends”

  • Partners mimic porn videos when they have sex

This latter aspect is also the most important. Since the Web made pornography available also to females – who traditionally had no access with the erotic material available to males – both sexes think of porn as a model to conform to. To make an example, most girls consider sex “accomplished” only if the partner ejaculates on their faces – as it is customary in adult videos, where it is however purely a directorial need to show “proof” to the public.
In other words, the lack of a real education to sexuality teaching also the emotional and ethical sides of the sexual act renders kids unable to understand that porn videos are fiction, not a faithful account of reality. This is a well-known phenomenon, popping up occasionally in really scary ways: it is the case of the make-up artist who received death threats for having shown some porn stars without make-up, or that of Make love, not porn, an organization created to educate youngsters to live their sexuality in a more natural way.

Steve’s research reveals that kids consider themselves a privileged generation thanks to the better knowledge of sex allowed them by the Net. On one side it is true that the exposition to all the strange practices shown online completely removed moralisms from sex: after you watch a scat or felching video, you can hardly live your own little kinks as a perversion or a problem. The pornification of sex however also brings a few semantic troubles with it.
Those used to skipping unwanted parts of videos while looking for their preferred action, in example, completely miss the concept of preliminary arousal. Human physiology however doesn’t have a ‘fast forward’ function, so the natural reaction times are often experienced as a serious problem. Same goes for the other side of the coin: remember the Viagra scandal of a few years ago, when it turned out that over 30% of its request came from minors and under-30s whose partners demanded the “normal” performances seen in professional (and editing-enhanced) porn stars?
Go figure what we’ll have to fear when serious broadband will get a hold worldwide…

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