Recently something unexpected, but groundbreaking caught people’s attention: As of spring 2016, Playboy magazine — the publication that titillated men and adolescent boys for decades — will no longer publish the nude and semi-nude photos of women that made it famous.
“You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture,” Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders told the New York Times. But we had a different reaction.
As a culture, we have become desensitized to sex and violence due in large part to the ubiquitous portrayal of sexual violence in video games, movies and media. Thanks to the Internet, pornography that was once hidden in the back rooms of video stores, available only in sketchy areas of town, or hastily stuffed under mattresses became readily accessible around the clock, and today pornography is consumed by the masses. Add smartphones and other video recording devices to the mix, and porn is just as easy to create.
In addition to increased access, the content of mainstream pornography has become increasingly violent and graphic in nature, with explicit, high-res images replacing the blurry, pixelated sex videos of the past.
With the average age of first exposure to pornography around 11 years old, kids are simply unprepared to distinguish the messages they encounter in porn. Without the knowledge or understanding of what a respectful, mutually-agreeable, intimate relationship is, pornography then becomes a major source for youth to learn about sex.
It’s naive to assume that uninformed viewers with little sexual experience will not be influenced by these messages, especially when the majority of pornography is consumed by boys and young men. Research has shown a correlation between the consumption of pornography at an early age and incidence of sexual violence.
Exposure to pornography creates unrealistic expectations for both women and men when engaging in sex, and that could very well be a driver of sexual assault among young people.
So what can be done?