So, I’m doing the school run this morning when my 16 year old turns to me, “Mum, have you read 50 Shades of Grey?”
“Um, no… and I don’t want you to either.”
My 16 year old continues: “Well everyone is talking about it, and the trailor came out yesterday… What’s it about anyway?” My 15 year old leans in to join the conversation.
I take a breath in, then decide to be honest and just put it out there.
“Well, it’s… well… its basically porn for women.”
‘Ok, I’ll tell you the story… it’s about this girl, and she meets this guy, and he gets her to sign this contract that he can pretty much do whatever he wants with her sexually, including chains, blindfolds and whips etc, then he pretty much seduces her and uses her for his own gratification’.
It was this conversation then watching the trailer myself that sparked me to write this blog. As a parent, I do not want my teenage daughters to watch this movie, to feel pressure from their friends to watch this movie, or to believe that this 50 Shades of Grey is now the expected norm in love, sex and relationships.
If you want, you can check out the trailer for yourself here
Now some of you may be thinking, “Come on Kym, you’re not the moral police; Fifty Shades is not that bad, we read it ourselves and we love it!” Ok, so, I’d like to debunk 3 of the most common excuses supporting FSOG that I’ve heard so far:
One: It’s not porn, it’s just a bit of fun.
The reason I am calling Fifty Shades ‘pornography for women’ is because it really is just that. The definition of pornography is ‘Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement. ‘ (Oxford Dictionary) 50 Shades definitely does that, but goes further by romanticising sadistic and masochistic sex as ‘enlightenment’ – which it definitely isn’t.
Bearing this definition in mind, 50 Shades author, ‘E.L. James’ told the Huffington Post; “Well to be honest, it was mostly curiosity. I had just read some stuff about BDSM [bondage-domination-sadism-masochism] and found it really, really hot — an arousing kind of hot. And I got to thinking, ‘What if you met somebody who was in this kind of relationship, in this lifestyle, and who knew nothing about it and probably didn’t want to do it? What would happen next?’ And I just took it from there, really.” (1)
It’s also interesting that the genre of these books is called ‘erotica’ so it’s clearly not light reading for general consumption.
Two: It’s not harmful, it’s female sexual liberation
Australian research shows that by 16 years of age, 100% of boys have been exposed to pornography, with the current average age of exposure to boys being around 11-12 years of age. There are varying studies and statistics regarding female exposure, with some research showing girls reporting a 97% exposure of porn by the age of 16. (2)
In a recent study by the Australian Institute, it reveals the findings of how exposure occurs:
“Boys and girls follow different paths to exposure to pornography. Typically, girls watched pornography only once, because a boyfriend or somebody wanted them to or because they were curious, and then did not watch again. The majority of boys are also exposed to pornography for the first time through the encouragement of others, but it is more likely to be by male friends.” (3)
Now while these stats may be surprising to some, they cannot and must not be palmed off as “Well that’s just the world we live in now.” The unfortunate reality is that because porn has become so common and viewed as ‘normal’, and we are saturated by the media with women’s bodies and the increase of sexualisation of women in the media, some of us are now thinking that BDSM is now part of a normal sex life. I can assure you, it isn’t.
I can’t tell you the number of teenage girls who come to me and say; “My boyfriend wants me to do this (insert weird, kinky and potential harmful sexual act) but I don’t feel comfortable with it…” Then they lean in, full of self-doubt and anxiety and ask, “Is there something wrong with me?” How tragic. What type of world do we live in when a young woman questions her own gut instincts? Why isn’t she instead questioning the sexual act being forced upon her, or the guy asking her to perform these acts? This is not women’s liberation, but actually the opposite.
It makes me so angry and sad that teenage girls are questioning themselves and thinking something is wrong with them for not wanting to do those things. This book romanticises these acts, and that is not real life.
Three: If she consented, it’s fine. It’s none of your business!
Ok then. Let me apply this same logic to domestic violence. As a counselor, many DV clients often say; “Its fine, its my fault, I deserved it. I forgive him.” The emotional manipulation women are susceptible to, especially by men, cannot be comprehended or underestimated. The female heart desires to love and give ALL, to lay her life down and sacrifice everything for the man she loves. Many words of manipulation have caused women to go far beyond this natural desire, into accepting sexual violence in the bedroom, all because he says ‘he wants it.’ This is not OK! Just because someone consents, doesn’t make it right. No one has the right to harm anyone, even if they supposedly ‘ask for it’.
Let me share an interesting story a friend told me recently. He has a friend who catches the train every day to work. On this particular week, his friend noticed a woman reading Fifty Shades of Grey sitting in the same seat near him for 3 days in a row. On the fourth day he bought a Penthouse magazine, sat close by the woman as usual, and began to read the magazine. The woman looked up and said, “Excuse me; that’s offensive”. The guy nodded towards Fifty Shades of Grey and responded “So’s that.”
Parents Speak Up
I encourage all parents to join me and take a stand with their teenage daughters (and sons) to avoid 50 Shades of Grey when it comes out. You could use the opportunity instead as an opportunity to talk about the subtle influence of pornography in twisting a healthy respect for the opposite sex. Parents, we need to share with our teenagers that sex is about giving and not taking. That sex is an act of love and selflessness, an expression of total love and faithfulness. That sex is not a sadistic sport or activity entered in to for selfish pleasure. As I said to my daughters in the car; “You don’t ask people you love if you can hurt them for your own pleasure and gain.”
Let me encourage parents out there to speak to your teenage children about this movie and why they won’t be going with their friends to watch it. It is time for us to stand up to this porn saturated society that is objectifying women and telling our daughters that it is ok to accept this type of treatment from a man.
I will certainly be fighting for my children’s dignity. Will you?
(3) Youth and Pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects. The Australian Institute.
We were excited to see Real Talk get a mention in the Catholic Leader as we kickstart the new year. You can read about it here:
There is a pandemic that is decimating communities the world over. Nobody is immune and more and more people are becoming exposed daily. Once it gets hold it often leads to death and destruction.
Christians are not immune. In fact, I’d suggest that this disease is almost as prevalent in our communities, despite the fact that we have the antidote.
I’m talking of pornography. Pornography damages lives, relationships and society. The same can be said of a casual attitude to relationships and sex in general but the game changer, in today’s technological world, is pornography.
It shocks others when I mention a few statistics that demonstrate how widespread the problem is; that there are estimated to be more porn pages based in Australia than Australian Facebook users is one such statistic.
"There are estimated to be more porn pages based in Australia than Australian Facebook users"
What is more devastating than any statistic is the real people I meet and the impact that an under-regulated, overly accessible porn industry has on their lives.
Take a 13-year-old boy I’ve worked with as an example. He looks at porn daily on his smart phone. Until his struggle was brought into the light his parents probably thought that the worst thing he got up to was “being mean to his sister”.
Another confronting example might be the 17-year-old who attends youth group each week but has had 15 sexual partners this year.
These are real people faced with a real but sometimes insidious problem. One thing I have learnt is that when one starts on a diet of pornography it is a very slippery slope from intrigue to dependency.
Porn and Relationships
Musician and Grammy award winner John Mayer in a Playboy magazine interview (2010) openly connected his porn use with being unable to find a satisfying stable relationship. Mayer, who admits to regularly viewing hundreds of porn images before getting out of bed, finds porn easier than discovering someone new. “How does that (porn) not affect the psychology of having a relationship with somebody? It’s got to,” says Mayer.
In the book, Wired for Intimacy, Dr William Struthers discusses how the human person is essentially created for relationship. He argues that the neurological pathways in the brain are designed for relational intimacy, partner bonding and the desire to reproduce. These get hijacked in porn use by an overload of unrealistic images and experiences.
Many that ponder the anthropology of sex and relationships might inadvertently be led in a direction towards a much-condemned, traditionally religious attitude towards sex. Namely, that it is primarily created to be unitive and procreative.
Males who watch porn are less likely to form successful relationships and are more likely to think sexual harassment is acceptable.
That humans are fundamentally created for relationship is highlighted ever so strongly by our sexuality and our deep desire for fulfilment in this area. It also is highlighted by the deep damage caused by a misuse or abuse of our sexuality.
Exposure to porn is so high that close to 100 per cent of males will encounter it before leaving school, reports Melinda Tankard Reist, researcher, author and activist against violence to women. The pedagogy of pornography is concerning. Porn reinforces that girls and women are merely pleasure centres for men.
What’s even more concerning is what pornography teaches about violence to women. A 2011 study, by the university of Nevada of five highly popular porn sites found that over 50 per cent of video pornography included acts of violence against women.
In a La Trobe University report, researcher Michael Flood found that males who watch porn are less likely to form successful relationships and are more likely to think sexual harassment is acceptable. Not surprisingly, a 2010 study by the Witherspoon Institute found that 56 per cent of divorce cases involved one or both parties having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.
Feeding the Addiction – The Harm on Health
Recent research has begun to shed light on the addictive nature of pornography. Not only does porn stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain like that of narcotics but it includes a behavioural, visual experience. It is this lethal double combination of chemical highs and behavioural reinforcement that leads to powerful habits and sexual addictions.
Despite the abundance of research indicating the negative outcomes associated with porn use I’m still surprised every time a secular media outlet cottons on to this disease sweeping the advanced world. Most recently, men’s magazine GQ had the article “10 reasons why you should quit watching porn” to warn readers of the negative health effects of Internet pornography
Sexual appetite has become like the relationship between, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity … if your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. – Naomi Wolf
Even third-wave feminist Naomi Wolf, not exactly known for sexual conservatism, with books such as “Promiscuities” writes her concerns about the onslaught of porn. She says that, “It is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn worthy’.” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity … if your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on but less so.” Further to this she says, “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.”
Porn is detrimental to people’s mental, physical and spiritual health. It little by little changes the users mindset. As the late Pope John Paul II is often quoted as saying, “the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much but that it shows too little”. Even when I spend just one minute analysing this statement with high school groups they begin to see that perhaps porn does in fact reduce the fullness of the human person to being merely something to use.
Exposing the Illness
This taboo subject is starting to also gain more exposure in Christian communities. Brisbane based ministry, menALIVE, recently ran an event in Brisbane city on this topic. I was also pleasantly surprised to read a great pastoral letter by Bishop Gerard Holohan, Bishop of Bunbury addressing this topic not only theologically but also practically. For those interested in finding out more may I recommend you read this letter.
The good news is that there is help available and that the more we increase awareness of the problem the more we can help with both the prevention and the cure. As followers of Christ we are equipped with a power that can overcome all things including the evil of pornography.
Despite the confronting nature of this topic the truth is that Christians have really good news to bring in this area! Just this week I have had multiple young Christians who have shared with me the difference that hearing the awesomeness of God’s plan for their sexuality has made to them and their faith. When the truth and goodness of our sexuality is revealed and understood it can truly be a turning point in people’s lives.
The more speaking engagements I do, the more convinced I am of the important role parents play in their teenagers sexual education…in fact, every part of their lives. As a parent of teenagers myself, I feel ‘in the thick’ of it every day; the emotions of their stage of life, the joy and pain, the confusion and the hormones, the importance of friends, of belonging, of boundaries, and the influence of peer pressure. Some days my teenage kids come home with stories of friends who are involved in self-harm, disordered eating, thoughts of suicide, bullying, ‘sexting’, pornography and more. On days like these I am grateful for my training in youth ministry and experience in counselling to be able to guide my own children and provide answers in such full-on and often confusing times.
I also realise that not all parents are youth counsellors or specialists and can often feel lost with how to respond when topics like these come up. Below are two key principles that will put the power back in your court as the parent of a teenager.
1) Stay engaged!
If there is anything we can do as parents, it is to not disengage! There is often a strong temptation around the ages of 8-12 to start to disengage. This is because now that they can feed themselves, dress themselves and go to the toilet by themselves, it seems like they don’t need us as much. This couldn’t be further from the truth. They still need you! Just not in the same way as a toddler or pre-schooler. They now need you more emotionally, to help them make sense of the world, to interpret what happens to them at school, to tell them it’s going to be OK. This is a crucial time when our voices as parents are still louder than that of the media and society, so don’t lose this opportunity to speak to them about all you value and believe. When the teenage years come about, it can be a shock to the system! Suddenly, they are more emotional, more moody, more demanding of attention, and the transition into this new phase is rapid.
I remember thinking ‘I’d better hold onto my hat because this is changing fast!’ It’s at this very point
that it is tempting to disengage. We want to surrender responsibility because it’s either too hard, or we don’t know what to do and it would feel a lot easier to leave them to their own devices. Let me encourage you: don’t disengage! Stay in their space, no matter how hard or crazy it gets. No matter how easy it may seem to walk away…don’t! Keep being available, keep asking questions, be willing to listen and make some compromises, but continue to assert your authority and protection over your teenagers. They need you! They may not act like it or even want it, but they do.
2) Be the adult
One of the big temptations for parents is to let go of emotional control. Whilst helping teach your teenagers to make good choices, it is still important to maintain your right to say ‘no’. Sometimes the intensity of their emotions can feel too much and we end up saying ‘yes’ to something we wouldn’t normally agree to just to keep the peace. Let me encourage you to resist this temptation and stick to your values. They won’t die if they don’t go to ‘that party’ this time!
It is difficult to be ‘the adult’ in the middle of the emotions of teenage-hood. Sometimes we begin to feel ‘triggered’ and hurt ourselves when they are trying to express how they feel (usually not very well!). I have found sometimes, even though I am angry and hurt, that I have had to close my eyes and tell myself: “I am the adult here. They are relying on me to keep calm and make sense of this for them”. This can be a really hard thing to do, but I have found it to be so worth-while that my teenagers actually end up sharing more vulnerability at that moment as I become completely present to them and support them through their time of trial.