Having grown up in the "digital era," I strongly feel one of the largest influences over my exposure to sex has been the media. TV and films introduced me to this incredibly vast topic before my school ever put on their restricted and unhelpful version of sex education. Scarcely-clad women adorned magazine covers in the Newsagent I went to when I was younger, and books I read from the age of eight such as "Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret," flirted with the then unfamiliar concept.
But when I entered high school (and to be honest, to some extent beforehand), I was introduced to the flip side: porn. Looking back, there were some important lenses through which I engaged or thought about the idea of porn, before I was better educated (again, mainly via the internet) at around the age of 16.
I always saw porn as an industry purely cultivated for the consumption of men. I knew no women who watched it, and yet the majority of my male classmates appeared to be. I just assumed there was nothing available for women, and that porn could only ever be enjoyed by men – that it was biologically impossible for women to derive the same gratification from it.
I completely oversimplified the industry, and as I grew up and learnt more about porn, I came to see how it was both an often intensely problematic and always complex process. Beforehand, I’d considered those who acted in porn as, well, not really people. I couldn’t imagine them with families or having other jobs or going to the supermarket. But being educated through documentaries and articles about the ‘behind the scenes’ of the lucrative business put things into perspective a lot.
I think there are two sides to the massive rise of media in talking about sex, which is accessible for anyone, from the age you can pretty much read. On one hand, people are learning about sex - including how to have safe, enjoyable sex - at a much earlier age, which I think is important, as it’s a natural part of life after all. Sharing stories about sex and exchanging information can also make people feel more comfortable with themselves, and it helps people understand that everyone can experience sex very differently, all with their own issues and insecurities.
This article is even a great example: before the internet, people were heavily restricted to the content they were shown, and young people (women in particular) were often barred from viewing sexually-related or relevant content, so we would often grow up naive. This could be very dangerous – to suddenly become an adult and realize you have no idea how to operate in a sexual environment, safely and enjoyably.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I, as a writer, am able to share my opinions and experiences on often ‘taboo’ subjects of sex, periods, and similar subjects and people will be able to read it without censorship.
But there is also a hugely damaging aspect to the amount of sexually-related content available, especially online, as it’s largely unfiltered or regulated. Many studies demonstrate that people who watch porn regularly can have their sexual performance detrimentally impacted, and in many cases, you can also be supporting an industry exploiting the actors and workers involved.
The internet can also expose a wild amount of misconceptions surrounding sex, which can can lead to both a fear around sex and also, in some cases, to unsafe sex. This climate of false information is also apparent in how women, especially on the internet, set completely unrealistic standards in beauty and fitness. This absolutely affects the way people see themselves and other people sexually.
I find the intertwinement between sex, the media and the internet very interesting, especially as it is an issue or benefit (however you choose to see it) which has only arisen in the past few decades. If you’re reading this, please take away one message if nothing else: use the internet to educate yourself on sex, but always be skeptical of what you’re looking at.