Warning: I’m going to get quite explicit and clinical again. If you’re offended by adult subject matter, then this isn’t the blog for you.
I always figured (from previous experience) that this blog would be a meandering collection of unrelated subjects. There are many strings to my bow, and many topics that pique my interest. Yes, I can talk about roadies and audio cables and other such specialist subjects. Yes, I can talk about gardening and cats and other such populist subjects. I can also talk about ’80s Heavy Metal… which probably doesn’t fit either category, but which was a lot of fun at the time. However, one subject which I have so far largely avoided (but about which I can go on and on like Rain Man) is sex.
See, I’m a sex nerd. I’ve always been a sex nerd. I can talk about sex the way that some people talk about Star Trek. I’ve researched the subject exhaustively (no, really). I read a lot. I don’t just use correct terms for vulva and vagina, I actually understand what Bartholin’s Glands do. I can draw a diagram to show your Posterior Fornix or Inguinal Canal. I know the difference between Boinking and Pony Play.
My friends at university all swiftly came to know that I was a deep wellspring of sexual information, so it became our regular topic of conversation. They could tell me about some video they’d seen on the internet, and I’d point out that Skene’s Glands don’t give out that much fluid, so really she was just urinating. I have sometimes (but rarely) carried these conversations into work, but for the most part I have kept silent about this subject while in a professional sphere – largely because it’s very difficult to cover such an emotive subject without drawing out people’s prejudices.
The exception to this rule was the years that I spent working part-time for a sex toy company presenting “fuckaware” parties. I was quite good at that job and I miss it a lot. Even when the sales weren’t great, I spent a lot of time being part counsellor and part doctor to a huge variety of men and women (mostly women). It reached a point where I was reading medical journals every day and realised I knew more about some topics than my gynecologist did. “Honey, those are just vestibular papillae. Put your pants back on.”
When you are bound to secrecy, you quickly come to see that most people aren’t that wild and are just worried about whether they’re normal (and almost without exception, they are). You also hear some terrible, sad, heart-wrenching stories. The people who boast the most, and who interrupt your presentation with “I know better” anecdotes, all buy nothing more bold chocolate body paint when they’re behind closed doors… because they’re actually pretty repressed and backward in real life. The people who buy huge, phallic vibrators are men (because they think that’s what their women want) or women buying them for friends. Women tend to buy smaller, more discreet vibes for themselves… and then worry that their friends will judge them because they didn’t want something huge. Strap-ons are almost entirely purchased by married, heterosexual couples in their 40s and 50s. I sold twice as many anal toys to women for men than to women who wanted them for personal use. Virtually all women worried about the fact they could only orgasm with clitoral stimulation. Virtually no men would talk openly about prostate play, even though clearly many had tried it.
Funny thing is, I did once have an encounter with a physically disabled man (who wished to make a purchase) but who unfortunately was being minded by an elderly carer who felt the need to lecture me about how I was going to Hell and how I destroyed marriages with my trade. I did have to point out that (to my knowledge) I’d never destroyed anyone’s marriage. I’d never even advocated someone leave a marriage. Instead, I’d heard lots of stories in private about how the spark was gone and someone was considering cheating… only to try and sit with those people and discuss what they still loved about their spouse and how they might find a way forward and reignite that fire together… But she didn’t want to listen to that – she had made up her mind and her mind apparently (sadly) included the notion that her adult charge should not be a sexual being. He couldn’t walk, but you know what, lady? His brain still worked and he had the right to exist as an adult.
And that has always been my ethos when it comes to sex. To me it is as natural as walking, and I object to people who think it’s dirty or wrong or something that shouldn’t be discussed. It can be private and personal without necessarily being secret or bad. However, I also object to the massive amount or mythology and misinformation that swarms around sex and sexual function. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge is a bad thing, and I came to realise that most people only have a little bit of knowledge. Sex education in schools is clearly patchy, and often driven by the personal morality of the teacher. I met women who’d given birth to children and yet still didn’t know that they didn’t urinate out of their vagina. That worried me.
Which is what brings me to this subject today… I was reading this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, rather explosively titled “The Damage Pornography did to a Six-Year-Old Child”. Except that it’s not about child porn (thank God!) but about a woman who viewed a Playboy magazine at the age of six and then blamed that for the fact she lost her virginity at 12, became promiscuous in her teens, and later turned to drugs and alcohol. In her words: “I had a healthy home environment, there were no other contributing factors.”
Of course, like all of these stories, it’s impossible to empirically prove that assertion. Everyone’s life is full of contributing factors. I would have seen my first nudie magazine at around the same age (and let’s face it, Playboy is little more than nipples and a soft-focussed pubic rise), and I didn’t lose my virginity until I was nearly 21. I personally find it hard to believe that a glimpse of nipples alone set her life on such a regrettable course. As the saying goes: correlation does not imply causation.
The fact that this woman has used her experiences to become a sexual educator for children frankly concerns me (just as my advocacy would likely concern her). She clearly believes that pornography is a wholly negative, damaging thing, and that could make it difficult for her to have an objective conversation about it. The fact is, pornography exists. It clearly meets a need within our society and, as consumers, our society has the capability to shape it. I believe that it’s very important to put pornography into context for young people, but getting out the flaming torches and pitchforks isn’t helpful and will tend to just make young people worry (even more) that their surreptitious viewing or pornography is bad and makes them bad people. It doesn’t. They just need to know that it’s pretend.
I once told a (virgin) customer that their viewing of porn in order to pick up sex tips is pretty much like watching a James Bond movie and then thinking that you’re a spy. At best it’s a bit of escapism, but it’s massively unhelpful if you actually want to take up espionage… because if you run around the world giving out your real name, bedding the bad guy’s woman, and blowing things up – you get shot. And you totally fail in gathering any useful intelligence anyway. Learning about real sex takes practice, and intimacy, and an open mind. The bouncy, bouncy nonsense of porn is impractical and often looks more uncomfortable than pleasurable.
What I support is people having honest, pragmatic discussions about sex (and porn) in order to help younger people to understand how it works. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe that children aren’t interested in the subject (even if they don’t know why), and caving into the notion that this sort of article promotes (that an awareness of sex in children will lead them into having sex at a very young age) seems dangerous to me. There’s no evidence to support this idea – in fact most studies point to the opposite effect – and it just creates an excuse to shut children off from information which may help them and keep them from danger. What this woman got was a glimpse of nipples with no context. No open conversation about desire, emotional intimacy, or masturbation. She misinterpreted her natural interest and blew it out of all proportion, so the other contributing factors in her life may simply have been a lack of other sources of information.
No, honey. Porn didn’t damage you. At no point did it make you a bad (or even abnormal) person.
But I suspect you just didn’t have anyone tell you that at the time.