Explicit material distorts reality, influences minors

Illustration by Grace OMalley

Illustration by Grace O’Malley

John Schurer and Anne Marie Yurik

Eyes fixed on the glowing LEDs of a computer screen, pictures, posts and comments blur away as the mouse scrolls farther into updated statuses. Just as one’s eyes glaze over from the familiarity of it all, a picture of a half-naked woman is displayed across the screen. The image did not require searching, and it is present in minors’ social media more than some may realize.

As social media changes itself to become a larger part of a teenager’s life, explicit content is constantly present, many times suggested for adults above the age of 18. In today’s society, sexually-explicit material can be consumed via radio, television and other social media, according to junior Cady Sommer. She believes that its prevalence causes adolescents to not think twice about what they are hearing, seeing or watching with regards to explicit content.

“It’s so ingrained in society now that it’s like I don’t really think twice when it happens,” Sommer said. “Like I know back in the 1900s […], it was so taboo to talk about anything having to do with sex, but now people are so open about discussing it and actually hearing it on the radio and seeing it on TV, so I feel like [that change] made it so we’re not really more comfortable with it, but in a way, it’s more nonchalant.”

According to senior Deborah Clark*, because sexually-explicit material is extremely prevalent in society, it’s hard to always avoid the material. Having intentionally viewed explicit content before, Clark believes this material does not define someone’s future.

“I find that when people watch that stuff, it’s just because they’re curious, and through that curiosity, they find out what they like, but I don’t think that [determines] what people are definitely going to do in the future,”  Clark said. “I don’t think that causes sex addictions or causes people to do things [they wouldn’t normally do.]”

The unfamiliarity of sexually-explicit content that used to exist in adolescents has greatly diminished. According to social worker David Hartman, this is due to widespread availability via the internet and the influx of communication outlets such as social media and television that make sexually explicit content much more available for minors.

“There’s a natural curiosity about sexual activity […] that is good for us as humans to navigate, and that curiosity could be about something other than sex too,” Hartman said.

Similarly, Sommer does not feel the need to search or watch sexually-explicit material because she finds that the material does not portray the truth. She believes that it is overdone and does not demonstrate reality.

“I just don’t, personally, find it attractive,” Sommer said. “I’m not going to go on Pornhub and search for it. […] If I come across it in a TV show, I’m not going to make a huge effort and be like, ‘Oh my god, it’s porn! I can’t watch this!’ And turn it off, but, you know, if it happens, it happens.”

The effect of explicit material on a developing adolescent’s brain can also be problematic, according to Hartman, because it can cause their minds to perceive what they are seeing on social media to be common practice. According to a study completed in the Kaiser Family Foundation, 76 percent of teens stated that non-marital sex is more common because of the constant exposure to normalized explicit content on television and movies.

“I’ll use the word traumatizing, which is more than I really think is true, but it can be traumatizing [for] a kid to see certain things,” Hartman said. “And you never know what you’re going to see, it can be semi-abusive; there can be fetishes, there can be all sorts of things that, for consenting adults, maybe are fine. But it’s a small segment of the population. You have no idea; if you’re looking at that as a 12-year-old on the internet, that’s a small, tiny little segment of the population.”

For students who decide to watch explicit material, Hartman urges them to understand that their experiences have the potential to be totally different from what they are watching. He also strongly suggests that as soon as someone has questions or views explicit content, they talk to someone that they trust.

“I think, if you’re watching it, don’t presume that it’s either A: normal, or B: anything similar to any […] sexual activity that you’ll ever have in your life; maybe it will be, but maybe it won’t be too,” Hartman said. “I would say if you’re seeing that or if you have questions, talk to people you know. I’m always [available], talk to your parents if you’re seeing it or looking at it or concerned or questioning. I think sometimes with porn, we don’t even tell our friends that we’ve seen it. So again, I think anything that happens in a vacuum is potentially problematic.”

*name has been changed