Barely Illegal: When Underage Girls Discover Sex on the Internet
Sex was a joke when I was younger. I saw my first porn magazine when I was six. It wasn’t a polite genital-free Playboy, but a fantasia of penetration, crinkled hair, wetness, and strangely colored skin. A few years later my friends and I discovered a small collection of rain stiffened Hustler’s and Cherry’s in an empty lot near the apartment complex where my family lived. We found them in a small encampment under a big shade tree where a homeless man sometimes slept. They were scattered around an acrid sleeping bag, empty vodka bottles, and the crusty bric-a-brac that helped make the hovel feel a little more homelike.
As we leafed through the magazines my friends told stories about 976-WETT, which would allow anyone to break through the passive representations of porn and speak to a grownup able and willing to share their wet, crinkly, strangely colored parts. We were too afraid to call the number from our home phones but my brother discovered an administrative office at the church we went to. During the grownup burbling about salvation and helplessness my brother and I would sneak into the room and call the sex line from the church phone, listening to the voice, thick with nicotine and candy, telling us about things that could be done to our bodies. The operators would describe acts that seemed unreal in the same way as my wrestling shows. The literal details were clear enough but there was something delightfully overblown about the responses. It was like cartoons, and I loved it.
With the internet porn has gone through several life cycles, first pioneering the protocols of secure online transactions, then accelerating reality entertainment with faux-amateur sex traps like BangBus and Joe’s Apartment. As the era of didactic media transforms into an interactive one, porn has been at the fore too, using tube sites to help transform accountants and retail managers into porn micro-celebrities.
While the unchecked sprawl of the internet has given a home to every possible kink, curiosity and dysfunction it’s promise of anonymity is thinning. Individuals can privately chase vicarious S&M fantasies or daydream over freshman dorm orgies, but the bizarre fantasies themselves have become public. No one has a more curious internet gaze than teenagers, and suddenly many sensible adults are sounding alarm for the hidden dangers of teens discovering the twisted sexual interests of a legion of anonymous internet men. After seeing a 40 year-old man masturbating silently at his keyboard in Chatroullete, how could the brain of a 13 year-old remain unscarred? And how could the media-scarred brain of a 13 year-old lead to anything other than a miserable life of adult dysfunction and nymphomancy?
New York magazine’s recent series on pornography offers a new prompt to think about whether we’re ruining everything for those who come up behind us. In one piece several girls in junior high and high school were interviewed about the sexual pressures they experience from boys in their class. One girl described her 14 year-old boyfriend pressuring her to have sex in a public bathroom. When she declined he stopped talking to her and told the whole school that they’d done ‘it’ all the same. Other girls posted sexy pictures of themselves in underpants on Facebook, getting lathered responses from boys with tripwire sexual imaginations. Underpants and an inscrutable half-smile are all it takes, apparently, to send a man into an orbit of genital hunger.
The fixation on young girls–and their interest in experimenting with images that bait this fixation–is not a spontaneous phenomenon. The democratic preponderance of internet porn hovers around the shaky line of statutory rape, the 18 year-old benchmark past which sex with a youngster stops being an imprisonable offense. The number of porn sites with the word “teen” in them is in the thousands, and many more cater to the fantasy of the hormone-flooded young mammal willing to let her orifices be contorted by the prying appendages of the lurid older man. They lack the experience to know what exactly their bodies are trying to tell them to do, but they can respond to the defiling guidance of the man like someone with a horrible fever suddenly given a damp cloth to cool themselves with. Variations on this scene have launched billions of solitary ejaculations over the years, but now the kids are catching on.
It’s always men who shape these sexual fever dreams. When articles appear, speculating on the negative impact of porn on the junior high students, the assumed pretext is always, always, always about young girls suddenly becoming aware of the sexual predation they are surrounded by. A 13 year-old girl who puts a picture of herself in her underwear on Facebook is risking grave danger. When I put pictures of myself in my underwear on my Facebook page it elicits jabs of deprecation, but a skinny-legged teenager in pink panties is like a dog whistle for those susceptible to a certain view of sex.
There is a new advertising campaign for Johnnie Walker whiskey you may have seen. It says, quite convincingly, that a bottle of Black Label can be given as a gift so that men won’t have to suffer through the emotional indignity of saying “I love you, man.” It’s a relief to think of love as something that can be externalized into a bottle of whiskey instead of as a continuing process that grows or withers. In porn, especially the kind that fixates on young girls with hairless crotches and knee socks, men again have a bottle of whiskey, an object that can be used as a shortcut to sum up an emotional experience without actually having to contemplate the experience. They can feel loved by an idea that is, by definition, incapable of questioning them.
Young people don’t need to be protected from encounter with this bloated masculine dysfunction. I remember my days in junior high, before the internet, cell phones, and the voyeuristic lure of Facebook. My own class was afloat with rumors about girls who’d given a certain someone a blowjob at a party, or someone who’d had sex while their parents were out of town for a weekend. We were healthy creatures, on our way to becoming sexual people. It’s irrational for people to fear the prospect of a 13 year-old having a sexual experience with someone they’re interested in experimenting with. What’s more dangerous is the swamp of danger we surround that act with, inflating the consequences of self discovery as a potentially mortal encounter.
Boys are easily sold on the benefits of the pornographic club. It spares them the fearful process of discovering their own bodies, preferences, and pleasures, and instead gives them a performative rubric. The fact that this one sexual rubric is stigmatized, given an aura of social danger makes it only more enticing for the fuck-you minded kid in search of an adult identity and the sense of importance that comes with it. The larger danger in internet porn is not that teenagers will form broken sexual identities after exposure to it. Rather, the people who’ve made the internet a safe playground for their own stultified interests will suddenly realize how sadly alone they are, staring into a webcam and agitating their penises, able to articulate barely literate observations about how hot someone looks or whether or not they like that cock in their mouth.
Women have always been in on the ridiculousness of this joke. It’s likely impossible for a young person not already initiated into the social matrix of strip clubs, swimsuit editions, and pick-up artistry, would look at this solitary unicorn chasing as some great and secret farce. One in which we assume it only polite to strip our crotches of hair, removing all the markings of age and maturity, while the hunching, sad-eyed men at their computers can only get it up when looking backward. Meanwhile, all the young boys flooded with pride at knowing the subversive jargon of blowjobs and sexual acquisition begin to mimic the hopelessly isolated postures of the disillusioned men they will one day become. This rite of passage has always been there, but the internet is making it harder and harder to take it seriously. Maybe if we made girls worry less about losing their sanctified hymens it might be easier to raise a generation of boys who can laugh at the joke instead of always being the punchline.
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