Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales, known for writing the Vanity Fair article that inspired the Sophia Coppola movie The Bling Ring, (The Suspects Wore Louboutins) has written another expose about the secret life of teenage girls that we all need to pay attention to entitled Friends Without Benefits. The article explores how social networking websites and internet porn are shaping the way that our kids, our girls especially, are having these websites drastically affect gender roles for young people. And it’s scary as hell.
We discuss these issues a lot on Mommyish, everything from teenage revenge porn to social networks being used for bullying to how to keep our kids safe online to what we do or don’t let our daughters wear and how best to navigate the tricky subject of adolescence in the age of snapchats and Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts and how we can raise our boys not to be rapists. There are no easy answers. None of us have found a solution to any of this yet. It’s hard raising teens today and Sale’s article will just make you want to disconnect the Internet and never let your kids leave the house and refuse to let them make any friends ever. From Friends Without Benefits:
“Gotta wheel the bitches in. Gotta wheel the bitches in,” said the teenage boy on a city bus in New York. “Nowadays you can do it so easy. There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you the girls. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but really they’re just giving teenagers ways to have sex.”
Kids have always been interested in sex, of course; but there have never been more ways for them to express that to one another, at any moment of the day, no matter where they are. They don’t even have to be together, and often they are not. “You can be sitting in class getting a boner ’cause some girl is texting you that she wants to suck your dick,” said a boy in L.A. “It’s kind of distracting.”
I don’t think any of us are really shocked that our teens are interested in sex and want sex. It’s a normal aspect of adolescence. Although I think the majority of us want our kids to wait until they are physically and emotionally mature enough to start becoming sexually active, I don’t think any of us are naive enough to believe that this will be the case. It’s when you start to read about how the Internet is playing it’s part in shaping how and when and who with our kids explore their sexuality that it becomes really depressing:
“We don’t date; we just hook up,” another girl in L.A. told me. “Even people who get in a relationship, it usually starts with a hookup.” Which can mean anything from making out to having sex. “When you have sex with a guy, they want it to be like a porno,” said a 19-year-old girl in New York. “They want anal and oral right away. Oral is, like, the new kissing.” “The cum shot in the face is a big thing,” said another girl.
And then there are “texting relationships,” a disembodied coupling that takes place solely on a screen. It can still become very sexual, often very quickly. “Guys you know from just, like, having one class together will be like, ‘Do you like to suck dick?’” said a 17-year-old girl in New York. “And if you say no, they just move on to the next person.”
“Social media is destroying our lives,” said the girl at the Grove.
“So why don’t you go off it?” I asked.
“Because then we would have no life,” said her friend.
Laura Beck says on Jezebel that :
In spite of all my pearl clutching, the kids will probably be alright. The embarrassment I feel for them is because I’ve been there, done that. So maybe I’m more embarrassed for teenage me, and the embarrassment just shows that I’ve grown up. I’m okay with that.
And after reading the entire Sales’ article I don’t feel like the kids will be alright. At all. I think that sex is tricky enough to navigate during adolescence , and kids have to worry about pregnancy risks, STD risks, emotional aspects, physical aspects, their own body identity and confidence, and then the whole social media and celebrity culture influences coupled with their exposure to Internet pornography and the entire thing is a giant landmine of fuckery and pressure that those of us with no Internet access while growing up ever had to contend with.
One can’t blame technology for all of this, and I’m not, but I do believe that when it comes to kids and sex and relationships in adolescence, in a a lot of ways it isn’t helping. Not only do kids and teens have to contend with the emotional and physical aspects of their sexual relationships, when you add the Internet into it and realize that they are posting information about these relationships online, it adds a whole new performance aspect to what should be personal encounters. The added peer pressure about what they should and shouldn’t be doing, how they should and shouldn’t be looking and how they should and shouldn’t be hooking up complicates teen sexuality even more than it is already complicated.
Things have changed since I was a teen. If I or one of my peers engaged in sexual activity at the most it was gossiped about. Maybe it was written on a bathroom wall in high school. Maybe I took my cues on how to be more sexually attractive from MTV music videos or what I saw on the covers of my mom’s Cosmopolitan magazines. I don’t remember encountering porn until I was almost 20. Now it’s that teens are meeting their partners online, getting sexual tips online, sharing their most intimate photos online and having their entire sexual experiences shared online. I can see the benefits of kids getting information about birth control and sexual health in the privacy of their computers as a fantastic thing. I can see being able to discuss their fears and frustrations anonymously with kids their own age as a positive thing. I know there are many benefits to this brave new Internet world, I’m just not sure that its influence on our kids sexuality in regard to how they mature sexually is one of them.