March 25, 2013

Teen Boy Sexuality, Masturbation, Porn, and Rape

Some title right? This is a blog post that is sure to get me in trouble with someone. So at the start, I want your support for at least trying to take on some very complicated issues. At the heart of this post is the feeling that some things just need to be said and silence on these topics does everyone a huge disservice. Here goes:

The terribly tragic case of the Steubenville rape trial and subsequent sentencing of two adolescent male athletes to juvenile jail is only the most recent sad testimony to the very complex array of issues surrounding teen males and sexuality. To try and keep this within the scope of a blog post, let’s just say the Steubenville event was the tragic intersection of teen male sexuality, pornography, female objectification, athletic privilege, and the absence of guidance by informed adults. Let’s see if I can unpack this complicated situation.

TEEN MALE SEXUALITY: Let’s begin with what we might agree on about teenage male sexuality. Teen boys are sexual creatures. Once the testosterone hits, boys are really at the mercy of their bodily chemistry. We’ll save the discussion of sudden, uncontrollable, and embarrassing erections for another post (no pun intended). One outlet for their sexual tensions is masturbation, a normal, healthy, and pleasurable form of sexual expression. It’s safe to say most teen boys masturbate and do so often. In the act of masturbation, a young male’s sexual fantasy life will almost always be engaged. This is all okay and natural . . . unless it begins to interfere with the rest of his life and normal functioning. That’s where the discussion of porn has to begin.

PORNOGRAPHY: I remember helping a 95-year-old friend, Burnell, move from his home into assisted living. When moving his bed, we came across a vintage Sear’s catalog, or the parts of one, showing women from the 50’s in various forms of under-garments. Even at 95, those pages turned out to be Burnell’s equivalent of bookmarking his favorite porn site. My generation had Penthouse, Hustler, and Playboy magazines, but it’s a very different porn universe today. It’s been said, because of internet porn, we are raising the first generation of left-handed male masturbators who need their right had for the keyboard and mouse!


FEMALE OBJECTIFICATION: Young males with internet access today have an unlimited and constant stream of sexual images and fantasy sexual partners. It’s easy for them to find diverse, intense, compelling, fetish-specific, highly erotic, images of women of all ages in every conceivable sexual act. They are all readily available and no consent is required. While that’s party time for some, it holds some very dangerous consequences for way too many boys. 

A subscriber sent me a link to this very male-literate, and brief discussion of the dangers of today’s cyber-porn. In  Gary Wilson’s TED lecture (below), The Great Porn Experiment, he identifies the dangers of porn addiction for young (or any) males. Wilson describes “the extreme plasticity of adolescent brains, the evolutionary context for today's flood of novel cyber "mates," and the neurochemical reasons why superstimulating Internet delivery has unexpected (and dangerous) effects on the brain."


So far we have testosterone-driven young males who use porn. Their use of Internet pornography potentially creates addicts, invites boys to see women as sexual objects, and sets them up for failure in their real-world intimate relationships. In the case of the Steubenville rape, if women are seen as sexual objects by teen males, a woman that is passed out from alcohol could be equated with the images on a porn site, just there to be “used.” But there was another big factor in Steubenville.

PRIVILEGED ATHLETES: The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes (NCAVA) is an organization with the goal of educating the public regarding the elimination of a variety of off-the- field violence by athletes. On their website they summarize the data from the Benedict/Crosset study in the 1990’s. This research surveyed 30 major Division I universities over a three-year period. The study found that male college student athletes, compared to the rest of the male population, "are responsible for a significantly higher percentage of sexual assaults . . .”, and one in three college sexual assaults are committed by athletes. Remember, we only hear about the incidents that are actually reported.

The NCAVA also quotes Benedict/Crosset study finding that while in the general student population there is a conviction rate of 80% for assault perpetrators, “the conviction rate for an athlete is 38%.” With a reduced chance of serious consequences, it’s easy for a young male athlete to believe he is somehow privileged and maybe even entitled to have his way with women.

ABSENCE OF GUIDANCE: In a crazy way, in the mind of a young male, if you consider the factors above, you can almost understand how a couple of high school football players could rationalize having sex with a drunken girl and not see it as rape. In a way, they did have guidance, didn’t they? Their bodies are saying go for it. The lessons from porn all say go for it. Much of the music they listen to say’s it’s okay. The witnesses didn’t say stop or report the crime in progress. Other athletes, their peers and the pros, are getting away with it, so why shouldn't they. See, there really was a lot of guidance, just the wrong kind.

The big question in this tragic play is not why did they do it, but where were all the other, more objective voices in their lives? Where were all the people willing to face the issues related to young male sexuality, sit with the young guys and speak the truth? Whose job is it anyway? In the aftermath of the Steubenville rape trial, who sat the teen boys in your world down and had a conversation about why it was so appalling?

The really bad news is that, until we all find the courage to do our part in offering constructive guidance to our young men, we’ll keep having Steubenvilles and collecting more damaged young lives. Sadly, I'm afraid you'll have another opportunity.

Question: When you were a young man how did you learn about sex and sexuality?



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2 comments:

  1. Nice job on this, Earl. Good to see a balanced presentation of these issues that doesn't demonize masculinity as so inherently flawed (or evil) that it is beyond any reasonable hope of salvation.

    I especially enjoyed the TED video. Hadn't seen that before. Important work.

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  2. WOW - Thanks for this Earl. Well articulated and something to get the conversation started...both in circles, and more importantly, in homes with teen and adolescent boys. I have found, at least for myself, the need to talk, out loud, with someone who has earned the right to hear my story, feel my pain, share my shame...Connection is critical for me. So much so, it is the vision of my mission statement: I create a connected world by sharing my heartfelt journey and letting my Divine light shine. There came a point in my life I could not settle for the false connection porn gave me. I am much happier and healthier as a result. Thanks for all you do Earl.

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Your response to this blog post is appreciated and welcome.