Pornography and Adolescents

Dear Readers, I know that some of you have very strong, emotional reactions to pornography. I describe one pornographic image in the third paragraph. In my last paragraph, I ask for your comments on and personal experience with porn.

This post is in preparation for my interview on Thursday with Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. This is a really fascinating book. It prompted me to examine my personal relationship with pornography for the first time.

I was maybe 11 when I saw my first porn picture. I was walking on a street near my house alone, and there was a piece of paper on the ground. It was maybe 4 by 6 inches and seemed to be torn out of a small book. So of course, always the avid reader, I picked it up. What stands out in my memory is a naked woman, bending over, with only the top of her thighs to her lower back showing. It was extremely lurid and disturbing. There were at least two other people in the picture, both naked, but all that I remember of them is what seemed to be vast acres of naked flesh. I did not really understand what I saw, but I was horrified, dropped the paper, and ran off. I was afraid someone would see me and think the picture was mine. I would have been able to describe the image in some detail, but I don’t think I could have identified the body parts I was seeing. It was only years later, looking back, that I was able to identify the subject of this image that still stood so clearly in my mind.

The next porn pictures I saw were maybe six months to a year later. A friend and I were in a neighborhood pharmacy. The staff knew me well. My friend and I peeked inside the blocked-out plastic cover on a Playboy and saw the picture on the front cover. We also peeked inside at a few pages. I remember the event more than the images. That we were clearly doing something illicit was delightful. We giggled and jostled for a better view. We may have also picked up a Playgirl and peeked inside. The pictures were not nearly as searing or painful as the one I picked up off the street. They seemed to be from completely different genres, and I did not connect them in my mind.

None of the men I dated in high school or college were particularly interested in porn. At least they didn’t admit to me that they were, and I remained blissfully ignorant. I probably would have thrown a complete fit and used it as grounds for a break-up had I discovered otherwise. I probably would not have been able to articulate why I was so distressed by my boyfriend using porn. Pornographic pictures became, while still uncommon, at least not-shocking over my college years. They continued to make me feel slightly ill, in an undefined, unexamined kind of way.

I am interested in hearing about your early experiences with pornography, both as a child and as an adolescent. Were they positive or negative? How did they shape (or not shape) your current perspective on porn? What kinds of experiences are common for boys versus girls? I would also love to know what place you think porn has (or does not have) in the adolescent mind?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I was intensely curious about all things sexual, and especially when we were 9-14 my friends and I would do things like look in Playgirl and gawk at all the penises. Fortunately, I was never exposed to anything hardcore before I was old enough to know it wasn’t real. I think that garden variety “man calls woman a slut, ejaculates on her face, and leaves” hardcore porn is harmful because it is degrading and stereotypical. And as an adult, I have seen much, much, much, much, much more harmful things than that on the Internet. I can only hope that the ease of finding extraordinarily disturbing porn on the Internet is not damaging the children and young adolescents of today.

    I realize that young people are constantly exposed to mildly or moderately harmful things that do not do permanent damage–case in point, I loved The Little Mermaid when I was 11 and now I think it’s a sexist piece of tripe–but I think hardcore porn is, well, more potentially damaging than a Disney movie. I don’t want kids to grow up thinking that sex is degrading and nasty, or, even worse, violent. Or that they themselves are bad for having sexual feelings.

    For adults, I think that regular Hustler type porn is harmful in the same way that McDonald’s hamburgers are harmful–you’re better off avoiding it entirely, looking at it once in a while probably won’t hurt you, looking at it all the time will make you sick. But adults know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, and can choose not to look. Kids are curious and want to see stuff they’re not supposed to, and don’t know that it’s not real and that they don’t have to look at it.

    The only solution I can think of is to let kids look at pictures of naked people, even sexual pictures, that aren’t degrading to anyone, in hopes of satisfying their curiosity so they’ll be less likely to turn to Google.

  2. I found a book (while snooping in my mother’s dresser drawer) when I was about 11 years old. It was a soft porn book about a beautiful young girl (an older teen) and her trip to Paris from the US and all the improbably, rediculous (in retrospect) ways she had sex with multiple partners, all at her instigation, while on her trip. I mean, jumping onto someone’s hardon from a higher level on top of the Eifel Tower? Give me a break! That was my first exposure to porn. As an older teen myself, I worked in massage parlours before they were quite considered kosher and many of the clients expected I would dispense with other services as well as massages. I didn’t, but I knew lots of the other girls did. We wore hot pants and bra tops as required by management. I also frequented porn shops at that time. I was uncomfortable with them, but I wanted to find a way to get comfortable with sexuality and it seemed a possible avenue. It did not help. Then, I took a weekend encounter type program called “Sexual Attitude Reassessment” and they opened the weekend with several hours of hard core porn. This was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing and they used it as an opener because it gets much easier to talk about penises and beaver and vulvas and cunt when you’ve seen 40 of them in the past few hours. I would recommend that workshop (we then spent a lot of time going back and forth from small groups to large groups having discussions of all types of sexual attitudes and beliefs) for ALL adolescents – I feel that it immunized me from any further interest in porn and answered a huge number of my questions and helped me realize that comfort with sexuality is different for so many different people, that whatever I come to is fine for me. I really support sexual education – thanks for the work you are doing!

  3. The first porn I saw was when I was about nine years old and a classmate brought in a magazine. I thought the women’s huge tits looked weird. When I was 11 another friend showed me porn mags at a grocery store. It didn’t mean anything to me. When I was about 13 I found my Dad’s porn. I was excited and fascinated.

    I didn’t see any hardcore porn until I was seventeen. It was a slick magazine with pictures from Deep Throat. I thought it fascinating. Started going to the Pussy Cat Theater soon after that.

    I still like porn.

    I don’t know what goes on in adolescents’ minds after seeing porn. But I didn’t assume the women I met would do what Linda Lovelace did.

    I would explain to a son or to a sex ed class that nothing should be done that the partner doesn’t want to do and that most women don’t like the kind of sex (I would be more descriptive) shown in pornography.

  4. I don’t remember any interest or interaction with actual porn as a teen, even though I came of sexual interest during the beginning of the internet age. I never looked at porn on people’s computers. I never had any interest.

    I also don’t think I ever tried to look at nudie mags in the store. Perhaps because I would have had no way of acquiring one (we lived in the woods and I couldn’t drive), but perhaps also because the images therein weren’t ones that would interest me, whether they were of women (I was not bisexual at the time) or of men (I wasn’t really attracted by buff men or men that society considers “handsome”. I think part of that had to do with being a social reject and knowing I had no chance with a man like that, so I tailored my interests into geeky guys instead.)

    However, I had a very vivid sexual imagination, which included sexuality, romance, and BDSM. I don’t know if I preferred my own imagination to anything that was out there, but I think I already knew that most of what was out there was trash and I’d rather just do it myself.

    That being said, I can remember reading sexual parts of books, of reading Song of Solomon, and of reading sex advice in women’s mags.

    I can remember having cybersex with random people online (but I never went farther with people online than I was willing to go IRL) and I can remember having quite a bit of romanticized BDSM cybersex with the guy I ended up losing my virginity to. I also remember drawing up plans for (what I know now to be) a dungeon in MS Paint when I was 17. (Heck, I think I still have the chat logs and that image around somewhere on a HD.)

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