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Perspective: This generation is confronting the realities of porn. They don’t like what they see

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Slowly but surely, we’re watching a socially liberal young generation come to terms with the fact that there is something poisonous about pornography, that opposition to it isn’t just prudishness but something far more profound.

In a recent piece for The Atlantic titled “The Problem with Being Cool About Sex,” we can watch the tension between the permissive sexual ethic of social liberalism and the lived realities of such a philosophy in surprisingly honest fashion. Helen Lewis writes:

Yet here is the conundrum facing feminist writers: Our enlightened values — less stigma regarding unwed mothers, the acceptance of homosexuality, greater economic freedom for women, the availability of contraception, and the embrace of consent culture — haven’t translated into anything like a paradise of guilt-free fun. ...

Relitigating the sex wars of the 1970s and ’80s is hardly where young feminists expected, or want, to be. In “The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century,” Amia Srinivasan confesses her reluctance to cover second-wave criticisms of porn in the feminist-theory course she teaches at Oxford. ...

Yet her class was “riveted,” she observes in “Talking to My Students About Porn,” the longest essay in her collection. Their enthusiasm was so great that it made her reconsider her own diffidence.

This generation, raised on the ready availability of free porn anywhere on any device, is forcing a reckoning for those who paved the way for the current situation. They understand how insipid the reach of pornography is on children and young teens, and how modern technology has made it all but impossible to be safe from it. They see how it’s played a leading part in the destruction of genuine intimacy.

It’s hard to fully understand how the internet aggressively markets pornography unless you’ve witnessed it firsthand. The Wall Street Journal recently illustrated how TikTok, a popular video sharing cellphone app, stalks young people with inappropriate content they’ve curated for them:

The account was one of dozens of automated accounts, or bots, created by The Wall Street Journal to understand what TikTok shows young users. These bots, registered as users aged 13 to 15, were turned loose to browse TikTok’s For You feed, the highly personalized, never-ending feed curated by the algorithm.

An analysis of the videos served to these accounts found that through its powerful algorithms, TikTok can quickly drive minors — among the biggest users of the app — into endless spools of content about sex and drugs.

The children raised with modern-day pornography know it’s not just looking at a stack of Playboy under a friend’s brother’s bed at a sleepover. It’s violent, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s damaging. A chilling Atlantic piece from 2018 about the “sex recession” for young people uses the word “porn” or “pornography” a whopping 48 times. Even The New York Times is sounding the alarm, a recent guest opinion opens with the following vituperation aimed at pornography:

We are living in the world pornography has made. For more than three decades, researchers have documented that it desensitizes consumers to violence and spreads rape myths and other lies about women’s sexuality. In doing so, it normalizes itself, becoming ever more pervasive, intrusive and dangerous, surrounding us ever more intimately, grooming the culture so that it becomes hard even to recognize its harms.

This may be a glasnost moment on pornography with radical honesty reaching the pages of America’s most influential publications, but the Berlin Wall has yet to fall. After announcing it would be banning “sexually explicit” content last month, OnlyFans quickly reversed course after the decision came under fire. We’ll know the wall has truly fallen when the cheers are louder than the jeers on decisions like this, encouraging companies that profit from selling sex to get out of the business. In order to reach that day, I’m hoping we keep hearing more pushback against the dark reality of pornography.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News, editor at Ricochet.com and a contributor to the Washington Examiner blog and magazine.