Porn: Great expectations
Sexual initiation often comes in the form of pornography that is available on laptops or smartphones, free of charge, at the touch of a button. However as the subject is still taboo young teenagers are growing up with expectations that are as far from reality as a Lord of the Rings movie, often resulting in relationship and self-esteem problems once the person involved becomes sexually active.
Lack of education about the adult film industry is causing deeply rooted psychological problems that may affect youngsters right into adulthood. If we treat pornography as we do sex, drugs and other topics considered taboo, and just bury our head in the ground it won’t make it go away. Research proves that 70% of men and 30% of women watch pornography. A lot of these people are never told that that is fiction.
A typical example is Robert*, aged 14, who watches porn. He does this without his parents knowing and in the privacy of the bathroom or his own bedroom. Pornography is his first experience of sex. As pornography is a taboo, Robert feels guilty and ashamed about watching pornography and doesn’t tell anyone, apart from some of his peers, who are as ill-informed as he is. At the same time he is getting the wrong impression of what sex is all about and what is expected of him as a male during intercourse. This makes him feel confused and, hence, starts associating negative feelings to, what should be a positive.
Robert grows up and finds a partner. When it comes to intimacy he has the same expectations he had when he was watching porn as no one ever challenged or answered his many queries. This might affect how he perceives his partner and himself, and hence cause relationship problems or sexual difficulties. It is very unlikely that Robert will ever admit, or even understand, why he is not satisfied with his sex life.
We teach our youngsters how media affects one’s body image but we do not emphasize the effects pornography has on one’s self-confidence, self-esteem, performance anxiety and expectations. A lot of men and women are not happy with how their genitals look and experience performance anxiety in the bedroom. When few of these people pluck up the courage to explore this in sex therapy they realise that they are comparing their body and performance to adult movies, which are fiction. This is why education is key when it comes to sexual health and challenging myths. It is very important to understand that the same way that one can’t jump from one roof to the other like people in the movies do, it is highly improbable that one can last for hours, or look like the people in the edited and air brushed adult movie.
The World Health Organisation defines sexual health as: “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.” Despite this very positive definition we still associate sexual health with talk of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. As one talks about exercise and varied diet with talking about healthy lifestyle we should focus on how one can have a more fulfilling sexual lifestyle. As much as it is important to educate people of the consequences of unprotected sex it is equally important to help people understand what makes a healthy sex life.
Recent studies show that sex education in Malta is seen primarily as the responsibility of the teachers of Personal and Social Development. Parents prefer not to approach the awkward and uncomfortable topic with their children and sometimes feel ill at ease when PSD teachers do it. When some parents and teachers, do pluck up the courage to talk to the teenagers about their bits, they tend to do just that. They tend to talk about what goes where and then emphasise on the different infections and life threatening diseases one might get from sex. It is very important that one talks about this, especially with young people, as STIs and unplanned pregnancies are all very real. However, one might also want to discuss and teach young adults on how to lead a healthy sexual life. Unfortunately, in 2012 one still meets a lot of couples and individuals who do not enjoy healthy, fulfilling sexual intimacy.
Sexual health is about feeling confident in one’s own body and being able to discuss with one’s partner what one enjoys and gives them pleasure. One of the benefits of being in a steady, long term relationship is that both learn what pleases the partner and this helps improve the whole intimate experience.
Physical intimacy is about being close to the other person and being in sync with each other. Developing a healthy relationship with one’s partner is part of leading a healthy sexual life. That’s why it is important for couples to be able to communicate assertively and honestly, in and outside of the bedroom. Sex is playful time between adults that should, if enjoyed, improve self-esteem, intimacy and one’s overall mental and physical health.
Mental health and physical health both play a very important role in sexual health. Research shows that depression, anxiety, and medication prescribed for both, can cause sexual difficulties, especially low sexual desire and arousal problems in both males and females.
It is also a known fact that leading an unhealthy lifestyle effects sexual performance. As sexual activity involves the cardiovascular, nervous and hormonal system, any issue with one of these would result in sexual dysfunction. A family doctor or a sex therapist can help with problems of this nature.
In conclusion it is important to be safe and take care of one’s needs as well as those of your partner. One can do this by embracing oneself and the changes that the body goes through as it grows older. One’s body is the most amazing thing one will ever own so it needs to be treated as such.
First published on Health and Fitness magazine with Malta Today.