Despite being published back in March, “Growing Up in Pornland” is still making the rounds in my social media feeds. It poignantly paints a dismal picture of high-school girls surrounded by boys immersed in pornography by detailing the bizarre expectations and heartbreaking situations reported in a recent Australian survey of 600 girls ages 15 to 19.
I see it shared by conservatives and liberals alike as a call to action against this genuinely toxic environment that we also see here in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s never going to serve that purpose terribly well because it both lacks a moral foundation and only has eyes for one half of the problem.
High school is a bleak sexual landscape, to be sure, but what exactly is the author’s complaint? She throws around words like “bullying” and “harassment,” but gives only two reasons for applying these words to the ubiquitous expectation of sex and homemade porn from teenage girlfriends: First, that girls aren’t enjoying sex as much as the boys are, and second, that girls have to give boys physical intimacy to receive emotional intimacy. If these two points are really the extent of our judgments, then this is not a particularly pressing matter.
Yet it is a pressing matter, and we all know it. It’s heartbreaking that a 15-year-old girl has to perform unwanted sex acts because it’s the only way her boyfriend will even watch a movie with her. But why? Is the worst thing about it really that she’s not having enough fun? This disconnect between what the law written on our hearts tells us about the situation and what we have been trained to think of it makes it difficult for us to understand what is going on here.
Try the Girl Advice Out on the Boys
“Pornland” portrays the girls purely as victims in the situation. That is simply not a complete picture. They absolutely are victims, to be sure, but they are not only victims. Adequately addressing the issue means looking at the whole picture and therefore addressing the girls’ contribution to the situation.
Isn’t that just blaming the victims? Not at all. It simply recognizes there are multiple sides to every story. By way of analogy, let’s consider the porn issue among boys. Now, these boys certainly are victims of a multi-billion dollar porn industry that has mastered our new digital distribution channels and made their wares ubiquitous. It’s also true that our even bigger entertainment industry primes boys for porn by presenting love and sexuality in a pornographic fashion restricted only by how much nudity their various rating systems allow. As a result, boys (and men) face a truly unprecedented level of sexual temptation.
So then, when addressing pornography with your son, what would you say? Would you tell him not to let these industries force him to watch porn? Would you tell him you know he only watches porn because everyone else is doing it? Would you tell him he doesn’t have to force himself to watch porn just to fit in with society’s expectations? Would you tell him he never has to watch any porn that makes him uncomfortable?
Of course not! That kind of approach completely ignores the blatantly obvious fact that your son is looking at porn because he enjoys seeing sexy naked women doing the kinds of things he would like such women to do with him. This fact doesn’t negate the porn-peddlers’ evil deeds, but it is key to understanding the particular frailty in fallen male nature that makes it possible for these industries to victimize boys.
Boys and men are certainly victims of porn, but they are massive consumers and enablers of it as well. They are the reason the porn industry exists at all. Thus, you cannot address the problem of porn among men and boys without addressing the moral aspect of the situation—to warn of and explain the wrongness of it in contrast to the emotions and desires that make it feel so very right.
Girls Have No Big Reason to Say No
There are similar circumstances among the girls growing up in porn culture, and the original article details well how they are being exploited. But let’s not stop there. Let’s build on that foundation and ask why porn is driving expectations for young women.
As with the prevalence of porn among boys, the answer to this question has two parts. The victimization half of the answer is that we’ve deliberately avoided giving girls any other kinds of expectations. Think about it for a moment: Why should it be so hard to tell a guy “no,” as girls reported in the survey? Why should she think it’s mean?
Feminists would have you believe that all girls are shrinking violets who never learned how to lean in, but the far better answer is that these girls don’t really know of any good reason to say no. “I don’t want to” is a reason, but it’s the kind of reason one must weigh against others’ desires in any kind of voluntary relationship.
If sex is just meaningless fun without any moral or spiritual dimension, and if youth is just a time for sexual adventures without any thought to actually forging a lasting relationship—as we are all taught these days—then surely it would indeed be mean to arbitrarily withhold that meaningless fun from someone she is fond of.
In a sexually amoral context, having sex with him so he’ll watch a movie with her is a decision with no more gravitas than watching “American Ninja Warrior” with him so he’ll watch “The Bachelorette” with her. Without bringing chastity back into the conversation, there’s no meaningful objection. The only expectation is that the boy and girl work out their different wants together, and they have already done so.
Refusing to Teach Mores Actually Teaches Mores
In the past, sexual expectations were founded in marriage and family—that sex is part of a permanent and exclusive partnership rooted in a mutual commitment to one another’s well-being and the promise of future children to whom that commitment is extended. Those are the expectations girls were taught, and they generally navigated relationships according to them. They provided a foundation to undergird their refusals.
Unfortunately, feminists found such expectations restrictive and demeaning, and over a generation successfully uprooted them only to replace them with… nothing of substance. It’s only natural that media depictions of sex—porn included—would fill that void and create new expectations.
One could argue that girls should be creating their own expectations rather than receiving them from outside, but that’s precisely what they are doing. They’ve cut their own path through the wilderness we cast them into and negotiated terms by which they use their sexuality to get something that they want—affection from certain boys.
Is there input from their porn-addled environment? Sure, but human beings never develop their expectations in a vacuum because we do not live in one. We are never going to put girls in bubbles and tell them to develop their own sexual expectations there. If we refuse to teach, then inevitably, their environment will do so in our place.
We cannot meaningfully condemn this situation unless we venture back into the world of sexual morality. After all, if our only concerns are for the desires of those involved, nothing proves the girls’ desire for emotional connection without providing sexual gratification is any better than the boys’ desire for sexual gratification without providing emotional connection.
If this is the extent of our concern, then our response should not be the horror we feel in the pit of our collective stomach, but rather pride that these two different groups were able to negotiate terms by which both sides can get something they want. It would be like the end of a children’s program where everyone learned to compromise and work together.
What Happens If Girls Try Collective Bargaining
If girls in general want a deal with terms more favorable to them, there’s always collective bargaining with the boys. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to see how the results would substantially differ from traditional sexual morality. After all, most girls would need to withhold sexual access until granted a commitment more meaningful than “I promise not to sleep with anyone else until I want to be done sleeping with you.” Accordingly, the “scabs” (to borrow union terminology) who give away access for less would have to be treated with less respect than those who maintain the bargaining position.
Meanwhile, the other side’s interests would need to be taken into account or they would have no incentive to come to the table. The popular boys are already getting what they want, and the rest are already going their own way. Providing sex couldn’t be held off for decades while education and career take a front seat.
Plus the long-term commitments boys offer as they become men could not be so one-sided that the woman could unilaterally dissolve these at any time and simultaneously claim a man’s home, children, and future income. In other words, any mutually beneficial bargain would have to restore chastity, slut-shaming, and early marriage while ending no-fault divorce. What collective bargaining will never achieve is the feminist pipe dream that boys be dutifully subject to feminine whim. They have no incentive for that.
Men Want Polygamy, Women Want Hypergamy
But these things are not the whole story. Here we finally come to the elephant in the room. Just as our analogy about young men and porn revealed a frailty in fallen male nature that makes us susceptible to victimization, there is a frailty in fallen female nature as well.
We may hate to admit it, but men and women clearly differ by design. It’s only natural that we also differ in the way we fall away from that design. Sexually barbaric men tend to gravitate towards polygamy. When they go off the rails, their natural inclinations to lead and provide turn into self-aggrandizement and self-gratification by gathering harems. In other words, men have roving eyes—nothing new here.
Sexually barbaric women, however, gravitate towards hypergamy: the tendency to continually trade up to the highest-status man available. In other words, women are attracted to things like social standing, power, and wealth—yet another non-surprise. Accordingly, barbaric men prefer polygamous promiscuity while barbaric women prefer serially monogamous promiscuity. But when serial monogamy has worked out so badly for men, one can hardly blame them for refusing to go along with it any longer. If promiscuity is okay, why not have it his way instead of hers?
Both of these barbarisms are on display here in “Pornland,” but only one of them is addressed—that of the boys. The article treats young males like a monolithic block of porn-addled serial harassers who use real women as sex dolls. However, it does so based solely on the reported experiences of the girls, which is only half the story. Is it really safe to assume these girls have hooked up with a completely random and evenly distributed sample of boys their age?
It would be more accurate to say that the boys who are popular with the girls are generally like this. After all, it seems rates of teen girls’ sexual activity are actually somewhat higher than those of their male peers—a gap particularly pronounced among whites. The disparity is probably even greater since other studies have shown that men are prone to exaggerating their sexual activity while women are prone to minimizing it.
All of this suggests that a larger pool of girls is competing for the attentions of a smaller pool of boys. Many anecdotal accounts reinforce this, suggesting a version of the 80/20 rule is at work in hookup culture (i.e., that 80 percent of the girls are sleeping with 20 percent of the guys). That particular proportion is almost certainly an exaggeration, but the disparity is there.
Most likely, the sexually inactive majority of boys aren’t receiving sex acts in exchange for their attention, just as the sexually inactive girls aren’t providing any. Plenty of boys are left out in the cold who would happily adopt a measure of chastity and provide emotional intimacy if it meant access to romantic relationships. The girls are simply choosing not to enter relationships with those boys. So why are the girls going for the boys who make the demands they reportedly despise? The best explanation is hypergamy.
Women Aren’t Taught to Value What Would Satisfy Them
The upshot is society isn’t forcing these girls into this miserable game any more than society forces boys to look at porn. The scale of the temptation may be unprecedented, but they want to be in the game because they desire the attention of a particular sort of boy—and not the kind who are likely to treat them with love and respect.
Of course they wish they didn’t have to give up so much to receive that attention. Everyone loves lower prices for the things they want. But you can wish all day that these boys would treat these girls better—that they would be responsible, loving, steadfast, and would provide for the girls’ emotional needs—and it will never do any good as long as the girls are not taught to value any of these traits in boys.
While things like responsibility, love, provision, and steadfastness often won’t naturally set a woman’s heart aflutter, social standing and respect do play a role. We, as a society, are quite capable of respecting such traits, and in the past, this is precisely what we did. Men were honored and respected for being good husbands and fathers and young men for possessing traits that would one day make them such, until feminists declared war on such things.
Instead, we have taught our youth their only responsibility is to follow their own hearts, that love is a flighty emotion that comes and goes like the wind, that provision is redundant because women are 100 percent self-sufficient in every way, and that steadfastness is imprisonment. We set these as the standards for judging boys and then wonder why the most popular young men fail to pursue these things.
Why Women Set the Sexual Double Standard
This is only reinforced by the difference in the way men and women think of sexual restraint. Feminists have long complained of the old double standard: men who sleep around are considered studs while women who sleep around are considered sluts. Like everything else, they blame it on the patriarchy, but the double standard exists because men are more likely to value a woman’s sexual purity (at least when lasting relationships are on the table) than vice versa. Women have a powerful countervailing concern about a man’s virginity.
After my freshman year of college, I was catching up with a few friends from high school. It eventually came out that one was deeply troubled over the sudden discovery that her new boyfriend was (gasp) a virgin. She sought shelter from this grim revelation, and over the course of the conversation, it was offered to her in the form of the following rule of thumb: it is tolerable for one’s boyfriend to be a virgin if and only if he were truly capable of bedding many different women but opted to decline for his own eccentric reasons. It seemed to ease, though not eliminate, her misgivings.
With this kind of dynamic at work, perhaps the evil patriarchy is not the best explanation for the double standard. A better one is this: If a man’s social status in its various incarnations plays a prominent role in his attractiveness to women, then a man’s promiscuity indicates that many women have recognized his social status. This effectively raises his standing further, so more women will consequently find him attractive.
A man who has never been vetted, however, is something of a wild card. It will put off shallow women who have never learned to value more than their instinctive sexual reaction. This cycle, however, is driven by women’s preferences more than by men’s—after all, only the minority of higher-ranked men benefit from it.
This female-driven dynamic is clearly at work in the high school porn culture as well. The article complains about boys trading pictures around like some kind of social currency and amassing collections, but if this is an accurate observation, then it is precisely the boys with the biggest collections of currency that the girls are finding attractive and providing with sexual access.
In the absence of the civilizing power of marriage and family and the virtue of chastity that facilitates it, it girls will always choose those boys to pursue, and the cycle will only ramp up as long as society overlooks this antisocial behavior of the girls because sensible people are afraid of being labeled misogynists for calling it out.
If we want this ugly situation to change, then demanding more from boys while simultaneously disincentivising them from offering more is a losing proposition. The only viable time-tested option is to reverse course and begin recovering what we, as a society, have lost.
We need to begin respecting men again. We need to recover the virtue of chastity even if it happens to make a slut feel ashamed. We need an option for marriage that men can look forward to—something that can’t be dissolved at the drop of a hat. The longer we pretend that only the boys are at fault and only the boys need to be better people, the longer both the boys and the girls are going to go on suffering in Pornland.