With the availability internet porn, social networking sites, and dating apps, modern teens have more ways to communicate sexual desires to one another. Dating apps like Tinder enable kids to meet one another for the purpose of “hooking up.” Some teens send nude pictures or masturbate together over video. Because of these technologies, sex is no longer forbidden or mysterious for many teens. While this tech-sexual revolution is absolutely wonderful in that expressing desire is less stigmatized for young women,Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales uncovers the disturbing underbelly of online sexual exchanges in a recent piece entitled "What Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Internet Porn Are Doing to America's Teenage Girls."
New technologies open up a vast world of potential romances and sexual experiences, but they can also set a precedent of sexual relationships “devoid of any pretense of emotional intimacy.” And that can make many young girls (and boys!) feel devalued. The weight of these sexual experiences is placed solely on appearance: “No one cares about anything but how you look,” girls tell Sales. One girl explains that after a break-up, she sought out a stranger online and made out with him on a Pottery Barn couch; afterwards, she felt unsatisfied and “awkward.” Sales poignantly notes that “later she posted something on her Tumblr blog about the difficulty of finding love.”
Modern media-infused sex itself can be less satisfying for many girls because “when [they] have sex with [guys], [the guys] want it to be like a porno.” Girls who might not feel ready to have oral or anal sex are expected to by some male peers. According to the girls interviewed for Vanity Fair, young men are also taught to expect nude pictures, and if they don’t receive them from one girl, they often move to another.
Sex without intimacy becomes a premium amongst teens, and that has devastating consequences. Kim Goldman, a woman who runs a teen counceling service, says, “We’re seeing depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation. I think social media is contributing to these things.” With such easy access to sexual imagery and stimulation can come the commodification of the female body: in one of Goldman’s schools, “girls [were] selling oral sex for $10 and $15 in the bathroom.” Girls are subjected to cyber-bullying and slut-shaming if they participate in online sexual behavior.
Sales’s piece focuses solely on the effects of technology and social media on girls, but it seems to me that it’s not just the girls who are suffering from the surge in digital, easier-access sexual experiences. Many young men also might desire sexual experiences that are sweepingly romantic, or "hot" and “epic,” to use the language of one of Sales’s female interviewees. Young men and women alike desire pleasure and intimacy. One girl tells Sales, “All men are basically whores;” another says, “[social media] leads to major man-whoring.” For young women everywhere, these statements cast a negative light over all men. It makes it seem normal for men to exploit women, and in adolescence, both boys and girls should learn that it isn’t.
What I wish we could do is view sexuality with the respect that it garnered before the flood of social media without the shame that women sometimes felt prior to it. The addition of technology makes teen sexuality less stigmatized, but it’s important that we don’t let it devalue sex. Of course honest and respectful sexual expression should never be forbidden or considered “dirty,” but that doesn’t make it a commodity or something to be expected. Every young lady (and gentleman) is entitled to exploring her sexuality on terms with which she is completely comfortable, on or offline.
Thanks to Vanity Fair