Josh Bowman wonders if on-campus mentor programs can combat a culture of hyper-sexualized aggressive masculinity, and counter some of the lessons learned from watching porn at young age.
A recent Globe and Mail article highlighted a number of college and high school programs designed to “intervene in a young, male culture that is giving many adults cause for concern. Long-term, the aim is to combat the rates of domestic violence and sexually transmitted infections. Short-term, the goal is to tutor young men in healthy relations with women and non-destructive masculinity.”
Alongside the anti-bullying movement, there is a growing movement to address a culture of hyper-sexualized, aggressive masculinity. There is a concern that it is playing out as a kind of “rape culture”, where young men are losing site of realistic sexual expectations when it comes to women, due in part to the widespread consumption of pornography among men, often beginning at a very young age (81% of 14-16 year olds look at online pornography at home, according to one British study).
I may have been a late bloomer, but I don’t remember teenagers being all that sexually aware when I was younger. In fact, I still remember my embarrassment in a grade 7 health class when our teacher/gym instructor pulled out an anonymous question asking if it is a problem to masturbate, and a couple of the other guys in the class attributed the question to me. I was mortified at being accused of masturbating! Now, kids are watching porn, having sex, and wondering if 5 times a day is too much.
I remember trying to watch scrambled porn on television with my friends, and the thrill I got when my buddy Aaron and I purchased a copy of “Rear Action Magazine” from a local variety store (we giggled all the way home). Maybe we were nerds (ok, we were definitely nerds), but we didn’t have nearly as much access to graphic and exploitative imagery as kids do today.
Pornography is a tricky issue. On one side of the argument, you have sex-positive feminists who believe that pornography can be empowering, and has done a lot to bring the fetish world, BDSM, and queer (GLBTTTTTQ) culture out of the shadows. There is an argument to be made that pornography allows for the safe pursuit of fantasy (teachers with high school students, cheating on a spouse, etc.) without fear of reprisal and in the privacy and safety of your own home.
On the other hand, if pornography really is teaching young men problematic lessons (inaccurate assumptions around: consent, how to speak with women, what to expect sexually, what is pleasurable), then it becomes at best, misinformation, and at worst, dangerous. In this case, young men need access to good, positive information from sources they can trust and will truly listen to (peers, fraternity brothers, fellow athletes, or in my case…fellow nerds. Start online gaming, and then tell me that nerds couldn’t benefit from some lessons around homophobia and misogyny).
Young men are heavily influenced by their peers, and as the Globe and Mail article mentions, a lot of these programs are relying on high-status “jocks” to relay some of these sex-positive, anti-violence messages. I remember when I was in university, being part of the White Ribbon Campaign on campus. We eventually worked with a number of other agencies to form a group called Allies. I was proud to be part of Allies, and I remember the impact it had to have two star UBC football players in the group (neither of which were me. Did I mention that I was a nerd?). When they spoke to their fellow teammates, or other young men, their words carried weight.
Pornography is not going anywhere, and young men will always have role models and peers (good and bad) who they look up to. We need to be available to provide guidance to these boys on how to become good men, and these programs are helping to make that happen.