PVV – a troubling trend, but what does it have to do with porn?

Not to be a mid-30s(ish) fuddy duddy, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it: the idea that girls as young as 15 are taking part in group sex these days kinda freaks me out. But when you tell me that this is because of porn… well, I’m gonna go ahead and disagree.

Recently, this bit “Group sex is the latest ‘trend’ for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals” (published December 19, 2011) was brought to my attention. The original posting is here, but the text in full is copied below. Let’s take a look, shall we?

“Girls as young as 15 are taking part in group sex, with more than half being coerced into doing it, a study has revealed.

Researchers at Boston University’s School of Public Health found one in 13 teenage girls reported having a ‘multi-person sex’ (MPS) experience – often initiated by boyfriends who had been watching pornography.

The average age of the girls who had experienced MPS was just 15.6 years old – under the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, which is 16.

And nearly half of those said their sexual partners did not use condoms, raising concerns over the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The study, of 328 girls from deprived areas in Boston who had gone to sexual health clinics, raises concerns about the influence of pornography on teenagers.

Emily Rothman, associate professor of community health sciences at the school, told philadelphiaweekly.com: ‘Girls were five times more likely to engage in MPS if they or their boyfriends had watched porn.

‘Out of those who engaged in MPS, 50 per cent did things their partners saw in porn first. Porn may be influencing the sexual behaviour of these teens.’

She added that more than half of girls who engaged in some form of group sex ‘were pressured or coerced into a gang rape – or a boyfriend would ask them to do a three-way’.

A third of those who had experienced MPS had also used alcohol or drugs before.

The study, published in the Journal of Urban Health, reveals more research is needed in the link between highly sexualised images and decision-making in terms of sex and relationships among teenagers.

It cited another study of high-school girls in the U.S. north east that found ‘sex parties’ had become an ‘accepted activity’ among some teenagers.

Ms Rothman is applying for grant funding to research the link between dating violence and pornography.

Pornography is increasingly available to teenagers through the internet and many are exposed to sexualised images through music stars and fashion models.

‘We need to know more about how adolescents’ and children’s experiences are shaped by hyper-sexualised images they see on regular TV and ads. It’s a worthwhile question.

‘Group sex among youth is an important public health topic that has received very little attention to date.

‘It’s time for parents, pediatricians, federal agencies and community-based organisations to sit up, pay attention and take notice: group sex is happening, and we need to be prepared to address it.'”

Ok…

I was extremely dissatisfied by and suspicious of this little article’s coverage and breakdown of what may well be a very powerful study. So I decided to pick it apart some…

First and foremost, who is this Emily Rothman? Google shows that she is extremely prolific and well-pedigreed researcher at an esteemed university. Here is her bio page – take a look at that publication listing, Harvard all the way, BU Public Health – impressive!!

Quick perusal of Emily’s publication listing (click the drop down) shows that the study referenced in the piece above…

Rothman, EF,  Decker, MR, Miller, E, Reed, E, Raj, A, and Silverman, JG.  (in press).  Multi-person sex among a sample of adolescent female urban health clinic patients.  Journal of Urban Health.

…is “in press,” which also means “forthcoming” which also means “not out yet.”

Sometimes journals give little previews and early access if you go through a university library, but ProQuest searches via two major research libraries yielded no paper – rats!! I was bummed because I really wanted to check out Rothman, et al’s methods. I also wanted to see how the researchers themselves actually articulated their findings, but it was not to be…

Since I couldn’t read the actual forthcoming paper, I decided to check out where the “Group sex is the latest ‘trend’ for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals” bit pulled its quotes from. That piece, “Study Shows Disturbing Trends in Group Sex Amongst Urban Teens” (published December 17, 2011), is here… but the text is also below.

“In mainstream media, the line between art and porn is blurred.

In a preliminary study, researchers have seen disturbing trends in teen sexual behavior amongst the urban poor, where a number of teenage girls they surveyed engaged in ‘multiple-person sex’ – and were often forced or coerced.

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Boston University School of Public Health, among others, surveyed teenage girls aged 14 to 20 who went to clinics in schools and communities in the Boston area. One in 13 reported having engaged in a group-sex experience – anything ranging from an orgy or three-way, to a ‘train’ or group sex.

The average age for a first-time ‘multi-person sex’ experience (or MPS, as the researchers call it) was 15.6 years old. Out of the 7.7 percent of respondents who’ve have a multi-person sex experience, over half were forced, pressured, or coerced to do it.

Even though the research was conducted in Boston, Massachusetts, people in other urban areas should take notice. ‘I’d be surprised if this behavior is unique to Boston,’ said Emily Rothman, associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. ‘In Philadelphia, my expectation is you’d find the same thing.’

Age, race, and place of birth did not factor into the likelihood that a girl had engaged in multi-person sex, she said. All of the respondents were urban teens living in poor neighborhoods, who went to clinics for their reproductive health issues. Rothman said there was a bigger factor that increased the likelihood of a multi-person sex encounter.

‘Girls were five times more likely to engage in MPS if they or their boyfriends had watched porn,’ she said.

Out of all the 328 respondents, 11 percent ‘were forced to do sexual things their boyfriend saw in porn,’ Rothman said. ‘Out of those who engaged in MPS, 50 percent did things their partners saw in porn first. Porn may be influencing the sexual behavior of these teens.’

Rothman says she and her fellow researchers saw some trends that alarmed them. For one, the average age of a first-reported multi-person sex experience was under the legal age of consent in Massachusetts, which is 16. For another thing, more than half of girls who engaged in some kind of group sex situation ‘were pressured or coerced into a gang rape – or a boyfriend would ask them to do a three-way,’ Rothman said.

About one-third had used alcohol or drugs immediately prior to the experience – less than Rothman had expected, she said.

The researchers noticed a strong correlation between dating violence and pornography use, and they also noticed that out of the girls who’d engaged in MPS, ‘in 45 percent, or nearly half, of those encounters, at least one male did not use a condom.’

That means that MPS is a high-risk activity, which is worrisome, because recent studies have shown that about 30 percent of males aged 13 to 19 who report having heterosexual anal sex have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, she said.

This study shows that more research needs to be done about how watching pornography influences teen decision-making when it comes to sex and relationships. Rothman says she’s applying for a grant to look more deeply into the relationship between porn and dating violence. She wants to look at ‘Gonzo porn, which is an increasingly available and very violent type of porn, and how that’s shaping adolescent decision-making.’

Porn is increasingly accessible to teens on the internet, but it’s not their first encounter with graphic, sexualized images. After all, the entertainers who teens look up to the most are nearly-naked, gyrating singers that people today consider as wholesome as apple pie, who are worshiped by talk show hosts as gods. It’s a question worth asking ourselves as a society.

‘I don’t want to comment without data from other studies,’ Rothman says, ever a cautious scientist. ‘But we need to know more about how adolescents’ and children’s experiences are shaped by hyper-sexualized images they see on regular TV and ads. It’s a worthwhile question.'”

My. Goodness.

Without having actually read the study and only on the basis of these two bits of text, I have some thoughts.

1. Coercion in adolescent sexual behavior is disturbing, as are the unsafe sex practices many of these kids are apparently engaging in.

2. The results (as they are reported by these two pieces) come from 328 women and girls aged 14 to 20. The very high N (N = number of participants informing a study) is awesome, and 14 – 20 seems like a manageable age-range to consider what seems like pretty racy sex behavior (again, call me old fashioned) – yay!!

But all this good goes to hell when you bring in porn. It is methodologically unsound to group adult participants (those participants 18 – 20 years of age) with minor-aged participants (14 – 17 here) when you are attempting to bring in a factor that is, at minimum, culturally and legally distinct per age group.

3. I love (read: hate) how the term “deprived” is thrown into the conversation as if social class is not a relevant factor. What does that mean, “deprived”? And where is the critical engagement of sex behavior and the ways in which sex behaviors vary across social classes? I want to say I find it hard to believe that the researchers didn’t consider social class, but when I read the “age, race, and place of birth did not factor into the likelihood that a girl had engaged in multi-person sex, [Rothman] said,” but that “all of the respondents were urban teens living in poor neighborhoods”… well this just doesn’t make sense to me – how can class not be a factor when this entire study is controlled/limited by it (“deprived” and “poor neighborhoods”) in the first place?

4. I would agree that Emily seems like a cautious scientist, which is good; but wanting to study gonzo content, which apparently is “increasingly available and very violent”… wtf??? Where is the rigorous and representative study sampling this specific genre of adult content that points not only to violent, but to “very violent?” No where. Such a study does not exist.

Aside from the bold subjectivity and apparent lack of experience with adult content, who gets to say what constitutes “violent”? And what happens if something is or is not “violent” to the viewer versus is or is not “violent” to the person engaged in the depiction (ie the porn performer)? What then? Aside from the blatant subjectivity thing, Emily’s proposed future research gets at all sorts of methodological issues surrounding content analyses.

5. And finally, and this is the most obvious of all critiques – certainly, viewing all sorts of anything, porn or violence or drugs or death or politics or cartoons, can influence a young mind (perhaps differently than it would influence a “mature” mind, or perhaps not)… and I don’t even begin to pretend to understand what those effects may be. Who knows what seeing a three-way between consenting adults or BDSM content or even romantic-themed porn will do to a kid??!! But adult content is not intended for persons under the age of 18, nor is it legal for minors to view, sooo… yeah – thank you, Captain Obvious Critique.

In sum, I really want to read this study. I want to read the actual text of “Multi-person sex among a sample of adolescent female urban health clinic patients”… when it comes available. I want to see what was done and what was found versus what the researchers offer as speculation, and I want to read what they suggest for further research.

I find this unsafe coercion-based MPS in early and late teens to be an unsettling behavior pattern, and I really appreciated Emily’s call to action: “It’s time for parents, pediatricians, federal agencies and community-based organisations to sit up, pay attention and take notice: group sex is happening, and we need to be prepared to address it.” Hell yes!!

But, in these two “coverage” pieces, a finger-pointing passing-the-buck line of bullshit shrouds cautious Emily’s bold proclamations.

Clearly the authors of “Group sex is the latest ‘trend’ for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals” and “Study Shows Disturbing Trends in Group Sex Amongst Urban Teens” know what they think – watching porn and/or hanging out with a dude who has been watching porn really increases a (“deprived”) 15-year-old girl’s probability of having a three-way.

Again, call me old fashioned, but there’s a really easy way to limit those odds – Talk to your kids. And if it’s all about porn (which it’s not), don’t let kids watch stuff that’s not meant for them in the first place.

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