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First touches: Puberty and sexuality

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How do children and teenagers get in touch with sex – and how should parents deal with it?

Sex is everywhere: in advertising, on television, on the internet. It’s difficult to say when children will be confronted with sex for the first time, because the boundaries between advertising banners, pop-ups and explicit pornography are blurred. US psychologists, in particular, warn that children today come into contact with sexuality at an early age – without, of course, recognising or understanding it as such. The sex pedagogue Kathrin Hettler from pro familia describes the tendency in the world for clothing for children to increasingly adopt sexualised elements: “We observe the phenomenon that children are dressed like adults. Platforms such as Instagram or the music platform musical.ly also encourage children and teenagers to learn at an early age to see themselves as sexual objects.

Teenagers and internet porn

Pornos are also more readily available today than ever before. According to a study by the University of Mannheim, boys see their first pornographic pictures at the age of 14, girls at 14.8, but often the first contact takes place at the age of 12. Boys tend to look for the pornographic pictures and videos themselves, while girls tend to be confronted with them unintentionally. While the confrontation with pornography certainly has effects on sexuality, according to studies it does not seem to significantly influence the time of the first sexual activities. So, it’s a myth that teenagers have sex earlier and earlier.

In a survey of 160 adolescents between 16 and 19, sex therapist Urzula Martiniuk found that the interviewees frequently watched those sex films that aroused them individually. In addition, the survey showed that pornographic images of violence were used less for stimulation or masturbation: They served more to disturb and provoke other adolescents. According to Martiniuk, when boys watch shocking and violence glorifying pornographic films together in the schoolyard, this can above all be seen as a kind of “test of courage” in which young people can distinguish themselves from each other. In addition, young people can demonstrate their sense of belonging to each other by expressing disgust together and loudly.

Images of women, images of men: What do sexualised media and pornography do with young people?

It is a fact that there are many more studies today that investigate the negative effects of pornography on teenagers than studies that deal with the positive aspects. A connection is considered to have been proven: People who consume violent pornography are more likely to be sexually aggressive. However, this does not explain the cause and effect. An important aspect of pornography consumption also concerns the gender image it conveys: Numerous studies show that boys who watch a lot of porn often have a worse image of women and combine ideal masculinity with aggressiveness and dominance. They would rather devalue women and tend to regard them as sex objects. It has not been clarified whether there is a direct connection with the consumption of pornography, but in a recent survey about 50% of girls aged 16 stated that they had already been sexually harassed by schoolmates at school.

Girls, on the other hand, are affected differently by the consumption of sexualised media. It can be said that through porn consumption they learn to look at themselves through a male view, which leads many girls to insecurity and self-doubt, while other female teenagers associate sexiness with experienced affection. This can lead them to define themselves strongly through their own sexual attractiveness – and to act accordingly. It is particularly important in this case that girls and young women learn to know and respect their own limits.

“This ain’t real”: The role of sex education

The first contact with pornography can hardly be stopped. So how do parents accompany children who are already confronted with omnipresent sexualisation at a young age? Psychologists point out that children’s questions about sexuality (“Why is the woman wearing nothing on the poster?”, “What are they doing there on TV?”) should be answered in a child-friendly, but honest way and without shame – the more children learn that you can talk about sexuality in a relaxed way, the better they learn to deal with it later without fear and shame. In addition, children are much more likely to learn to confide in other people when uncertainties and questions arise. The teaching of media competence also plays an important role: it is important that children learn how social media works and how to become accustomed to dealing with it safely. It is also important that girls learn not to define themselves through their beauty and not to draw their self-confidence from sexual attractiveness.

The good news is that when teenagers have enjoyed a good sex education, they can often handle pornographic images well and distinguish pornography from reality. So, what does porn look like for the first time? When teenagers come across their first sex videos on the internet, they are usually alone and do not dare to talk to adults about their experiences: only four percent of teenagers turn to adult caregivers after their first contact with pornography. For parents, this means that children must essentially be educated before they enter puberty, because from then on many children begin to feel ashamed when they talk to their parents – and ignoring these new boundaries can only mean that they shut down even further. By the way: If parents want their teenagers to continue to be educated seriously, they can also show them informative educational sites on the Internet.

“Hihihihihihi” – uptight porn-professionals

So, it is also up to the parents to create an awareness that young people can also talk about their own sexuality and their own body – even with their best friend. A study by the University of Hohenheim shows that young people still have a lot to say: Young people today still have great problems communicating information about their own sexuality. They may be experts when it comes to finding their favourite clips on Youporn, but they still giggle in sex education lessons.

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