It seems that every time a famous entertainer comes out and does something risqué in front of a national audience, the reaction is split: “He/she (more often, “she”) is coming into his/her own, blossoming, maturing, etc.,” versus, “What filth! Inappropriate! Sex replaces talent. Hide the children!”
Justin Timberlake led the trend with Janet Jackson and the infamous “nip slip” of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, now known (apparently) as “Nipplegate.” Miley Cyrus did it with, well, what didn’t Miley do? Kim Kardashian and baby-daddy Kanye West simulated sex in a video YouTube labels “explicit.” Beyoncé recently shed her respectable persona and a whole lot more when she writhed around sensually on stage in a barely there piece of black leather at the Grammys.
Now the story of Duke University student Belle Knox has gained national attention. She’s become a porn star in order, she claims, to pay her college tuition. Despite porn being a booming industry with revenues in the billions (12 percent of websites today are pornographic), Knox has been verbally bullied for her job choice and says she’s received death threats. On The View, though, Knox said she finds her new career “empowering.” When View co-host Sherri Shepherd said Knox’s situation “breaks her heart,” Knox responded that Shepherd’s reaction was “incredibly condescending and completely ignored my sexual autonomy.”
Beyoncé is a more established artist, but she shed her wholesome persona and a whole lot more when she writhed around on stage in a barely-there piece of black leather at the Grammys. Her exposé sparked multiple “shame on you” tweets, many of which were composed by parents lamenting the fact that the program was not suitable to watch with children. 84 percent of respondents to the DailyMail’s online poll said Queen B’s performance at the Grammys was simply “too risqué.” It didn’t specify for what age.
Yet there exists in American culture a curious parallel: the age of maturity is increasing, while the age of development seems to be decreasing. 30 is the new 20! Despite this phenomenon, kids these days are exposed to and bored by every form of sex by the time their age reaches double digits.
Adulthood for the Boomerang Generation is delayed while childhood is prolonged. We millennials all have a little bit of arrested development, spurred in great part by the sluggish economy that lands us back in the adolescent bedrooms we grew up in but not out of. We get married later in life. We finally start to settle down at ages which saw our parents already on their third kid.
So if 30 is the new 20, does that make 20 the new 10? And if so, is it really OK to inundate pre-teens with the stuff Janet, Justin, Miley, Bey, Kim, Kanyé, and Belle seem to view as a rite of passage? Should we respect and support such behavior as a part of growing up, or condemn it for its negative effects on all age groups?
The fact is, the erotic behavior that passes as entertainment in the modern day is meant to shock our sensibilities. Miley’s jaw-dropping conduct at the MTV awards show resulted in international buzz. That was the point. Miley bragged: “Even people who want to hate on me, they can’t even shut down the fact that I’m literally what everyone is talking about.”
In the way turn-of-the-century circus freak shows brought in crowds of thousands, raunchy material draws viewers looking for something curiously out of place, something where it doesn’t belong, something enchanting or perverse unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
There are thousands of porn stars, yet Americans focused on Belle Knox because her situation was atypical. Would we have been as intrigued, or in some cases, outraged, were Belle Knox not so young, privileged, and in possession of a future brimming with wholesome potential? She gained our attention because what she was doing disturbed the pre-conceived notions society has deemed to be acceptable behavior.
Just because something is different from the norm does not mean it is bad for us, obviously. But in this case, it can be argued that the reason such sexually explicit displays are guarded (by TV ratings, on 18+ websites, in strip clubs with no windows, etc.), is because human nature instinctively compartmentalizes sexuality and protects it in order to protect ourselves.
Such thoughts cross my mind every time I encounter an “Adult World” store on the side of the highway. Sure, an adult understands and can make more well-informed judgments regarding the nature of sex and its consequences than a child can, but are pornography and obscene, “X-rated” materials any better or more appropriate for adults than for young people?
Consider the sale of cigarettes to minors. People under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to purchase tobacco products because they “contain nicotine and are highly addictive,” though they aren’t any more addictive or healthy for minors than adults.
So too with sexual material. The old adage “sex sells!” continues to reaffirm itself in daily life. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that that average American child spends more than 38 hours a week on video games, music, TV, reading and their computers, and noted that “68 percent of the material the children watch contains sexual content, up from 56 percent just two years ago.”
Many studies verify the corrupting influence of sexual content on both children and adults. Psychology Today, for instance, found that “media messages normalize early sexual experimentation and portray sex as casual, unprotected, and consequence-free, encouraging sexual activity long before children are emotionally, socially, or intellectually ready.”
The study linked early exposure to sexual content to: earlier teen sex that was more likely to be casual and unprotected, high risk sex (multiple partners and drug and alcohol use before sex), sex, love, and relationship addictions as well as intimacy disorders, and sexual violence.
The trend continues as children grow up. Researchers at Oklahoma State University found in a study of college fraternity males that there is a “strong link between men’s viewing pornography and behavioral instinct to commit sexual assault.”
New research has also linked pornography to depression and to negative attitudes towards intimate relationships. Men’s Health magazine exposed the science behind “How porn rewires your brain, hijacks your libido, and threatens your sex life.”
The Wall Street Journal last year reported on the neurological effects of sexually charged imagery: “Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans in 2010 to analyze men watching porn. Afterward, brain activity revealed, they looked at women more as objects than as people.”
I am in favor of people having the freedom to practice their own form of private morality, as long as it doesn’t infring on the rights of others. Yet I seek to make the case that a specific code of ethics is more beneficial for humanity as a whole, and that the age of innocence is however many years you’ve lived. No one is ever too old or too young to keep sex in the bedroom and smut off the brain.
Teresa Mull is the managing editor of Human Events.