THE BLOG
06/03/2007 03:15 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The 'Porn Effect' Online

I remember watching the VH1 "documentary" on the connection between rock, rap and porn more than a few years ago -- the program showed how porn stars were beginning to appear in mainstream music videos. This trend has been continuing for the past several years and has been well documented in books like Pornified and Female Chauvinist Pigs. It's basically "girl power gone wild" -- that by "reclaiming" (or just copying) the porn-like poses and sexy dress that men find so attractive, you gain a feeling of being powerful...and may even find success as a Pussycat Doll.

The Associated Press published an article on the topic over the weekend that expands this trend to the creep of internet porn into mainstream sites like MySpace. The writer interviews a therapist who says that high school girls are telling him they have performed sexual acts in front of a webcam for men they are meeting online. Given the hysteria the media has whipped up over what's happening with teens online, I feel like I need to say that while this may be happening, it is not the norm -- the majority of teen girls are not performing sexual acts in front of webcams for men they meet online.

What may be more common are the provocative photos girls put on their MySpace profiles. It's a combination of what Liz Perle, the editor in chief of Common Sense Media describes in Totally Wired as the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" behavior of girls copying their celebutante heroes like Paris Hilton, and, in the webcam case, I would argue, a sign of trouble at home or past victimization -- it's risky behavior.

The increased sexualization of girls and women in our culture is troubling as is the blurring between pornography and mainstream entertainment. What's sad is the underlying message girls are getting and believing, in part because it's true -- it's a way they can feel powerful instantly and it can lead to a certain kind of fame and celebrity. And for girls whose parents never talk to them about embracing their sexuality and feeling comfortable in their own skin (vs. just preaching abstinence), the allure of being sexy in this way can be very compelling. There were two quotes in the article that stood out for me. This one:

"If you 'act like a man,' in that sense, you're trying to grab hold of that same kind of power, that same kind of lifestyle -- and claim male privilege...The problem is, you're still female and it's still a man's world." - Julie Albright, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, who is working on a book about "players," men who juggle more than one sex partner and earn a title of esteem for behavior that much of society still frowns upon for women.

And this one:

"To be sure, it can make you feel powerful to know that you are arousing strong feelings in other people, that you have their attention and admiration," says Eileen Zurbriggen, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who helped compile the APA report.

"This is the same sense of power experienced by charismatic rock stars and politicians. But politicians also wield other kinds of power. They can make actual changes to the legal, economic, and geopolitical landscapes -- changes that have far-ranging impacts.

"Women," she says, "might be better off developing other sources of power."

Like everything else, the internet is simply reflecting and amplifying a cultural trend. The bigger question is how can we as a culture find new ways to validate girls and young women for achievements that may lead to them finding real power in the world -- instead of power defined by a stereotypical male version of female sexuality reflected by the porn industry and now celebrated in mainstream media?

Here are three great resources for parents to check out related to these issues:

Respect Rx (loads of tips on empowering girls)
Common Sense Media (amazing resource for discussing the media your kids consume)
Sex, etc. (a resource devoted to discussing teenage sexuality in a more holistic way)
New Moon (a magazine for pre-teen girls - I'm on their advisory board!)