Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

If you spent anytime on Twitter and other social media this week (and you're a parent) then you probably noted tweets and posts about that ultra-viral New York Times Magazine feature about teen-agers involved in a porn-literacy class in Boston.

So what is the religion angle here?

What makes this our must-read "think piece" for this weekend?

Well, there is no absolutely religion and/or moral angle to this story at all, according to the Times magazine. at least that appears to be the case based on the content that made it into print. Actually, I guess the moral angle is whether constant porn consumption is in some way negatively shaping how young males view sex and, thus, affecting their sex lives and those of the teens with whom they are having sex.

You can kind of see what's going on in the story's double-decker headline:

What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn
American adolescents watch much more pornography than their parents know -- and it’s shaping their ideas about pleasure, power and intimacy. Can they be taught to see it more critically?

At one point in the story, there is this mild form of moral nervousness, when addressing the issue of whether tax-funded porn classes for teens should actually RECOMMEND some porn sites to parents and students as safer and more sex-positive -- in terms of avoiding violence and truly twisted material -- while warning them about others.

I mean, after all:

That may be more than most parents, even of older teenagers, can bear. But even if parents decided to help their teenagers find these sites, not only is it illegal to show any kind of porn -- good or bad -- to anyone under 18, but, really, do teenagers want their parents to do so? And which ones would parents recommend for teenagers?

Yes, read that a second time and think about it.

Now, trust me, I am well aware -- as someone who has tried to help churches face media-literacy issues since the early 1990s -- that most religious leaders would rather line up at a dentist's office for root canals without painkillers than talk about any of this in the pulpit or in religious-education classes.

So it's up to secular leaders and, well, the Times. As Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher stressed in a post about the Times article:

It can be difficult, but you need to know about this. The horror in the piece is the realization you may have -- well, I had it -- that what these public health educators are doing makes a kind of sense. ...  A lot of what is described in the piece is so hard to read. It’s not titillating at all, but clinical in its descriptions. The idea of those kinds of filthy, defiling images entering into the imaginations of kids is enraging. What these educators are trying to do is to take away some of those images’ power.
What they’re doing is “good” in the sense that a public health educator teaching teenage junkies how to shoot heroin without killing themselves is good.

Lurking in the background, for concerned parents, is another question: What what point do parents hand their children the "car" that children use to travel to these sites? We are talking about those omnipresent smartphones with data plans.

The relationship between that "car" and porn is what journalist Andy Crouch is talking about in this tweet linked to the Times piece:

Believe it or not, most religious leaders are also scared to talk about the moral implications of smartphones. I covered some of this territory in an interview last year with Crouch, for this Universal syndicate column: "Can clergy help modern parents struggle with technology issues in their homes" See also his lecture in the video at the top of this post.

So why are there no religious leaders and experts quoted in the Times piece?

I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that.

Meanwhile, this feature bravely visits a world in which teen males say things like "porn stars know what they are doing" and "I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time."

Here is one of the mildest scenes in this drama:

One Thursday afternoon, about a dozen teenagers sat in a semicircle of North Face zip-ups, Jordans, combat boots, big hoop earrings and the slumped shoulders of late afternoon. It was the third week of Porn Literacy, and everyone already knew the rules: You don’t have to have watched porn to attend; no yucking someone else’s yum -- no disparaging a student’s sexual tastes or sexuality. And avoid sharing personal stories about sex in class. Nicole Daley and Jess Alder, who wrote the curriculum with Emily Rothman and led most of the exercises and discussion, are in their 30s, warm and easygoing. Daley, who until last month was the director of Start Strong, played the slightly more serious favorite-aunt role, while Alder, who runs Start Strong’s classes for teenagers, was the goofier, ask-me-anything big sister. Rothman also attended most of the classes, offering information about pornography studies and explaining to them, for example, that there is no scientific evidence that porn is addictive, but that people can become compulsive about it.
In the first class, Daley led an exercise in which the group defined porn terms (B.D.S.M., kink, soft-core, hard-core), so that, as she put it, “everyone is on the same page” and “you can avoid clicking on things you don’t want to see.” The students also “values voted” — agreeing or disagreeing about whether the legal viewing age of 18 for porn is too high, if working in the porn industry is a good way to make money and if pornography should be illegal. Later, Daley held up images of a 1940s pinup girl, a Japanese geisha and Kim Kardashian, to talk about how cultural values about beauty and bodies change over time. In future classes, they would talk about types of intimacy not depicted in porn and nonsexist pickup lines. Finally, Daley would offer a lesson about sexting and sexting laws and the risks of so-called revenge porn (in which, say, a teenager circulates a naked selfie of an ex without consent). And to the teenagers’ surprise, they learned that receiving or sending consensual naked photos, even to your boyfriend or girlfriend, can be against the law if the person in the photo is a minor.

Read it all. Then send the URL to your pastor, priest, rabbi, etc.

Will he or she respond? The odds are against it.

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