I am a teacher, specifically college, mainly freshmen, most of whom are the same age as my son, and they are all beginning a journey I am honored to help them navigate.
Something happened at the end of one of my classes the other day, and I was as stunned as I was not, and that was, young people came forward raw with pain, in tears, one who had missed class last week due to a suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization.
In the past couple years, two of my relatives have attempted suicide, my son’s best friend has attempted suicide, more than a dozen students have come to me and confessed they struggle with mental health issues and have contemplated and/or attempted suicide.
People are suffering.
Philosophers believe suffering is self imposed. We choose to suffer.
I do not disagree.
Often times, as artists for example, we choose to examine and explore that suffering, to make sense of it, to exorcise it, and in the process, become bogged down in it.
If someone does something terrible to us, sexual assault, for instance, we are often in a position of helplessness. We cannot control the external force. We can try. But usually, all we are left with is our reaction. What we do with it.
Science proves our brains are not done developing until we hit age twenty-five, specifically the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, the part of our brain that is ancient and reactive, our Amygdala or “Lizard Brain.” I cannot help but wonder how social media lends itself to impulsivity and obsessiveness, which can lead to isolation and depression. Certainly, social media lends itself to social comparisons, which are deadly, especially for young people. Likewise, the social media creators themselves have admitted they created a monster, one which they designed to render us addicted to the “likes,” instant gratification, little dopamine hits. (A pleasure drug our brain manufactures.)
Online pornography also lends itself to impulsivity and obsessiveness, in other words, addiction, not to mention isolation, self absorption, and depression. Likewise, pornography lends itself to social comparisons. Wait. I don’t look like that. I don’t sound like that. I don’t act like that. Am I supposed to look, sound, act like that? Young people are impressionable. They are also vulnerable because their brains aren’t finished.
Before anyone gets worked up here, I read the book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, readily available in my father’s library at thirteen; I read a buttload of Harold Robbins novels at sixteen; I had discovered my grandfather’s collection of Playboy magazines, which yes, intiated a life long struggle with “social comparison,” before the age of twelve, and by nineteen, I had seen my first porn. This explicit cinematic tidbit struck me as weird but mesmerizing. I watched it then shut it off and went about my business, if you know what I mean. Mainly, I relied on my imagination. I am a writer. I have a vivid imagination. Have always preferred to use my brain rather than hook it into a 24/7 IV drip. I think that is my point. Something about imagination versus a 24/7 cinema, something about limited access versus a 24/7 IV drip.
Nothing about “limited access” applies to pornography now. One click. Welcome to PornHub. Millions of videos. More. More. More. A literal never-ending supply that children can access if they have an electronic device. Phone. Tablet. Laptop.
I have never been to PornHub. My son has. My students have. A female student revealed her boyfriend showed her PornHub, wanted to try some of the stuff he saw there, and while she was uncomfortable with his request, she did not want to come across a prude. Same student revealed her boyfriend was “way too into porn,” used it everyday, and that most guys admitted using porn “Like, way too much.” They can’t stop. They are not supposed to, as PornHub has done everything possible to keep them coming back for more, longer, weirder, and often times more misogynistic, more racist, more violent. Subsequently, several female students have revealed to me that Snap Chat is rife with unsolicited “dick pics.” Apparently, young men these days deem this gesture “seduction.” Look at my dick. You didn’t ask to see it. Maybe don’t want to see it. But look at it. Look.
Honestly, what happened to flowers? Chocolate? Love songs? Poetry? Foreplay?
What happened to conversation?
I am not anti-sex or anti-sexuality or even anti-erotic. I have written an enormous amount of erotic fiction. Sex is beautiful. Children are curious. But while parents continue to resist comprehensive sex education in schools, our twelve-year old children are over at PornHub. And. Seriously? PornHub is a credible and compassionate teacher?
Bill Maher blames our current state of misery, specifically in young people, on the “Self Esteem Movement.” No one fails anymore. Meaning, no one can handle failure anymore. Everybody gets a trophy, regardless, so why try? I am entitled. Give it to me.
Believe me. Self entitlement is rampant in college. Among college students.
I am showing my students the Bill Maher video this semester. We will discuss the difference between self esteem and self compassion. They will write about the difference. We are also reading a poem this week by Marianne Williamson called “Our Deepest Fear,” which a character from a 2005 sports drama called Coach Carter recites to his coach in response to the question, “What are you most afraid of?”
Williamson suggests our own potential terrifies us most.
She also suggests we are most frightened by our light not our darkness.
Our world conditions us to misery. Look around. The more empty we feel, the stronger our impulse to fill ourselves with crap. Our “Lizard Brain” hooked up to its 24/7 drip.
“Pornography is as much a celebration of sex as gluttony is a celebration of food.”