By Alan Bean
Parents, coaches and administrators at DeMatha Catholic High School in Washington DC are expressing outrage and disbelief after five football players hired local prostitutes the morning after an away game in North Carolina. According to the story in the Washington Post, chaperons did their level best to avert this kind of behavior. Bed checks were performed until 1:30 am and motel hallways were monitored until 4:30 am. But the players waited until 5:00 am to call the prostitutes on their cell phones.
Principal Daniel McMahon assured parents that “The school community is saddened and hurt by the actions of these few who do not reflect the character of the community.”
But what exactly is the character of the community? Who defines that?
WP columnist, Petula Dvorak isn’t surprised that football players would dial up prostitutes as easily as they could call out for pizza.
It all begins with internet porn, Dvorak believes. Back in the day, the natural curiosity of adolescent boys was sporadically sated by occasionally ogling the skin mags at the local newsstand or convenience store. Then came the anonymity and convenience of internet porn. Many parents countered by using filters like Net Nanny, but with the advent of cell phones with internet access all bets were off. Now fourteen year-old boys download hardcore porn on a daily basis.
The ubiquity of porn (sometimes called the “pornification” of America) isn’t just a problem for children, of course, but at least adults have some sense that pornographic images deviate wildly from sexual reality. With little basis for comparison, adolescents easily assume that porn sex is standard issue eroticism. The social consequences can be dreadful.
Much has been written in recent years about sexual addiction, an ailment that normally begins with the compulsive consumption of mainstream porn and frequently spins off into violent and degrading fare featuring the intentional humiliation and debasement of women. These disturbing images have little appeal to the neophyte, many believe, but as the viewer becomes desensitized to standard issue sexual content it takes stronger and stronger stuff to produce the same psychic effect.
This is controversial territory. Sexual addiction isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association and the porn industry has gained mainstream acceptance in recent years. Porn stars have appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and most American hotel chains make millions from hardcore entertainment. Most of the alarm about porn arises among evangelicals (who are primarily concerned about the gap between the covenant sexuality at the heart of traditional Christian teaching and the moral nihilism promoted by the porn industry) and some feminists (who are deeply disturbed by porn’s glorification of male domination and the industry’s not-so-subtle misogyny).
Pornographers are business people out to make a buck. The trend toward violent material that degrades women and sponsors crude racial stereotypes is driven by consumers who have grown weary of the tamer stuff. This race to the bottom is probably inevitable.
Not everybody is attracted to pornographic images, of course, but it has been estimated that up to 40% of males use the stuff compulsively. Religious leaders are not immune. In fact, the transgressive nature of pornographic material (if it wasn’t immoral who would be interested?) works overtime on those dedicated to all things bright and beautiful. The resultant shame and sense of worthlessness can be personally, professionally and relationally debilitating .
It is commonly assumed that anyone over eighteen should be free to make up their own minds about sex. This is a questionable dictum. How many college freshmen, male or female, are emotionally prepared for the college hook-up scene? How many of the “barely legal” eighteen year-old women employed by the sex trade have their heads screwed on straight? How many come from abusive families? How many could survive emotionally without drugs? Not many, I suspect.
And what about the football players from DeMatha Catholic High School? Petula Dvorak suspects that calling up hookers at five in the morning was simply the last scene in a drama that had been unfolding over a period of years. It likely started with internet porn and graduated to swapping images with buddies. Finally, looking at virtual women wasn’t doing it anymore. An ad from a local escort service pops up and some sleep-deprived sophomore says, “Hey, why not?”
The school principal solves the problem by expelling five alleged perverts, shaming them publicly, absolving all the adults of wrongdoing, and assuring all and sundry that these kids “do not reflect the character of the community.”
Really? Does the community have a well-defined character? What exactly are our shared values? What practical guidance had these student athletes received that would help them draw appropriate lines? Did they even know that hiring prostitutes is illegal? In pornland, having random sex, whether for money or gratis, is perfectly normal. Why should these boneheads know that different rules apply in the real world? Who told them so? Most likely, no one.
Dvorak concludes her column with some stark advice for parents:
Families who don’t have uncomfortable but honest discussions about sex, porn and prostitution are putting kids at risk for some scary consequences.
That sex talk won’t happen once or twice. It has to happen often, with a lot more detail today.
Deborah Roffman, a sex educator in Maryland for four decades and the author of “Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘Go To Person’ About Sex,” said she talks to parents a lot about the conversations they have with kids. But recently, she has issued an ultimatum:
“I rarely say ‘parents must.’ But in the book I just finished, I said parents must talk to children about pornography.”
“You used to have to go to the other side of town to go to the video store. That was a statement by our society. There were a lot of physical barriers. And that’s all gone now, there are no physical barriers between the child and adult world.”
In the comments section, a reader asked about the people who already live “on the other side of town”. I guess that’s the point: we all live on the other side of town now. The consequences for the future families of America can’t be known for certain, but there is ample cause for concern.