When porn replaces sex education

Many Spanish teens have been left to learn about sexual relations from online adult videos

Carmen Pérez-Lanzac
Over half of 14- to 17-year-olds have watched porn online.
Over half of 14- to 17-year-olds have watched porn online.santi burgos

Almudena will not soon forget the shock of finding out that her 15-year-old daughter had completely shaved her pubis.

“I was dumbfounded,” she says. “I wondered where she got the idea from. She says she does it for esthetic reasons, but I think she got it from pornography, the only place where that’s considered completely normal.”

Her daughter Elena later confesses that she would be ashamed if she didn’t shave: “The boys would see it as odd if we weren’t completely hairless.”

Sex education is not going through a good moment in Spain. Unlike many neighboring countries, the subject is not part of the school curriculum, and experts describe the situation as “disastrous.”

“It is left up to education centers to make their own decisions,” complains Raquel Hurtado, of the State Planned Parenthood Federation. “Many regional governments require parental consent, and anybody can teach it.”

Although growing numbers of parents talk about sex with their children, there is still a significant generational disconnect.

53.5 percent of kids aged between the ages of 14 and 17 have viewed online porn

The main source of information on sex-related matters for Spanish teens is just a click away: 53.5 percent of youngsters aged between 14 and 17 have viewed online porn, according to child protection association Protégeles. Among 11- and 12-year-olds, four percent receive sexual content on their cellphones.

But, wrongly interpreted, porn creates behavioral patterns that adults fail to understand. “Our brains learn,” says Juan Madrid, a doctor at the Madrid City Youth Center. “If you’re used to getting excited watching certain videos, that later conditions your preferences.”

The percentage of Spanish youngsters who had sex before the age of 15 doubled between 2004 and 2012

Teens are still having their first sexual relations at the age of 17 on average, as they have for years. But the percentage of youngsters who had sex before the age of 15 doubled between 2004 and 2012, going up from 5.2 percent to 12.3 percent, according to the latest sexuality report compiled by Injuve, the Health Ministry’s youth institute.

Teenage girls are used to having older boys pressuring them into having intercourse before they feel ready. Patricia is one of them. A 17-year-old student at a private high school in Madrid, she lost her virginity a few months ago because her boyfriend said “if we don’t do it, we’re gonna have to break up.”

“I finally gave in, but now that we are no longer together, I regret it,” she admits.

This is the kind of situation Hurtado is referring to. She does not mind teens becoming sexually active soon, as long as “they do it because they feel like it and not because there are people in the group telling them to do it now.”

The boys watch porn and conclude that their own sex lives are going to be similar to that” Sex education teacher Noemí Sánchez

Noemí Sánchez teaches sex education in high schools in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid). “The boys watch porn and conclude that their own sex lives are going to be very similar to that,” she says, noting that new technologies and the content to which they provide access are an integral part of these youngsters’ lives.

On a recent October day, 35 students aged 12 and 13 listened to two police officers who had come to give them a talk at Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles School in Villaverde (Madrid). The law enforcement officers were there to warn them about the danger of communicating with unknown individuals on the web or sharing revealing photographs.

One officer asked the class if anyone was using WhatsApp. Everyone save for three students raised their hands. “Do you know how old you have to be to legally have this application?” asked the policeman. The kids shrugged. “You have to be 16.” A room full of surprised faces stared back at him.

Sex education is not part of the school curriculum, and experts describe the situation as “disastrous”

Meanwhile, in Coslada, east of Madrid, several teens aged between 17 and 19 are sitting on opposite benches and talking about a homemade video that every student in their school has seen. “A girl made a video in which she touched herself all over, and sent it to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he forwarded it to several people, and everyone ended up seeing it,” explains one.

The girl has since switched to a different high school but still lives in the same neighborhood, where she is viewed by her peers as “a dirty bitch.” Asked about their thoughts on her ex, who distributed the private video, there is complete silence.

The sexist attitudes that condemn women for being sexually free are getting stronger among teenagers. “Women are viewed as a possession by men, and the power granted by new technologies is being increasingly used to that end,” says Madrid.

Three girls who attend a public school in Madrid say that they routinely hear sexist comments

A Health Ministry study on violent behavior and sexist patterns among minors concluded that the percentage of young girls who had been insulted rose from 14 percent to 23 percent between 2010 and 2013. Meanwhile, a Madrid regional government survey showed that 5.3 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 16 said “their boyfriend had imposed sexual conduct on them” that they had rejected.

Three girls who attend a public school in Madrid explain that they routinely hear sexist comments. “First they say it as a joke: ‘Go mop the floors!’ Later, if you’re going out, they might say: ‘You belong to me and only me,’ or: ‘Don’t talk to other guys’,” said one.

“Their behavioral patterns are very old-fashioned; boys think of themselves as very superior and they are very possessive,” confirms Sánchez, who partly blames what teens see and hear in songs, movies and television.

I shave my parts every three days because the girls demand it, too!”

And thus the removal of pubic hair has become trendy among teenage girls. “The managers at our beauty centers confirm it,” says Juan Carlos Lorenzo, of salon chain Aires. Most girls claim that they do it for esthetic reasons, although some admit it is “in case I hook up with someone.” One 17-year-old said she was doing it for hygiene reasons and was using €650 that her parents gave her as a present for the purpose.

Álvaro, 18, claims that the demand for removing pubic hair works both ways. “I shave my parts every three days because the girls demand it, too!” he says. “If I run into a girl who is not completely hairless, it grosses me out.”

“Being cool increasingly involves being aggressive with your girl,” says Luis Seoane, a sociologist who has done a study on the subject. He worries that adults are leaving sex education up to minors themselves.

“There is great hypocrisy,” explains Isabel Serrano, a gynecologist. “The government erroneously believes that teaching sex education will increase the incidence of sex among teens, when it is exactly the other way around: if you have good education on the matter, you are better able to say no.”

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS