Students Share: Pornography Habits at Lakeside


Pornography: it has nothing to do with school, and yet it has a presence even on campus. For many students, pornography has been omnipresent since middle school, playing on friends’ phones, popping up in group chats, and the subject of various debates and discussions between peers. One upperclassman girl, “Jessie,” first watched pornography in late middle school. For another upperclassman, “Sarah,” it was earlier this year. For “Stephen,” an underclassman, it was fifth grade. Regardless, data from the June Tatler Poll shows that these three students aren’t alone: of the 80 Lakeside students polled last month, a majority (58.7%) reported that they had viewed pornography in the past. What’s more, while some students reported viewing it only “A few times a year” (23.8%) or “A few times a month” (16.3%), some reported viewing it “A few times a week” (12.5%) or “Daily” (6.3%). Despite the large numbers of students engaging with pornography in some way, it’s a topic rarely discussed on Lakeside campus. 

For some Lakeside students like Stephen, pornography has been a part of their lives for a long time. When Stephen was in late elementary school, a friend sent him a link to a pornographic video as a joke: “I was weirded out because I thought it was against the rules, but a lot of boys send it to each other to be funny.” Over time, Stephen explained that watching pornography became increasingly normal for him, developing into something he now does once or twice a week. “Sometimes I feel a bit guilty afterward; sometimes I feel worse and sometimes I feel better,” he explains, adding that he also worries about his parents finding out because he’s been told not to watch it until he’s an adult.

When I asked Stephen whether pornography has impacted his view of sex, he thought for a moment and then explained: “It’s normalized sex for me and now it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Sex is now something to do for fun instead of something sacred, and without pornography, I would be a lot more shy.” Despite what he views as porn’s benefits, he also worries that sex might have been normalized too much as a result.

While pornography is statistically more popular with men, it’s not viewed by just the teenage boys of Lakeside. Jessie doesn’t remember exactly how she was introduced to porn, but she remembers it being a constant in her surroundings throughout middle school. When she started watching it regularly in late middle school, she worried that she was the only girl watching it: “I thought boys were the only ones who watch pornography so I didn’t talk to anyone about it and I always felt a little yucky afterward.” 

Now, having become much more “sex-positive,” Jessie is a lot more comfortable discussing the subject with her close friends, saying, “It’s so stupid that there’s so much stigma about it for girls when it’s so normalized for guys. I’m glad to be able to normalize it.” That said, she has also researched the effects of pornography consumption on the brain and makes a conscious effort to masturbate both with and without the help of pornography to avoid becoming reliant on it. She also tries not to equate it with sex, instead viewing pornography as a “movie” in which everything is acted, rather than showing an accurate depiction of real sex.

Not everyone that I talked to stumbled across pornographic videos accidentally. Sarah shared with me about purposely seeking out pornography out of curiosity. After years of hearing secondhand accounts of what pornography was like and researching it, she decided to watch some to understand what all the fuss was about. “I first went about it from a research angle,” Sarah explains, describing how she later began to watch it for her own pleasure. But, even though it’s now a semi-regular practice for her, she still feels guilt and discomfort afterward: “What makes me feel shitty is the societal stuff, knowing that women aren’t supposed to do this. I feel bad that I’m not more pure.” Despite this, Sarah feels that being a feminist is all about exploring your body and being sex-positive, and that, if someone chooses the right kind of porn, it can be an empowering experience.

What I’m curious about is whether Lakeside students support the wide consumption of pornography among their peers. First, I took the question to the wider student body. Of the 85 students polled, 67% said that high school students should be free to watch pornography, while 16.5% said they shouldn’t and 16.5% said they were unsure. When I asked Stephen he offered sixteen as a good age at which teenagers should be able to watch porn. “It’s really weird that you can have sex when you’re sixteen but you’re not supposed to watch pornography until you’re 18. It’s good to be introduced to it and to go into the world not feeling like sex is a shameful thing.” 

Sarah, on the other hand, is happy with 18 as a minimum age limit but says, “If someone in high school is watching it it’s not a big deal. People mature at different rates and it’s good to explore your body.” Contrary to Stephen, who believes that the school should limit its involvement in sexual education because it’s “forced” and “uncomfortable,” Sarah asks that Lakeside includes more education about masturbation and pornography in Wellness courses.

In contrast to the others, Jessie doesn’t think the solution lies in what the minimum age is set at. “The type of pornography that’s on the internet needs to be monitored, instead of just asking ‘Are you a kid?’” she explains. “It should be accessible, but,” she emphasizes, “there should be more education and resources about it being harmful.”