Young men are stressed out about sex, report finds

The online sexual misinformation crisis is in full swing.

TikTok is rife with misinfo about kink, young people are turning to porn for sex education, and 80 percent of young people don’t know what to trust when accessing sex ed online.

A brand new, nationally representative report into the UK’s sex habits by health and wellness platform Hims and Hers(Opens in a new tab) has revealed some interesting insights about the impact of sex misinfo on young people — and particularly on young men.

27 percent of the 3,688 adults surveyed say most of their sex education comes from pornography, with 37 percent stating they learn from their partners, and 33 percent say they learn from “trial and error.”

51 percent of men say porn has changed their perception of how long they should last in bed and how erect their penis should be.

The report found that young men who turn to porn are getting stressed out about what’s expected of them in sexual encounters. 51 percent of men say porn has changed their perception of how long they should last in bed and how erect their penis should be. And 50 percent say that porn has changed their perception of sex completely.

38 percent of Gen Z men say sex stresses them out, as compared to 15 percent of Boomer men. 54 percent of Gen Z men say porn has altered their perception of what sex should be like.

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When it comes to body image pressures that men are facing, we know that penis size is also a source of anxiety due to broader media representations. A 2019 study by Oxford University found(Opens in a new tab) that television and men’s magazines often “reinforce the cultural message that a larger penis makes a man more ‘manly.'” 

Porn, however, is not designed as an educational tool — it’s entertainment. And the scenes portrayed in porn are intended to bring our fantasies to life, rather than reflect the reality of sex. “It’s not that porn can’t be fun,” Dr. Rachel Rubin, urologist and sexual medicine specialist, explains in the report. “But it’s not helpful in terms of understanding what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to sexual health.” A lot of mainstream porn does not typically show consent negotiation or the application of barrier contraception methods, let alone the typical conversations about sexual boundaries that we have in real life.

Sex education is falling short

The answer to the sex misinformation crisis is not to limit people’s access to porn. In the UK, we are witnessing a burgeoning moral panic over pornography and sex education. A recent report(Opens in a new tab) by UK lawmakers concluded that all porn is exploitation, despite not speaking to any ethical porn experts or sex workers, instead turning to prominent members of the anti-porn lobby for evidence. And UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has just launched a review(Opens in a new tab) of sex education in schools in England over claims that schools were teaching “age-inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate” lessons. In response, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said “there is a real concern that this is a politically motivated review,” adding that they’ve seen “no evidence” to suggest young students are seeing such age inappropriate material.

Of course, we know that inadequate sex education in schools leaves young people with more questions than answers. Other research into the state of sex education has found that half of young people hadn’t learned about real-life scenarios(Opens in a new tab) concerning sexual consent, and over a third had been taught nothing at all regarding sexual consent. Meanwhile, another study found that 68 percent of young people go online for sex education to find answers in private.

Our own sex education doesn’t end when we leave school — it’s a lifelong journey and we’re continuously learning new things. FYI, Mashable has a weekly sex column called Come Again? where we answer your questions about sex, provide how-to guides for sex acts, and debunk myths and misinfo we’ve absorbed.

Teach young people porn literacy

Experts consulted in the report say there’s now a cognitive dissonance between the sex on our screens and the sex we’re having IRL. So, where do we go from here? Journalist and sex educator Alix Fox advocates porn education as solution to reducing this cognitive gap. “We need to make people more porn-literate,” says Fox. “I advocate teaching people how to view porn with a critical, informed eye and realise that not all of the content they see necessarily reflects real life.”

Margot Weiss, associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University, says the relationship between fantasy porn and reality sex isn’t a binary. “While it’s true that what you want to watch in porn is not necessarily what you want to do in your actual life, it’s also not the case that fantasy is disconnected from actual life. It’s not just a totally different realm that has no relationship to the real world.”

In short: porn can be really great for getting us off and indulging fantasies. But when it comes to comparing it to the sex we have in real life, it’s a confusing, blurry line.

“We need to make people more porn-literate.”

Dr. Denise Asafu-Adjei, urologist and medical advisory board at Hims and Hers, says we need to open the lines of communication with young people so they’re not internalising unrealistic standards while watching porn.

“We need to have normalised conversations with young men about sex, not only so that they know what to expect, but also so they don’t look to a fantasy as a benchmark to what they should be.”

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