Next Question with Katie Couric Takes On Explicit Content For Debut Episode

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Next Question with Katie Couric is a new podcast tackling big issues through candid, hard-hitting conversations, covering everything from white supremacy to CBD to ageism. In the premiere episode, Katie Couric dives into a tough topic: violent pornography, and how it may be affecting human sexuality in a big way. How is unfettered access to pornography affecting the way young boys and girls think about and approach their own sexuality? How is it affecting adults’ sex lives? Most importantly, how can we all have conversations around boundaries and consent to get the most out of our intimate moments, and how can we teach our kids to have these conversations, too? Katie hears from several people about how porn has affected their lives, then sits down with Dr. Gail Dines, who’s spent years studying the psychological and societal effects of pornography, and Al Vernacchio, an author and sex-ed teacher, to get some answers.

Katie says she got interested in this topic because studies have shown that women are frequently feeling scared during sex: “There seems to be a culture of coercion going on where unexpected and sometimes unwanted sex, like anal sex and choking, is happening more and more. And experts believe it has to do with porn and how it's shaping heterosexual relationships in particular.” Several teenagers tell Katie that in the porn they’ve seen, women are portrayed as “as a vehicle for the dude’s...satisfaction,” and “the guy isn’t necessarily asking permission to do anything. They just expect that the woman will go along.” Is this kind of material setting up unrealistic sexual expectations for men? What does that mean for the women in their relationships to have to meet those expectations? 

She speaks to one woman, Trish, who recently ended a relationship with her boyfriend because he started choking her during sex, pulling her hair, telling her that “they’d have to get her used” to anal sex. “He just wanted to almost do a porn-like kind of sexual intercourse, which didn’t feel very authentic, but felt kind of acted out,” Trish says. She tells Katie that she didn’t really like the sex they were having, but she didn’t want to seem like a “wet blanket.” “It didn’t give me pleasure when he was doing it, but it gave me pleasure to see that he was enjoying it.” Katie asks her if she felt that their sex was consensual. Trish hesitates before replying, “I’m going to say yes because at the end of the day I still allowed him to do it. Not because I wanted to, but I wanted to please him.” 

As a professor of sociology and women’s studies who’s spent more than three decades studying sexual violence and porn, Dr. Gail Dines has a different opinion. “My experiences with young women are that they’ve...been socialized in this culture to think that you have two choices: you’re either f**kable or invisible…So you have to say yes to what you can stand. And saying yes and negotiating to what you can stand is not consent. It’s just survival.” Katie gives us some scary statistics: “A third of young people have seen porn by the time they’re twelve years old. 88% of top rented or downloaded porn contains scenes depicting violence against women.” (It's worth noting here that studies have different definitions of violence, so there are disputes to that number.) So it’s no wonder that men are coming to their significant others with these intense scenarios. The question is, if boys are seeing this material at such a young age, how can any parent help them understand what they’re watching? Katie turns to Al Vernacchio for help tackling our woefully inadequate birds-and-bees conversations. 

Online Young Teen in His Bedroom

The important thing, Al says, is to start talking about it a lot earlier, starting with gender equity; for example, when they’re watching cartoons or playing video games, draw their attention to how the characters are portrayed based on their gender. “Just beginning to ask questions like, ‘Why do you think there aren’t more women superheroes you’re looking at in your comic books? What’s that saying about the place that girls and women have in the world?’” he says. “When they do encounter material like hardcore pornography, they’re primed to ask that question…‘That woman is being used completely as an object, and I’ve already been told that...that’s disrespectful. That’s devaluing.’” 

He also says he likes to redefine sex with some of the older kids he teaches, because for the most part, they tell him it’s about penetration. “If you are defining sex solely by behavior -- a penis goes into this body part, that's what counts as sex -- What does that definition mean? Look at what it doesn't say. Doesn't say anything about consent, doesn't say anything about mutual pleasure. Doesn't say anything about connection,” he tells us. “Because what is healthy sexuality? It’s pleasurable. It’s respectful. It’s authentic. It’s honest. None of those things are about porn.” 

Join Katie, Dr. Gail, and Al to learn more about the effects of violent pornography, tools for parents to learn how to tackle these conversations with their kids, and the importance of teaching boys and girls about healthy bodily boundaries, gender equity, and non-toxic masculinity, on this episode of Next Question with Katie Couric

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