When stories of abuse among school pupils hit the headlines, we set out to uncover the truth. Today we reveal the results of our shattering poll. Too upsetting for words, it lays bare the: Heartbreaking reality of a teenage girl’s sex life
- Porn is altering the sexual experiences of young people, according to our poll
- Some 31 per cent said they’ve taken part in sexual activities, without even a kiss
- Zara Matthewson started dating a local boy in Newcastle when she was age 16
- Student says he touched her while she slept before forcing her to have sex
As a young girl growing up, Zara Matthewson wanted to believe her first romantic relationship would be special, that the boy involved would respect and care for her.
The reality was alarmingly different. She was 16 when she began dating a local boy in Newcastle and it wasn’t long before his attitude to sex — and treatment of her in the bedroom — became unsettling.
Zara, now a first-year student at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, says: ‘One day, I woke up and found he had moved my clothes aside to take intimate pictures of me on his phone camera. He denied it at first, then said he wasn’t doing anything wrong.’
Over the next few months, Zara’s boyfriend started touching her while she slept before forcing her to have sex, as well as performing some of the more extreme practices he’d seen in porn. ‘Finally, after months of being spat on, strangled, whipped, forced to provide oral and vaginal intercourse and more, I said I’d had enough,’ she says.
Our poll of people aged 16 to 21, reveals the disturbing way porn is altering the sexual experiences of young people. Pictured: Zara Matthewson, who was touched by her boyfriend while sleeping and forced to have sex
Now, an important piece of research commissioned by the Mail — and analysed here in the first part of a major new series — reveals Zara’s first sexual experience is depressingly common.
We discovered that alarming numbers of girls are pressured into highly explicit acts. The results of our poll of 2,000 young people aged 16 to 21, which was carried out by Survation, uncovers the shocking toll of porn culture in our schools.
We wanted to see how easy access to thousands of online clips showing brutal, dehumanised sex was affecting our young men and women and their attitudes to romance, intimacy and consent.
Our statistics are backed up by a damning new Ofsted report which found that nine out of ten girls experience sexist name-calling and are sent unwanted explicit pictures in school.
And our survey revealed further disturbing facts — for not only do girls often have to run a daily gauntlet of sexist and misogynistic behaviour, but the way they first experience intimate acts has utterly changed in just a generation.
For example, while girls used to dream of a romantic first kiss, many young women today told us they feel expected to give oral sex before their first kiss. Some 31 per cent of those who’d had sex said they had taken part in sexual activities, oral sex among them, without even a peck on the lips from the other person first.
And in another sign of the times, while a generation ago, few young teenage girls would have fully understood what anal sex was, our survey found that significant numbers are trying it sooner than ever; and that it is also being used as an alternative to contraception.
According to our research, one in three of those who have had sex have tried anal sex, and more than half of those have done so by the time they are 17. Some 23 per cent had it to avoid the need for contraception.
Is this, then, the deeply concerning effect porn culture is having on our young people? And if so, why is so little being done to protect them from it?
Yasmin, now 18, (pictured) from Essex, said a classmate forcefully put his hands in her pants while sitting on a bench at age 14
Zara believes it took so long for her to leave her relationship because sexual harassment of girls was largely normalised in her school years.
‘We got the message from teachers that “boys will be boys” and girls shouldn’t make a fuss,’ she says. ‘When I told a member of staff the extreme things my boyfriend was doing to me, her response was: “I’m sure he’ll grow out of it.” ’
This week, we unpick how porn has altered the sexual experiences of even the youngest teenage girls for ever.
Next week, we will investigate the seismic impact porn has had on young men.
Porn culture became a national issue again after the website Everyone’s Invited, which carried anonymous testimonies from teenagers forced into sexual acts, made headlines in April. Then, the discussion was mostly about pupils at private schools — but our research shows that unwarranted sexual contact is very pervasive.
And, contrary to perception, porn doesn’t interest just boys. There is no difference between the percentage of girls and boys who viewed porn — and of the 55 per cent who have seen it, 59 per cent have done so by the age of 16.Although girls watch it less often (11 per cent of those who have seen it view it a few times a week, compared with 40 per cent of boys), our survey suggests they, too, seek it out deliberately.
Yet while it seems boys often watch porn for pleasure, girls use it more as an instruction manual — so they feel they should offer anything sexually in return for very little.
In our survey, 85 per cent of girls who told us they’d had sex had taken part in fellatio, with more than a third doing so before the age of 16. Yet the pleasure it engendered seemed to be a one-way street. Just over half said it was a positive experience, compared with nearly 70 per cent of boys.
Even more concerning, nearly one in five has felt forced into it. Nineteen per cent told us it wasn’t consensual, while 42 per cent said they felt pressured and ‘didn’t always feel in control’.
According to Melinda Tankard Reist, the author of Big Porn Inc: Exposing The Harms Of The Global Pornography Industry, girls are growing up in a culture in which they are expected to provide sex acts for tokens of affection.
‘Many girls seem cut off from their own sense of pleasure or intimacy,’ she says. ‘The main marker of a “good” sexual encounter is if the boy enjoyed it.’ She has told how, when she asked girls of 12 and 13 how they knew if a boy liked them, they answered: ‘If he still wants to talk to you after (you give him oral sex).’
One secondary school-aged boy told a girl: ‘If you give me (oral sex), I’ll give you a kiss.’
Kitty Wenham, now 24, (pictured) from York, believes viewing porn changed her expectations of sex
The aggressive approach of young boys can be deeply shocking for girls, even before it gets to the stage of explicit acts. When she was 14, Yasmin, from Essex, was chatting to a male classmate in the garden while she waited for a lift home from a birthday party.
‘He sat on the bench next to me and we chatted for a few minutes. I think he had been drinking because quite suddenly he moved in for a kiss.’
But while any moment like this can be awkward, when Yasmin pulled away, the boy persisted and used force.
‘He put his hand around the back of my neck and held it there and put his hand roughly into my pants. I froze and said “but I don’t want to” but he said “now don’t be one of them girls”. As the pressure got worse, I wriggled free and ran off.’
The next day at school, Yasmin, now an 18-year-old fashion student, hid in the toilets to avoid bumping into the boy. A few days later, fearing sniggers from her classmates, she stopped attending school completely, telling her teachers and reporting the incident to the police.
Both her teachers and the officers who interviewed her had the same response: they could take no further action, as there were no witnesses. She left the school as soon as she could with just one GCSE and a fine for non-attendance.
In hindsight, it is clear to Yasmin that she was deeply affected by the incident: ‘What really traumatised me was the amount of aggression he used, how fast he went from nought to 60. ‘He was from a laddy, popular group at school who knew a lot about sex and asked crude questions that indicated to me they had seen a lot of porn. I firmly believe he expected to get immediately what he’d seen there. It makes me worry that I’ll never find a boy who will treat me right.’
Porn can also be seen as a catalyst for the 33 per cent of girls who have anal sex after losing their virginity, as it is usually the first act a sexually curious young person will come across within seconds of accessing a mainstream porn site. Why? Vaginal sex alone is considered too ‘vanilla’ to be shown alone.
A study published in the journal BMJ Open found that anal sex has become another ‘box to tick’ for young men, who often compete with each other to see if they can get girls to agree to it.
Sophie*, an 18-year-old A-level student at a private school in North London, is one such girl.
Sophie, 18, from North London, said her boyfriend nagged her to have anal sex (file image)
‘First my boyfriend suggested that if I really liked him, I’d try it,’ she recalls. ‘When I said I didn’t like the idea, he kept saying how did I know I didn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it. He nagged me so much —and said everyone else was doing it — that I thought if I didn’t, he’d find another girl who would.’
Finally, after drinking half a bottle of vodka in his room to try to relax, Sophie went along with it. For two days afterwards she suffered bleeding and pain.
When she looks back on her teenage years, Kitty Wenham, now 24 and a marketer from York, also believes viewing porn changed her expectations of sex: ‘It wasn’t until after I first had sex at 17 that I watched it. It was like an educational thing: “So is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” ’
SO WHAT SHOULD WE TELL OUR DAUGHTERS?
- Bring back love. Young people are missing out if love and sex are no longer connected. Remind your daughter she is more than a body to perform sexual services. Good sex is meant to be fun and intimate, not embarrassing or painful.
- Discuss how internet porn has changed what young people expect from each other and why.
- Ask about school. Are pupils respectful of each other or do they rate each other sexually, make sexual comments or touch inappropriately without permission? Do staff make it clear that this behaviour is wrong? This will help your child decide when boundaries have been crossed.
- Suggest young people ask themselves: ‘Do I feel comfortable with this?’ Each should also ask their partner questions like ‘Do you want to . . .’.
- Discuss how girls get raised to believe they should not make a fuss. Tell them they have every right to shout back if someone demeans them.
Extracted from What’s My Teenager Thinking: Practical Child Psychology For Modern Parents, by Tanith Carey and Dr Angharad Rudkin.
Because fellatio is instantly seen in countless clips, Kitty felt she should perform it, too: ‘Oral sex is definitely just expected — and it’s not a mutual thing. I do remember thinking “this is disgusting”.’
Parents of boys may be reading this aghast, not believing their son could be guilty of such behaviour. But a wide range of research shows that all boys who watch porn are more likely to see girls as objects in sexual situations and have less empathy towards them.
According to one study in the Archives of Sexual Violence (2019), teenage boys exposed to violent pornography are two to three times more likely to use violence against sexual partners compared with boys who have not seen it. This is something Kitty recognises: ‘Most guys I have slept with have wanted to choke me during sex. The amount of times a man has hit me during sex without asking . . . I’ve been slapped quite hard. They never ask “are you into this?” It has become normal.’
Our research also reveals a horrifying trend for young men to abuse girls when they are passed out, asleep or unconscious: about 40 per cent of girls who have had sex say they have had a sex act performed on them in these states.
Our research underlines the urgent need for better sex and relationship education before both girls and boys see the violent pornography that has become their main source of information.
At school, nearly half (46 per cent) of girls said they never had lessons that discussed pornography. Of those who did, 54 per cent said they had already seen porn by the time it was taught.
And 71 per cent of girls say their parents have never spoken to them about pornography. Of those whose parents have, 39 per cent say this didn’t happen until after they had first seen porn themselves.
The result , says Kitty, is that women ‘accept brutality . . . because there’s no one to tell us otherwise’. She goes on: ‘As a younger woman, it took me a long time to work out that I didn’t have to be submissive or submit to violent stuff. I have slept with men who have genuinely not realised they have assaulted me because, thanks to porn, they really believe this is what women enjoy.’
And how our boys treat our girls is also permanently shaping how young women see themselves.
Yasmin, who had her romantic dreams crushed at 14, says: ‘It made me think: “Is this how I deserve to be treated by men? Is this really all I am worth?” ’
Names with an asterisk have been changed.
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