SEX WORK

Why ‘Barely Legal’ Porn Is So Dangerous

Porn star Janice Griffith writes about why she thinks men are hooked on “teen” porn, and how uncomfortable this obsession makes her feel.

The most popular search term on the internet for pornography is “teen”—even though, in most states, adults shouldn’t be having sex with anyone under the age of 18, leaving only two legal years. This speaks volumes about human sexuality and the way that men interact with women: Why do we, as a society, harbor such a sick obsession with not just youth, but what we consider youthful women? Why is fucking an 18-year-old a fetish? Why do you want a “barely legal” girl?

While the porn industry itself exists in a bubble, we are not impervious to the zeitgeist. This includes—but is not limited to—racism, sexism, and classism. The world is obsessed with youth, so pornography is inundated with that theme. “Teen” or “Barely Legal” porn isn’t something new. Even before the internet took hold, Playboy was releasing special “college girl” issues, while Hustler’s Barely Legal magazine pandered to men’s fantasies of young, sexually inexperienced women.

Men often try to excuse their desire for barely-consenting-age women under the guise of human nature—namely, our innate instinct to reproduce. The issue with that argument is that a woman’s childbearing ability doesn’t peak until between the ages of 22-26, so the reproduction case doesn’t really stand when it comes to lusting after teens. Another theory for why men desire too-young girls is the anxiety of aging. An older man may feel uncomfortable or inadequate with themselves—specifically their sexual performance—and are able to feel superior in situations with someone with less life experience (teenagers are significantly more impressionable than even twentysomethings). This desire to have authority and control over molding another human being that you’re having sex with is toxic, to say the least.

Most teenage-themed pornography is as follows: a male authority figure catches a female subordinate doing something her character shouldn’t be, prompting the female actress to have something come over her (for lack of better phrasing), offering to seduce this man in exchange for keeping her secret, not getting her in trouble, you name it. This female subordinate is often a student, babysitter, or friend’s daughter. We create a taboo narrative around these people having sex. This authority-subordinate or association scenario is stimulating because it’s supposed to create yet another layer of forbiddenness on their sexual act—because the consumer wants to feel like they’re doing something wrong.

I believe it’s a combination of predatory behavior encouraged by social conditioning: men are often demonized and ostracized for deviating from acceptable gender norms and discouraged from seeking help or expressing feelings. Society and media have an obsession with simultaneously sexualizing and infantilizing women. This infantilization of women is seen in every available medium, and as women age, the representation of people they can relate to in media diminishes extensively. Advertisements sell us on anti-aging material and youthfulness is not just praised—it is mandatory. So it’s not terribly surprising to see this practice in pornography as well.

This conversation isn’t just about pornography though. People love shock value and pushing limits. Porn isn’t a monolith; it’s a medium. This industry, like all forms of media, holds a mirror up to society. In reading texts that explore the reasoning behind the teen porn phenomenon, a lot of them seem to compare youth and being a teenager to the extreme of old age—taut skin compared to its saggy counterpart. What I find interesting about this dichotomy is that there is almost no talk of the middle ground—twenty- and thirty-somethings who are not quite grandmotherly—which is odd because that’s the age range where most adult actresses happen to land. The majority of women you see in “teen porn” are in their early- to mid-20s. In fact, on forums comprised of women concerned that their partner is consuming teen porn, much of the answers and advice state just that: it’s only a title and most of those women are older. This brings us to the supply and demand aspect of pornography: people are requesting things that they want, but they only want it because it’s what has already been provided to them.

Though I’m 21 and will be 22 in July, I see my face plastered on porn sites with the label “teen” every day. I was 18 years old when I started shooting so I saw no problem having myself labeled as a teen—it’s what I was. But as a not-teen it’s strange for me to see myself being called one online. It also may subconsciously encourage my fans to speak down to me as if I’m a child. It’s funny to see how gullible people are when consuming media, believing that every porn scenario is real and that that guy is really my dad’s best friend I’m having sex with in the garage. More often than not, the directors making this stuff aren’t that into it either. We laugh about making teen stepsibling porn, stuffing every SEO word possible into scene titles. Nowadays, I do my best to not partake in any scenes that make me feel uncomfortable due to power structures like authority figure role-play and “teen” stuff, but my feelings and boundaries shift and change every day as I get older and gain perspective.