Rashida Jones thinks we need to talk more openly about porn. A staggering amount of adult videos are consumed online each year – Pornhub reported 23 billion visits to its website in 2016 and 92 billion views in 2016 – and it’s not just adults who are watching. Recent studies in Canada, the US and the UK have found that almost half of teens are learning about sex through online porn and even more are stumbling upon graphic content accidentally, yet this is rarely discussed in homes or schools.
“The conversation doesn’t match the usage – the way that people use the internet to have sex, find sex, find love, we’re not talking about it enough,” said Jones, speaking to her brother Quincy Jones III at creative conference Brilliant Minds in Stockholm last week.
Jones is producer of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, a six-part Netflix series that reflects on the explosion of online porn and internet dating and the effect it is having on sex and relationships.
She previously worked with the show’s directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus to create Hot Girls Wanted, a feature-length documentary series that followed a group of young women starting out in the amateur porn industry. The film was picked up by Netflix and the streaming service commissioned a follow-up series shortly after.
The show features a variety of perspectives from people in front of and behind the camera. One episode focuses on women who are making porn for a female audience while another looks at Tinder and the phenomenon of “ghosting“. Another episode follows a group of ‘cam girls’ – including women who feel empowered by working in porn and others who are struggling to cope.
The show avoids passing judgment on the industry, but it raises some uncomfortable questions about porn and the impact it is having on young people’s attitudes towards sex. The final and most disturbing episode presents the case of an 18-year-old girl who was recently sentenced to prison for live streaming the rape of her friend on Periscope.
Jones said she hopes the programme will encourage people to discuss the issues raised in each episode. “The whole point is that we presented this information in a way that hopefully isn’t judgmental – it’s balanced, it’s nuanced and it just gives you something to chew on and talk to [people] about.”
She also hopes it will encourage parents to talk more openly about porn with their children. With most young people receiving just a few hours of sex education in schools – and many parents understandably reluctant to discuss the topic at home – teenagers are increasingly learning about sex through watching adult content.
“Along with the show, we funded a study with the Kinsey Institute and the Indiana School of Health, the first of its kind post-internet study, where we collected data from teenagers about their sex lives and their porn usage and also [data from] those teenagers’ parents – what they knew about their kids’ sex lives and porn usage,” said Jones. “Of course, [the parents] knew nothing and were wrong about everything.”
The findings were shocking: 40% of sexually active teens who took part said they learned about sex through watching porn. The average age of a child watching porn for the first time is 11 and 80% of teens said they had happened upon porn accidentally.
“We have to assume kids are learning about sex through porn, and it’s an unregulated industry – what they see first is not really going to be up to them, and most likely, it’s not going to reflect real life sex. And that’s the problem – adult entertainment is not sex education, it’s not the same thing,” said Jones.
MTV has been working for years to promote safe sex through ad campaigns and media – last year it teamed up with condom brand Trojan to create an eight-part series on sex and relationships for Snapchat and in 2009 it launched Shuga, a soap opera aimed at educating young people in Africa about safe sex – but the amount of porn available online vastly outweighs the amount of engaging content promoting safe sex and healthy relationships among young people.
This has worrying implications for teens – particularly as the majority of porn is presented from a male perspective. There are a growing number of women creating porn for a female audience – including erotic photographer Holly Randall and director Erika Lust, who feature in episode one of Hot Girls Wanted… – but the industry remains overwhelmingly misogynistic.
Jones believes this lack of female representation is partly due to the fact that men are the “noisiest” consumers of porn. “It’s a marketplace issue … the loudest, noisiest consumers will get their products, so men are the loudest consumers of porn, or have been up ’til now, and so they get the whole variety of, every fantasy they could imagine – from whatever the tamest fantasy is to the really, really, really dark corners of pornography,” she said.
“Women don’t feel represented, they don’t feel like their desires are being represented in porn, and also 40% of porn on the internet is violent against women,” she continued. “We have to talk about that, we have to address that, and one way to address that is to have women advocate for films themselves so they feel comfortable and not ashamed of talking about their healthy sex lives and what turns them on, what they want to see, what they’d rather see than the stuff that’s there.”
Asked whether this gender imbalance in porn was affecting young people’s perceptions of sex, Jones said: “I definitely think it’s having an impact. You’re talking about formative minds. One in three teenage girls doesn’t like the way women are represented in porn which I think is a positive sign in a way, because they’ve realised that it’s not what they want, so there’s a weird chasm here – the industry is so big, and everyone can upload and make [porn], but there’s no real international discussion about how it’s impacting us, because it has to do with this really personal matter, and there’s a lot of shame around it – and religion has a huge part to play in that – but it is the way to find out about sex if your parents aren’t talking about it.”
Watching porn is as common as streaming a box set or ordering takeaway, but it remains a taboo subject – at least among families and in classrooms. Jones and the team behind Hot Girls Wanted… are hoping their series will encourage people to open up about their experiences of porn and the impact that technology is having on intimacy.
“If you watch the show, I just hope it makes you talk to somebody else about it – whether it’s your kid or your friend or whatever,” she told the audience at Brilliant Minds. “It’s mind blowing how fast [the technology] is moving, but the first thing is to create a dialogue and not be afraid to talk about it.”
Rashida Jones was speaking at the Brilliant Minds conference at Symposium Stockholm