In this blog post I discuss the sexuality driven, pop culture of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as growing up a Millennial with chronic pelvic pain and how this could have impacted my social and psychological experience when coping with pelvic pain.
This topic has been something that I’ve thought about a lot, as I’ve been working through my feelings and emotions throughout my medical journey thus far.
1990’s and Early 2000’s:
Growing up, a millennial at the start of the internet, in a society where pop culture is sexually glorified with unattainably high expectations.
Television and Film
From music to films to TV; the line was being pushed with what was tolerated and accepted in the media during this time. A lot of the advertising and messages we watched on our TV screens were rich, white-male driven because, those were the people behind the scenes, calling the shots.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, from 1998 to 2005, the number of sex scenes on television had nearly doubled. The evidence in this study show that exposure to sexual content in media is a significant contributor to many aspects of young people’s sexual knowledge, beliefs, expectations, attitudes, and behaviours.
So many of us young womxn, 8-18, were subconsciously conditioned into believing that looking a certain way and acting a certain way or having that new “sexy” outfit was a necessity to be liked and loved.
Now mentally, if our daily anxiety fueled focus is primarily on these things that don’t REALLY matter, does it impair our thinking in other parts of the brain?
Well, Professor Barbara Fredrickson conducted a study in 1998 to see if being concerned with one’s physical appearance might impair one’s ability to think clearly. So, she and her colleagues devised an experiment in which they asked 82 college students to change their clothes.
Each student was assigned either a crew neck sweater OR a one-piece bathing suit. They were then asked to evaluate how their apparel made them feel and then they were asked to complete a math test.
For male students, there was no difference between conditions. But for female students, the swimming suit experience had a more negative effect: Women performed significantly worse on the math test after changing into the bathing suit. (Frederickson, 1998)
This is incredibly interesting. It directly shows the impact hyper-sexualized media can have on someone’s brain and ability to think rationally
I grew up in the Britney Spears, BSB, 50 Cent, N’sync + Eminem era where sexuality was at the forefront of many songs at the top of the charts. The catchiest lyrics would always, and I mean always, be sexually driven.
For example, do you remember these gems?
If you get down on me, I’ll get down on you, I will do anything that you want me to. – Get down, B4-4
Come a little bit closer baby get it on get it on ‘Cause tonight is the night when two become one – 2 Become 1, Spice Girls
I’m a Barbie girl in the Barbie world Life in plastic, it’s fantastic! You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere. – Barbie Girl, Aqua
And now let’s take a look at few song titles that hit the number 1 spot on the charts:
Thong Song – Sisqo
Candy Shop – 50 Cent
Pony – Ginuwine
I’ll make love to you – Boys II Men
Sex and Candy – Marcy Playground
Boom Boom Boom – Venga Boys
These songs would be on every station of FM radio and TV music video stations and there was little to no way around it.
Life was ‘different’ back then; as any generation that came before you would say.
Now let’s get into how the unlimited access to internet catapulted this pop culture and made our perceptions of what sexuality should be, unattainable or incredibly warped. These false perceptions made our generation mature and grow into our sexuality a lot faster than past generations.
I remember using my first computer at school, then having a shared family desktop that had dial-up internet, and then years later… drum roll please… I got my very own desktop computer in my bedroom, to “do my homework”.
Ha! Homework!? Yeah, right.
The world of MSN Messenger was alive and well, and instant gratification and messaging was at the forefront of technology.
I would spend hours a day on my computer surfing the world wide web, stumbling upon a variety of sites and chatting to my friends and school boy crushes.
The onset of the internet created a shift in how we obtained correct information.
The days of learning sexual health only in the classrooms, or by parents, or older siblings, disappeared. The questions we would ask our friends in the playground or bluntly to our parents at the dinner table like – how does a woman get pregnant? Or what is a blow job? – were now being answered on the internet through Ask Jeeves, Google, Yahoo!, and pre-pubescent boys who received their sex information from internet porn.
Millennials, grew up in a time when they were sexually coming of age, and the internet did nothing for their confusion. They believed that what was shown on internet porn and music videos, was how sex, intimacy and our bodies were supposed to work. From perfectly toned, hairless or bleached bodies, full of plastic and all the way to rough/abusive sex, lack of female enjoyment, and intimacy was apparently what sex was all about, because that’s what was shown.
Layer the Millennial sexuality driven pop culture impact of TV, film, music and internet porn, on top of someone who’s privates hurt all the time, you can imagine the mental and emotional turmoil.
Now, let’s try to tie this into how it can have an impact on someone growing up with pelvic pain.
How does growing up as a millennial with pelvic pain, change our expectations, attitudes and behaviours towards sexuality and intimacy?
Well, it REALLY warps it.
As someone who had early onset pelvic pain, listening to lyrics and seeing imagery of unattainable standards really f*cks with your head because nothing you see or feel is enjoyable or what you’re told to expect.
My early sexual experiences were awkward, as I imagined they would be. I spent those first encounters stuck in my own head, way too concerned that I was doing something wrong instead of focusing on trying to feel good. But after a few encounters and realizing things weren’t improving, I began to worry something was actually wrong with me.
I would hear of my friends’ great sexual experiences but mine never came close. I was left confused and unsatisfied too many times. I rarely spoke up to my friends or partners about it, out of shame and embarrassment. I was up against the thought of being seen as weak or having boyfriends leave me; which some eventually did.
On top of all of this mental anguish, sex is incredibly painful but doctors at the time kept telling me it’s normal for a woman to have pain with sex.
So I sucked it up, began to mimic what was seen in porn, and disregarded my own needs and wants in order to make my partners happy.
This is an unhealthy pattern and coping mechanism that so many of us with pelvic pain have fallen into when it comes to intimacy.
Now, if we bring it back to the 1998 Frederickson study that was mentioned earlier in this post, we can take that concept and suggest that if someone is overly concerned about their sexual performance, appearance or their pain… their behaviours and attitudes would directly affect sexual cognitive function and decision making.
If we believe this is true, and you have had pelvic pain since adolescence, this can have a significant impact on our developing brains; ESPECIALLY if we are battling chronic pain.
Do you agree with this concept? Does the spike in sexualized media relate to sexual dysfunction in some way? Could this school of thought, impact the chance of developing chronic pelvic pain?
Or am I just grasping at straws?
Fredrickson BL, Roberts TA, Noll SM, Quinn DM, and Twenge JM. 1998. That swimsuit becomes you: sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. J Pers Soc Psychol. 75(1):269-84.
Kaiser Family Foundation. Sex on TV. Retrieved from: https://www.kff.org/other/event/sex-on-tv-4/. Accessed July 14, 2020.