The Salad Days of Barely Legal Porn at Jezebel

My Genderal Interest column this week at Jezebel: Why Do Men Love ‘Barely Legal’ Porn? Excerpt:

The extraordinary popularity of the barely legal genre (Flynt couldn’t trademark the catchphrase) raises an obvious question: Why are so many straight adult men so turned on by women at or below the age of consent? The answer for many — across the ideological spectrum — takes some form of an appeal to “nature.” The well-known right-wing columnist John Derbyshire wrote in The National Review in 2005 that “beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman’s salad days are shorter than a man’s — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20.” That half or more of a woman’s sexual “salad days” would pass before she was a legal adult was, for Derbyshire and nearly all of his entirely un-outraged fellow columnists at America’s best-known conservative magazine, just “a sad truth about human life.”

Beyond Derbyshire, the most common explanation given for adult men’s particularly intense attraction to teen girls is reproduction. But on closer scrutiny that theory falls apart. Women’s fertility peaks between 22 and 26, well after their “salad days” have come to a close. Barely and not-yet legal teens alike have statistically higher rates of complications in pregnancy than women in their twenties. From a medical historical perspective, there has never been a time when 17 year-olds were more fertile than women just five or six years older. The argument that men in their 30s, 40s, and beyond are evolutionarily hardwired to lust after girls just above or below the adulthood threshold has less merit than we think.

One alternative answer has much more to do with adult men’s anxiety than with their reproductive longings. In the fantasy world of “barely legal” pornography, the teen girl is an ingénue longing for sexual initiation at the hands and body of an experienced older man. For an older man (the average male porn user is over 30) perhaps intimidated by the erotic and emotional demands of his own female peers, the imagined naïveté of a much-younger woman is a source of comfort. The less experience she has, the less likely she’ll mock his clumsiness and the more likely she’ll appreciate whatever savoir-faire he does possess.

2 thoughts on “The Salad Days of Barely Legal Porn at Jezebel

  1. I am inclined to agree with one of the comments left on the main site for that piece. That being that this is overthinking things and that men are likely just fantasizing about getting the girls in high school that they were not able to get. We really really emphasize that aspect of young adolescent male sexuality (where you should already be a master seducer at 16) and so it just makes sense for men to feel like they screwed up and failed, and need to relive the fantasy, if they did not have sex with the cheerleaders in high school.

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