“Porn is just another form of entertainment now.”

The speaker, an 18-year-old concession-stand worker named Ben Meredith, was explaining to a Los Angeles Times reporter why virtually no young people were trying to get in to see “Inside Deep Throat” at an Orange County, Calif., theater.

Given the rating (NC-17) and the subject matter (the making of the notorious 1972 movie “Deep Throat”) one might expect to find some curious teens infiltrating the theater – or at least trying to. Instead, the Times reporter writes, the audience was “overwhelmingly middle-age” and “not a young person was in sight.”

Which didn’t surprise Ben, a freshman at the University of California-Irvine. “I mean, porn is really easy to get now. It’s like, who cares?”

Those who do care may be wondering just how easy it is. Let’s put it this way: It’s quicker to list the places kids aren’t at risk of exposure to porn.

As the April 23 Los Angeles Times article noted: “It’s online, on cable, on cell-phone cameras, in chat rooms, in instant messages from freaks who go online and trawl children’s Web journals, on cam-to-cam Web hookups, on TV screens at parties where teens walk past it as if it were wallpaper … and in health class, in movies, in hip-hop lyrics like the one blaring from the loudspeaker as they lined up for pizza and burritos.”

You can see why one of the chapters of my new book, “Home Invasion,” is titled “Sexualized Everything.” There’s no escaping the porn culture.

Small wonder that 70 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds has looked at pornography online, according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Middle school students clandestinely trade copies of such adult-rated videogames as ‘Playboy: The Mansion,'” the Times article says. “Teen advice columns offer wisdom on porn addiction. Online chat rooms for adolescents lapse in and out of graphic sex talk.”

As 16-year-old Scott Timsit told the reporter, “Pornography is just part of the culture now. It’s almost like it’s not even, like, porn.”

Except that it is. And being immersed, day-in and day-out, in a pornographic culture that encourages experimentation is hurting our teens.

The physical toll alone is stunning: My Heritage Foundation colleague Robert Rector notes that each year more than 3 million teens contract a sexually transmitted disease. According to a February 2004 report by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, almost half of new STD cases occur among people aged 15-24, and at least half of sexually active youth will have acquired an STD by age 25. Worse, Rector says, sexually active teens are three times more likely than their non-sexually active peers to become depressed and to attempt suicide.

Which makes it an odd time for a federal lawmaker to be trying to make it tougher for schools to teach abstinence. Yet that’s exactly what Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is doing, Rector says, via legislation that Baucus will introduce soon.

“The Baucus anti-abstinence plan would take federal funds that are devoted to teaching abstinence and turn them over to state public health bureaucracies to spend as they will,” Rector wrote in a recent op-ed. “Since these bureaucracies have been wedded for decades to ‘safe sex’ and fiercely opposed to teaching abstinence, the implications of this change are obvious.”

Why would Sen. Baucus want to do this? If anything, we need more emphasis on abstinence, not less. That’s exactly what the vast majority of parents say: According to a Zogby poll, more than 90 percent say that society should teach kids to abstain from sex until they have at least finished high school, and almost nine in 10 want schools to teach youth to abstain from sex until they’re married or in an adult relationship that’s close to marriage.

The problem is that interest groups such as the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, carry a huge amount of weight with certain lawmakers. And because they push “the far boundaries of sexual permissiveness,” as Rector puts it, they want to destroy abstinence. SIECUS, believe it or not, has published articles touting incest and prostitution, insisting that sex educators need to “advocate good sex for teens.”

But the only “good sex for teens” is none at all. In a society awash in pornographic images and language, that’s a difficult message for parents to insist on. But if they care about their kids, insist on it they must.

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