A letter to men: Porn is not just women’s problem

internet porn

I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of good men in my life: friends, family, lovers, classmates, pro-feminist allies. But no matter how “good” you are and no matter what porn-viewing habits you have (and please, spare me the details), I still want you to read this.

You’ve probably noticed that I am strongly opposed to the porn industry. Maybe we’ve discussed the topic or maybe we’ve avoided it completely. While it’s not easy for me to discuss pornography with men — especially with those I love — I’m going to try.

Most of my arguments against the porn industry are related to the negative impacts porn has on women’s lives. These impacts go beyond feeling uncomfortable when we see pornographic images. Pornography shapes the violence we experience as women at the hands of men. As an anti-violence worker, I know that pornography is used by men to attack us. Women have told me about men who used pornography to groom them as young girls, men who coerced their girlfriends/wives to perform sexual acts they saw in pornography, men who used pornography to sexually harass their female co-workers, and men who bought prostituted women to re-enact what they’ve seen in pornography. But I’m going to put those arguments aside for a moment to talk about the negative impacts porn has on men.

It may have occurred to you that pornography has negatively impacted your sexuality or perhaps it has never crossed your mind. I assume that one reason you haven’t thought critically about pornography is because acknowledging the inherent misogyny, racism, and homophobia showcased in porn would (I hope) actively interfere with your orgasm. But whether or not you choose to acknowledge those larger cultural and social harms, the reality is that pornography diminishes your sexuality, mocks your masculinity, and harms women you love.

If you started watching porn at a young age (and numerous studies show that an overwhelming majority of boys start using pornography before the age of 18 — many see pornography as children), your sexual preferences have undoubtedly been shaped by the images you’ve masturbated to. As your viewing habits progressed, your sexual behaviour did as well. It may have started out with watching “softcore” porn as a young teenager but, as your mind became desensitized to these “mild” forms of pornography, you sought out more “extreme,” “graphic,” or violent pornography.

Pornography robs individuals of the opportunity to develop their own sexual behaviour and sexual preferences. There is no need to generate your own preferences because pornography does all the work for you. It dictates what men and women should like sexually. If men watch pornography enough, they will eventually come to believe that they like slapping women or forced blow jobs, or will come to accept the various sexualized, racist stereotypes (that Asian women are submissive, for example) promoted in porn.

Pornography pulls the wool over men’s eyes, convincing them that their orgasms trump misogyny, racism, and violence they might otherwise object to.

It makes no logical sense that men would to just decide of their own volition to choke a woman, slap a woman, or verbally degrade a woman they’re having sex with unless that man has seen this demonstrated as something “sexual” or titillating and has become complacent to that violence. (And this complacency is not just limited to the violence portrayed in pornography but extends to violence against women in general — studies have found a connection between exposure to pornography and a willingness to accept myths related to rape and sexual assault, for example.)

Men aren’t the only ones impacted in this way — women’s sexualities are also shaped by imagery and messages conveyed in porn.

We, as women, are presented with a version of female sexuality that is subservient to male desire and demands. Porn’s version of female sexuality features our willingness to engage in these demands, even when they cause us physical pain, humiliation, or degradation. However, this willingness is, more often than not, coaxed out of women through verbal persuasion or physical force. Only after this persuasion are women seen “enjoying it” – suggesting that these degrading and painful acts are deep down what we “really want” (or, at very least, deserve). This means it becomes difficult to differentiate between what women actually desire vs what women are simply complacent to or what we think we should like because porn told us we should enjoy pain, degradation, or domination.

The fact that an increasing number of teen girls are engaging in anal sex with their boyfriends — and suffering internal injuries as a result — speaks to the mainstreaming of pornography. Anal sex in pornography is the norm and, as young boys see masculine, sexually dominant men engaging in anal sex with seemingly willing, attractive women, they learn not only that they should be having anal sex too, but that women should like it.

In pornography, men and their sexual organs define pleasure. We witness men’s orgasms constantly, as the “money shot” concludes most scenes. Despite the female bodies in porn, the acts that happen on screen are directed by men, with the purpose of male ejaculation in mind, always. Men are portrayed as dominant sexual beings without emotion (unless that emotion is anger or hate towards women). Eighty eight per cent of pornographic scenes portray aggressive acts and 70 per cent of the time those acts are carried out by men. Love, intimacy and respect are not a part of the man’s repertoire in pornography. His purpose is to orgasm by any means necessary (and to ensure the viewer does the same).

So, that’s masculinity, according to pornography: aggressive, emotionless, selfish, often cruel. Is this the kind of man you want to be? Do your politics align with the misogynist, racist, and violent messages put forth in porn? Do you believe in the social values propagated in porn? Do you think these images benefit anyone in a truly ethical way– yourself included?

While I don’t want you to feel ashamed about your porn use, I do want you to stop. I want you to express your sexuality to it’s fullest extent without the interference of pornography. I want you to reject and be free of the version of masculinity pornography has prescribed to you. I want to honestly, wholeheartedly believe in your humanity. I want to know that, as my friend, family member, or political ally, you respect my humanity as a woman and, therefore, the humanity of my sisters.

Pornography doesn’t not believe in your humanity anymore than it believes in the humanity of the women around you. The porn industry wants to capitalize on what they interpret to be your biological weaknesses. They are invested in keeping men within the confines of their limited version of male sexuality. They are invested in the cruel dehumanization of women and your complacency towards that project

Your porn habit is not scripted by your biology. You can make different choices — choices that will ultimately benefit not only yourself and the women you love, but all of us.

Samantha Grey is an anti-violence frontline worker living in Vancouver, B.C.

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