The impact of porn culture on girls is too big to ignore

sexting

If we were to plot events that have significantly altered the female experience, one of them would have to be the arrival of porn culture and the role of technology in this advancing phenomenon.

Last month a 12-year-old boy was sentenced for repeatedly raping his sister after “becoming fascinated with hardcore porn.” The boy had typed in search terms online in order to find incest porn. The prosecutor in the case said, “Cases of this nature will increasingly come before the court because of the access young people now have to hard core pornography.”

Together, porn and technology have created an extreme — but simultaneously normalized —  wave of misogyny, exemplified by cases like the one above, alongside trends like “sexting” and “revenge porn,” wherein young women are coerced into sharing sexualized, nude images of themselves privately, which men later post online as a means to punish their exes.

Law enforcement is beginning to recognize the need to crack down (particularly on content involving child abuse), but countless women have suffered shame, humiliation, and worse, in the meantime. A 31-year-old man, Benjamin Barber, is the first sentenced in Oregon on charges of “unlawful dissemination of an intimate image.” He was sentenced to six months in jail after publishing pornographic videos of himself with a former partner without her consent to “multiple adult web sites.” Earlier this year, five boys from Newtown High School in Connecticut were charged after sharing and selling nude images and videos of their female classmates. A Scottish man was sentenced to community service after creating a fake account in his ex-girlfriend’s name on Facebook, in order to post her private nude photos. While liberals and third wave feminists have made efforts to neutralize pornography, what’s clear is that it is used by men as a means to punish women, not empower them.

I didn’t have a mobile phone when I was a young teenager. When I did get one, accessing the internet on it was a technological impossibility. In those days, you didn’t come across porn unless you specifically sought it out or found it accidentally, stashed away in a desk or closet by another man.

But these are changed times. Evidence reported by the charity YoungMinds shows that as of 2014, half of nine to 16-year-olds and 95 per cent of 15-year-olds in Europe owned a smartphone. By 2010, 96 per cent of nine to 16 year olds in the UK were going online at least weekly — most on a daily basis. This expansion in young people’s use of technology means ubiquitous access to everything the internet has to offer, including porn… Especially, porn.

In fact, a report published this year by the NSPCC shows that, today, young people are just as likely to find pornography by accident as they are to seek it out deliberately .

There is a difference between a culture in which someone has to specifically seek porn if they want to view it and a culture in which porn consumption by kids and teenagers is happening accidentally just as much as intentionally. This is a culture in which porn is simply part of growing up, whether we like it or not. One 11-year-old girl interviewed tells the NSPCC researchers:

“I didn’t like it because it came on by accident and I don’t want my parents to find out and the man looked like he was hurting her. He was holding her down and she was screaming and swearing. I know about sex but it didn’t look nice. It makes me feel sick if I think about my parents doing it like that.”

What she describes doesn’t suggest she stumbled upon something unusually violent. Aggression and violent acts are the norm in online porn —  research shows that 88 per cent of top rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts and that in the majority of cases, a man is the perpetrator of the aggression and a woman the recipient.

Even if a young person manages by stealth or fortune to avoid any direct encounters with pornography, they are still impacted by the fact their peers are watching it. Young women are surrounded by boys who learn about the female body and sexuality through pornography —  those who have hetersosexual sex are likely to have their first sexual experiences with males who have received their sex education from porn. The NSPCC report, for example, shows that 44 per cent of men reported wanting to try out things they had seen in porn. Coming into womanhood, young women have already been prevented from developing an authentic relationship with their own bodies and own sexualities. One 13-year-old girl interviewed in the study says, “[Porn] gives an unrealistic view of sex and our bodies, makes us self-conscious, and question why our bodies are not developed like what we see online.”

There is nowhere to hide in porn culture. Even if a young woman or girl avoids literal porn, its impact will reach her through her peer relationships, through the images she sees in advertising, pop culture, and the media, as well as in private spaces, when she accidentally encounters it online. Even if her own body isn’t literally laid open and bare for male consumption, she will still learn that her female body — detached from its humanity and transformed into an abstract and empty vestibule for male sexual fantasy — is readily available to her peers. She will learn that the female body is always observed, always consumable, always fuckable. This will be her norm. And if she has a problem with it, it will feel like her problem to overcome or accept, not a problem with the “normal” world around her. If she wants to feel better, she will learn to adjust herself, her body, and her sexuality in order to fit this norm.

Research published in the British Medical Journal shows that 54 per cent of General Practitioners had patients request female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS). Of those who had received these requests, 35 per cent of them came from women under 18. This is one way women adjust to porn culture. There are more.

Breast augmentation. Dieting.  Pubic hair removal. The signs are everywhere — young women, surrounded by pornified images of the female body feel their bodies are wrong and need correcting, at any cost. And there are costs: labial surgery for example, like any surgery, presents a risk of infection and bleeding but can also lead to reduced genital sensitivity. There are other types of adjustments too — increasingly we hear of teenage girls having anal sex in order to please their male partners. The idea that sex is primarily about male pleasure is pushed by pornography — we see men engaging in sexual practices that hurt women, and the “money shot” is almost always the climax in the scene.

A lack of research specifically about young women and porn culture means we don’t yet fully know what the long-term consequences of these physical and social adjustments will be for women, but some of the immediate consequences for young women’s physical, sexual and psychological health are already clear. In response to the sudden surge in demand for genital surgery amongst younger girls, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) issued new guidelines on breast and labial surgery in adolescents. It recommends clinicians screen young women requesting labial or breast surgery for body dysmorphia — a mental health problem characterized as an obsessive preoccupation with an imagined or real physical “flaws” that the sufferer believes require correction.

Undoubtedly though, a connection to porn culture will be denied and we will all be able to go on pretending as though girls are not affected in any serious or quantifiable way.

In light of this cultural reality, there are two ways forward. The first is to teach young women to claim this culture as their own — to give them the words like “agency,” and convince them that they choose and like porn culture, that it empowers them, and that it frees them. This route does not dismantle porn culture, but finds “nicer” ways to live within it. It invents “alternative porn,” “independent porn,” and “feminist porn” in order to imagine pornography itself is not harmful, but redeemable. These supposed havens of liberation offer young women a way to absorb the shock of porn culture through a narrative of reclaimation that saves them from having to assume the task of confronting the misogynist reality of porn.

The second way forward requires challenging the realities of young women — showing them that any culture in which the female body and sexuality is objectified can never be truly safe for them and can never be a culture in which women and girls can achieve full self-determination. But in a culture where porn is wholly normalized and mainstreamed, this isn’t an easy task. It requires women to see that the world around them is overwhelmingly stacked against them, and requires women to acknowledge and experience their own humanity, in a culture that is determined to deny it.

This second way is the responsibility of feminism. It is our responsibility, in the movement, to challenge porn culture and reveal it as the misogynist nightmare that it is. It is up to us to create spaces where young women can safely come to terms with the trauma of porn culture, develop strategies both for their personal survival and to contribute to the movement’s efforts to obliterate porn culture. Indeed, for many of us, assuming an active part in the women’s liberation movement has been our primary survival strategy.

People will continue to deny the existence of porn culture and the devastating harm it causes, but reality is right in front of us. Statistics tell us something about the experience of living in the young female body that cannot be ignored. Porn culture will and is changing the reality of women’s and girls’ lives. I long for a day when young women are not asking their doctors to remodel their genitals and when a quarter of them don’t harm their own bodies. I long for a day when young women don’t feel they need to trick themselves into “fitting” into this culture in order to cope. I fear this day won’t come until we reach a new age — an age beyond pornography.

Laurie Oliva is the Community Engagement Lead for FiLiA, the UK based women’s rights and arts charity which hosts the Feminism in London conference.

Guest Writer
Guest Writer

One of Feminist Current's amazing guest writers.

Like this article? Tip Feminist Current!

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $1