Porn has wide-ranging ramifications — we need to do something before it’s too late

Not only does pornography impact women in the sex trade, but it harms society at large. And we are seeing the results on a widespread basis.

Image: Pixabay

Porn is touted as a right, not only by the sex trade lobby, but by many progressives as well. Despite the fact that many leftists claim to be concerned with matters of social justice, they continue to support an industry that is incredibly exploitative and that compounds the inequality women face within patriarchal culture. Producing and viewing pornography is presented as liberating for both sexes, and women in particular are frequently told porn is an empowering way to express their sexuality. The porn industry itself acts as a powerful lobby in this regard, but so does your average woman — self-described “feminists,” even.

In a UK documentary, Mums Make Porn, a mother was slammed by viewers of the program for dropping out after realizing she felt uncomfortable with the reality of having to make a porn movie, while “feminist” porn director Erika Lust regularly receives plaudits in national media for allegedly putting women “at the forefront of adult films.” After producing a documentary that shone a critical light on the porn industry and publicly criticizing “the pornification of everything,” actress Rashida Jones was viciously attacked online. In response, she backtracked. Criticizing pornography has fallen out of favour. Instead, women are encouraged to embrace it and make it their own. The future is in “feminist pornography,” we’re told. And women who are troubled at the notion of their male partners consuming pornography are accused of being uptight and prudish. “All men do it — it’s no big deal,” we’re told.

But while a clamour of voices attest to the positive benefits of porn, legitimate, scientifically-backed arguments revealing its detrimental impact on society are being overlooked.

The link between porn and prostitution is one obvious example of this, and is consistently underreported. Research funded by the US department of Justice found that men who pay for sex are twice as likely to have watched porn in the last year compared with non-porn users. The study determined that the men seeking prostitutes felt “a sense of entitlement to sex” and believed they had a “right to sexual access.” When these customers show up, many may come ready with explicit porn images to show the women they’re exploiting what they expect them to do.

In a 2008 study, “Deconstructing The Demand From Prostitution,” one Chicago-based john is quoted saying, “I want to pay someone to do something a normal person wouldn’t do. To piss on someone or pay someone to do something degrading who is not my girlfriend.” Another says, “Anything you can’t get from your girlfriend or wife, you can get from a prostitute.”

But pornography doesn’t only impact women in the sex trade — it harms society at large, and we are seeing the results on a widespread basis.

Pornography is one of the pillars of the patriarchy — in a society where women are already massively objectified, porn further cements their unequal status. By consistently portraying women as hyperfeminine, hypersexual, and hypersubmissive objects of pleasure, rather than real human beings with emotions and needs of their own, pornography furthers the divide between the sexes, degrading heterosexual intimacy, lowering women’s status, and eroding interrelational trust.

Given that some of the most popular categories of porn show women being spat on, having sex with animals, getting choked or slapped, or crying during painful anal sex, as well as teen abuse and incest, it’s hard to see how anyone could conclude porn would not contribute to sexual violence, child abuse statistics, or men’s attitudes toward women.

We are apparently surprised by the ongoing prevalence of sexual harassment, but when 90 per cent of men have viewed porn by the time they hit 18, is it really a shock that sexual assault on college campuses is an epidemic? While society grapples with #MeToo, pornography continues to normalize sexual violence towards women.

Women in porn are depicted as toys that exist only to serve male sexual desires, no matter how extreme or degrading those desires may be. And pornography today is a far cry from what many of us might imagine when we hear the word — a world away from Hustler, Playboy, or Penthouse. On laptops and smartphones around the globe, pre-recorded video clips of women and girls being choked, whipped, urinated upon, beaten, and brutalized, are being streamed — these abusive images beamed into the minds of millions, many of whom are underage boys and girls.

Racist tropes are frequently given a free pass in porn that would never get a pass elsewhere. Latina Abuse — a porn site that features videos of Latino women being sexually denigrated on camera, subjected to acts like “facial abuse” (essentially, aggressive oral sex wherein women are often made to choke and vomit), as well as other forms of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse — enjoys subscriptions that run into the hundreds of thousands, and categories like “refugee porn” receive millions of clicks on sites like PornHub. As Twitter bans feminists for wrongthink, they continue to allow graphic, racist, violent pornography on the platform.

The way women are portrayed in pornography has an observably detrimental effect on the beliefs men hold about women, as well as on the beliefs women hold about themselves and their partners. In a study called, “Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction,” researchers surveyed over 2000 people, and found that, after being exposed to only softcore sexual material, men and women alike were significantly less happy with their relationship and discovered that porn viewing could be correlated with a deterioration of intimate partnerships.

Participants in the study were asked the same questions in 2006 as they were again in 2012, and researchers found that “viewing pornography at all or more frequently in 2006” was negatively correlated with a decrease in “marital quality” in 2012. Researchers determined that “ earlier pornography use” and the frequency of viewing habits were the “second strongest predictors” of subsequent “marital quality,” coming second only to previous relationship levels of satisfaction.

In her paper, “Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships,” Dr. Ana J. Bridges, a professor of psychology and a chief editor of the journal, Sexualization, Media, and Society, looks at a number of studies that show porn consumers reported feeling less love for their partner or spouse compared to individuals who didn’t consume porn.

Bridges references a 2002 study which found that “happily married people were 61 per cent less likely to report visiting a pornographic website in the prior thirty days” and a second 2002 study which found, “women are reluctant to enter into relationships with frequent pornography users.”

A 1988 study Bridges cites carried out a content analysis of 50 best-selling adult films, finding that nearly half of the 304 scenes analyzed contained verbal aggression, while over 88 per cent showed physical aggression. Seventy per cent of aggressive acts were perpetrated by men, and 87 per cent of those acts were committed against women, whose filmed responses were overwhelmingly depicted as positive.

Bridges also highlighted a 2004 study of women entering a domestic violence program, which found that pornography use nearly doubled the odds that a woman might be sexually assaulted by her partner. Bridges writes:

“Forty-six per cent [of the women] reported being sexually abused, and 30 per cent reported their partners used pornography. Fifty-eight per cent identified their partner’s pornography use as having played a part in their sexual assault.”

“The Porn Phenomenon,” a report conducted by The Barna Group, found that, out of 1,188 porn consuming adults surveyed, 46 per cent believed that images of “sexual acts that may be forced or painful” were not “wrong.” By pairing pain with sexual pleasure, pornographers have circumvented humans’ hardwired empathy towards each other, using the addictive arousal caused by viewing violent and extreme material as a mechanism to short circuit our natural instincts.

The porn industry encourages users to seek out more and more extreme material in order to achieve arousal, as over time they become desensitized. In 2012, NoFap, a community support group on Reddit that helps men break masturbation and porn habits, surveyed 1500 men, finding that 56 per cent said their pornography viewing habits had become “increasingly extreme or deviant” as they consumed more porn. Research shows porn is highly addictive, due to its rewiring effect on our neuro-plastic brains, which locks users into a cycle of chasing down more and more violent or bizarre material. Pornographers are all too happy to meet market demands for ever-more extreme material.

Not only that, but porn is having a serious impact on on men’s ability to become aroused by real, live women. Doctors are now seeing an epidemic of young men who are hooked on porn and have become virtually impotent, as a result.

How does this happen?

Porn creates a strong impression on our malleable brains, redrawing mental pathways — something that is heightened when a physically pleasurable act like masturbation is connected to porn viewing. Like muscles, the mental pathways we use more frequently become stronger, and those we don’t use are weakened and eventually atrophy. Comparing real world physical affection and intimacy to an atrophied muscle may sound dramatic, but when men are in the grip of a full-scale porn addiction, it seems an apt comparison.

If the mental pathways that link sexual arousal to things like seeing, touching, or cuddling a partner simply aren’t getting used because of increasing pornography consumption, natural arousal will become an impossibility.

Given the popularity of pornography, it is no wonder that hundreds of thousands of men are now unable to become sexually aroused by their real-world partners, or by women they meet offline. How can they when these women cannot measure up to the airbrushed, plastic-surgeried bodies they see online? How can they relate to women as people when they’ve grown up learning women are objects to be abused and degraded through vile acts like waterboarding — an interrogation technique banned by international bodies and categorized as torture, yet enjoying a renaissance in the porn world.

Furthermore, how can women continue to feel affection for the men in their lives when these men increasingly demand their degradation? When the men they love degrade women in order to achieve orgasm? How can this achieve anything but an eventual erosion of trust, and subsequently love? We have yet to observe the full effect of increasing porn consumption, but it seems all too likely that a dissolution of love relationships between men and women would be a result. There are signs that this is happening already.

Numerous studies show that consistent porn use lowers relationship and sexual satisfaction, as well as emotional closeness. Many women in heterosexual relationships are already dissatisfied sexually, and with more women now opting to remain single as a lifestyle choice, it doesn’t seem a stretch to suggest there may be a link between the increasingly abusive sexual demands men now make upon women, and the lack of human connectedness men learn as a result of porn consumption.

We are in the midst of a full-blown social crisis, yet too many people are unwilling to accept the undeniable truth: that porn has an incredibly negative influence on our society. A change to the Digital Economy Act in the UK will introduce age checks on porn sites (though its implementation was recently delayed), which is a good start, in terms of curbing access to pornography, but much more needs to be done, before it’s too late.

If we continue to refuse to address the harms of pornography, we shouldn’t be surprised by the only inevitable outcome: the death of love, and a stark drop in healthy, fulfilling intimate male/female relationships.

As more men turn to fictive scenes of rape and abuse that mandate the dehumanization of women, more and more women will surely turn away from the men who seek to deny them personhood.

Thain Parnell is a feminist blogger who is currently writing a book on why radical feminism is a healthier alternative for women and trans-identified people.

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