Why We Don’t Talk about Porn (But Really Should)
Issue   |   Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:22

Watching porn at college always reminded me a little bit of Facebook stalking. Lots of people do it, many find it entertaining, and almost everyone would be embarrassed if someone caught them watching it. What’s different about porn is the way we talk about it — or maybe more importantly, the way we don’t. The porn industry is like the mafia boss of entertainment. It’s the most powerful player by far, but we feel afraid or ashamed to address it directly. To put it in perspective, the documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” reports that porn sites have more visitors than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, yet we don’t hear people talking about new uploads on Pornhub the same way we do about the next episode of House of Cards. Why is that? If porn is as prevalent in our culture as current studies claim, why does that translate to such an absent or closed conversation on campus?

One of the reasons porn is difficult to talk about is because the topic makes it easy to be judgmental of both ourselves and of each other. From the first time we lied and clicked the “yes” button indicating we were over the age of 18, we were taught that our sexual desires (and our search histories) were something we needed to hide. Our generation’s relationship with sex from the outset was one tied to embarrassment and secrecy. This fault in dialogue, in which exploring our sexual identities is written off as wrong, feeds into the lack of conversation surrounding porn and further complicates people’s relationships with their own sexualities. My first exposure to sex was through porn. I was twelve years old, and after a five-minute lesson in health class that covered only heteronormative sexual practices (you put a penis into a vagina) and being offered no information on sexual pleasure, I decided to conduct some research online to find out what sex was really like. I know now that porn didn’t really do the greatest job of teaching me what real sex is at all, but it did grant me some exposure to the idea that sex can also be meant for pleasure and connection and that people’s sexual preferences are really complex and unique.

We believe the popularity of porn in the U.S. is strongly related to the huge gaps in sexual education across our country. The greatest concern about this substitution is that the primary function of porn is entertainment. The industry does not seek to educate, and that’s why it promotes a fantasy that can be truly harmful to everyone’s attitudes regarding sex. Porn can promote unrealistic body expectations, unsafe sexual practices and degrading or even violent actions against women. Porn also uses racial stereotypes like “feisty Latinas,” “submissive Asians” or “hyper-masculine black men” that degrade different racial and ethnic groups as well as perpetuate racist, sexist and ableist dialogues. Porn consumption, like any other media consumption, should be held by its viewer to a standard of decency and inclusivity that it often fails to reach.

With that being said, the most important understanding we need to develop on the topic of pornography is that masturbating to porn conditions our bodies to respond to specific sexual stimuli. Watching violent or degrading scenes in pornography can lead individuals to expect those same experiences with a partner who doesn’t share the same preferences and can also cause individuals to need those images to “get in the mood.” Studies have further shown that overuse of porn can have harmful side effects. There is a correlation between an increase in porn consumption and higher rates of erectile dysfunction in young men. Journalist Belinda Luscombe reports that some men report that visualizing porn is the only way they are able to have an erection. The American Psychiatric Society has also found that watching porn consistently increases the likelihood for signs of behavioral addiction. While pornography provides an outlet for sexual frustration, it can also hold some serious implications for our future relationships. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to begin addressing these implications in conversation or we allow pornography to continue to have the last word on what our sex lives should look like.

Despite its problems, blanket condemnation is not an appropriate response to the prevalence of pornography in our society. Shame tactics have not proven to lower the number of people watching porn, but they do contribute to shutting down any hope for conversation. A majority of our generation and the future generations will have their first sexual “education” through pornography. If we’re uncomfortable discussing the myths and the assumptions that we learn from porn, we contribute to its most harmful effects. We also feed into a national trend that would prefer to avoid addressing the deficiencies in the U.S. sexual education than try to solve them. There is a growing segment of the pornography industry that creates sex-positive, inclusive and feminist forms of pornography (see the work of Nina Hartley, Lust Cinema, Ruby’s Diary and OMGYES) and there are also many alternatives to using porn if you want to avoid its side effects, like photos, literary erotica and good old imagination. We should talk about porn because it helps us talk about our own sexualities. The more open and shame-free we can make that conversation, the closer we get to a more informed and positive relationship with sex as a whole. That’s an ideal we don’t need to judge.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/24/2017 - 10:34

I would never watch porn as it is such an exploitative industry. The pay gap between men and women porn workers is absurd.