Three reasons why porn is problematic

Three reasons why porn is problematic

Porn is something most of us have very easy access to, and it has been all-pervasive, especially for younger generations. At the click of a button, you can access a seemingly unending amount of material across seemingly unending numbers of genres. 

This is something I say often, but I think it’s really important; we all live in a society where young people have far better access to material of a sexual nature than they do to actual sex education. In 2019, a BBC survey found that 55% of young men (aged 18-25) felt that porn had been their main source of sex education. As part of the same study, 50% of young women surveyed felt that porn had dehumanised women. 

Another study from early 2020 found that the use of porn as an educational tool was increasing amongst young people, and girls participating in the study told researchers that boys responses to pornography were making them anxious about not only living up to unrealistic sexual expectations, but also about aggressive and violent sexual behaviour such as choking.

In December 2020, Pornhub was found to be hosting videos depicting child rape and the rape of unconscious women. The content on this site is user-generated, but it is all apparently viewed by human moderators. And yet the capacity for stuff that is plainly violent and illegal to creep in under the guise of ‘rough’ or ‘kinky’ sex is very troubling.

I don’t think porn is unequivocally bad or terrible – the concept of it is healthy in fact. But much of the porn out there has the capacity to mislead – and this is what I am concerned about. 

So what are the main reasons that porn can be problematic?

porn sex education
Well for one, it’s unrealistic

As many are ‘educated’ on sex through porn, it’s understandable that unrealistic expectations around sex develop. 

Porn scenarios often present things as ‘normal’ that quite simply aren’t. A counter-argument could be that these scenarios are deliberately contrived all the way through, and that the whole idea of porn is to present things as obviously fantastical. But to young people and those with little sexual experience, it can be really difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality when it comes to sexual scenarios.

For example, porn often depicts men and women as aroused and ready for sex at literally every conceivable moment. Obviously, this is not the case, and while many may recognise that this portrayal is false, it may lead to people expecting sexual desire from their partner at all times – and worrying or getting angry when they don’t receive it. 

The sex shown is also often too focused on male pleasure, and penetrative and/or oral sex – it skips over foreplay and in turn fails to show many men what is actually required in order to have a mutually pleasurable sexual experience with a female partner. 

And it’s not just the sex, but the bodies as well. Porn typically depicts men as hulking and muscular (and also as extremely well endowed). Women are usually big-breasted with no fat on their bodies whatsoever. This is, again, not normal, and it is worrying that people may not only begin to panic about their bodies because of porn, but that they may also lose a sense of attraction to more ‘normal’ bodies.

Porn too often tries to sexualise violence

There has undoubtedly been an increase in violent porn in recent years. Some studies have even suggested that nearly 90% of porn depicts violence against women in some way. A lot of this aggression has been turned by the porn industry into a kink and, gradually, into a sexual norm.

For example, porn frequently incorporates name calling into the category of dirty talk – but shouldn’t we see it as worrying that calling a woman a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ has been normalised as a ‘turn-on’? These are, essentially, aggressive and demeaning terms, and while a person may not use them in a way that is intended to be aggressive and demeaning, the roots and connotations of these words cannot be denied, and are a stark and uncomfortable reminder of just how much we have normalised male on female degradation and aggression as part of sex. 

Additionally, a third of British women under the age of 40 have experienced unwanted choking, slapping or spitting during sex. With porn depicting these actions as something that women almost universally desire, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that such actions are pervading our realities. While these acts can be enjoyed consensually, because porn tends to homogenise women’s desires it perhaps isn’t clear to those watching that slapping, choking and spitting are not going to be for everyone. 

porn unrealistic bodies
There is too much of a taboo around porn

Porn is all pervasive, and with the average age when children first view porn estimated to be around 11, it isn’t just an adult issue. 

Parents need to make sure to talk to their children about porn – and not just about viewing it but about how they could accidentally be dragged into making it, by being pressured into sending intimate photos of themselves. 

Yet there remains a huge taboo around this subject, a taboo that unfortunately hinders progress. Not talking about porn, and not countering the narratives it trots out as though they are reality means that we cannot hope to challenge its most dangerous elements. 

If we could have open and honest conversations about porn usage and whether what’s being shown is right or representative, then I wager porn wouldn’t actually look like it does at the moment. I imagine people would have collectively called for more realistic and therefore more ethical pornography, and I imagine that those wondering whether unrealistic scenarios might actually be a sexual norm would be able to see the falsehoods before their eyes more easily. 

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