Is there good porn?

Take a look at this statement from an article called The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research.

“Increased access to the Internet by adolescents has created unprecedented opportunities for sexual education, learning and growth.”

(Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J.D. and Reid, R.C. (2012). Journal of Sexual Addiction and Compulsiviy, 19, 99-122)

Writers and researchers seem to feel obligated to acknowledge the potential benefits of pornography when in fact their own research as well as the vast majority of everyone else’s shows no such thing.

The above authors go on to document the damaging effects of internet pornography on adolescents.  For example that youth who view porn develop unrealistic sexual values and beliefs, and that viewing violent porn is related to higher levels of sexually aggressive behavior. Also that viewing porn leads to body image problems with girls and performance fears in boys and so on.

Certainly research on the negative effects of porn is important. But there is always an opposing view out there that porn serves the useful functions of freeing men and women, reducing shame around sex, aiding couples, and educating the young.

The reporting of scientific evidence often seems to be an attempt to escape the good vs. bad debate about porn so as to avoid being seen as moralistic.  Just the facts.  And indeed that is what science does.

But proving that porn can be a harmful, addictive drug fails to address a larger issue that I think is given less attention.

The two sides of the porn debate

The conservative/religious anti-porn movement is pitted against pro-porn ideology. Supporters of porn can range from freedom of speech advocates to those who argue that porn is liberating and any opposition to porn is a moralistic attempt to impose rigid, outdated norms on everyone.

The pro-porn folks (or at least the porn industry) appear to be winning.  The amount of porn consumed is increasing and the imagery is becoming more extreme in terms of erotic depictions of dominance/submission, degradation and violence against women.

Although women are starting to watch internet porn in increasing numbers, the majority of viewers are men (about 70%) and porn videos are typically depictions of male dominance.

The porn narrative

Professor Robert Jensen of the Austin School of Journalism says that porn typically tells a story.  That story, he says, is that “all women are there for the sexual pleasure of men.

Further, Jensen argues that porn conveys the message that there are no “good” girls, that all women are “whores,” and that women like pain.  And he believes that part of the porn ideology is that when women play out these roles they will “become fully realized as sexual beings.”

Other writers have tabulated the frequency of the various sex acts  in porn depicting a couple, the relative frequency of receiving oral sex, of male vs. female orgasm etc. and has found that it  favors men.

Professor Jensen maintains that this pattern in the stories and the increasing extremity of porn, particularly so-called “gonzo” porn infiltrates the mainstream of visual media.  This is referred to as the “pornifying of pop culture.”

The human values question

When the two sides face off in the porn debate it often comes down to values.  So the scientists can prove that porn has any number of bad effects like addiction, erectile dysfunction, and divorce, but that will not convince someone whose sexuality has become fused with sexual objectification.  They will feel attacked at a deep level.

The larger question that I feel is neglected is not whether your porn viewing is consistent with my values, but whether your porn viewing is consistent with your own values.

As Professor Jensen points out, porn as a whole is built around ideas like gender inequality and the comodification of a class of people (women).  Subordinating and dominating any segment of humanity is inconsistent with most people’s value systems.

Along with the scientific data we need to remind ourselves as clinicians and researchers to bring the discussion back around to the values that we and our clients share, like the capacity for empathy and a sense of our common humanity.

 


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    Last reviewed: 19 Jan 2013

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). Good Porn, Bad Porn. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/11/good-porn-bad-porn/

 




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