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Good Porn, Bad Porn

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.

10 Comments to
Good Porn, Bad Porn

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

    Isn’t this exactly what the Bible does, hence why women are treated as inferior by the religious right?

  2. If you ask me, it’s all about supervision and guidance in the end. We’re all sexual beings at heart and some of us need help in controlling those thoughts if they get extreme.

    I do wonder how many folks out there watch porn and praise gender equality. I’m sure there are a bunch.

  3. Mainstream, heterosexual porn seems more often to depict the unrealistic. However, some women do indeed enjoy some of the acts depicted in this porn, and whereas some do not. As with any mainstream media, and I’m thinking about glossy women’s magazines, expectation management by parents is so important. They need to pass on the message that body difference is okay, and that sexual difference is okay, and that there’s not only one way of looking or of doing things.

    There’s a small but growing movement in porn towards more diverse depictions of bodies and sex. I know of Anna Brownfield’s work, in which people of diverse body type are welcome, though she requires that her actors have no plastic surgery. Also, her work has more story than your traditional porn movie.

    I think there’s a lot of myths surrounding porn, most of them generated by people who are against sex and sexuality in general.

    • Hi Anstia, I found your last statement interesting. I wonder how you formed that impression. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I think many feminists are against porn (including feminist men) who are not against sex in general.

  4. As an addictionologist, it is no surprise that you take such a militant position against any utility in pornography. When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

    I can tell for sure that sex therapists and sexologists, as well as a strong contingent of just plain psychotherapists, see porn differently. The offerings are vast. There are good parts and bad parts to it. I know for a fact that people learn about innovative and imaginative sexual practices and activities from watching porn. (And I am not talking about the things that turn your stomach, Dr. Hatch).

    Porn has been around forever. It’s going to be around forever. There are surely some countries where it’s illegal, like North Korea and Iran. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I want to adopt the Iranian or North Korean version of the First Amendment. The best solution to porn if it happens not to be something that interests you? Don’t watch it.

    • TPG: not everyone who critiques porn does it for the wrong reasons. I believe that some of the critiques and the scientific data do have merit. I’d be interested in a few links to your good porn that “teaches innovative and imaginative practices,” as well as research articles about the positive effects of porn viewing.

  5. Dr. Hatch, what I wrote came out more harsh than I anticipated.

    About those links: This is a family website! However, I would say that if a person is interested in learning about a certain sexual practice or practices firsthand, all one has to do is go to a porn aggregator and search for it. For example, if a woman is interested in experimenting with tying up a man for the purposes of mutual pleasure, just search for Femdom. Or Maledom, in the opposite case. Or if you are interested in how others are doing masseur/masseuse fantasy reeneactment, search those terms.

    Also, this is the first google click that comes up for “positive porn”:

    Here’s finally what worries me: that sex addictionologists do have a sexual agenda.
    That agenda is this: soft, loving, intimate, connected, gauzy, Vivaldi-playing-in-the-background sex is good. Raw or naked or hard or painful or detached or self-involved or desire-driven or power-imbalanced sex is bad.

    Not true. Both positive and negative sexual experiences run the gamut. Thank God!

  6. A discussion of values is premature whatever “side” you’re on. The neuroscience of sex is in its infancy but has much to teach us all. Just as a diet of junk food can alter the brain, throwing a surprisingly high percentage of people into food addiction, so can a steady diet of hypersexual stimulation.
    This makes perfect sense given that the key centers of the brain that are hijacked by addiction evolved to drive our appetites for vital elements of our survival (and the survival of our genes).
    The sad thing is that as brains alter in response to overconsumption of stimulation (whether via junk food, highspeed porn, gambling, videogaming, etc) they actually become increasingly numb to pleasure. The result is that the person seeks more and more and more stimulation, and becomes increasingly convinced that he or she must have extreme stimulation, while feeling less actual pleasure. Before any of us campaign for the unfettered freedom to numb ourselves to sexual pleasure via extreme stimulation shouldn’t we understand our brains and the neuroscience of behavioral addiction better?

  7. @Chrisl, you’re right. All this brain chemistry stuff is both intriguing and in its infancy, particularly as related to sex. Gary Wilson and others have been vocal and eloquent leaders in propounding the same position you adopt. Neuroscience may have much to teach us in this arena, as it gets more sophisticated. Or not. What it tends not to account for very well are cross-cultural and cross-national differences that seem more matters of sociology than biology.

    However, Dr. Hatch’s post is not about porn and neuroscience. It’s about whether there’s any good in porn. She thinks not. I think porn is like everything else. It can be good or bad, depending on what it is and how it’s used. I go further and say that I think her point of view has to do with, and correlates to, what seems like a position as to what is “okay” sex and what is “not okay” sex. (Dr. Hatch, if I’m mis-characterizing, apologies and please correct!)

    I would say this, though. I don’t ever recommend porn for kids and teens, the same way I don’t recommend booze, marijuana, gambling, or serious interpersonal sexual contact. Some things are better reserved for grown ups.

    • Guess my point is that “good” and “bad” may end up being determined by effects on the brain, rather than content. Age of exposure is certainly relevant, too, as adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable.

  8. This has been an interesting conversation to follow, and there have been many good points all around. As a therapist (and a blogger for Psych Central — Relationships in Balance), I have to say that this conversation is missing a significant piece, though sidled upon briefly by Chrisl.

    Sex is regressive. Notice how much mindset is involved in sexual pleasure and stimulation. If we “normalize” our mindset (if we just see the body parts for what they are and remove the emotional regression), there’s very little stimulation that remains.

    I plan to expand on this in a future article, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that people act out unconscious, repressed (or pre-conscious, or cut-off) elements of themselves in sexual activity. This includes re-enactment or reversal of trauma.

    So we can’t really say what is the “right” or “wrong way” to have or view sex. People are going to view sex based on their emotional and developmental history, which is why there are so many forms of stimulation. It’s more important to understand why we are stimulated by what we are stimulated by, and if it seems to conflict with our values, then we should look further into understanding its nature.

  9. Nathan and Dr. Hatch, I think maybe you two subscribe to the old theory that sex is or should be a corollary of intimacy. That is, sex should always be an outgrowth of the emotional relationship.

    More modern thinking (take a look at Esther Perel’s (MSW, trained at Ackerman in family systems work) seminal MATING IN CAPTIVITY, for example) has come to see it, as Perel puts it, as a parallel narrative. Similarly, fusion wrecks sexuality, and separation is crucial for connection.

    Nathan’s apparent sensibility about sexuality being regressive is also conventional wisdom that may have more basis in convention than anything else. The belief was that fantasy was a symptom of neurotic psychology or ideations that undermine real life relationships. Not true. It’s a healthy part of adult sexuality, and sometimes it plays out in real time. Sometimes not. Sometimes it has something to do with our childhood experiences. Sometimes not. And sometimes it is all gauzy and intimate. And sometimes, very much not.

    GREAT discussion. Thank to all for contributing and to Dr. Hatch particularly for providing the forum for such good discourse.

  10. Today’s NYT has a fascinating discussion of exactly this issue in its ‘Room for Debate’ area: “Does Pornography Deserve Its Bad Rap?”

  11. Pardon my poor English. English is my third language:
    Why always the women as victims? And, no surprise, why is it that links to good porn is “feminist porn”.
    I’m a man and I am a victim of women dressing like whores and teasing, and a mom who was a feminist telling me that men were trash, making me a sex addict and evolving OCPD.

    It’s always about women and I am sick and tired of listening to you academics telling us how things should be. I am 45 and I can literally say that Wikipedia has helped me more than all the counseling sessions and hours at the psychologist.

    I now am able to diagnose people with the same addiction, and give them some relief by telling them that men’s suffering is made invisible by the media and you academics. By the way, my mother studied “Gender studies” (what a hoax) during the 70’s, financed by the state to really fuel her hatred towards me and my brother. Thanks for nothing!


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