Opinion

Porn is not a problem. Our attitude towards porn is

Despite pornography being fairly commonplace, our views about it are still mainly medieval. We need to change them, says Lux Alptraum

05 November 2017 - 00:00 By lux alptraum
internet porn has skyrocketed in popularity.
internet porn has skyrocketed in popularity.
Image: iStock

For six years, as editor of the porn blog Fleshbot, I spent hours combing the XXX side of the internet, acquainting myself with all manner of perversions and obscure sex acts. At this point it's fairly safe to say that there is almost no pornographic image that would be capable of shocking me.

What does shock me is how ill-informed public discourse around porn continues to be.

In the 10 years since I wrote my first Fleshbot post, internet porn has skyrocketed in popularity. But even as porn consumption has become commonplace, we continue to treat it as something exotic and inherently perilous to our health and happiness.

The arguments that show up today are not so different from anti-porn screeds written decades before. A recent New York Magazine feature on the breadth of perversity found on the site PornHub encouraged increasingly exotic sexual exploration among its presumably vanilla viewers.

Other commentators, including Cindy Gallop, founder of the website MakeLoveNotPorn, have also expounded upon the power pornography holds over our sexual tastes and behaviours.

CUT TO THE CHASE

Journalists still seem convinced that viewing porn rewires our sexual preferences, often in damaging and terrifying ways, and that pornography gives children unhealthy ideas.

In a culture where open discussion of sex is taboo and the adult industry is heavily stigmatised, it's perhaps not surprising that many people think of porn as a highly addictive, transformative substance. But the evidence doesn't back that up.

PornHub, the most popular site, reports that the average time spent on the site is just under 10 minutes - less than half the length of a standard porn scene

It makes sense that journalists, whose jobs require research, might find themselves drawn down the rabbit hole of adult entertainment, fascinated by the increasingly perverse products they happen to uncover. But most porn consumers aren't journalists or researchers, and usage data suggests their porn habits are vastly more utilitarian.

PornHub, the most popular site, reports that the average time spent on the site is just under 10 minutes - less than half the length of a standard porn scene.

Ten minutes isn't enough time to begin to plumb the depths of depravity contained in the videos of PornHub. It is, on the other hand, just enough time to find a video that's in line with your long-established sexual preferences, enjoy the best bits and move on to other pursuits.

OVER-EXPOSED

In my time at Fleshbot, it became clear that people come to porn with their sexual preferences already intact - and that, with some exceptions, those preferences remain fixed. Like PornHub, Fleshbot offers a vast array of content, profiling porn that appeals to consumers with a wide variety of sexual orientations and preferences.

Yet when I worked there, being exposed to the diverse world of human sexuality didn't seem to make readers more excited by unfamiliar kinks and sexual interests - if anything, it made my readers more interested in the various tags and filters that would allow them to quickly zoom in on the specific content that met their needs.

Straight men who were accidentally exposed to gay porn didn't suddenly turn gay; vanilla viewers who happened upon photo sets of extreme kink would complain that they should have been better shielded from it.

OK, IT'S NOT ALL GOOD

Long before we're exposed to pornography, we consume pop culture and have formative experiences that help us understand what kind of people we're attracted to and what sorts of erotic scenarios intrigue us - and we tend to bring that to porn, not the other way around.

None of which is to say that porn is entirely benign. There is some truth to the claim that it negatively impacts the sexual imaginations and awareness of young people.

But that's largely due to the fact that pornography - which, though sometimes educational, is more frequently a wildly inaccurate fantasy - is consumed in a culture where sex education is minimal, fear-based and often inaccurate.

SCARRED AND CONFUSED

It's unsurprising that porn might leave young viewers confused or even scarred, and that it might negatively impact their ability to relate to future partners. But that says less about pornography than about the dangers of a culture that delegates something as important and essential as sex education to an industry dedicated to crafting fantasy and entertainment.

It's easy to criticise porn, and it's fun to giggle over the exotic and unfamiliar sex acts the adult industry is all too happy to explore. But positioning the porn industry as an all-powerful force that's here to wreak havoc on our sex lives is a distraction from the actual problem at hand.

If we want an alternative to the vision of sex presented in pornography, we need to start by having open, honest and unashamed talks about sex.

We need to stop treating sex as a taboo topic, and start treating it as an ordinary aspect of life, one that young people should be educated about in all its weird, wonderful, risky and rewarding complexity.

If we create a culture where sexuality is accepted as a healthy, positive part of life, then we'll be able to appreciate porn for the wild, unrealistic fantasy that it was always intended to be.

Lux Alptraum (@LuxAlptraum) writes about sex, pop culture and feminism and is the author of a forthcoming book on our cultural obsession with female dishonesty.