Pornography: The Issue too Progressive for Progressives

This post was originally posted on The Good Men Project, you can check it out here!

In the current political climate, late night talk shows that push the boundaries and point out the atrocities of society are a comedic relief. But there is one subject that seems too far out of reach for the critique of liberal leaning, late night shows. Pornography. A cultural phenomenon that has infiltrated all spaces of society, from movies to television shows, the topic of porn has become an acceptable joke that we’re all supposed to know is funny. But what’s funny about exploitation? What humor is there in paid rape? What’s amusing about men getting off to violence against women?

Pornography is a highly contested issue in many circles. The feminist movement even splits around whether pornography can be healthy or non-abusive. However, the more research done the more harmful connections have been made, beyond the late-night jokes about politicians in porn films or comparing women’s hockey to lesbian porn.

If all of this does not make you reconsider the porn habit I am sadly not surprised. Rape culture

has permeated every corner of our lives and denial is strong. We do not want to believe that actions we consider crimes could be connected to something we still view as innocent. But there is another side to this problem as well. The effect it has on our sex lives with other people, not only men but all gender identities.
So, what are the effects of porn?

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation notes that there is a huge impact on the brain with continued watching of pornography:

• A 2014 study found that increased pornography use is linked to decreased brain matter in the areas of motivation and decision-making, impaired impulse control, and desensitization to sexual reward.

• Pornography hijacks the brain’s reward systems the same way that cocaine does.

• A 2015 study from Cambridge found that pornography use can drive novelty-seeking, so users need more and more extreme content over time in order achieve the same level of arousal.

As porn becomes more violent and more gruesome more and more men have stepped forward to detail why they had to quit. One man writes, “And, what’s worse, I was fantasizing about porn during sex. It was a dissociative, alienating, almost inhuman task to close my eyes while having sex with someone I really cared about and imagine having sex with someone else or recall a deviant video from the archives of my youth that I was ashamed of even then. I’ve talked with other millennial men who’ve experienced this, and it’s not particularly surprising. A decade before we were having intercourse, our neural pathways associated ejaculation with an addictive, progressive perversity that demanded a superlative overstimulation — skipping from climactic scene to climactic scene so that it’s always the most novel, deviant, kinky.”

Another notes, “I always felt like a hypocrite watching porn. Here I was, a man who is striving to be an ally to women, perpetuating the very culture of violence and misogyny that I was ostensibly trying to fight. The reality was that most of the videos I found online had titles that included words like “bitch” or “slut” and showcased controlling behaviors that were rooted in a culture of subjugation and objectification, where women are nothing more than sexual bodies to be exploited and dominated by men.”

Sex and gender studies scholar, Ran Gavrieli, notes that, pornography does not depict “normal sensual activity such as petting, caressing, making out, touching, hugging, kissing…What porn cameras are into is the penetration”.

The link between violence against women and pornography is strong. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has a vast amount of research on the connection between sexual violence and pornography:

• Pornography Is Linked to Increased Sexual Violence:A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike.

• Pornography Is Linked to Increased Female Sexual Victimization:A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who watched pornographic videos were at significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

• Pornography Teaches that Women Enjoy Sexual Violence:Analysis of the 50 most popular pornographic videos (those bought and rented most often) found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence, and 49% contained verbal aggression. Eighty-seven percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated against women, and 95% of their responses were either neutral or expressions of pleasure.

• Negative Body Image and Pressure to Perform Pornographic Acts:As a result of viewing pornography women reported lowered body image, criticism from their partners regarding their bodies, increased pressure to perform acts seen in pornographic films, and less actual sex, while men reported being more critical of their partners’ body and less interested in actual sex.

• Increased Marital Rape: Males who use pornography and go to strip clubs were found to engage in more sexual abuse, stalking, and marital rape than abusers who do not use pornography and go to strip clubs.

It is no wonder rates of violence against women continue to sky rocket when an institution we allow to be joked about in mainstream media justifies this harm. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has a lot of great talking points to common arguments and pushback surrounding the issue of pornography and its potential damaging effects, such as, “I have a right to do what I want in the privacy of my home” and “the performers in pornography enjoy it.”

If that is not enough, research highlighting the relationship between pornography and erectile dysfunction is mounting. The whole premise of pornography is to get off, and to get better at doing it. But as many men are finding out, it does not have great long time effects. Gary Wilson notes that, “internet porn is killing young men’s sexual performance” when they’re “numb brains are sending weaker and weaker signals to their bananas”. It leads to needing more and more violent and obscene images to be aroused, often acts that a partner does not want, leaving them unsatisfied with a mere sexual experience with someone they love.

I want to take a pause to clarify my argument. I am not anti-sex or anti-sexuality. On the contrary, I think we need more healthy, honest conversations about sex and sexuality in our society. We need to explore ways for our bodies to feel satisfied and sensual, for ourselves and for our partners. The topic of masturbation is viewed as taboo or the butt of a dirty joke for men and a non-existent act for women. This is not what I advocate for. Movements exist to change this but it is working upstream in a society that tells women they are nothing but a sexual object for the taking, and tells men that object enjoys this relationship.

I believe that there should be empowering ways for all genders to get off but here in which lays the line between erotica and pornography. The discussion surrounding the difference between these two is vast and has caused many in the feminist movement to choose between pro and anti-pornography. But where do these two words come from?

The online etymology dictionary notes that erotic has roots dating centuries back, “1650’s, from French erotique (16c.), from Greek erotikos “caused by passionate love, referring to love,” from eros (genitive erotos) “sexual love” (see Eros).

The online etymology dictionary shows that pornography’s roots are literally in female slavery, “1843, “ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus,” from French Pornographie, from Greek porgographos “(one) depicting prostitutes, “from porne “prostitute,” originally “bought, purchased” (with an original notion, probably of “female slave sold for prostitution”), related to pernanai “to sell,” from PIE root *per-(5) ‘to traffic in, to sell’”.

I am not a trained linguist but it does not take training to see the difference or to understand where pornography’s original intentions were placed. Trafficking. Slavery. The selling and trading of women’s bodies. But has it changed much since then?

Many have pointed to the connection between sex trafficking and pornography in our modern society. This video done for the human trafficking survivor rescue and restoration organization, Rescue Freedom points out that in, “9 countries almost half (49%) said that pornography was made of them while they were in prostitution”.

Rescue Freedom goes on to point out the terrifying connection between children and pornography, “approximately 20% of all internet pornography involves children who are victims of human trafficking”. According to, She’s Somebody’s Daughter, an organization that is working to end sex trafficking and exploitation, the average age for children to enter the pornography industry and sexual slavery in the United States is 12. Not only that but when young children are viewing pornography and getting their sex education from said porn their underdeveloped brains become altered.

She’s Somebody’s Daughter also contends that, “80% of prostitution survivors at the WHISPER Oral History Project reported that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the kinds of sexual activities in which they wanted to engage”. Men are “learning” about what type of sex to request from easily accessible online pornography.

Child prostitution, paid rape, abuse against women and girls globally, international slave trades. No late-night talk show host would poke fun at these topics on their show, no guest would appreciate being a part of this banter. But that is exactly what is happening when pornography is used as a frat like joke on screens in millions of homes. America watches and learns that their habit of watching pornography is justified by their liberal television heroes. I know we can do better, but we need more people to lead the movement. Find new material. No more jokes about pornography.

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