Sex and the porn industry – a time bomb
The feminist movement has achieved considerable progress over recent decades, but what it still has not been able to successfully counter is sexual objectification. This issue affects both men and women, but for women it is arguably more insidious because it invariably involves characterising them as passive and (sexually) submissive.
With the internet everyone now has access not only to useful information but also to numerous pornographic sites. With virtually no controls or regulation, these are increasingly being accessed by children and providing their sexual initiation.
Since the advent of mass advertising, young people, particularly girls have been under extreme pressure to conform to its fashion standards of beauty, from body shape to facial expression. Now, on top of those pressures, comes the impact of pornography. Even very young girls are increasingly facing demands made on them by boys whose only sexual experience has been gained through watching pornography.
Online pornography has become the number one source of sexual ‘education’ for many boys. From such sites they learn to view women as sexual objects for their sole gratification, to be used, abused and demeaned. The examples they see, encourage them to make demands on girlfriends to perform and behave in ways they see women doing in porn films. Many girls not only find such demands and pressure difficult to reject, but find themselves bullied and ridiculed if they try to. We have reached a new crisis in adolescent rites of passage, not only in the UK. The ubiquity of pornography is perhaps even more insidious in those countries with little structured education and certainly no sex education and often discriminatory attitudes towards women, but widespread access to the internet.
One recent survey on the effects of pornography and the internet is Don’t send me that pic published in October last year by Plan International Australia and Our Watch.
The survey gathered responses from girls and young women aged 15-19 in all states and territories of Australia. In the report participants said that online sexual abuse and harassment were becoming a normal part of their everyday interactions.
If there are still any questions about whether porn has an impact on young people’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, perhaps it’s time to listen to young people themselves, the reports argues. Girls and young women describe boys pressuring them to provide acts inspired by the porn they consume routinely.
It found that girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send, but they seem resigned to send them anyways because of how normal the practice has become. Boys then use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share with their friends.
Girls describe being ranked at school on their bodies, and are sometimes compared to those of porn stars. They know they can’t compete, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking that they have to. Girls who don’t undergo porn-inspired waxing are often considered ugly, dirty, or gross by boys, as well as by other girls. Some girls suffer physical injury from porn-inspired sexual acts, including anal sex and even torture.
Requests for genital surgery among young women aged 15-24 has increased starkly, the report says.
Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls growing up as a part of a digital generation. However, more girls are now speaking out about how these practices have links with pornography – because it’s directly affecting them.
Pornography is moulding and conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with such porn-saturated boys.
The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20 per cent of rapes of adult women and between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of all reported sexual assaults of children. Emeritus Professor Freda argues that online pornography is turning children into copycat sexual predators, acting out on other children what they are seeing in porn.
Another, earlier report found that adolescent consumption of internet porn was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires. The authors found that ‘adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed’.
According to some experts the new pressures are causing widespread depression, even suicidal tendencies and a deep crises of self esteem among girls. Enormous pressure, not only from boys but also from the girls to fit certain roles or conform to bodily perfection demands, like the shaving of body hair. There is great pressure to be ‘attractive’ and if you aren’t considered to belong to that group, then you are ostracised.
The Guardian (6 October) reported that the incidence of mental health issues among all school students is at an all time high. In the UK, more than 50,000 young people called Childline last year seeking help with serious mental health issues. The helpline has seen a 36% rise over four years in young people needing help. In the 12-15 age group girls were seven times more likely to seek help than boys.
Although, in the UK, we are supposed to have sex education in schools, the subject is still treated as an ‘add-on’ if dealt with at all. Teachers themselves often find sexual issues embarrassing or difficult to talk about, and pornography is rarely mentioned. It does little to counteract the pressures young people are facing.
So what can be done about this disturbing trend, which is common to many countries?
It is certainly criminal negligence to leave sexual formation in the hands of the global sex industry. We need to do more to help young people stand up against warped notions of sexuality as conveyed in pornography.
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination take precedence over respect, intimacy and authentic inter-human relationships Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation, the Australian report says.
We have to establish counter-culture which can provide the basis for educating boys and girls on these issues. We need to enlighten not only schools students, but parents and teachers as well about healthy, respectful relationships, and to challenge everyday sexism. Boys need to be taught not to become offenders rather than telling girls not to go out at night or not to wear certain clothing. Women and girls should not have to modify their behaviour to avoid being targets of harassment and abuse. Perpetrators must learn that aggressive and disrespectful behaviour and harassment against women is unacceptable. It is intimacy and tenderness that so many girls and young women say they are looking for, but how will young women find such experiences in men indoctrinated by pornography
The over-sexualised imagery and behaviour we are confronted with daily through the media and internet are also abetted by some publicity-hungry celebrities. Those women who choose to promote their careers through the misuse of their bodies are also complicit in the creation of stereotypical gender attitudes which are so influential on young people. When those in the public spotlight willingly allow themselves to be used as sex symbols and ostentatiously flout their sexuality, they are reinforcing that male view of women as sexual objects for their own gratification.
Each of us is clearly also faced with a mental dichotomy: the internal battle between our rational and ethical selves and our atavistic, visceral animal instincts. While many heterosexual women crave sensitivity and empathy from men, they are invariably attracted by imagery of the savage he-man, the warrior, the muscle-bound hero. Hollywood films in particular invariably glorify such men, and they clearly appeal to many women as much as men. Parallel to this ‘man’ image is a glorification of violence which is not unconnected with men’s treatment of and attitude towards women. Why was there a wildfire-like infatuation with the sight of Colin Firth’s body seen thorough a wet shirt when, in a scene in the film of Pride and Prejudice, he strips off to swim in a lake, or the ecstasy engendered by a naked Aidan Turner in the bath tub in the TV series Poldark, or the incredible popularity of 50 Shades of Grey with its sado-masochism and dominant, handsome male and submissive female. These are just three examples that reflect a widespread preoccupation with raw physicality rather than inner qualities such as sensitivity and empathy. Our deeper psyches are pre-programmed from our animal heritage, on the part of women to react instinctively to the appearance of very masculine males and, on the part of men, to voluptuous females. But the internationalisation of such imagery, the ease of transmission and availability makes it more potent than ever today. Such imagery has nothing directly to do with pornography but does set up role models and helps reinforce clichéd attitudes towards male and female roles.
According to some experts the new sexual and conformist pressures are causing widespread depression, even suicidal tendencies and a deep crises of self esteem among girls. Enormous pressure, not only from boys but also from the girls to fit certain roles or conform to bodily perfection demands, like the shaving of body hair. There is great pressure to be ‘attractive’ and if you aren’t considered to belong to that group, then you are ostracised.
As a society, we need to be able to demonstrate that healthy relationships are built on equality, honesty, respect, and love. In pornography, it is the reverse: interactions are based on domination, disrespect, abuse, violence, and detachment. This generation is the first having to deal with the issue of pornography on such an intensity and scale. If parents, educationalists and the relevant authorities don’t take a stand, the problem will only get worse. The pornographic industry is also complemented by the Hollywood-driven ‘hard man’ films of war and violence that often reinforce stereotyped gender roles. Both sides are driven by the profit motive and a disdain for social values. The profiteering from such forms of ‘entertainment’ needs to be made increasingly difficult.
The education system needs to do much more to actively counter artificially-imposed standards by powerful advertising companies as well as pornography itself. There have been a whole number of reports and research papers written about sex education and impact of pornography but little effective action is being taken anywhere as yet.