A Generation Raised on Internet Pornography
Out of 167 respondents to an anonymous survey asking how often people of various genders, sexualities, and age groups, 64% of them reported regularly participating in the consumption of pornography via the internet. The survey consisted of 71% females, 27% males, and 2% non-binary people. 68% of all respondents were aged 13–18, and 29% 19–24.
Of the 46 male respondents, only 5 of them, one of which identifies as asexual, reported never consuming internet pornography. 73% of respondents reported feeling that more emphasis in the heterosexual porn they have viewed is placed on the male orgasm and sexual pleasure (keep in mind that 24% of all respondents have never seen porn). 64% of 13–24 year old females felt that more emphasis has been placed on the male’s orgasm in their heterosexual experience. What does this mean for how our boys and girls view sexuality? More specifically, what ideas about women may the widespread, easy access and usage of male-dominated pornography perpetuate?
The existence of pornography is nothing new. Depictions of sex are as old as civilized society and can be seen in ancient Greek and Roman records (Weisman). Pornographic magazines and adult films are also not new. What is relatively new is the internet and the emergence of free online pornography. The internet has accelerated the level of pornographic consumption through three vehicles — privacy/anonymity, the eradication of physical borders, and affordability.
Websites that offer free pornographic material for internet users now dominate the porn industry, and are generally extremely popular — Pornhub, for example, receives more daily visits than Netflix (Dines). Internet pornography is any form of pornographic material that is accessed via the internet. Videos can be streamed on a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone — giving the user constant and portable access. The most popular websites dedicated to pornography include XVideos, XHamster, Pornhub, XXNX, and RedTube.(Buzzfeed) Along with exclusively pornographic websites, the industry has infiltrated social media, such as Twitter. Accounts with pornographic videos, images, and GIFs can be seen from anybody’s Twitter account, and are often advertised.
Generally, there are two categories of pornography: “softcore” and “hardcore.” With a lack of censorship on today’s premium TV channels, networks such as HBO and Showtime now feature sex scenes which may have been previously labeled as softcore. Before the internet, the separation between these two categories were clear. While not by any means a champion of modern feminism, the most popular pornography in the 20th century was generally less violent and aggressive against women than today’s pornography norms. Hardcore porn is no longer for a group of people cruder and more erotic than the general population.
Most boys with internet access search for pornography by age 10 (Lajeunesse). When young boys set out to view sexual images and videos, it is unlikely they are actively seeking for violence against women. While most people are presumably not inherently sexually aroused by violence, mainstream pornography quickly conditions the brain to include aggression in sexual fantasies. Of 304 top-watched pornography scenes analyzed in a 2010 study, 90% of them contained “at least one aggressive act if both physical and verbal aggression were combined.” (Bridges et al., Violence Against Women) Because pornography is an industry that requires gaining capital, mainstream websites cleverly and dangerously normalize violent sex. With advertisements like “This is what a real man really wants to do!”, the industry preys on the fear that society has instilled in males from a young age —appearing feminine. By assuring the young man that pornography exemplifies masculinity, he becomes conditioned to believe that he should want to perform certain sexual novelties, many of them being sexist, racist, violent, etc.
Pinpointing the beginning of pornography is tricky because of the line between erotica and pornography. Erotica is defined by Merriam-Webster as “literary or artistic works having an erotic theme or quality.” Erotica is generally interpreted as having more artistic value, or trying to achieve “high” art. The purpose of pornography, on the other hand, is to arouse a quick sexual thrill. Finding erotica in ancient cultures is easier than pornography, perhaps partly because the lack of technology made it difficult to create an immersive simulation that would be able to sexually arouse. Anthropologists have found that erotic depictions have been created in virtually every society throughout history.
With the birth of the printing press, a new form of sexual depiction took form. Fanny Hill, which is commonly known as the first erotic novel, was written in 1749 by John Cleland. After early photographs were introduced in 1839, the production of pornographic films, known as “stag films” exploded in the early 1900s, with an estimated 2,000 stag films illegally produced and consumed between 1915 and 1968. In 1953 Hugh Hefner introduced the legendary Playboy magazine, accelerating the mainstream market for pornography. In 1971–1974, 60,000 “peep show booths” were installed across the US and Canada, which existed for people privately view adult films. Although adult video booths allowed for relative privacy to view video, it did not compare to the VHS tape. The VHS introduced the freedom of the viewer’s ability to customize their porn viewing experience. Still, VHS and DVD porn dwarf in comparison to the accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of internet porn, which began with, and in turn expanded, the world wide web.
The demand for internet porn is what what massively supplies it. 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn, and the average boy views 2 hours a week (The Mask You Live In). So why is it that mainstream porn has become hardcore, violent, and degrading of women? While many porn sites give the amateur and the professional the opportunity to upload their own pornography, mainstream culture still drives what is after all a capitalist industry. Degradation and exploitation of women in media and pop culture is something all too familiar to any consumer. Why would it be any different in pornography?
Generally, there are two sides of the feminist pornography debate. “Anti-pornography feminists” and “anti-censorship feminists.” The former believe that pornography has become so harmful that it must be eradicated for gender equality to be achieved. The latter believe that censorship is harmful to the goals of oppressed group because it eliminates the opportunity to constructively criticize the issue. For example, some feminists believe that the elimination of pornography strips the chance for women to be sexually liberated through the production and consumption of porn. Feminist scholar Courtenay Daum wrote Feminism and Pornography in the Twenty-First Century: The Internet’s Impact on the Feminist Pornography Debate which takes an anti-censorship viewpoint of internet pornography. In it, Daum calls for feminists to use the freedom of the internet to create their own feminist porn. Female-centered pornography proposes an interesting solution to growing harmful ideas perpetuated in mainstream porn culture.
Women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, gays, lesbians and transsexuals are now capable of producing their own pornography for consumption by members of their respective groups and the masses or for their own exhibitionist pleasure. (Daum)
The direction of the current internet pornography industry does not seem to be going anywhere but up. There has always been a demand for sex hardwired into the human brain. Pornography satiates sexual urges, which are felt by both men and women, without the consequences of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Most scientists agree that to a certain extent, masturbation is healthy. What is not healthy is the regular objectification and demeaning of women and girls. In the current political climate, where harassment and objectification of women is being normalized, it is more important than ever to take into account what harmful effects internet pornography can have on our young boys and girls. With many states having weak sexual education programs, most young people get the bulk of their information from pornography and the media .We must teach boys that women are human who are equally as complex and sexual as they are. We must teach girls that aggressive and forceful sex, including gagging, gang-banging, hitting, etc., is not something they are expected to do if they’re not comfortable.
In my online anonymous survey, 64% of 194 respondents reported as consistently watching porn. Prohibiting young people from pornography is a helpless, and not necessarily a constructive, cause. Because of the First Amendment, pornography will almost surely be a part of culture forever. What doesn’t need to be essential in media is sexism. Next time you see a pornographic video, picture, ad, etc., consciously consume. Think about the message that is given to boys and girls through representations of sexuality in porn. Women are valid, sexual, primal, complex, intelligent creatures — is the media you’re consuming representing that?
My cited sources include studies on effects of pornography on people and feminist views on the massive availability to porn via the internet.
American Porn. PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 7 Feb. 2002. Web. This is a PBS documentary about porn in the 21st century. It has different views and different experts on the subjects, including from feminist points.
Daum, Courtenay W. Feminism and pornography in the twenty-first century: the Internet’s impact on the feminist pornography debate 2009. Web. Daum explores the different feminist views on 21st century pornography. She presents pro-pornography and anti-pornography arguments from a feminist lens. This is helpful because it touches on feminism and internet, which are two important aspects of my trend.
Park, Brian, Gary Wilson, Jonathan Berger, Matthew Christman, Bryn Reina, Frank Bishop, Warren Klam, and Andrew Doan. “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports.” Behavioral Sciences 6.3 (2016): 17. Web. A research study done on the effects of internet porn on men’s sexual performance and libido. Helpful to my paper
because it shows how internet porn has distanced men from the reality of sexuality.
Pornland. Dir. Gail Dines. Media Education Foundation, 2014. Film. This documentary explores pornography from an anti-pornography feminist view. It focuses on its effects on sexist and hypersexualized views of women.
Zillmann, Dolf, and Jennings Bryant. “Effects of Massive Exposure to Pornography.”Pornography and Sexual Aggression (1984): 115–38. Web. “Pornography and Sexual Aggression” features many studies and articles about different effects of pornography. This section “Effects of Massive Exposure to Pornography” as well as other sections will be useful in having scientific/sociological research to make an informed case about the trend of pornography’s effects on people and their views on sexuality.