Generation Porn: ‘Even if you’re not looking for porn, it’s going to find you’

How ironic: Channel 4 screens a mature documentary on the digital porn revolution

A once-underground industry has become supercharged and mainstream

A once-underground industry has become supercharged and mainstream

 

In the tail end of the Irish Erotica Famine – an extended blight of Catholic shame, State censorship and insufficient samizdat smut which ended a little over 20 years ago – Irish people could always turn to one source of late night titillation: Channel 4.

There, under the fig leaf of artistic movies, educational discussion or just gleeful exoticism, one could find a glimpse of skin, a depiction of sin, or occasionally a documentary about pornography.

How strange it is now, then, after the drought in filth become a terrifying online tsunami, to find on Channel 4 a careful, sophisticated and mature documentary on the digital porn revolution.

Generation Porn (Channel 4, Wednesday, 10pm) joins a growing number of similar undertakings dealing with how a once-thriving underground industry has become supercharged and mainstream and what that means for society.

As one porn director, the sardonic Mike Quassar, puts it here: “Even if you’re not looking for porn, it’s going to find you. It’s an astonishing thing, the pornification of planet earth.”

The first episode of this three-part series covers a lot of ground, from new recruits in the porn production hot spot of the San Fernando Valley, to cost-effective outposts in Prague where a British family business in online porn is based, to the sofas of England where parents and their teenagers discuss porn frankly, sometimes hilariously, and what it means for intimate relationships and healthy sex lives.

Perhaps the most stunning disconnect, greatly enhanced by the internet, is how horrified porn’s makers seem to be by their consumers, forever anguished about access but ambivalent about responsibility.

“A lot of people don’t realise that Twitter is one of the biggest porn sites in the world,” marvels one young porn site manager of the platform’s lax and all-but unpoliceable restrictions.

Recent studies suggest that a child’s first exposure to porn is from the age of 11, and that 50 per cent of adolescent boys considered porn to be “a realistic depiction of sex”.

Porn’s creators know this is entirely untrue, pushed to ever-harder extremes to satisfy jaded viewers in a supersaturated market. “I’d like to offer you a tissue and an apology,” Quassar tells one actress at the conclusion of a scene.

Similarly, those performers may initially present themselves as hyper-sexed fantasies, but their personal histories are both complicated and depressingly common: many involve bullying or abuse at a young age, low self-esteem in adolescence and later validation through sex.

In one fascinating exchange, three performers admit to repressive backgrounds, where sex education was negligible or never discussed.

If families or schools will not educate young people about sex, the internet is always ready. And the internet, the worst expression of us, is frankly deranged.

“I think that’s why I am who I am,” says one fledgling pornstar. It’s a sobering insight, coming without judgment or alarm, and the show encourages another.

What, it asks, is porn turning us into?

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