It’s time for all of us to talk about sex

The presence of tech in our sex lives isn’t a bad thing, ‘as long as we don’t overuse it’


Our sexual egos are fragile things. The moment we take our clothes off in front of someone, we place our mind and body in an extreme position of vulnerability.

We want to impress our sexual partner, yet many of us struggle to verbalise what we actually want from the sexual experience. We live in a world where people avoid talking about sex. Instead of talking, we turn to technology and transmit our sexual needs and desires through the world of pornography.

Cindy Gallop enjoys dating younger men in their 20s. However, sleeping with men half her age has introduced Gallop to a world of sexual encounters heavily influenced by the porn industry.

“I found myself encountering what happens when two things converge – when today’s total freedom of access to hard core pornography online meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. Porn therefore becomes by default the sex education of today.”

Gallop, who recently spoke to The Irish Times Women’s Podcast about her makelovenotporn website and business, says she has uncovered “a huge, unaddressed, global, social issue” through sexual encounters with younger men. She underlines that this social issue not only influences young men, but young women too.

“The issue isn’t porn, the issue is the complete lack in our society of an open, healthy, honest conversation around sex in the real world.” Porn is an unavoidable part of our inter-connected online world and blocking it from view is not a long-term solution, argues Gallop.

She advises that parents worried about their children accessing porn online should talk openly at home about the difference between real life sex and the sexual encounters portrayed through pornography.

“No matter how hard you try, children will stumble across it ... this is the most wired generation ever and when they learn a naughty word, they Google it.”

Online porn

Citing a global study carried out three years ago, Gallop said children are now being exposed to online porn as early as eight years of age. Author Robert Weiss, who has written extensively about sexual addiction, says the average age a child views online porn is the marginally older 11 years, but warns that all a child has to do is click a button that says ‘Yes, I’m 18’ to get into a porn site. Most kids don’t even go looking for porn, he says, but just stumble across it when online.

A study carried out by the Australian government earlier this year found that frequent and routine viewing of porn and other sexualised images was contributing to young people forming “unhealthy and sexist views of women and sex” and also contributed to “condoning violence against women”.

Gail Dines, professor of sociology at Wheelock College in Boston, wrote in the Washington Post in April that the science around porn is beyond dispute and that 40 years of peer-reviewed research shows that porn is “an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality – for the worse”.

Dines cites a 2012 study of college-age women with male partners who use porn, which found that young women suffered diminished self-esteem, relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.

“Extensive scientific research reveals that exposure to and consumption of porn threatens the social, emotional and physical health of individuals, families and communities, and highlights the degree to which porn is a public health crisis rather than a private matter,” wrote Dines.

The answer is not to block porn, but to disrupt it, says Gallop. “We all watch porn, we just don’t talk about it. Porn therefore exists in this parallel universe, this shadowy other world. When you force anything into the shadows and underground, you make it a lot easier for bad things to happen.

“The solution is not to block because that only makes things worse. It’s to open up and make it healthy.”

Sexologist Emily Power-Smith says she enjoys watching ethical and feminist porn – a form of pornography which supporters say is about portraying real female sexuality and desire in an industry that almost entirely caters for men.

“I like to know the people I’m watching are properly consenting, are enjoying the sex, are having real orgasms and are healthy rather than in any way coerced or trafficked into doing it. There has been a great movement to create porn that is ethical so that people can enjoy watching people being sexual, without any of those concerns.”

Power-Smith says that the rapidly developing presence of technology in our sex lives isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we don’t overuse it.

“I think every woman should have a good vibrator, that’s an important part of your tool kit. But as a sexologist, I believe the human connection should come first, both with yourself and with a partner. The toys should enhance things and fill the gaps.”

Sex toys

Power-Smith says certain sex toys, such as items that track how many calories you burn or calculate the frequency of thrusts, are in danger of feeding into the obsession with achieving the perfect body.

“If you’re prone to narcissistic tendencies or prone to being obsessed about your body or your performance, this is going to be the perfect way to build up those anxieties. Allowing a toy to tell you what sexual positions are better for you, based on the amount of calories you burn, is just taking it completely away from the human experience.”

Camille Donegal, a virtual reality consultant, says that the growth of technology in the sex industry can be harnessed positively. Through virtual reality experiences, such as watching ethical porn using a virtual reality headset, both men and women can experience how sex looks from the perspective of the opposite sex. “Virtual reality has this potential for a female to be in a male’s body and know what it’s like,” says Donegan. “There’s also a lot that could be done around consent, creating healthy boundaries and creating empathy for your partner.”

The presence of technology in the sex industry has also led to an increased demand for sex robots. Power-Smith says men who struggle socially, or lack the confidence to have a sexual relationship with a partner, are turning to these sexbots for a non-judgemental sexual encounter.

However, relying on technology to overcome sexual anxieties will only enhance these problems in the long term, she adds. “I have issues around the fact that people’s weaknesses – the areas where they could actually strengthen with a bit of help and support – are being catered to in this way, which helps them to retract even more into their shell and not have to learn how to communicate or be sexual with real humans.

“It goes against the human condition. Although maybe the human condition is going to be so massively altered over the next couple of decades that this conversation will be null and void.”

Despite the growing presence of technology in our lives, Gallop is optimistic that one-on-one sexual encounters between humans have a bright future, as long as people talk openly and honestly about it. Sex cannot be about achieving the inaccessibly perfect body we’re presented with through the porn industry, advertising and the media, she says.

Sex must focus on human intimacy while celebrating “the accidents, the messiness, the funniness, the humour and the ridiculousness” of real life sex.

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