Breda O’Brien: Time to get adult about porn

Ethical porn is doomed. Child protection needs legal and cultural change

Some adults are not willing to admit there is any downside to pornography, even as it normalises violence in sexual relationships and becomes progressively more misogynistic.

Some adults are not willing to admit there is any downside to pornography, even as it normalises violence in sexual relationships and becomes progressively more misogynistic.

 

Pornhub averages over 100 billion video views a year. That’s about 12.5 porn videos per person on Earth. It keeps detailed statistics on what its viewers watch. By volume, the top searches for 2017 and 2018 were lesbian, hentai (sexually explicit anime and manga), Milf (mother I’d like to . . . figure it out yourself) and stepmom.

The last refers to the growing popularity of incest porn. One category is fauxcest, where unrelated actors pretend to be in incestuous relationships, usually featuring combinations of stepfathers, stepmothers and step-siblings because some actors in the porn industry still have an ick factor about pretending to be, say, a father and daughter having sex. 

Porn producers acknowledge that porn thrives on taboos. 

It is therefore unsurprising that another category of incest porn already exists, featuring real relatives, such as Czech twins Milo and Elijah Peters. The brothers claim to have been each other’s exclusive sexual partners since they were 15.

This is what our children are watching. This is what is forming their views of sexuality. 

Fortnite is another popular category on Pornhub. Yes, that video game that children have been playing obsessively has its porn counterpart and hits jumped when the real Fortnite server was down for an upgrade.

Possibly the only light that may come from the tragic, horrific death meted out to Ana Kriégel is that it may spark a serious conversation about adult responsibility in relation to porn.

Violence normalised

While it would be simplistic to attribute her murder to porn consumption, it is hard not to see it as one factor. 

The trouble is that some adults are not willing to admit that there is any downside to pornography, even as it normalises violence in sexual relationships and becomes progressively more misogynistic. They oppose any curtailing of adult choice. 

This was exactly the reasoning applied in the landmark US supreme court case, Reno v. ACLU, which in 1997 struck down a Clinton statute banning underage access to porn. The majority opinion stated that in order to deny minors access to potentially harmful pornography, it would be necessary to effectively suppress a large amount of material that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another.

So adult rights trumped children’s rights.

Those troubled by porn are chided for not being sex-positive, which is like chiding those opposed to a diet consisting of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks for not being food-positive.

In fact, being anti-porn is likely to lead to a far better sex life, especially for young men. Anecdotally, young men report being unable to become aroused or to achieve orgasm with a real partner after heavy use of porn.

Gary Wilson, an atheist who is politically liberal, founded a website called “Your brain on porn” which curates research on internet porn. He cites seven studies showing a causal connection for young men between porn usage and lower sexual arousal and satisfaction in sex with a partner.

One well-meaning but dangerous trend is to promote the idea of porn literacy. This assumes that porn is just a fact of life and that it is impossible to prevent young people accessing it, so you just have to teach them that a man throttling a woman and urinating on her face does not represent a healthy sexual relationship.

Habit-forming circuitry

Well-meaning but defeatist ideas such as this are absolutely inadequate responses. Porn viewing hijacks powerful habit-forming reward circuitry in the brain. The resultant habit, often a form of self-medication for unpleasant emotions, creates deep pathways in the brain that will not be trumped by being told in school to restrict yourself to so-called ethical porn.

Two things are necessary: legislation and cultural change. Neither will eradicate porn but they will deter significant numbers from accessing it.

An idea floated for many years has been not to make porn illegal but to host it all on a dedicated .xxx domain. Porn hosted elsewhere would be illegal but nothing would be banned because it would still be available on the dedicated domain. This would make it vastly easier for parents to filter, and if combined with an opt-in protocol where access to .xxx sites has to be specifically requested from ISPs, it would have a significant impact on levels of consumption. 

Of course, vested interests would oppose this. The internet was built on porn and remains a big money-spinner. However, the US southern states opposed the abolition of slavery on economic grounds, too, but the notion of enslaving another human being is now unthinkable. (And no, I am not equating slavery and pornography, even if pornography has credible links with sex trafficking.)

The cultural change is even more important. I fear there are lots of households with children in them where men, in particular, would resent having to opt in to access porn on a dedicated server because it would interfere with their quasi-addiction. 

Porn has the unfortunate tag of adult material. Real adulthood consists of being able to forgo instant gratification when a greater good is at stake, such as protecting the vulnerable. It is about time we started acting like adults.

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