Porn may not be a "neurotoxin" but it's time to talk about how it's changing our sexual lives.
There are no more male porn virgins. A Canadian study released this week sought to compare the views of 20-something men who watch porn with those who don't. They couldn't find a single one who hadn't seen any. "Guys who do not watch pornography do not exist," concluded the lead researcher, Prof. Simon Louis Lajeunesse of the University of Montreal's School of Social Work.
Guys who watch a lot of pornography, however, are easy to find. Of the 20-something heterosexual men they interviewed, most had sought out pornography for the first time at age 10. The single men among them, on average, watch porn three times a week for 40 minutes, and those in relationships, 1.7 times a week for around 20 minutes. In no small part that's because porn is so easy to find: 90 per cent of consumption is on the Internet, while only 10 per cent is from the video store.
But no matter: the authors of the study concluded that the sex lives of their young subjects were "pretty conventional, almost identical to their parents," that "pornography has been demonized and that its effects are negligible." And that pornography is not a "neurotoxin" that damages the brain as some anti-pornography "crusaders" claim: "As for the persistent perception that pornography breeds crime against women: aggressive men don't need porn as an incentive to be violent."
'You like that, baby?'
I can accept that pornography doesn't make its audience violent, and that most people's sex lives are still pretty conventional. But when I asked my friends about their experiences, they couldn't disagree more that porn's effects are negligible. Few of my friends are anti-porn. None think pornography makes men violent. But all say porn has changed their male partners' approach to sex. Like the authors of the recent glut of articles on the topic, my friends mention everything from new pubic hair preferences to new special requests. One friend said she's dreading her boyfriend's upcoming birthday because he views it as his "anything he wants" night. While she doesn't mind dressing up, she's dreading the "porn requests" (she didn't specify what those are, so we can only imagine).
In a recent piece on Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams realized porn had changed her sex life when her partner asked, for the 18th time, without noticing that she wasn't answering, "You like that, baby?" And then it hit her: "I wasn't just having bad sex. I was having bad porn sex."
Williams and others are experiencing firsthand the effect porn has had not just on grown men who grew up without it and are now watching it, but on the young generation that grew up watching it. And the effect on that generation -- Generation Y -- is even more significant, especially given the dearth of real sex ed. According to an article in Details, "The awkward truth... is that 90 per cent of 8- to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face."
In that same article, one 21-year-old college student described his first "real-life ejaculate-to-the-face finale like this: 'It was the happiest moment of my young life. There is just something about blowing a load in a chick's face that makes you feel like a man.'" The author went on to say that "For most men over 30, facials aren't something you actually do. They're like car chases or hurling someone through a plate-glass window -- the difference between cinema and life. But the ubiquity of porn has blurred the line."
Time to fix the porn distortions
Last week at the Ted conference, Cindy Gallop, a self-described "mature, experienced, confident older woman" and successful ad executive said in a witty and much tweeted- and blogged-about four-minute talk (Robin Williams even did a 10-minute stand-up routine based on it) that in her personal experience, porn has significantly "distorted" the ways young males think about sex.
She gives one (very funny) example in her talk (NSFW) of just what porn has wrought -- it involves the facial department. And because she is, as aforementioned, a "mature, experienced, confident older woman," she feels it's her responsibility to speak up, especially on behalf of younger women who might mistakenly think they have to put up with the new status quo if they want their guy to put out.
Gallop, who likes to date and have sex with "younger men" in their 20s, sees the need for some "reeducation, rehabilitation, and reorientation," which she's willing to provide. And because the myths are so widespread (sorry), she says it's going to take a concerted effort to counter them. So she's launched MakeLoveNotPorn.com, a Web site she hopes will counter the specific myths propagated by the porn industry with the realities, and also stimulate, um, debate.