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.
She's up against a lot. She blames the "puritanical, double-standards culture, where people believe that a teen abstinence campaign will actually work, where parents are too embarrassed to have conversations about sex with their children, and where educational institutions are terrified of being politically incorrect if they pick up those conversations. So it's not surprising that hardcore porn has become de facto sex education."
But, she says in her talk, that her site is "absolutely not about judgment. This is not about good and bad. Sex is the area of human experience that embraces the vastest possible range of proclivities. It is also not a judgment of hardcore porn. I am a fan of hardcore pornography. I watch it regularly myself; although my overriding criteria when I select it is to choose something that does not overly resemble open-heart surgery. But because the porn industry is driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at men, porn tends to represent one worldview. It tends to say this is how it is. And what I want to say is, 'not necessarily.'"
She says she was "extremely nervous" before and during the talk -- mostly because even though she'd told some friends about her idea, she worried other people wouldn't respond well. So she has been especially gratified by the response: and not by the media response so much as that of young people and their parents.
A number of "young people," have said and emailed reactions like, "Oh my God! I love it. That is absolutely what I've encountered myself."
"Parents were particularly struck by it, and a lot of them said to me that they'd forwarded the site to their 16-year-old daughter or 18-year-old son. I think they particularly welcomed the fact that they could forward the link on without needing to have the conversation themselves, which is precisely why I began the site."
She's also had a "huge amount of submissions from people sending in their own porn world/real world ideas," from countries around the world.
One of the last emails she received was from a young Moroccan man who wrote to say, "Thank you so much. Young people in Morocco are like young people in the U.S., they are heavily influenced by porn. Now at last I can tell my friends how to make love to a girl, thanks to your wonderful website."
Of course, there isn't just her website out there. Plenty of sex educators are working hard to bring credible information to the porn-saturated masses. And there's also a growing industry of female-produced porn and lesbian porn (and as one friend said, it's not exactly difficult to get a guy to watch that).
Look, it's ridiculous to base the debate about pornography into one about whether it turns people into aggressive monsters or not. That turns a really interesting cultural discussion into a totally polarized, extreme and irrelevant one. Porn is having a profound impact on our culture and it's far more worthwhile discussing what its specific effects are (and there are many) and how to navigate those better, than simply argue over whether those effects are good or bad.
Read more: Gender + Sexuality