Let’s talk about sex

Pornography’s omnipresence misleads us all.

Bronwyn Miller

As of March 9, my boyfriend and I have a no-porn pact. We both acknowledge that this will be significantly harder on one of us (no pun
intended).

It all started when I read about a proposal that the European Union will be voting on tomorrow. The Report on Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU includes a variety of recommendations from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and Article 17 is what’s catching everyone’s eye: a ban on pornography across all media, including the Internet. 

Importantly, the European parliament’s decision Tuesday will not officially outlaw anything. If Parliament supports the proposal, the European Commission can then decide whether to create actual legislation to ban pornography. But this proposed ban crops up just weeks after Iceland made headlines worldwide for its efforts to put a widespread check on “violent” or “hateful” porn, suggesting an emerging trend of curbing pornography’s ubiquity.

The EU Committee’s reasons for drafting the bill relate to confronting the gender inequality and potential for child abuse that they identify as associated with pornography. Undoubtedly, the impetus behind the proposal is admirable, as well as dead right. However, because of outcries of censorship and infringement on freedom of expression, as well as the logistical impossibilities of an enforceable ban, the proposal likely will not come to fruition.

Personally, I would love to return to a time where the only “PornHub” available was the material of yesteryear: a Victoria’s Secret catalog, a cheesy magazine or a naughty video that required mustering up enough courage to face the employee at the checkout counter. Today’s Internet pornography is distinctively concerning, offering the power of endless novelty at one’s fingertips. It’s no wonder that its unique effects and potential to harm are prompting politicians to consider regulation. But despite critics’ protests and generalizations accusing the supporters of the EU and Iceland bans of operating a feminist agenda, it’s important to remember that this is by no means just a feminist issue.

Indisputably, women are indeed widely affected by today’s omnipresence of pornography. The industry has long been condemned for its celebration of the degradation and exploitation of women. As author Andrea Dworkin wrote in 1985: “Pornography is the institution of male dominance that sexualizes hierarchy, objectification, submission and violence.”

However, framing the harmful effects of pornography as strictly a feminist issue erroneously isolates the problem. Both Iceland and the EU Committee acknowledged that the scope of the issue includes not only the potentially dangerous effects on women but on children, too. Still, a vital consideration is missing — why does no one talk about the male children who then grow up to be adults? Why is no mention made about porn’s detrimental effects on men?

Without a doubt, porn has significant effects on men. As two recent TED Talks illustrate, Philip Zimbardo’s “The Demise of Guys?” and Gary Wilson’s “The Great Porn Experiment,” the documented increases in fear of intimacy and social awkwardness among guys may very well be related to excessive Internet use, specifically,
pornography.

As psychologist Zimbardo claims, guys now prefer an asynchronistic Internet world to spontaneous interaction and social relationships. Wilson notes that when college-aged guys were asked if Internet porn was affecting them or their attitudes toward women, most said no. But after they have been using it for a decade almost nonstop, Wilson says this is “like asking a fish what it thinks about water.”

The Internet is filled with countless testimonials of men desperate to break their ties to Internet erotica. They flock to websites like Your Brain on Porn and The Good Men Project in search of solidarity for the habit they say has caused sexual performance problems, radical changes in sexual tastes and escalation to more extreme material in order to achieve the same level of arousal and interest. “Widespread youthful ED,” Wilson says, is appearing like never before as a result of porn addiction-related changes in the brain. Clearly, men are feeling the effects. So why are women consistently identified as the only ones who need to be “saved” from pornography’s
influence?

Upon watching the two TED Talks and reading the stories of miserable boys and men, I felt sad. I felt sad for the girls and women who are inevitably put under intense pressure by the attitudes of these men. But I also felt sad that I had not previously recognized that the intense emotional toll that porn culture can have on girls is experienced by many men as well. Naturally, I wanted all the men I care about to know about this — so I started with my boyfriend.

His first words after watching the two videos were, “Well, I’m not watching porn anymore.” I laughed. “Oh, you think I’m joking.”

Since he was serious, I told him I’d do the same. Porn by no means has a huge role in my life — to be honest, any experience I have had viewing porn inevitably turned into a feminist reading of the material, the depressing turn of which is not at all conducive to feeling aroused. But the topics discussed by Zimbardo and Wilson concerned us enough to inspire our own social experiment.

An attempt at widespread elimination of Internet pornography from European — or any — culture would almost certainly fail, even in the unlikely event that such a ban was legalized. Therefore, the only “check” we have on porn’s effects must come from ourselves. It’s time we consider how the porn industry pervades the ways in which we define our sexuality and think about how distorted images distort our own
actions.