Recent reports warn that porn is seriously damaging our mental health and rewiring our brains
From the beginning of internet pornography back in 1994, the adult entertainment industry has been a powerhouse of production to cater to the wants and desires of their target audience: straight men.
Since then, porn has not only become more accessible, but increasingly normalised. Recent reports, however, warn that porn is seriously damaging our mental health and rewiring our brains. The effect that this is having on our culture and society is increasing at a worrying rate, with people aged between 12 and 25 developing serious body and intimacy issues due to the representation of “perfect” sex we see online. “It filters through every aspect of our world,” said Hannah, student.
Of all the women questioned, it is clear that they find mainstream porn problematic because of the way in which it affects societal views toward sex. “It fuels violence, sexism and abusive behaviour by normalising this in certain videos… If these attitudes are shown online, people unfortunately tend to believe it, or see no wrong in it,” says Hannah, Glasgow. The fear this causes for women of all ages can be the blurred lines of consent.
“Porn has become more violent and extreme in a relatively short space of time,” Morgan, Glasgow. Due to years of exposure in forced role-play, surprise sex, convincing harassment etc, the porn industry has been linked to the increasing number of reported sexual crimes where consent was refused and/or ignored. Inglis continues: “It’s of course fine for people to have kinks etc but restrictions and statements need to be made at the start of videos. Education about consent is vital.”
The other huge issue women are experiencing in our society are the expectations of men due to how they are represented in pop culture and media. “If women are always shown in a submissive light it can be damaging to how women are treated in society. Though it is important to note that this can work in the same way for men,” Courtney and Leah, students. Sex is used to entertain and to sell products, whilst at the same time dangerously portraying most women as submissive and undermined by male dominance. However, the dominant/submissive dynamic that is portrayed in porn is not realistic in our society. Unfortunately, future generations are growing up with warped expectations.
“Porn, and the sex trade, ultimately validate the sexual objectification of women and the entitlement that men have toward women’s bodies… Women feel pressured to replicate these sex acts in their personal sex lives to keep male partners happy or to have their sexual attractiveness validated,” continued Morgan. Women are surrounded by images and videos of “the perfect girl” from a young age, usually slim/toned girls with long legs and tanned skin. Meanwhile, mental health problems surrounding body image are on the increase. However, with social media at the forefront of our culture, platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have hosted campaigns in support of diverse, or “average” women to be represented in porn. As Hannah explains: “women have been used as passive objects for centuries, whether on dirty, tiny photo booths, in magazines, or online. On the other hand, with a digital age coming through so strongly, a woman’s voice is the loudest it’s ever been, and we are seeing far more women stand up for what we believe in.”
In reaction to this, feminist porn has seen a massive rise in popularity over the past five years. Femme Porn is created to show gender equality in the adult film making industry, and to freely allow women to explore sexuality in a non-male dominated setting. It boasts “realistic” sex with real couples whilst representing all body types, ethnicities, sexualities and fetishes.
Porn “made by women, for women” has been described as both “revolutionary” and “educational”. Courtney and Leah believe that Femme Porn is also changing women’s own attitudes: “I think it would have an effect on how confident women felt to engage in sexual acts in reality, and to make women more sexually confident on the whole as there is less pressure on women to fulfil unrealistic expectations both for men and for themselves.”
Discussions have also ensued about using this type of pornography as an educational tool in sexual education in colleges and universities. The view that feminist porn might actually be a beneficial thing for women is gaining momentum. According to Inglis: “Feminist porn will change society’s whole view of women… The ambiguity of consent and other issues will improve the lives of women across the world by showing what should happen and what to get rid of.”
Femme Porn is not free from criticism, however. Some believe that feminist porn still caters to male viewers, and regardless of intentions, perpetuates the commercialisation of sex. Morgan comments: “With regards to so-called feminist porn, the concept of commodifying sex is fundamentally capitalist and unethical regardless of how diverse the cast is or how well the actors are treated.”
Feminist porn is attempting to provide real sex education whilst at the same time offering entertainment. Straddling that line is a difficult task – there’s always the risk that realism is sacrificed to cater to the desires of straight men. But for the meantime, the face of porn is changing, and so too will its impact.