I’m a porn addict. I can admit it. Gay porn. Straight porn. Milf, Dilf, celebrity, BDSM. I’m really not picky when it comes to my porn. And when I see something especially unusual, I run to the nearest person, usually my husband, and share the latest video clip—if for nothing else so we can unanimously say: “What the fuck, man?”
The point I’m trying to make is: I like porn.
Now, a new study released last week from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin suggests all those hours of porn have eaten away at the gray matter in my brain. And not just mine! Studies show that 87% of men and 31% of women watch pornography on the regular, and with online porn being so, well, FREE, those numbers are expected to rise. So does that mean we’re all on the fast track to becoming mindless, masturbating zombies? Well, before we wall ourselves up waiting for the Fap-ocalypse, let’s examine this report a little closer.
According to the article published online with JAMA Psychiatry, the objective of the research was to see if the consumption of porn was in anyway correlated with the frontostriatal network. In other words, they wanted to see if porn had any effect on the reward centers in our brains. (Spoiler Alert: It does!) Using a small sample of 64 healthy adult males with various experience with pornography consumption, researchers discovered that a change in gray matter vs. hours of porn consumption could “reflect a change in neural plasticity as a consequence of an intense stimulation to the reward system." However, as study author Dr. Simone Kuhn explains, “It’s not clear, for example, whether watching porn leads to brain changes or whether people born with certain brain types watch more porn."
So there we have it.
Nobody has a fucking clue.
A few things about this study: 1.) This is a small sample, and small samples never really give us the full picture; and 2.) zero women were incorporated into the study. Still, something tells me that’s not going to stop anti-porn protesters from quoting this research as scientific FACT, instead of the interesting hypothesis that it is. So today, I am going to discuss pornography—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and maybe we can put to rest some of the taboo and myth surrounding it so we can finally have some guilt-free alone time with ourselves without fear of going blind or, in this case, stupid.
Porn: A History of Smut
History is riddled with images and writings whose only purpose is to turn us on. When archaeologists discovered Pompeii, for example, they were dismayed to find a city famous for their brothels and phallic statues adorning each street corner. It seemed the people of Pompeii liked to fuck, and they didn’t give a shit who knew. Yet archaeologists hid their findings for years, often publishing pictures in which the cocks looked more like tapered candles than a dick. Similarly, the work of artists like Michelangelo and daVinci caused controversy even in their day, with priests painting loin cloths over naked Jesus to hide his holy cock. And in the middle of the 18th Century, when author John Cleland published Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, people were both outraged and turned on because it dealt with that most taboo of subject material—female sexuality.
Bottom line, if someone seems to be enjoying their own sexuality, someone else is going to come along and try to hide it because it makes them feel uncomfortable about their own.
Here in America, our ideals about sexuality stem from our Puritanical roots, where ideals like “obscenity” and “decency” played a role in shaping this country’s moral and sexual attitudes. Anything outside of a married couple engaged in missionary-style coitus for the purpose of procreation was criminal, an offense often punishable by death. So if you were discovered with some salacious portrait, you were going to hang or worse. (The Puritans had some fucked up ways with dealing with criminals.) And if Hester Prynne taught us anything it was that nothing motivates a person so much as death and sex.
Today, we’re not put to death for fapping it to porn—thank God! In fact, since the advent of the Internet, pornography is more readily available than it’s ever been. So much so that researchers can’t help but wonder what all that porn is doing to us—you know, besides the obvious. But this isn't really a new question. In his infamous Kinsey Reports, Alfred Kinsey discovered that 54% of men and 12% of women admitted being sexually aroused when shown pictures or drawings of nude individuals. Of course, in the ’40s and ’50s, female sexuality was so misunderstood that women were still scared to look at themselves “down there” let alone touch it, so Kinsey blew everyone’s mind when he reported that women do, indeed, masturbate.
Then, in 1967 with porn magazines like Playboy beneath the mattresses of curious young lads everywhere, President Lyndon Johnson commissioned a study to see the impact porn had on the country. The results of the 1970 Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that “no reliable evidence was found to support the idea that exposure to explicit sexual materials is related to the development of delinquent or criminal sexual behavior among youths or adults, so adults should be able to decide for themselves what they will or will not read or see."
In other words: mind your own business, America.
But America doesn't want to mind its own business. We are a voyeuristic country, and worse, we are judgmental voyeurs. Since then, President Reagan released his own commission whose findings suggested that we are absolutely demoralized, violent bastards if we watch porn and that those of us who don’t should protest those who do…and the debate rages on. Why? Because, we are missing the point. Most every study conducted about the use of pornography is inconclusive at best, and this may be because, as Dr. Erick Janssen suggests, “more research has been done on the possible negative consequences of porn than on what determines its use in the first place."
Since the science doesn't really determine dick, the argument then switches to anti-porn vs. anti-censorship, violence, and the people who star in pornography.
Anti-Porn vs. Anti-Censorship
Or as I like to call them The Jealous vs. The Loud.
And both side of this debate bring valid arguments to the table. Pro-porn enthusiasts suggest that limiting or censoring pornography and its distribution is akin to relinquishing our First Amendment rights, while the anti-porn movement argues that defending porn on the basis of the First Amendment is to ignore the detrimental nature the porn industry has had on women (Carroll, 505-06).
Okay, you’ve got me there, anti-porn people. Yes all women have been shit on by society for far too long. But is it porn’s fault that women were once traded like chattel? Or that women were only encouraged to go to University to find a husband? Women are still overworked and underpaid compared to their male counterparts, defined solely by their genitals instead of their character, and sexually misunderstood. Is that porn’s fault? Or is it, in the words of journalist Caroline Kent:
“the rom-com cultural fantasy with which little girls are indoctrinated (Prince Perfect comes along, she lives Happily Ever After) [which] is just as damaging for women as porn is for men, if not more so, rendering some of them incapable of connecting with anyone who does not live up their impossible ideals. Imposing fantasy onto any real-life situation is invariably a recipe for disaster.”
We could get rid of all the porn in the world and it still won’t erase the centuries of oppression and misunderstanding women have faced in our society—or make it stop. If anything, pornography has, at least in some ways, offered women a sexual outlet, a way to redefine and take control of their sexuality.
Remember when Hillary Clinton was on a rampage against video games. They made our children act out, promoted misogyny and gun violence. When Grand Theft Auto V was released last year, I thought people were going to shit themselves. Gun violence in a video game?? I've never! Well, maybe in the other Grand Theft Auto games. But this one showed tits and ass! You could go to a strip club, pay for a lap dance, and then kill the stripper when she was done doing her thing. Of course, people who argue that video games promote this kind of behavior dismiss the lack of empirical data to support those claims. In fact, a study out of Oxford University actually suggests that it’s not the violence that promotes aggressive behavior, but a psychological competitive need to win.
Similarly, pornography is not the causal effect of sexual violence. According to Robert Jansen of the University of Texas, most research into violent pornography suggest some limited effects on male viewers, but are in no way conclusive. However, other experts argue that “if a person has relatively aggressive sexual inclinations resulting from various personal and/or cultural factors, some pornography exposure may activate and reinforce associated coercive tendencies and behaviors." Put simply, if you’re already a violent person, watching violent porn doesn't help your anger issues. But if you’re a healthy, mentally sound individual, porn can actually provide a safe fantasy world, and even spice up your real world love life.
But what about the porn stars? How are they affected?
Funny you should ask…
Prostitution is one of the oldest professions. Much like modern society, ancient civilizations knew that sex sells. Even in the early Christian church, prostitutes were considered common place with the pious. Fucking for God was the theme, and, while God seems to no longer has a place in our fuckery, sex workers still persist in the forms of escorts, liaisons, prostitutes, and, yes, porn stars. After all, sex is a demand that isn’t going away any time soon, and the porn industry is raking in the cash. Worldwide, more than $3000 is spent every second on porn, with 30% of the data transmitted through theInternet being porn or porn related .
Today, anyone could be a “porn star” if they wanted. Websites like YouPorn and XTube make it possible to upload your own internet videos and even make some cash in the process. Indeed, the porn industry has come a long way since the ’70s and ’80s when drugs and rape and pimps were the norm. With the internet, we have more control over the making and distribution of our own porn. Still, there are those who argue the porn industry continues to reinforce those societal ideals of male dominance, that actors are underrepresented and mistreated, and those who say otherwise do so only to increase their profits.
It is hyperbolic, if not detrimental, to cluster the whole of the porn industry beneath this broad umbrella. While porno movies like Deep Throat did get their start through seedy means like the mafia—as I’m sure others have as well—the porn industry has evolved over the years. And porn stars like Bella Knox, a self-proclaimed feminist, describes her experience in the industry as “freeing” and “empowering.” It’s understandable, really, when female sexuality has for so long been placed on the back burner, that women are beginning to embrace their sexuality in whatever form it takes. Even so, that sexuality is often scrutinized as perpetuating the problem. Knox, for example, came under fire when a video of hers surfaced online showing a male porn star choking and degrading her. When asked how a feminist could allow such a thing to happen to her, Knox explained:
“I have been called a hypocrite and mocked for daring to talk about empowerment if I have also not kept adequately hidden away my enjoyment of rough and dirty, nasty and filthy, saliva-dripping and name-calling-filled sex."
If 50 Shades of Grey taught us anything, it was that some women like to be spanked. But that’s not good enough for those people who may consider this type of sexuality out of the norm. Of course, this is also the result of a society which is still unable to own its own sexuality, yet tries to control everyone else’s. Sex is a big red button in our culture we tell people not to push while filling their minds with fantasies and ideals about what “normal” sex is supposed to look like. But as sexpert and feminist Madison Young explains in an interview with Salon, there is a liberating freedom to tearing ourselves away from the societal expectations of our genitals.
“Rough sex is not passive. It’s not accidental…it’s active, it’s engaged, it’s highly connected, it’s the worshipping of your partner’s body and all their fluids. It’s hot, raw, animal-like sex. It’s primal. To tear away all of those cerebral societal shrouds of shame that veil our sex negative culture and simply listen to our bodies and be fully present in the moment with our partner/s–well, that is quite an exhilarating and empowering experience.”
Much Ado Over Nothing
Something about us as humans causes us to fixate on the negative aspects of anything and everything, especially sex. We can look back through history, find ways in which sexuality has been a detriment to our society, use those statistics to argue stricter laws and regulations to control sex. We can seek out those individuals who may have legitimately been wronged by the porn industry to legitimize our own discomfort. We can ban porn all together, and watch sex crime drastically increase just so some people can get their O. (Remember prohibition?)
But porn isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it is likely to become more prominent as our sexual attitudes evolve and demand for smut increases. Researchers are right to be concerned about what all this porn is doing to us, but maybe they should shift their focus from divisive statistics to what it is about porn that makes us tick. Like all aspects of sexuality, there are negative sides to pornography, but if we fixate on the negative we’ll forget about the good. Yes, sex floods the reward centers of the brain with neurotransmitters that can trick us into a sexual craving not unlike the cravings of a meth addict—and if you have a sexual addiction, I encourage you to seek help. But just as everyone who drinks isn’t an alcoholic, not everyone who jerks it to porn is a depraved sex addict. In fact, they probably just want a little quickie, a little fantasy they may not be able to find without the convenience of porn.
And to those people I say—Cheers!