Porn has hijacked sexuality and is destroying men

Gail Dines

October 14, 2010

A generation raised on hard core has trouble with the real thing.

In a recent radio interview the host suggested that since I didn't like porn, the solution was to not look at it. If only it was that easy to avoid. Many women I know don't look at porn, but this doesn't mean that they are not affected by it every day.

The men they date, have sex with and marry are increasingly being brought up on a steady diet of porn, and the more they watch, the less capable they are of forming connected, intimate relationships.

The porn these men consume looks nothing like your father's Playboy. In place of soft core, soft focus images of naked women smiling coyly at the camera, consumers are catapulted into a world of cruel and brutal sex acts designed to dehumanise women.

In the vast majority of porn today, sex is not about making love, as the feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act - connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection - are missing, and in their place are those we normally associate with hate - fear, disgust, anger, loathing, and contempt.

As she is being roughly penetrated by any number of men, she is being called vile names such as whore, slut, and worse.

We often hear that porn is all about fun and fantasy, so it has no real effect. My interviews with university-age men tell a very different story. When I talk to men about their experiences with porn, it is clear that not all are affected in the same way, but affected they are. Remember, this is the generation that grew up with internet porn, and some studies put the first age of viewing porn at 11 years. Unlike previous generations, these boys and men have unlimited access to hard-core images 24 hours a day.

Many of the men I talk to believe that porn sex is what women want, and they become upset and angry when their sex partner, perhaps their wife, girlfriend, or a one night hook-up, refuses to look or behave like their favourite porn star. The women often refuse to perform the sex acts the men have routinely enjoyed watching, and next to the screaming orgasms and sexual gymnastics of porn sex, real sex with real women starts to feel boring and bland.

These men have become so accustomed to porn sex that some are disappointed by their own sexual performance. When they compare themselves with the male porn actors, who can sustain Viagra-fortified erections for long periods, the guys I talk to often admit to feeling like sexual losers, and worry something is wrong with them.

What troubles many of these men most is that they need to pull up the porn images in their head in order to have an orgasm with their partner. They replay porn scenes in their minds, or think about having sex with their favourite porn star when they are with their partners.

What is new over the past five years or so is university-aged men admitting their addiction to pornography. I had been somewhat sceptical of the addiction model, thinking that it was a way for men to avoid taking responsibility for their porn use.

However, I am not the only one to hear about addiction. Sex and relationship therapists Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz discuss in their book The Porn Trap how therapists are seeing a rising wave of porn addicts looking for help. They found both in their practice and from interviewing other therapists that ''what used to be a small problem for relatively few people had grown to a societal issue that was spilling over and causing problems in the lives of countless everyday people''.

The men at university I speak to who are addicted do indeed end up in serious trouble. They neglect their studies, spend huge amounts of money they don't have, become isolated from others and often suffer depression. They know that something is wrong, feel out of control and don't know how to stop. While men may share their favourite porn stories, they don't tend to talk to each other about their addictive behaviour, which further adds to their isolation.

If we are really going to tackle porn, however, we have to move beyond individual responses. We are going to need to build a long-term, multi-pronged movement that involves building coalitions, grassroots education programs, and media strategies that eventually lead to cultural change.

But a movement against porn can't only be about what's wrong with the world, it also needs to offer an enticing, positive vision of sexuality based on equality and respect. And this sexual equality is closely linked to economic equality, because the whole sex industry rests on women with few choices.

As long as we have porn, women will never be seen as full human beings deserving of all the rights that men have. This is why we need to build a vibrant movement that fights for a world in which women have power in and over their lives because there is no room for porn in a just society.

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.