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Porn Puts Too Much Pressure On Young People To Look A Certain Way

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 26 Oct 2021 15:49
Porn Puts Too Much Pressure On Young People To Look A Certain WayPornhub/Instagram/Alamy

One night, out of nowhere, despite how their sex had usually been ‘quite vanilla’, Eve’s* partner slapped her in the face. 

Having never discussed it or done it before during sex, Eve was taken aback and ‘freaked out’, but her ex proceeded to slap her again.

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Despite trying to explain why he ‘couldn’t really do that’, a week later, he still ‘wasn’t sure why it was such a big deal’.

After Eve told him that it was ‘lowkey kind of assault’, having not given her consent, her ex soon realised the seriousness of his actions. However, what Eve wasn’t prepared for, was the reasons behind the slapping.

Porn can project damaging and unhealthy ideas of sex onto young people, often showing them an unrealistic image of what their body and certain sexual activities should look like.

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It can fuel feelings of shame for women, digging up the outdated stigma that they shouldn’t be consumers of it, but also put pressure on men and expectations around their libido.

Viewers of porn can risk the possibility of becoming badly addicted, and rather than aiding people’s understanding or awareness of sex, porn can misinform and instead promote unhealthy and even dangerous ideas of sex and relationships.

Eve’s ex later admitted to her that he was a porn addict.

28,258 users watch pornography on the internet every second, and 37 pornographic videos are created in the US every day, according to Web Root. Around 200,000 Americans are classified as ‘porn addicts’.

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‘I had no idea what was going on. He was 23 at the time and he’s been addicted to porn for nearly nine years. He just has a really unhealthy relationship with it and watches quite dark porn, which is kind of why the whole slapping thing came into it,’ Eve explained.

She added:

Obviously, for most porn (thinking wishfully really) there is consent that goes on behind the scenes, but you don’t see it within the videos.

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Dr Lucy Neville, a lecturer in Criminology at Leicester who works on understanding women’s engagement with sex, sex work, pornography and domestic and gender-based violence, noted how ‘in our society particularly, people are often told that consent isn’t very sexy’.

Instead, porn often perpetuates the idea of sex being ‘completely natural and organic’, like the ‘Hollywood film fantasies’, and that those involved should just ‘know what they both want’, Neville said.

Having gone along with her ex’s fantasies, Eve was left feeling like she had ‘inadvertently enabled it more, by allowing [herself] to be the porn star role in his dreams’. Despite knowing it was an addiction, she was left feeling really ‘sh*t’ about herself.

In a survey by Web Root, 50% of female respondents said they thought porn dehumanises women. So is porn guilty of encouraging objectifying, sexist and even dangerous, non-consensual behaviour?

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Consent is often ‘not shown in porn, and so his genuine knowledge was just based off what he saw in porn and what he thought was normal’, Eve said.

Elin, aged 22, had a similar experience with a guy who was into ‘very kinky sex’. ‘We’re actually very good friends but to him, me at first saying I wasn’t feeling it was a bit of a power play. He saw it as me provoking him and making him want me more, while actually I just wasn’t feeling it,’ she said.

‘If people like to be dominant, porn doesn’t teach you about consent, so it can be easy to confuse sexual kinks for a line you can’t cross and not being comfortable with something,’ she explained.

While her friend eventually understood and respected her wishes, it made Elin think about how much worse the situation could have been.

This is something we’ve seen on TV too; in Netflix’s Sex Education, the character of Aimee is misled by porn, giving her a contorted and unrealistic expectation of what her body should look like and how she should act during sex with her boyfriend. In the wake of Anti-Porn Awareness Week, UNILAD spoke to various young people about the pressures they have felt projected onto them by such videos, as well as speaking to two professionals about whether porn should be banned.

55% of men aged between 18-25 use porn as their main source of sex education, according to a BBC Three survey of 1,000 people in Great Britain. But how reliable is porn as a source for sex education and why do some young people turn to it as such a resource?

A lack of variety in the physical appearance of adult entertainment stars can create problematic relationships with ones’ own body image. UNILAD spoke to Darrius, aged 22, who said that when he first watched porn, he felt the pressure around ‘what you should look like’ or how to ‘perform’. He explained that seeing the ‘muscly men’, with ‘abs’ and ‘strong arms’ could be ‘tough’.

Elin noted how porn often advocates the idea of women with ‘big t*ts, small waists and large a**es, which is not what the majority of the population actually look like’.

She agreed there ‘definitely needs to be more variety’ and that details as small as body hair can also lead to judgement and unhealthy expectations.

Dr Neville noted the pressures porn can subsequently place on both men and women. How, often being centred around the male gaze, it can leave women feeling objectified, but also portray men as nothing more ‘than basically just a disembodied c*ck’.

Elin also said porn left her with confused and ‘high’ expectations of sex before she had even lost her virginity, while questioning her sexuality after seeing videos solely through a male gaze.

She said:

I saw women in the porn industry screaming and having the time of their life. It is definitely built up to be something so amazing, which it can be, but when you’re losing your virginity it definitely won’t be the best thing in the world.

For me, it was actually quite painful.

Lucy Whitehouse helped launch Fumble, a charity that seeks to provide safe, accurate and insightful information to young people about sex and porn in a digital age. She said she would ‘caution young people against using porn to learn about sex, sexuality and intimacy’, questioning how young people would ever be able to ‘explore your own ideas of sexual pleasure and your sexual self, when you have all of these unrealistic depictions’.

Whitehouse even noted her own ‘gladness’ at not having viewed porn as a teenager, and that it ‘didn’t inform [her] at such a key developmental part of her life’.

According to Web Root, internet pornography usage not only ‘increases the odds of teenage pregnancy’, but ‘hinders sexual development’, ‘raises the risk of depression’ and ‘creates distorted expectations which hinder healthy sexual development’.

Elin also believes a lot of porn teaches ‘people that the emotional connection in sex isn’t that big of a deal’. According to a study by the BBC Three, ‘55% of young Brits don’t think sex in porn is depicted as loving and consensual’.

Moreover, a lack of insight in free porn as to the consent that goes on behind the scenes can exacerbate the issue; subsequently leading some viewers to not deem consent as an important or necessary part of sexual activities.

Dr Neville’s main advice to young people facing pressures through porn was to not ‘settle for things which make you feel uncomfortable or you’re not enjoying’.

She suggested BDSM sites, which other sites could ‘learn a lot from’ in terms of ‘modelling consent and discussing what takes place in videos’.

At this moment in time, according to Whitehouse, the porn industry ‘isn’t in a place now where [she] feels comfortable’. While she isn’t a ‘prude’ and thinks porn can be a good ‘tool for your own and mutual pleasure’, the ‘extreme and violent’ nature of it, at present, worries her.

Whitehouse and Dr Neville both urged young people, despite financial barriers, to pay for their porn if they watch it.

While she understands free porn is more accessible to young people, Dr Neville said paying for porn is healthier as actors are ‘generally treated much better’ and some ‘have bios or interviews with the actors talking about their work’.

‘It humanizes the people involved,’ she said.

They also urged viewers to remember that porn is fantasy and not real life, attributing young people’s misunderstanding of porn to a lack of good sex education.

Sex education subsequently needs to improve so young people don’t go to porn for their ‘users manual or how-to-guide’, Dr Neville said. ‘Go for it knowing that it is a tool for entertainment not education,’ Whitehouse advised.

Despite the pressures porn places on young people and the subsequent effects on their mental wellbeing, it is not to say that it should be cancelled.

Dr Neville said the discussion around the porn industry tends to be ‘quite polarised’, with many being either ‘pro-porn or anti-porn completely’. However, it needn’t be one or the other.

While Whitehouse views a society open to discussing porn and sex honestly and healthily as somewhat of a ‘utopian world right now’, she and Dr Neville hope, in time, that could change.

Rather than porn being ‘shut down’ or faced with ‘heavy-handed age verification’, Whitehouse believes it needs to be engaged with more, and not seen as a ‘taboo subject’.

It is only then that a healthier relationship can be formed with it, rather than taking it away completely and enforcing views of ‘shame, silence and stigma’, which Whitehouse views as not having ‘really changed’ in more than 10 years.

‘I’m excited for the future when our generation becomes parent, policy maker and teacher, and the roles with power. I hope we can make a healthier version of society,’ Whitehouse said.

Despite it being anti-porn awareness week and the negative pressures, stereotypes and images porn can place on young people being very real issues – porn should be allowed to exist.

Dr Neville said:

If we banned porn, or got rid of porn, or were somehow able to stop young people from viewing it until the age of 16 or 18, that wouldn’t suddenly fix sex. Do you know what I mean?

It’s not like everybody would suddenly be having wonderful, happy, healthy, totally consensual, same sexual relationships.

In order to safeguard young people and make sure porn is being used in a healthy way, with viewers aware of the positives but also pitfalls, it relies on those in government, the education sector and parents to be more open-minded, less old-fashioned and take a leaf out of Sex Education‘s book.

‘My therapist has said that I have a very strange relationship to sex, and part of that is because of my relationship to porn. As much as I wanted to help my ex, there wasn’t much I could do. He must have been so vulnerable to tell me, but it’s also made me so scared of porn,’ Eve said.

For all the sex education you need, and that you may not be receiving elsewhere, you can find more information via Fumble’s website, Twitter or Instagram.

*Some names have been changed for the purposes of this article

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas

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Credits

Web Root and 1 other
  1. Web Root

    Internet Pornography by the Numbers; A Significant Threat to Society

  2. BBC

    How do your porn habits compare with young people across Britain?