Thursday 17 August 2017

Porn liars and the rise of body fascism

X-rated industry is booming, which, for some leads to unhappy sexual experiences

Not clueless: But young people today are not living in a pornographic dreamland
Not clueless: But young people today are not living in a pornographic dreamland

Ciara O'Connor

Last week Enda Kenny called for a 'national conversation' about porn. Could it be, the nation wondered, that he had just discovered it? Had the existence of the internet passed him by until now? Our minds went to pretty dark places wondering what had prompted this sudden conviction.

Kenny wasn't wrong: porn is pretty much ubiquitous. According to stats from Pornhub, one of the largest porn sites, last year Ireland came in fourth worldwide for per-capita page views.

My generation was the first to grow up with easily accessible online porn. Enda's not wrong: for some, it's been a disaster.

Most women in their 20s will have had the unpleasant experience of finding themselves in bed with a man who has quite clearly watched too much porn for too long. It's uncomfortable, it's embarrassing, it's definitely not sexy.

And undoubtedly it can become a real problem; there are men who really struggle to deal with real-life women, having consumed hundreds of hours of porn by the time they hit their 20s.

However, the worldwide average length for a visit to Pornhub is nine minutes and 16 seconds: this is not indicative of an epidemic of 'porn addiction' that we read about in breathless op-eds. That's just long enough to find what you like, do your thing and get on with your day.

Laura (25) thinks the debate about porn needs to be more open about its allure. "I hate it, but it really turns me on," she told me, "and that makes me hate it more. Our bodies betray our ideology all the time: I wish I could be vegetarian but McDonald's makes me so happy. Having said that, I'm in no way opposed to porn as an idea; it's the porn that exists that I find problematic."

Despite what our naughty-magazine reading parents might think, my generation of millennials is not one of clueless chronic masturbators living in a pornographic dreamland. Most of us are uncomfortably aware of the realities of the porn industry and would be much happier with pragmatic and compassionate measures to make sure everyone involved is safe and happily consenting.

Other concerns are less tangible, but no less real for a generation who will have grown up with their own tablets from a very young age.

Porn played a significant role in creating an epidemic of body fascism and unreasonable expectations - women as hairless as the day they were born is an obvious example.

But if you look in the right places you will find porn that features, celebrates and worships bodies of all different shapes, sizes, colours… and shaving preferences.

A friend of mine tells me that porn helped her to love her flat chest after teenage years spent wearing two bras at a time.

However, this remains more of a glimpse of what porn could be rather than what it actually is - I've heard both men and women express frustration that their partners can't believe they're not into traditional 'porn star' attributes. Lots of girls I know genuinely prefer a 'dad bod' to rock hard abs, yet can't fathom that a man might actually find their own little tummy rolls sexy.

While, anecdotally at least, it seems porn has crept into our relationships with others and ourselves, many find it mystifying that it is assumed they can't separate it from reality.

David (26) said: "I used to think that porn gave unrealistic expectations of sex, but then most of it is so obscenely fake that it can't, really. It's like playing Tomb Raider and raising your hopes for your upcoming holiday to Peru." If watching Game of Thrones doesn't make you into an incestuous, murderous sociopath, the argument goes, why would porn make you a misogynistic pervert?

Young women, however, tend to have a more complex relationship with porn. Many say it's difficult to find suitable material as most of it tends to cater to the most carnal, egocentric elements of the stereotypical man. Some of them just give up. "I've personally never seen any porn that appeals to me, I'm sure it's out there but I have never been motivated to seek it out. I think of it like Top Gear - I don't like it because I'm not the intended audience," says Aimee (26).

Many of my lady friends are bored of sifting through swathes of women poorly faking enjoyment. It's not surprising, therefore, that in Ireland (and worldwide) 'lesbian' is the most searched porn term by women, regardless of their own sexuality. At least it's necessarily about women's pleasure.

Indeed, many a gin-fuelled ladies' night has ended up bemoaning what my friends have christened 'The Magic Willy': the notion, due entirely to porn, that simply sticking it in is enough to send your lady into instant paroxysms of orgasmic delight.

Because so much porn is created by and for men to play out their fantasies, women's pleasure is almost entirely sidelined.

While oral sex on men seems to be non-negotiable in porn, oral sex on women would appear to be a niche fetish. This is a particular bugbear for many women I know whose partners have grown up on a diet of virtual sex. It's a product of the porn notion that sex is for men and women exist to please them.

This is something that has seeped into our personal relationships. Naz (27) says: "Girls I've been with feel they have to be OK with stuff they might not be OK with otherwise, because they've seen it online."

My generation regrets that we didn't get the sex education we so desperately needed. We fear for the generation coming up whose sex-ed will not prepare them for how to deal with the 'avalanche' of sexual information online that Enda Kenny describes. It's an avalanche that is far more available than it was to us growing up.

Sex-ed is about much more than sperm and eggs and even condoms and chlamydia: to act as a balance to porn, it needs to have an emphasis on relationships, consent, pleasure, body image and your rights and responsibilities as a sexual partner.

Porn isn't going away, but it doesn't have to emotionally handicap the younger generations. If the Taoiseach is really worried for Ireland's children, he will make sure they've got the information and confidence to make safe decisions.

People my age endured a bewildering 10 years trying to negotiate our sexuality in a world where porn was our only practical sex-ed: it left us with huge gaps in our knowledge and having really bad sex.

Let's not put another generation through it.

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