Thursday 23 November 2017

The kids who haven't kissed -- but are experts on porn

Ed Power

Ed Power

Has the online explosion warped expectations of a generation, asks Ed Power

Quaint distinctions between 'softcore' and 'hardcore' no longer exist

Is pornography ruining sex? Increasingly, psychologists and relationship experts are in agreement that porn is not only nasty, it's also bad for you. The ubiquity of online porn has, it is argued, warped the sexual norms of a generation. In particular, young men are being raised by the internet to think of women as pneumatic sex 'bots who prefer a spanking to a cuddle and for whom the only good sex is the rough, humiliating kind.

As a society we are drowning in porn. A new porn movie is estimated to be posted online every 39 minutes. Three thousand dollars is spent on porn every second. As you read this, 30,000 people are watching pornography. By the end of the day, 68 million porn search requests will have been made online, according to Gail Dines in her book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Sleeping and eating aside, it is hard to imagine another activity which occupies so much of humanity's time.

Porn, moreover, isn't what it used to be. Twenty-five years ago it meant Penthouse magazine or a grubbily shot film with wooden dialogue. Today it will probably involve a full genealogical examination of the participants, overtones of violence and a over-arching nastiness anti-porn campaigners have labelled 'gonzo'. Quaint distinctions between 'softcore' and 'hardcore' no longer exist.

"Although I have been studying the porn industry for over two decades nothing prepared me for how quickly hardcore, cruel porn would come to dominate the internet," says anti-porn activist Dines.

She is talking about the mainstreaming of a sadistic, explicitly misogynist kind of porn, the aforementioned 'gonzo' strain. This, she argues, is warping male expectations of sex. "Men. . . expect porn sex: antonymous, disconnected and devoid of intimacy. And if they don't get it, then they move on. Even if the women deliver, the men still move on because in a porn culture, one woman is much the same as the next."

"One thing that is worrying is that there are hundreds of thousands of young people who have never even kissed someone but have watched hundreds of hours of porn," says Anne Sexton, sex columnist with Hot Press.

"They don't have a realistic experience with which to compare it."

This isn't solely an issue for adolescents. For adults too a porn habit can be harmful. A phenomenon called sexual attention deficit disorder (SADD) has been identified by experts.

"Just as people with attention deficit disorder tend to be easily distracted, guys with SADD have become so accustomed to the high levels of novelty and stimulation that internet porn gives that they're unable to focus on real sex with a real women," sex therapist Ian Kerner wrote in Time Magazine.

"There is a definite increase in sexual addiction through internet porn," says relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Donal Gaynor.

"It is a behaviour that can be done secretly . . . If men get to the stage where they are getting most of their sexual pleasure from looking at porn, my theory is that it drains their reservoir of sexual energy and there is nothing left. . . Their spouse or partner doesn't know what the hell is going on," he says.

There is also evidence that porn operates on a feedback loop. The more you use it, the more you associate it with physical pleasure. "If you open your focus to an endless stream of ever more transgressive images of cyber-sex slaves," feminist Naomi Wolf has said, "that is what will turn you on."

In the past five years the volumes of porn flooding the internet have been increasing exponentially, with an upswell of 'user generated' videos and of 'tube' sites, self-styled porn versions of YouTube.

"The internet changed everything and particularly in terms of adult content," Joanne Cachapero, of the porn advocacy group the Free Speech Coalition said in 2010, just as the impact of 'tube' sites was starting to impact the porn industry.

'Since more people have access to sexually explicit material online, consumers have become very discerning about what they like to watch.

"They may prefer a certain genre or a particular performer, or the style of a certain director."

Some argue that early exposure to porn does more than warp sexual mores. It actually rewires the brain.

"Nowadays the average age for first viewing porn is just 11," writes Dines. "This means that, unlike before, porn is actually being encoded into a boy's sexual identity so that an authentic sexuality . . . is replaced by a generic porn sexuality . . . lacking any sense of love, respect or connection to a human being."

The danger, says Dines, is that, with repeated exposure, users grow desensitised and require ever more extreme images to get their kicks.

Still not everyone agrees an entire generation is being corrupted. It should be remembered those who argue for and against porn tend to have an agenda, says Anne Sexton.

"There are all sorts of studies about porn and its impact. They seem to contradict one another. When people are researching porn they are doing so with a pro or anti agenda. It is hard to know if porn has any effect -- other than its intended one," she says.

Irish Independent

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