Libertinism, Liberty, License

David Cameron’s attempts to give more control to parents and families with regards to pervasive raunch culture in society has been met with some shrill voices of late. And as a woman I’m entering dangerous territory when I comment on the effects of pornography. Finger wagging feminist, prudish conservative, robber of human rights, it’s easy to be bound into either of those political categories and dismissed outright from the get go. Feminine concern for the often very nasty portrayal of women in one of life’s most intimate and fulfilling of human relationships is too often recast as a feminist issue. I’m minded of the funny but observant scene in Spaced when Brian is chided by his girlfriend that she wants to be viewed as a whole, with a W. On a fundamental level it really isn’t pleasant to discover all too easily thanks to the proliferation of porn on the internet, that sexually women are seen as nothing much more than a couple of holes - an object to abuse, sometimes violently, usually degradingly and with name tags that come as standard. Even routine porn videos are widely labelled with a combination of “slut”, “abused”, “whore”, “underage”, “gagging”, “bitch”, “gang banged”, “fucked”. Often the videos involve clear and obvious abuse of the woman involved. Who wouldn’t find that grim.

“Most girls who enter the porn industry do one video and quit. The experience is so painful, horrifying, embarrassing, humiliating for them that they never do it again.” 
Luke Ford, quoted by CBS News 

Women’s sexuality isn’t valued in porn. It is demeaned and seen as something to control. Probably understandably. Men are at the mercy of women to provide them with their sexual thrills and generally passively needy. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the rutting all powerful stag appeal. And most assuredly the reason feminists these days are much more likely to be fully supportive of porn and encourage it as “empowering”, something which has worked quite well over the last decade. To some women this may seem the case but to others like me, it’s centrality in our lives is overbearing. The nastiness with which women are associated with sex is frankly rather intimidating. It’s not enough to be naked and alluring. You’re at least expected to be perfect, shaved and buff as a twelve year old prepubescent girl and sometimes need to be wiling to perform everything like a porn star. Speaking to twenty-something friends who have grown up with this phenomenon the anecdotal observations revolve around the above, most of them quite worrying, some utterly destructive and ruinous to relationships. None of them conveyed with the satisfaction of a young woman in control and feeling powerful.

Studies are now showing that almost one third of young men get their sex education from pornography. And that porn is filtering down into the mainstream is most obvious when you switch on MTV, wonder at pole dancing classes as exercise and see t shirts for tweens emblazoned with the word “hot chick”. Hot implies ready, waiting and lascivious. That’s the “fun” side of porn. Jenny McCartney observed that even the industry itself has noted the changing landscape into a dark and sinister place from 30 years ago when basic on screen sex was considered erotic and risky. Naomi Wolf notes that “Today it is perfect porn that is “real” sex to young people - and real naked women are just bad porn”.

This more sinister side to the industry being so easily available means that it is quite reasonable to ask whether the desensitising nature of free and abusive sexual entertainment hasn’t been influential in schoolyard gang rape and the subsequent circulation of a video of the rape around a school. Or in this case where police struggled to keep evidential video of a hideous rape from being disseminated on Facebook and failed, it was viewed by young children who came home traumatised. And even here in the UK where it occurred to the gang rapists of handicapped girl, whom they referred to as a “ho” and “whore”, to film their subject’s torment. Filming this is pornography after all. Made easier by mobile phones. Just how much had these young men (and women) been influenced by what they learned about women as abusable whores on-line which they then extended into their seedy violent machismo world. When did seedy violence become ok to view in a schoolyard and fail to really shock us all?

Having parents who lived in a recent era when there was very little that would be considered pornography today, and having seen it get more explicit over the years, porn seems now as acceptable, talked about, corrupting and as addictive as any drug. Naomi Wolf also observed that research is showing porn to be addictive, something which female friends have increasingly felt in their personal relationships. 

”..it damages (mens) libido in the longterm. Experts on sexual dysfunction are seeing an epidemic today of healthy young men who cannot perform easily with their partners because they have been overexposed to pornography. With increased exposure to porn many men need higher and higher levels of stimulation, or more and more extreme situations, in order to become aroused”

Noteworthy is her comparison between the satisfying and fulfilling sex life of a Jewish Orthodox friend with that of a young man who sees no mystery in sexual relations at all. Sexual tension is something to “get out of the way”. Yet without doubt that same sexual tension created the basis for romance once upon a time and we kid ourselves if we think romance is a dead for women. It remains big business.

We lend our ears to concerns over the colour of someone’s skin and seek to ensure people are not victimised because of it. We don’t expect to leave young people exposed on line to racial abuse as casual entertainment, for example.  I wonder why therefore it is seen as nothing more than thrilling to casually open up an accessible world of internet porn with it’s increasingly seedy and menacing misogyny, without batting an eyelid and then trust that young men and women won’t grow up with a distorted view of female sexuality. If case studies are anything to go by then a conversation with young women about their sex lives would reveal an imbalance in what we might perceive as normal and what should concern us all. Not all women feel empowered and liberated by this new sexual revolution.

Whether pornography has any significant harmful effects on consumers continues to be a controversial issue, not only for average citizens but also for behavioural scientists who can offer different researched conclusions depending on your viewpoint. I take the simpler view that we understand that influence when we are young is utterly and completely intrinsic to a good education. This is why we give precedence to an education full of influential ideas and people. To me this is not about some social inadequate endlessly hunched over his laptop indulging in his private porn stash. With the easy access the net gives us inside and outside the home, it is an influence and as such is an education in itself. There is a reason 63 per cent of young women from a UK survey of 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19  considered their ideal profession to be “glamour model”, posing nude or seminude. If you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book. You have to believe, in other words, that art is morally trivial and that education is morally irrelevant. 

Christianity used to and still does ask us to try to be guardians of sexual morality, often dismissed as overbearing and stifling to some. What of the overbearing and stifling nature of porn raunch culture. Without recourse to stricter censorship if every question raised, every concern mounted is met with howls of angry disapproval how exactly are genuine concerns such as the ones outlined above to be raised, considered and discussed fully. Cameron’s attempts might be clumsy in regard to internet technology and marketing controls but the purpose is a genuine enough reflection of broad social concerns. A flag in the sand moment. It is about time we recognised that much. 

Notes

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