I remember as a child being first introduced to pornography. I was in primary school and little over nine years old. Another boy had found a crumpled, and rain washed, image of a nude woman from a glossy magazine. I remember the impact of the image ... it left me shocked and confused. Of course in those days (and I’m talking the Seventies), pornography was strictly licensed and mainly consisted of women posing for the camera sexually provocatively. So called ‘hard core’ pornography, by which was meant couples actually having sex, was strictly illegal and only available, with the advent of the video recorder, on extremely poor quality tapes. Pornography, for most people, was still the unacceptable face of the sex industry.
How things have changed. Pornographic images are now part of the cultural zeitgeist. They shape the narrative of our time in unseen, largely unobserved and barely conscious ways. Pornography has been deregulated. And like the financial markets before it, I believe we are heading for social costs we can’t begin to imagine. Pornography is the ‘Elephant in the room’ of 21st Century modernity.
But how has pornography changed? Well I think an important change is that men are now represented as sexual objects in the same way as women. In the porn from the Seventies the men were usually unattractive and represented the typical reader. The subtext was ‘if he can have sex with her, an ordinary guy, then maybe she would have sex with me too’. Now men are consumed as objects of desire possibly at the same rate as women. The demand for young men in porn, of course, has created a new opportunity structure. I was shocked, then saddened, the first time I heard a young man describe to me his ambition to be a porn model. Men, unlike women, don’t seem to mind that they are robbed of their dignity and financially exploited for their youth and inexperience. The impact on men generally is to further promote male beauty as a cultural ambition accessible by all. An industry has developed in helping men conform to the new norms of beauty which, by definition, we will increasingly be unable to meet. Nobody looks good when their old. Or so we are led to believe.
So what else has changed? Well I think there has been a normalisation of extreme sexual behaviour. Surfing the web for pornographic images puts us in a state of psychophysiological arousal and therefore more receptive to new images, things we hadn’t even thought of before. Suddenly we find ourselves fascinated by water sports, interracial, gang bangs, MILF’s, squirters: There seems to be a profit in generating new genres of otherwise unlikely sexual encounters. With this increased normalisation of extreme sexual behaviours, comes the cultural drift and broadening of what we call ‘normal sexual interests’. Then what follows of course, is the (unrealistic) expectation that these sexual practices could, and even should, be acted out. I would not be the first commentator to observe that this does not just have an impact on men. Younger women, the new consumers of pornography, are arguably changing their behaviour to conform to the new and emerging social norms. A visit to any self posting ‘amateur’ site is evidence of that.
Then, there is the impact on the children. I keep thinking back to the innocence of my nine year old child who was shocked at the sight of the crumpled image of a naked woman. What impact is the increasing accessibility of pornography having on our children? Even for those parents who care, keeping sexually explicit images out of our children’s sight is a difficult task. But what of those parents who don’t care? There is some evidence that children find it difficult to understand the narrative implied by sexually explicit material and so store these evocative images in inaccessible parts of their minds. Having worked with adults who were exposed to pornography early and therefore sexualised, even by other children, I know it can create cul-de-sac’s of emotional and behavioural experience that can be difficult to resolve as an adult.
Then what I really worry about is love. Pornography, by its nature, does not represent love between persons. By dominating the cultural narrative about how adults should relate to each other, more subtle, sensitive and ultimately rewarding patterns of relating are then squeezed out. If we are not careful, they may become unfashionable ... and then go then way of all cultural dinosaurs, become unavailable.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Group therapy weekends for men in London and Manchester
- Beginners meditation weekend retreats for men in London and Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Cognitive behavioural therapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and online counselling for men wherever you live
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in London
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in Manchester and the North West
- Supervision and consulative support for therapists in Manchester