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THE GREAT PORN EXPERIMENT

It’s well documented that a huge number of young men and boys are regular users of internet pornography. Depending which statistician you ask, the average age of first viewing is 11-years-old.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that virtually every single boy at my high school was consuming porn by age 16. That was nearly ten years ago.

“The widespread use of internet porn is one of the fastest moving, most global experiments every unconsciously conducted,” says Gary Wilson in his TEDX talk, The Great Porn Experiment. “Nearly every guy who has internet access becomes an eager subject.”

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A report in the Australian Journal of Medicine published last year said: 28 percent of nine to 16-year-olds had seen sexual material online. Other surveys have found that amongst Australian school students aged 13 to 16 years, 93 percent of males and 62 percent of females had seen pornography.

According to Wilson, internet porn use is so widespread that one US study was unable to locate any non-porn-using young men to act as a control group.

Those young men are going to go on to become our doctors, lawyers, prime-ministers and, yes, pool boys. Australian research into teen pornography use shows that boys that use porn are more likely to have more sexual partners and be involved in risky and violent sexual behaviour. The extent of porn’s adverse effects on men has been a point of public discussion for a while.

What of girls? According to a study by female sexuality researcher Dr Meredith Chivers, women are much more flexible than men about what turns them on when it comes to the screen – responding to gay sex, straight sex and everything in between.

Twenty five per cent of online porn expenditure comes from females, one in five porn users is a woman, but there’s been little, if any, discussion of the effect porn has on young women.

brett“People tend to think of porn as a male problem,” says Brett McCann (pictured left), a senior lecturer in the sexual health program at the University of Sydney. “But what studies there are have shown that lots of women use porn and something like 5% of women use porn in a way we’d describe as compulsive, compared to around 8% of men.”

Most women I spoke to said they first watched porn for a laugh with their friends or were introduced by a boyfriend. “Female friendly” porn is one of the fastest growing segments of the market.

The female porn viewers I spoke to, though, all had different tastes. When you think about it, it is kind of sexist to assume that all women want to watch the same, softly lit smut.
Bec, 24, says that curiosity led her to porn in the first place and she’s now a regular viewer, clocking in a couple of hours a week.

“I probably started when I was 16 or 17,” she says. “The porn I watched then was very different to what I watch now. It used to be pretty vanilla, but now I mainly watch BDSM [bondage, dominance and sado-masochism] – stuff that freaks a lot of my friends out.”

Research indicates that in the majority of developed countries, people are having more different kinds of sex at a younger age than ever before – in the US in 1992, 16 per cent of women aged 18-24 had tried anal sex, now the figure is closer to 40 per cent. There’s not enough evidence to nail down porn as the catalyst, but it seems likely.

“The kind of sex I have has definitely been influenced by porn,” says Bec, who likes to be hit and choked. “But I think it’s boys who are more influenced – in the way they treat you, the style of oral sex they want, their obsession with anal – it’s definitely from porn.”

Brett McCann says that in his clinical experience, the inability to be intimate during sex is one of the biggest problems for compulsive porn viewers, male and female: “They’re looking at sex on a screen without having to use their own brain or their own creativity. It’s a fairly easy way to be sexual – there’s no effort, there’s no having to do anything with another person.”

woman“Some women tend to start to lose arousal because, instead of being able to relax and just enjoy, sex becomes nothing but an act and they start to grade themselves: ‘Is he really enjoying this’, ‘Am I doing this right’.”

If internet porn is devaluing intimacy for the majority of boys and a large minority of girls, then we’re going to have serious public health and societal issues on our hands in the coming years and decades.

Luckily, says McCann, treatment is relatively easy – most can just stop watching. “Then you actually use your brain to think about sex. People need to re-do and re-learn all the cues that make a connection with someone natural again.”

“I think that most people can separate fantasy from reality,” says Bec. “I can have fun, porn-y sex sometimes and loving, intimate sex other times. I’m just worried about the even younger kids who are on the internet now – it’s a lot easier to find hardcore stuff now – I’d even say that it’s hard to find the ‘nice’ stuff I started with.”

McCann points out that if the percentage of dysfunctional porn users is what we think it is then 90% of viewers probably don’t have a problem. “There are shades of grey,” he admits. “Porn may be having a big effect even on non-compulsive users.”

“We’re not going to truly know what effect it has on people’s psychology, their relationships and their brain chemistry for at least 10 years.”

It seems like “The Great Porn Experiment” is only just beginning.

 

 

*Alex McClintock is a freelance writer who has also been a reporter, cook, paralegal, nanny, boxer, waiter and checkout chick. He’s also the Deputy Editor of queensberry-rules.com, a popular boxing website mentioned by the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and Deadspin. Follow him on Twitter: @axmcc.

 

 

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23 Comments

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    Sharon

    Im glad to see this issue getting increasing press. The viewing or porn is so normalised, as though there’s no potential for negative consequences. Yet this is clearly not the case.

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    Jacqui

    Im glad this is getting coverage too, I have two little girls, and I feel really worried that by the time they are ready to have sex that what is deemed normal will be so skewed by porn.

    Looking at porn has always been normal for men, but never has it been so available. You used to have to plan watching a video when everyone else was out of the house or whatever, now you just need to go to your room and pull out your phone.

    My girls deserve intimate loving sexual relationships and I can only hope that they feel confident enough to ask for what they want, rather than be expected to do what the man has as his fantasy.

    so much porn is degrading to women and although many know the difference between reality and fantasy, unconsciously it seeps in and affects general treatment of women. Very worrying.

    • Reply March 27, 2013

      Lydia

      I totally agree, Jacqui. I have a young daughter and I feel worried. They deserve so much better. It’s really worrying that kids who are not old enough to consent to sexual activity are seeing this stuff. I don’t even know where to begin, it’s so disturbing…

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    Rachel @ Reality Chick

    “According to Wilson, internet porn use is so widespread that one US study was unable to locate any non-porn-using young men to act as a control group.”

    Eeek.

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    stella

    I’m glad to know that this issue is being taken seriously. As a counselor of young women, I’m seeing a disturbing trend where teenaged girls as young as 13 are saying that they should shave their pubic hair “because men like it that way” – and that they are worried that they won’t be able to “perform” the way men like it ! They watch porn, and they think that this is normal. What a pity that love-making is being degraded to this point , by the easy availability of porn in in every kid’s bedroom.

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    Norelle

    It is especially odd to me as we live in an age like no other where adult, consensual sex can be plentiful and pleasurable – just take a few hours to get a conversation started. A computer monitor just doesn’t cut it as a partner to a climax, surely! Seriously awful to think girls and guys worry about performance based on porn movies (ie a few minutes on screen took hours of preparation and positioning – oh and did anyone mention fake moans and grunts.)
    Was it rare, or was I just lucky, that in my long-term relationship there was not even a need of fancy underwear or toys to get the desired result. Sorry porn users, I’m trying not to judge you but it’s just a middle class indulgence.

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    ro.watson

    Having got that key word “adult” from a friend I once checked out what was on the net. Frankly~ I could not see any pleasure in fake pleasure., and really bad acting!!

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    Liz Walker

    About 3 years ago I was so concerned about the trends I was seeing that I started Youth Wellbeing Project. Our High School program addresses this, along with hypersexualisation. I saw porn at the age of 6, so I know first hand how it can shape a person’s perspective on sexual relationships. The big difference was that I flicked through magazines – the internet has now made a whole world of difference to neuroplasticity. In our work in schools, we see that for those not addicted, attitudes are most certainly influenced.

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    ro.watson

    I would like to give a shout out for abstinence if you are confused or compulsive…..

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    The Huntress

    I can’t help wonder (and as everyone knows I’m now studying Sexology) that if children and teens were receiving better, high quality, diverse sex education if their porn consumption would drop? While there’s the obvious pleasure derived from watching porn I wonder how many teens start watching porn as a means to learn about sex?

  • Reply March 25, 2013

    karenne eccles

    You have to feel sorry for this generation growing up with so many sexual messages thrown at them, but porn watched at such young ages totally obscures their reality as does violence in movies and as stated before these boys and girls will be future carers , politians, teachers. parents,lovers, one has to wonder how it will be in the future …. what is even sadder is there is never a shortage of girls and woman prepared to do whatever in this world, be it lap dancing or porn movies to entertain, and if this is where they learn how to treat others sexually no wonder they lack empathy and respect for others ….
    ,

    • Reply March 26, 2013

      The Huntress

      Just to clarify, karenne eccles, you feel that women who are lap dancers or porn stars are responsible for lack of respect and empathy for others in young people?

      Haven’t we yet passed this blaming women for the decline of morality and ethics in our society?

      Women have the right to pursue whatever line of work they wish. Some women choose careers in the sex industry. I don’t think this is particularly sad at all. What I find sad is that people often remain unrealistic about what children are doing and don’t discuss it with them, educate them to help make good decisions with their sexuality or even explain ‘hey, porn may be fun to watch, but what you’re seeing is a fantasy construct, not real life’. Sure, a lot of parents are embarrassed to have these talks with their kids, but if we don’t find a way are we not responsible, as parents, for the morals and ethics of our children?

      If we, as parents, guide our children better, perhaps we won’t need to worry so much about future generations. And yes, I am a parent, I am a parent to a young lad who is excited at the prospect of growing into a man. Yes, it is easier for me to have these talks because between nursing and sexology I am well equipped to give factual information, at an age appropriate level, without embarrassment. Maybe I should be starting a sex education service for adolescents and their parents? Whatever. I really hope that we get a handle on this ASAP before more young people have distorted views on sexuality. It kills me when young girls feel that they’re forced to have a brazillian/do things they’re not comfortable with and boys are led to believe that all girls like ejaculate on their face/all men are over-endowed. It’s equally disparaging for both sexes with poor future outcomes for both sexes.

      Maybe what I say is (long!) and somewhat contoversial, but I want my son to grow up and have good, healthy sexual expression that he and his partners can feel good about. I am certain that as much as we parents don’t like to think of our kids in this way, we ultimately want the next generation to be able to have this.

  • Reply March 26, 2013

    Ro

    This article is hilarious. Porn was readily accessible when I was a kid, long before the internet was even a gleam in its creator’s eye. I don’t think a single boy I knew at school did not have access to porn of some kind. Maybe it was different to what is around today, and maybe you had to read/look at the same stuff over and over, but it was still there when you wanted it, it was still porn, and it was still discouraging intimacy every bit as much as porn does today (if it really does do that). Back then, there were those who used and forgot it, and those who were obsessed with it. The big difference between now and then is variety/volume and openness when talking about it.

    I once read a passage in a ‘home maker’s’ manual from the 50’s, in which the newly-married young woman was advised to stay still and quiet during conjugal activity and make a quiet noise to indicate satisfaction at the end… Does anyone reading this article think THAT is healthy???? The only way these poor women would ever be able to get off is if they had a secret porn stash (or a Mills and Boon collection, old school porn for girls) and clever fingers.

    Complaints from women that men lack the capacity for intimacy is nothing new. Read some self-help books from the 70s – this was quite the meme of the day. There have always been women who had problems with intimacy too, old psychology texts are full of case studies, for example.

    As for
    “We’re not going to truly know what effect it has on people’s psychology, their relationships and their brain chemistry for at least 10 years.”,
    I can answer that already. None. The arguments for/against porn have been going on for centuries (yes, centuries), and there is no evidence that any social problem has worsened or improved because of or despite it.

    Every generation thinks it has unique social problems – it doesn’t. The problems just have different packaging. Same old sht, different day.

  • Reply March 26, 2013

    Sharon

    @ Ro, there’s a whole lot of missed points in your comment above. Youre actually way off the mark in terms of current research into the psychological/neurological impact of pornography, and to compare what was available to young people some decades back compared to now is comparing apples and oranges.
    Me think you protest too much…

    • Reply April 15, 2013

      Ro

      Sharon, I am not way off the mark, and I didn’t miss any points. What was available to young people decades ago is really not different to what is around now. I’m not *that* old, but I was personally exposed to extremely violent porn and child porn, when I was ten years old (by my peers, we all stood around and laughed as it was a bit over our heads). I have been around the block a few times since then, and that stuff is really not dissimilar to modern stuff. (I still remember it quite clearly.)

      As a person who has studied history at university, I can tell you that people – all people, not just adults – have always had porn that I find quite disgusting. Do a bit of research and you’ll find that before movies, there were other ways to view porn in action, really horrendous stuff that turns my stomach. Apples and oranges? I don’t think so, and you are pretty naive to think nasty stuff didn’t happen back in the day just because there was no internet to disseminate it. For God’s sake, people used to go to public executions (and take the kids) for a fun day out (of course, in some countries they still do).

      As for the neurological/psychological effects of porn, I think you missed my point. I’m not saying some people aren’t affected, what I am saying is, same sht, different day.

  • Reply March 27, 2013

    Kim

    I think what the Huntress and Ro say is pretty spot on. I think I was about 11 (a girl) when I first experienced porn. We had sex education at school but it just didn’t cut it. Porn was THE way to find stuff out. There needs to be good feminist sex education at schools.

    There is no doubt it is way harder to find free female friendly porn than the majority of male centric trash that is around, freely and easily available. But this is not new. How this has affected and does affect human relationships and what women want in sex would be a mammoth thing to measure but would be great to know. Would women’s fantasies be ultimately different from that presented in this pre-dominantly male view? I actually think so. I think the presentation of pro-woman porn overall would be very different. And I’m not thinking here of Tristan Taormino’s site which seems to promote more of the airbrushed bodies and fashion industry lingerie models. Less anal maybe and the rampant tendency to label women as sluts, MILFs etc in vidoes?? Hairier women? Yes!

    The article says that “Australian research into teen pornography use shows that boys that use porn are more likely to have more sexual partners and be involved in risky and violent sexual behaviour.” Is it possible to provide references to these studies, sources? This also seems to contradict the statement in the article that the effects will be unknown for at least 10 years.

    Indeed, as the article says “the extent of porn’s adverse effects on men has been a point of public discussion for a while.” Yes it has been a debate for years, at least the last 35 years I can think of. There have been the associated censorship debates for at least that time too. We need to move on. Discussion should now centre on how do we enable access to better sex education coupled with the availability of free feminist (the full range) porn for all?

  • […] (See The Hoopla for the full article – The Great Porn Experiment) […]

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    Collett Smart

    Thank you for raising awareness around this issue and kids Alex. Of course porn has been around forever, however access is now at a whole different level.

    (I’ve just added a link to this on my blog post)

  • Reply March 31, 2013

    Alex

    Point about pubic hair shaving. My wife (25), her sister (28) and their mother (51) all prefer hairless not because of their partners’ pornographic preferences, but for cleanliness and hygiene (especially during menstruation).

    The supernormal stimulus that modern porn provides will no doubt have an effect on the mental sexual development of coming generations. I know mine has – for better or worse. But this doesn’t make me incapable of turning it off and on as necessary, as another commenter mentioned.

    Porn is about gratification (energy release). Sex with a loving partner is about connection. One need not ‘ruin’ the other.

  • Reply March 31, 2013

    sue Bell

    Remember when Playboy was thought of as porn and people only read it for the “articles”. As a teenager I always wonder at Lady Chatterly’s Lover, how could they make love on the grass, in Australia they’d be eaten alive by ants.

  • Reply April 1, 2013

    Lovely

    I as a female watch porn a few times a week. I find it a real turn on. I can however realise that this isn’t real so my expectations of sex in reality don’t change as a result of watching porn. If we adults are realistic about porn, then we can send this message to the younger people watching it, to help differentiate the difference between reality & what’s on the TV or computer.

  • Reply April 6, 2013

    Vaughan

    What about chastity. Is that virtue now irrelevant?

    If so, what virtues will be next to go? Fidelity, trustworthiness?

    In my view, porn is a plague infecting men and women.

    Those equating internet porn to the magazine porn of the past seem unaware of the current scale and type of deluge.

    One of the wisest statements I have heard on the topic came from a guy. It was: “Porn makes you sad”.

    I think he is right. After the initial excitement, sadness arrives.

    Breaking the habit is very difficult but very worthwhile in terms of overall happiness. It reflects the old truth: “Happiness comes from virtuous behaviour.”

    • Reply April 16, 2013

      Jacque

      My word, you sound like those people who believe gay marriage is going to lead to people being able to marry toasters or goats. While porn is not a virtue, I believe having a healthy sexual attitude is. Although studies have shown that an obsessive use of porn can make you sad, that deals more with loneliness, or already having mental precondition that made you turn to porn in the first place. And while societal construction of virtue maybe the norm, but it doesn’t make it right. Porn may have become more accessible, but its always been there. Now, its a more suitable product of the times being on the internet, as they are able to mass produce it, because it’s in high demand. While I do believe some genre’s of porn is not healthy, as long as the viewer can differentiate between reality and fiction, no problem. Your argument however, insinuates that the rise of sexual activity will decrease our capability to be faithful spouses. By most people’s opinions, sex is not a matter of quantity, but quality, and their are still many people out there who enjoy sex more with someone they care about. But that doesn’t mean we should take that out of context, and think that sex is any less then what it is, a primal urge to reproduce that evolution has made pleasurable to be more profitable….It’s just humans have just got really creative over the years in what turns us on. So really, the core problem is boredom.

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