Last night, there was an interesting programme on the soon-to-be-defunct BBC 3 called Porn: What’s the Harm? It was essentially a film about the effect pornography has on young people, specifically children.
I guess that since many people might consider me to be a purveyor of porn, I ought to make some comments.
The programme didn’t come up with any real answers to the questions that bother me most which are (1) Is pornography harmful? and (2) What are we to do about it, if it is?
There is a view held by those in the porn industry that since watching images are not actually harming anyone then there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. In a sense, I agree with that as a bald statement. In any case, I wonder what good is achieved by making something inaccessible for children to view when later in life they will have to deal with it for real. In earlier societies, children were exposed to a great deal of sex and violence simply because there was a lot of it about and not many ways to shield them from it. And many societies exposed children to a lot worse than a few images of people having sex together.
But there are serious questions still, which I think come to issues of appropriateness and content. Is it right that children should learn about sex from the sort of films that you can easily stream on xHamster, PornHub and the like? As was pointed out in the film, porn stars generally have unattainable bodies (particularly with regards to genitalia) and astonishing levels of stamina. The films also generally present a kind of idealised world where women are easily accessible, men often behave very discourteously towards the women they have sex with, and extremes of sexual behaviour are presented as normal and only to be expected. And, just as early silent movies bred a generation of women who closed their eyes when kissing, are the young people of today expecting all sex acts to start with a blowjob and end with a facial?
My own view is that there is a great deal that is wrong in the pornography that can be easily accessed, not so much because of its content (though there are many sex acts which for health reasons alone should be more actively discouraged), but because of the attitudes towards sex it promotes. But such complaints about how pornography idealises or perverts standards of sexual behaviour can be just as easily transferred to, say, romantic novels which encourage unrealistic expectations in women of what men are like; action movies which glamorous a brutal world where problems are resolved by extreme violence; and gross-out comedies which rely on crude and offensive stereotypes to be amusing.
Furthermore, what was not actually hinted at in the television programme is that, although a great deal of porn is exactly as bad as the presenters suggest, it’s not quite as straightforward as all that. There is lesbian porn by studios like Girlfriends Films which are designed for women and have a great deal more conversation and negotiation between characters than in the average movie. The major pornographic studios also make films which put emphasis on humour and plot (even though 70% of the films are still just sex) and make an effort to be more responsible in their portrayal of women. There are also many film studios which feature very ordinary-looking men and women. Sometimes that is simply to make it easier to humiliate them, but on other occasions it is because the audience they are attempting to appeal to are not that interested in the idealised man or woman.
Also, there are clear differences in how porn is used. As a result of the internet, just as there are now more women gamblers because it is now possible to gamble from the bedroom, there are many more women who regularly use porn. But women apparently use porn differently from men: more to learn about sex than to have something to jack off to. There is also a lot of porn for gays, lesbians, transgendered individuals and many different body types which provide some kind of validation as well as a shared activity for a particular community. There must be many young people confused about their sexual identity who feel reassured by seeing film of men having sex with one another or of men part-way through a sex-change.
So, I don’t really know the answer to the question as to what is the harm of pornography. But I’m pretty sure that any young person stumbling across a Bradley Stoke story, even one which deals with relatively taboo subjects, is just as unlikely as the majority of visitors to Literotica or Stories OnLine to think of it as perfect material for masturbation and may, indeed, learn something from it.