For decades anti-pornography feminist theorists have been articulating how pornography is problematic. Many feminists are familiar with the ways in which pornography affects women, but there is still much to be discovered in regards to how pornography affects men. We live in a patriarchal culture and society that is conditioned to objectify women, thus most men are conditioned to believe that participating in the patriarchal viewing of pornography is completely acceptable. Without recognizing the problem with pornography it becomes extremely difficult to confront this problem. Without confronting, understanding, and solving; this problem it cannot be resolved; therefore pornography will continue to flourish and infect future generations of men as it has our generation and the generations before. We continue to be surrounded by pornography. There are pornographic themes present throughout all outlets of our media, and access to pornography is as easy as the simple click of a button. In this pornified culture, where pornography is the norm, we fail to recognize how this problem is truly affecting the men of our society. We fail to recognize that we are a culture of men who are secretly addicted to pornography.
One might ask the questions: Why is pornography such a problem? How does it truly affect men? Why do we tolerate pornography if it is so problematic? How can this mass addiction be secret? And finally, is there a solution? In order to answer these questions we must re-examine the problem with pornography and its effects on men, while exposing the heteronormative masculine gendered male’s secret addiction to pornography.
The Problem with Pornography
The word pornography literally means “writing or drawing of female captive or slave”, from the greek words porne and graphos. In its name alone pornography labels women as slaves or captives-a possession of men, an object. We are taught that a man may do whatever he wishes with his belongings. When women are reduced to mere objects for male pleasure and no longer seen as a person of equity, a man may do as he pleases. In pornography the man does as he pleases, regardless if the woman is feeling pain and regardless of consent. There are pornographic films in which women are manipulated to board buses and receive compensation for sexual intercourse, afterwards they are shoved from the vehicle without pay in a strange and unfamiliar neighborhood, and the men laugh as they drive off. There are pornographic films where a sleeping woman is violated by a man who sneaks into her bedroom. There are films where women are just violently raped. Pornography conditions men to be rapists. In his book Refusing to be a Man, John Stoltenberg states that, “Pornography tells lies about women. But pornography tells the truth about men” (Stoltenberg 107). This blunt statement simply reflects the truth that pornography portrays women to enjoy being victims of violence and rape. In saying that pornography tells the truth about men, he is claiming most viewers of pornography are men and through that viewing they are being conditioned to objectify women. A misogynistic view of women is being enforced upon them by other men-the creators of pornography. In one experiment students who were exposed to pornography containing violent themes were proven to be more likely to develop psychotic tendencies (Linz 68). Through pornographic films such as the Girls Gone Wild series, men are shown that it is acceptable to perform date rape upon a woman as long as she is intoxicated. Many men group together and visit bars, with this as the sole intention as the reason for even going out. This is just one example of how pornography conditions men to be rapists.
Aside from promoting violence towards women as being acceptable, there are problems derived from pornography that may affect men on a more personal level. In an article for New York Magazine entitled The Porn Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that pornography turns men off from having real sexual intercourse. She explains that mass exposure to women in pornography makes it difficult to find a woman in real life who is “porn-worthy” (Wolf). These “porn-worthy” women would have fake breasts, be shaved, anally bleached, and tan to name just a few physical traits. On top of being incapable of being aroused by a real woman, the male who is used to achieving orgasm via voyeurism is now suddenly in a position that his brain does not associate with having an erection-the position of the person who is actually practicing intercourse. This leads to erectile dysfunction.
When a man and woman are involved in an intimate relationship, pornography can be quite problematic. In my personal life I could not tell you how many times I have seen couples torn apart by pornography. Most women do not feel comfortable with the fact that their partner is masturbating secretly to other women, instead of just having sexual intercourse with her. For obvious reasons that strike at women’s insecurities, physically and emotionally, this always causes conflict in a relationship. Often these men become incapable of being aroused by their partners and begin to see intercourse with them as a chore. When men look at pornography they destroy what they could be experiencing sexually with another person. Stoltenberg explains this type of situation when he states that:
What a camera can see is not remotely equivalent to what a person can express and perceive with another person during sex. But if what a camera can see becomes a man’s operational standard for “good sex”—If a man models his sexual behavior after that which is displayable on a screen and if, in addition, he becomes like a camera in relation to the person he is with –then a crucial potential for erotic communication has been occluded. (Stoltenberg 98)
What the camera sees is what the viewer sees, and nothing else. No emotions, just a chemical surge than you can turn off and on at will, a version of sex that you can turn off and file away, and therefore not deal with any aftermath. It’s the equivalent of having sex with someone and then throwing them out and locking the door, or having sex with someone and then throwing them out of the bus.
As usual, when it comes to pornography, there is a lot of woman blaming. Men blame women for being in the films, while simultaneously blaming women for the reason that men look at pornography. Sometimes the reason is because they are bored of their partner and they want them to be sexier, sometimes it’s because they cannot find any women who will have sex with them. A lot of men feed into the argument that pornography empowers women and the women are strong and independent. Pornography is a man’s business where a man tells you what to do, how to act, what to wear, and who to have sex with. When you are a woman and you watch or participate in pornography, you disregard all the women and even men that it affects. Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, hits the nail on the head when she says, “But if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven’t made any progress” (117).
Pornography continues to condition men as enactors of sexual violence towards women. Pornography continues to teach us how to have sex while providing in romantic partnerships by playing off insecurities and destroying erotic communication. Pornography causes erectile dysfunction in men, and the inability to be attracted to real and natural women. These are just some of the problems with pornography.
A Conditioned Acceptance
If pornography is so problematic then one must question why our culture and society seems to be so accepting of it? Even if you are not directly looking at pornography, you are still constantly exposed to it. Turn on your television for about five minutes and surf through the channels; you are bound to at least see an advertisement that reduces a woman in to some type of product for male consumption. This is just like pornography therefore it serves the same purpose. The media is the tool used by patriarchy to condition people to do whatever it wants. Just as we are conditioned to buy Coca-Cola even though they kill South Americans, just as we are conditioned to buy fast food even though it’s killing us, we are conditioned to practice sexism.
We are so hardwired by the media to accept porn that most men do not even begin to recognize pornography as problematic. In order to put my theories to the test I surveyed a group of twenty men on pornography. When asked if pornography is a problem in our society, nineteen out of twenty men answered no. When asked if they thought that pornography causes problems in relationships, only five men answered yes with one of the five men going on to say that it was only a problem if your partner catches you. When asked to answer if they regularly looked at pornography, eight men answered no and twelve answered yes. When asked if any of their male friends looked at pornography, all twenty men answered yes. Although I was only able to survey twenty men, the results were disturbing; pornography is completely acceptable by the majority of men.
Sexism of course, does not look good on paper. Most people at least want to believe that they want equity for all humans. So why is pornography so acceptable when it displays sexism so blatantly? I suggest that it is because pornography is a necessary weapon of patriarchy used to instill sexism in the masses. Stoltenberg explains the patriarchal system’s need for pornography quite splendidly when he states:
Pornography keeps sexism sexy. It keeps sexism necessary for some people to have sexual feelings. It makes reciprocity make you go limp. It makes mutuality leave you cold. It makes tenderness and intimacy and caring make you feel like you’re going to disappear into a void. It makes justice the opposite of erotic; it makes injustice a sexual thrill. Pornography exploits every experience in people’s lives that imprisons sexual feelings—pain, terrorism, punishment, dread, shame, powerlessness, self-hate—and would have you believe that it frees sexual feelings. In fact the sexual freedom represented by pornography is the freedom of men to act sexually in ways that keep sex a basis for inequality. (Stoltenberg 114)
Through the media and through pornography on its own, it becomes clear why we are so accepting of porn. We are conditioned to accept it.
A Secret Addiction
You are addicted to said activity when you cannot stop participating in an activity that causes harm to yourself and those around you. Our society recognizes addictions to gambling, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc., but only the extremely religious recognize pornography addiction as a serious addiction. How can this be? We have learned how pornography is harmful to the viewer and those involved with the viewer. If a man cannot stop looking at pornography he is obviously addicted to it. As we have discussed in the section above, we are conditioned to accept that men look at pornography. That is why this addiction is a secret, because it is kept a secret and because patriarchy needs men to be addicted to pornography. In reference to the secret addiction Stoltenberg states:
The picture pornography exposes is not a pretty one; pornography reveals in the sexuality of the men for whom it is made an addiction to force and coercion for arousal, eroticized racial hatred, a despisal of the female, a fetishizing of erection and devotion to penetration, an obsession with interpersonal power differentials, an eroticized commitment to violence- and through it all an ugly striving to assert masculinity over and against women. (Stoltenberg 106).
This statement exemplifies just how serious we should be taking this mass addiction to pornography.
According to Forbes.com the porn industry profited 3.9 billion dollars in 2001, with one billion of that profit from internet pornography (Ackman). Telecrunch.com reported that internet pornography alone profited 2.84 billion in 2007 (Arrignton). Obviously a lot of money is being spent on pornography, and the money that is profited does not reflect how much the actual customer is spending on pornography. Most of the time when someone can get something for free rather than have to pay a hefty subscription fee, they will opt for free. There are thousands of free pornography sites on the internet; I would be willing to argue that these free sites receive more visitors than the pay sites. In an article for WebMD.com, Matt McMillen mentions a survey that says only 26 percent of male internet users visit pornography (McMillen). Using the profit statistics above and the fact that many men do not even pay for porn, I would argue that the men in this survey are lying. Why would these men be lying about using pornography? The answer is simple; they are addicted and in denial that their pornography addiction is any kind of a problem, just like addicts of any drug.
Pornography is not only problematic for women, but also problematic for men. Pornography destroys heteronormative relationships, by dismantling communication and creating a false sense of what a man perceives as woman and sex altogether. Pornography is instilled into our brains as a normal part of society and we are conditioned by the media to accept it. Most masculine gendered heteronormative males are secretly addicted to pornography in some form or another while this addiction is being treated as natural behavior. It is difficult when faced with these types of problems involving deep rooted and internalized sexism to come up with a solution. Simply calling for a ban of pornography could only make the matter worse, with bootlegging and underground snuff films. As the research by Larry Baron in his scholarly article Pornography and Gender Equality: An Empirical Analysis states, regulation of pornography is not a solution to women’s oppression. I would suggest better education for our future generations. Perhaps implementing gender studies into our public education could help future generations begin to understand concepts and ideas that children of today are simply not being exposed to. In a world where members of our society are actually equipped with educations on gender equality, pornography may fade away; I would like to believe that when most people are well informed they make the right decisions. But before we can truly make any changes, we must realize whose world we are living in and what we must do to take it back. In his book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, Robert Jenson leaves us with this thought:
At the moment, it’s the pornographers’ world. They are the ones telling the most influential stories about gender and power and sex. But that victory is just for the moment, if we can face ourselves and then build a movement that challenges them. We have a lot of work to do. So, before we debate the meaning of the First Amendment, let’s discuss the meaning of a double penetration. Before we look at the law, let’s look in the mirror.
Ackman, Dan. "How Big Is Porn?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 25 May 2001. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
Arrington, Michael. "Internet Pornography Stats." TechCrunch. 12 May 2007. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
Barron, Larry. "Pornography and Gender Equality: An Empirical Analysis." The Journal of Sex Research. Part 2 27.3 (1990): 363-80. JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.
Jensen, Robert. Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Cambridge MA: South End, 2007. Print.
Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New York: Free, 2005. Print.
Linz, Daniel. "Exposure to Sexually Explicit Materials and Attitudes toward Rape: A Comparison of Study Results." The Journal of Sex Research 26.1 (1989): 50-84. JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.
McMillen, Matt. "Why Men Like Porn." WebMD. WebMD. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
Stoltenberg, John. Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. Portland, Or.: Breitenbush, 1989. Print.
Wolf, Naomi. "The Porn Myth." New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.