Loki: Porn is more accessible but can distort way we think about sex

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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Pornography accounts for a quarter of all search engine entries and is the fourth-most common reason people give for going online.

Viewing porn is no longer considered taboo which, in many ways, is a mark of progress in that we feel far less inhibited to express ourselves sexually than we used to. However, hardcore pornography is arguably not the healthiest conduit to fully realising our sexual selves. Harmless as it may be for many, porn is also a very potent form of stimulation which, after prolonged use, often leads to destructive – even addictive – behaviours which can undermine and damage our relationships – not only with our partners, but with ourselves.

Behind the curtain of our public personas a great many of us are struggling to regulate our behaviour in relation to some aspect of the modern world. We are always on the verge of some renewed lifestyle drive towards a previously stated goal: prematurely announcing our intentions after that initial flurry of enthusiasm only to find ourselves running out of steam and reverting to old ways. The modern world is a sensory obstacle course full of compelling stimuli that help to distract us from our highly-caffeinated bladders and racing minds. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a form of stimulation as alluring, hypnotic or potentially transformative as hardcore pornography.

But porn isn’t as easy to talk about as other issues, like problem-eating, because being open about porn makes many of us feel extremely vulnerable.

Which is why it would be terribly hypocritical of me to give an opinion on the matter without offering something of my own experience of this issue. I’m 32 years old and have been using porn sites for as long as I’ve had access to the internet – which is about ten years. However, you may be surprised to hear that I don’t enjoy using porn and I have tried many times to cut down or abstain completely. But just like junk-food (and previously alcohol and drugs), I find myself returning to this vice in moments of tiredness, boredom, stress or sadness. The similarity with other addictions does not end there: with porn, people develop a threshold, relative to how much they consume, until eventually higher, more intense, doses are required to achieve the same hit – followed by inevitable remorse.

This isn’t the case for everyone. But it’s the case for enough of us that free access to this material has to be reconsidered – as a matter of urgency.

For many people who are sensitive to this kind of physiological stimulus, it can have a profoundly negative impact on health and well-being. Porn has the potential to distort the way we think about sex or create a false perception of intimacy altogether. Long-term, for increasing numbers of people, has rendered real human intimacy slow, uninteresting and, in many ways, emotionally invasive. And, as I’m sure many women being approached by men online will attest, porn also makes a lot of men more sexually aggressive.

Real sex becomes stilted, clumsy and, dare I say it, unnatural. You become disassociated from your own body, which seems so ugly and cumbersome in comparison to the jump-cut fantasies to which you’ve become accustomed. Love-making can become a bit like being asked to eat a bowl of vegetables immediately after a mouthful of chocolate; you know it’s better for you but it’s unappealing at first. Based on many of our experiences of this issue, we must consider how this impacting on young people who are growing up in an era where it is as widely available as sugar – and even more accessible because it’s free.

For many people pornography is toxic and we, as a society, need to start being more open about it. It not only instils unrealistic expectations in us about what sex should be like, but also places those expectations on others. This is especially true for women in heterosexual relationships, who often learn, from porn-addicted partners, that sex is performative and that sexual relationships are measured, not by the level of emotional connection or mutual expression of desire, but by the gratification of the male partner.

Hardcore pornography needs to be quantified beyond a simple age-rating much like food producers grudgingly label our groceries so we have a rough idea of what we are consuming. It’s morally unacceptable and socially irresponsible that young people, as young as 9-years-old, are free to access potentially fetishistic material, of the most adult nature, which often depicting (or alludes to) scenarios involving violence, rape and incest, without hitting a toxicity-warning, followed by an insurmountable paywall.

Viewers, of all ages, need to be made aware, always, of the potential harm of regularly indulging in this kind of potent stimulation and until we have formulated a proper cultural response to this phenomenon then we have an obligation to restrict access as much as possible. Get your kicks, by all means, but this ridiculous idea that it should be free-of-charge, or that we do so without implication to ourselves, sex workers and wider society is a dangerous illusion, peddled by the porn industry, which needs to be smashed.

Perhaps worse than that, this seemingly harmless pastime, which apparently fulfils a basic human need, actually creates, in many, a ferocious compulsion which can fundamentally deform our conception of human intimacy. It’s time we started treating this sensitive subject with the seriousness it demands.

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