What determines whether or not something is classified as a problem in society?
A generally accepted concept is that anyone can do whatever they want as long as they are not harming anyone else. This idea is the basis for what issues are aggressively advocated for and which issues we as a society agree to disagree on.
In our attempts to classify activities that are problematic we must also define what we consider to be harmful. Harm as defined by Webster, is physical or mental damage.
I once attended a club meeting in high school in which the club president showed a video on how a well-known chain store was using unethically sourced labor to undercut local small businesses and to solidify its position in the market. She very passionately presented to us that if we chose to buy from this corporation that we were supporting their unethical behavior and increasing a demand for sweat shop labor and corporations that sold products for lower costs at the cost of cannibalizing smaller businesses.
I remember having a knee jerk reaction of being angry because I shopped at this store. I felt personally attacked, and I stopped going to that club. My family shopped at this store because it was convenient and it was cost effective. We didn’t have the luxury of buying “fair-trade” goods. So in my mind, I didn’t understand why I was being attacked for a “choice” that I didn’t think I had.
Besides.. the factories that made these products were providing jobs, right?
The moral of the story is that oftentimes when we begin to question the status quo, it becomes uncomfortable due to the fact that more often than not we are actually part of the problem. Luckily, none of us is defined by our behavior, and we have the power to change who we become and what we choose to stand for in the future.
The past should be learned from, but remember that it can not be edited, redacted, or otherwise modified. Keep an open mind, and realize that being a part of the problem in the present is not the end of your story.
Have you ever had a cold that lasted so long that you either forgot what smelling and tasting your food was like? Or have you ever been on a long road trip that had it’s path going directly towards the setting sun and so you had to wear shades for so long that you forgot (if only for an hour or so) how the world looked without the shades?
Imagine now, that we took this poor analogy and exaggerated it. What if instead of an hour of wearing shades, let’s say that you wore these shades for a few years. Let’s say 13.
Now for the sake of this analogy, let’s say I wanted to do an activity where I took a panel of five individuals and had them explain in words what golden hour in Laguna Beach looked like.
Do you think you would be an able bodied addition to this panel despite having a skewed perception of reality?
When I was 14, I stumbled across hardcore pornography disguised as analytical worksheets hidden in an empty closet in an apartment my family was about to move into.
My mind raced, my adrenaline pumped, and my curiosity spiked. To see the female form completely exposed almost disgusted me to a degree due to the lack of normalization of nudity in american culture.
But that disgust, was overpowered quite quickly as eventually mere photographs failed to keep my attention. I began to find ways to circumvent the firewalls on my family’s “school” computer and before much time had passed I was utilizing proxies and workarounds to access free pornography in absolutely excessive amounts.
The religious moralist in me was definitely disappointed, but I definitely learned how to justify that voice away. After all, I wasn’t harming anyone. In fact, these people were actors and so they were getting paid to do this. It’s not like they had a gun to their heads. On top of that, I wasn’t out and about acting out my desires on real people… so really, I was doing a service for the world and myself… or at least that’s what I told myself.
What a harmless pastime.. right?
I think I started getting concerned when I started sacrificing sleep in order to find the right narrative or video. What would start as one video that was skimmed through turned into hours upon hours of mindless and vain searching for something. If you were to ask me what I was looking for, I could not tell you.
Fast forward to college, and I was using it to cope with failing out of engineering. It didn’t actually help, because I was studying and sleeping less. Plus, now I was in a relationship, and it was proving to be problematic there as well..
Apparently my significant other felt betrayed and insecure about the fact that I was viewing pornography but I mean why couldn’t she understand that it wasn’t personal? This was just something I did… and really it didn’t hurt anyone… besides I had it under control. I mean I couldn’t stop, but it’s not like it was running my life or making me do anything illegal….
All concept of control went out the window when through a series of events, an anonymous chatter I met online recorded me and then threatened to blackmail me. I freaked out. In a way I asked for this by being so dumb, but nothing really compares to the feeling of being tricked and coerced. I shut down all my socials for a bit and resolved that I was going to reform..
But just like all my fear and morality based attempts of the past it was short lived.
While everyone’s journey and struggle is different, I can attribute all of the darkest places that I have ever been both physically and mentally to pornography.
From the less concrete things like how I noticed a gradual decrease in my ability to see people as human and not just objects to the actions I would take from lurking on backpage to cheating on a significant other and using people just to gratify myself.
I made all of my decisions personally and I accepted the responsibility and consequences that came with those decisions, but I would be lying if I did not acknowledge the role that pornography played in my gradual desensitization.
One of the final warnings that I experienced, was when I was sexually assaulted in one of my workplaces. Some guy who had been trying to force contact with me for an entire week, who I clearly was ignoring and not reciprocating, cornered me in storage area and groped me in an overtly sexual way.
I didn’t know what to do, but I just felt super violated. I didn’t report him because I didn’t think anyone would believe me and I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time.
I would think about this interaction for years after the fact, and to this day it still makes me uncomfortable to think about the look in his eyes when he grabbed me.
And then it all clicked.
That look which I can only describe as being in a sort of objectifying zombie craze was a look that I was all too familiar with.
It was the same look that I saw in the pornography I consumed… but more importantly, it was the same look that I had when I was consuming or searching for my next video.. That mindless gaze that did not see humans as human but as objects to be used.
It was at this moment that I realized that the objectifying themes that I was consuming for hours upon hours every week were the same themes that this guy acted on. And as I re-evaluated my life choices, my deepest regrets, and the path I had inevitably found myself on, I discovered that a version of me that disrespected people’s choice and ability to consent was not too far off from where I was.
Sure, I might have a desire to stop human trafficking, and sure I might sprinkle my life with altruistic deeds here and there, but at the heart of it, the reason why I kept placing myself in self sabotaging situations was because I was no longer seeing people as people: I was seeing them as objects.
I didn’t know how to get help.
Somehow I stumbled upon a podcast called Consider Before Consuming while concurrently going to therapy for other reasons. My anxiety and depression, both issues that were also exacerbated by my pornography consumption, had taken center stage until my therapist and I started digging.
As I searched for education and literature on pornography, I began to find that there was in fact a very large pool of scientific evidence, studies, and research, that explained and corroborated with my experiences.
Now mind you, I didn’t just put on a self righteous face and magically do away with my 14 year habit. I just continued to search for more literature and education on the topic.
The most bizarre thing began to happen as I searched for and acquired more and more data and resources.
The shades I had been wearing for 14 years began to weaken. I began to see through the self-justification and ideas that I had used to condone my behavior. For once, it wasn’t fear or guilt that was pushing me along, instead it was this desire to seek wellness. As time passed, I realized that the root of the problem really was me. Years of conditioning had skewed my vision, and the world I was seeing was not an accurate depiction of what really was.
Without the intention of guilting or shaming the reader, the research is overwhelmingly against pornography.
And when I say research, I don’t mean church groups, moms, and significant others.
When I say research I mean scientific studies, ex-actresses/actors, recovering addicts, and so many more.
We can talk about the conditions under which pornstars work under and how drugs are often used to help actors dissociate.
We can talk about how small porn habits have lead some to self sabotage their families with major consequences.
We can talk about the links between porn and human trafficking.
We can talk about our inability to know if porn videos are consensual or if there is consent from the actors/actresses.
We can talk about how pornography normalizes narratives that glorify physical abuse, rape culture, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and racism.
Or we could talk about how the average age of sexual assault perpetrators is decreasing with many children assaulting other children.
We could talk about how in almost all grooming relationships between pedophiles and their victims, porn is used to normalize sexual contact.
We could talk about how the vast majority of people asked about the effects of porn usage in their relationships reveal that they believe porn negatively affects their relationships by decreasing intimacy, introducing insecurity, and heightening anxiety.
The point is: porn is most definitely problematic.
Porn will probably always exist and (hopefully) for many, a passing fancy will probably be the only thing it ever is.
However, as I write this, I ask you to consider this:
For most products that have an addictive quality, there are regulations placed upon the industries that profit from them. Whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, ecigarattes, prescription drugs, or something in that vein, there are laws in place and regulatory agencies that aim to prevent the dissemination of these products into the hands of younger people who may not be fully able to handle the ramifications of using these products.
Yet when it comes to pornography consumption which is generally tied to masturbation thus making it highly addictive, all that currently exists is a box that asks if the viewer is over the age of 18.
Why does this industry that profits off of its harmful product continue to peddle its product without regulation?
And if you say to yourself, “my child would never” I would like to take this moment to let you know that about 12% of websites are pornographic, the porn industry is a $16.9 billion industry in the U.S. alone, the average first exposure age is 11, and most apps nowadays have in app browsers that allow for sharing of content without utilizing an external internet browser.
It is not a matter of your child or young people seeking it out. It is a matter of when they become exposed to it.
I have wanted to write an in depth piece on pornography, my personal journey, and why I feel the need to talk about it so much, for quite some time now.
There were so many factors to consider: being politically correct, not sounding judgmental, not shaming people, sounding too self righteous, not trying to seem like I’m wanting to drive the porn industry out of business, not trying to broadcast my dirty laundry for some sort of moral closure, the list goes on.
But the topics of objectification, sexual harassment/assault, human trafficking, and how sexual templates are being formed by the medium of pornography intersected in such a way that I felt it was absolutely necessary to write this post.
With 2020 bringing us a global quarantine and so much more time with our digital devices, the movement to bring education on the harmful effects of pornography to young people is even more urgent than ever before.
If you told 13 year old me as I picked up that first magazine, that those harmless pictures would bring me down a road littered with pain, a lack of intimacy, a skewing of my sexual template, shame, and problems that I would spend thousands of dollars trying to retroactively address in therapy, I think I would have thought twice about ever keeping that magazine.
Scratch that, my parents did try to tell me that albeit from a more religious and moral standpoint.
But it does make me ask the question, “What if this had been discussed to the same degree that the addictiveness and side effects of drugs or alcohol had been in my high school health class by objective third parties that were not my parents or legalistic religious institutions?”
Call me an idealist, but I think it is one of our responsibilities to do our best to make the world a better place for the generations that come after us.
If we ignore the dangerous and addictive nature of pornography, we will watch the themes of this fantasy world invade our real world in more shocking ways than what has already occurred.
Isn’t it weird that the #metoo movement seems to have less support from males?
Or that the current United States president has 26 sexual assault allegations against him and yet he still has half the population’s vote? Meanwhile an actress who accused her husband of assault has garnered the hate of the internet almost overnight? (I’m not speaking to accuracy of who did what, but particularly on the culture and the sexism apparent in the reaction of the internet)
Or isn’t it absolutely bizarre that if a woman comes forward about being a survivor of sexual assault that it is she who is put on trial? As if clothing or behaving as a human entitles anyone else to anything.
When we click those links and watch those videos, we fund the adspace that the industry sells to other vendors. That money goes back into the industry to produce more narratives that inaccurately present human as objects while proliferating the theme that “no does not mean no.” In fact, the exact theme that is prevalent in most videos is that “no means yes if you are persistent enough,”
And that my friends is part of the reason why porn is problematic.
Be sure to check out my friends at fightthenewdrug.org for extensive content on the harms of pornography. Whatever media consumption preferences you have, FTND has a resource for you. Whether it’s a podcast, articles, links to scientific studies, a three part documentary, guides for talking to children, significant others, or friends about porn, an app designed to help those in recovery, or something else, FTND probably can point you in the right direction.
If you are a recovering addict or compulsive user and you are reading this, congratulations: you aren’t alone. Recovery is a long process, and healing is often uncomfortable. I personally recommend therapy, but for my own recovery I desperately threw everything I could at the issue. Personally, it helped me to do away with moral/ legalistic counterpoints to pornography and instead focus on education and firsthand accounts. I started with Consider Before Consuming and it was super encouraging to feel like I wasn’t alone. Allies are also super important. Find maybe one friend or two to confide in and start the journey.
If you are a parent and reading this, FTND has resources available to talk through the harmful effects of pornography with your kids. They also have a partnership with a company called Bark, that focuses less on blocking content, and more on notifying you of word usage that could indicate porn consumption, self harm/suicide ideation, or potential online predator interaction.
Psychology Today is an excellent resource to find therapists in your area via zipcode. You can find healthcare coverage options all from the main page. A huge part in my personal recovery has been through therapy. I should also add that pornography also creates a space for anxiety and depression to be magnified in my own life and treatment has helped a lot with my mental state.
I pulled some data from :