Pornography: the greatest guilty pleasure.
Most people watch porn, or at least have watched it before, but we rarely talk about it. Probably because we are too embarrassed to tell others that we like to play with our genitals. But the reality is that pornography is a lucrative business with drastic effects on our society, including the negative portrayal and treatment of women in the world.
And for better or worse, it isn’t going anywhere.
First, I want to distinguish the difference between hardcore porn and softcore porn. Hardcore porn is the traditional way in which we understand pornography: graphic nudity and explicit sexual activity. I don’t think I have to spell it out for you.
But softcore porn can be found everywhere: movies, TV, advertisements, magazines, sexy calendars. From Playboy magazines to trashy erotica, softcore porn is basically the culmination of sexual content that isn’t censored by the government.
This may seem trivial, but softcore porn changes the way we see sex and gender, and is ultimately our precursor to hardcore porn.
As Irish writer Oscar Wilde once remarked (or more recently, Frank Underwood from House of Cards), “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Human culture constantly hovers around sex, and the degree of our sexual liberty is based on what we choose to censor or prohibit.
For example, South Korea harboured Neo-Confucian values up until the late 1990s, where sexual culture was largely conservative and reserved; only with the advent of K-pop did Korean culture shift towards a more Westernized view of sexuality. By comparison, countries like Thailand and Brazil have a more liberal sexual culture which generally tolerates (and somewhat regulates) prostitution and sex tourism.
Here in North America, we follow the old adage: sex sells.
The porn industry alone rakes in billions of dollars in revenue. Its popularity among young men has become a joke of sorts, where the only thing that can diminish online traffic to porn sites is the release of a big-budget video game (e.g. Fallout 4). Hell, PornHub even tried to buy a competitive gaming team. And whenever the advertising execs and movie studios are stumped, they bring out a sexy celebrity to manipulate the audience into paying attention.
Corruption and abuse are guaranteed to run rampant in the porn industry, but what does it matter? So long as the people get want they want, pornography will always make money.
And that bothers me a little.
Russell Brand, an English actor-comedian with his own history of drug and sex addiction, argues that pornography prevents its users from relating to other people in a meaningful way. Our psychology is bombarded with such sensual sexual imagery, that we gradually become unable to feel love and intimacy.
As he briefly reads from another article, softcore porn changes the way men see women through voyeurism, objectification, validation, fetishization, and finally alienation. The man first views women as sexual objects, or a set of body measurements. He slowly validates his masculinity by turning women into a fetish. Eventually, the man is unable to feel connected with women, as he has deprived women of any subjective depth.
Brand further illustrates that “women’s porn” is the wrong approach to gender equality. It doesn’t empower female sexuality, it merely objectifies men; it would only end up desensitizing women.
I largely agree with Russell Brand, but he doesn’t really resolve any of the psychological issues presented by pornography. He merely tells us that we have to understand what we want from our romantic relationships, in spite of our freedom to jack off.
But Big Time, you might retort, masturbation is healthy. Moreover, it’s fun! Pornography facilitates the need for horny teenagers to learn about their bodies. If pornography didn’t exist, this need would be fulfilled through other potentially dangerous means. And to those who believe in sex after marriage, or those who value work over romance, masturbation provides an easy STD-free way of venting sexual frustration.
Sure. Let’s say masturbation is a good thing. Is our current state of porn a good thing as well?
My biggest issue with today’s porn is its inherent misanthropy. When asked why they chose pornography as a profession, female porn stars tend to say they did it for money and sex. Capitalism has its strengths and its faults, but here it serves to reduce our sexuality to money. These porn stars function as the capital, and we simply function as the profit margin. The more porn the industry throws at us, the more money we throw back.
Everything is about sex except sex itself. But if sex is about power, then porn is about submission.
We need to raise the standards we have with our porn. It’s easy to get caught up in our sexual arousal, but as consumers we must demand a culture of love as opposed to a culture of pure sexuality. It is our responsibility to shape porn into a truly fulfilling fantasy, lest it evolves into a social nightmare.
In the meantime, while you’re on a computer, you may as well have some fun. Relax. Get comfortable. Find some lube, maybe a toy if you want. And of course, look out for intruders *wink*.