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Is Everybody Watching Porn But Me (And Other Questions I’ve Been Asking My Friends)

By Entertainment

Illustration by Katie Jeannette Wittenberg.

According to Ninja, one of the members of the Die Antwoord music duo, Kanye West likes to throw anal pornography up on his big screen while casually hanging with friends (if you haven’t watched the episode from Vice’s Party Legends Youtube series then you’re missing out). My first thought when I heard this was, that makes sense, he’s a ridiculous guy. Then a guy friend of mine made a joke about casually watching porn with friends and now I’m questioning my porn habits altogether. Maybe it’s because I’m female, and porn is not as socially acceptable to watch with friends as it is with those who identify as male but I still can’t tell if that’s the only thing that makes my habits different from everybody else.

I first learned about sex through porn. My mother (bless her heart) never gave me “the talk” and my school’s sex-ed curriculum was a joke. So my curious self turned to the internet. More than anything else this led to body image issues and misconceptions about how much noise I should have been making. Learning about sex through porn seems to be a common factor among the millennial generation. A 2008 study by the University of New Hampshire found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18. So even if parents do talk to their kids about porn, those kids are still seeing sex performed by pornographers.  

I decided to talk to a few students at SAIC about their experiences learning about porn. Katherine, a film student, confessed that she also learned about sex through porn. As a result she “thought sex was something terrible when [she] was little… in real life it’s just messy and not always pretty.” Similarly, Jill, of the New Arts Journalism program, first discovered porn (and subsequently sex) when she found a pile of dirty VHS tapes in her grandfather’s closet. Such early exposure can shape our ideas of what sex is supposed to be, terrifying and disgusting us. It can factor into how we approach sex later in our lives.

My personal routine involves: getting desperate, logging into Tumblr, casually clicking through gifs and following intriguing hashtags, “shit, now I have to deal with that kink,”  clear browser history and promise myself I’ll never go down that rabbit hole again. Repeat about once a month. I’m not sure my routine is normal, but I also don’t think that normal exists in the context of porn. I remember an ex-boyfriend who said he didn’t get anything from gifs, he had to have a story to go along with the sex in order to get anything out of it. One of my best friends told me her favorite part about porn is going through and reading the funny comments at the end. Another friend told me she only gets turned on by watching those artsy “for women” porn gifs on Twitter.

It was surprisingly easy to get my friends to open up about their porn habits. I’ve found that within my circles porn is an acceptable topic of sober conversation, though this seems to be more true of my male-identifying friends than female-identifying friends. My female friends usually won’t bring up porn unless something really exciting happens. On the other hand, guys seem to be more than happy to talk about porn, especially among themselves. A guy friend of mine confessed to me that within their group chat, porn gifs are just casually sent back and forth.

But even though talking about porn seems to be easy, people on the other side still face a massive social backlash. A woman I follow on Instagram, who regularly contributes to alt-porn sites like Suicide Girls, sent me a message explaining that although she enjoys the work, she is “sexualized, looked down upon, [has] family and friends shown [her] photos and struggle[s] to find employment.” Society has an easier time accepting that people watch porn than accepting the people who make porn. Maybe being comfortable talking about porn is the first step towards acceptance, but that acceptance can’t be reached without individuals educating themselves on what sex workers go through and cultivating respect for their existence in the world.

Of course there are other negative sides to porn. In 2014 the University of Cambridge conducted a study and found that humans can get addicted to porn the same way they get addicted to drugs. The same area of the brain was activated when frequent viewers watched porn as when a drug addict come in contact with their drug of choice. Researches indicated that this could have repercussions in modern relationships, because an addict’s sexual threshold becomes so extreme they are unable to get turned on by real partners.

On the other hand, in 2015 researchers at the University of California found that viewing more porn and other sexual stimuli resulted in a higher libido. Both are scientifically sound studies conducted by respected institutions, but can they both be right? The only conclusion I’m able to draw from this is that porn’s effect on the brain has repercussions for our sex lives and is more complicated than modern science is able to grasp.    

Porn has become such a prevalent factor in the lives of the millennial generation, but we still don’t understand the full extent of its effect on our lives. Attraction to porn is an inevitable part of human nature, but just like any movie, it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. The people involved are human beings, and need to be treated with respect for doing work that is arguably an integral part of modern life. It also needs to be treated like any addictive substance and consciously used in moderation. Porn follows the general rule of our universe: Everything fun is harmful when used without conscience and in excessive amounts. When all is said and done, millennials need to consider what porn means so that we can keep taking steps toward becoming a sex-positive society.

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