I am part of several online groups for sex professionals, which are a great source of inspiration and also discussion. Recently, a discussion erupted into a slagging match in which one member criticised some of the senior educators in our global community for not doing ‘enough’ about the ‘crisis’. Crisis? I thought. What crisis were they referring to exactly?
- The crisis that leaves people feeling ashamed of their sexuality?
- The crisis that is the appalling state of sex education globally?
- The crisis that is people not having adequate and helpful relationships and intimacy and sex education in school that leaves them struggling to form and sustain meaningful relationships as adults?
- The crisis that leaves people feeling broken or damaged if they find themselves enjoying porn?
- The crisis that means we still regard sex as a taboo topic on social media, but acts of violence and animal abuse are OK?
Are any of these the crisis they were referring to?
Apparently the crisis they were referring to is the one that we as sex and relationships therapists and sex educators don’t all agree that all porn is bad. That all teens are being led astray by porn (because they are stupid… or because they often don’t get proper sex education?) That young boys are sex-crazed monsters and girls are delicate flowers with no libido, agency nor interest in sex for their own pleasure. That otherwise powerful, well-balanced men are suffering because they are incapable of knowing the difference between reality and fantasy. And that porn alone is to blame for poor (sexual) behaviour and destroying relationships; (unlike the afore mentioned silence around sex and relationships education, the impact of smartphones, social media and the Internet; which no one ever thinks about banning – because we understand it’s about how we use them).
The truth is, out of control behaviour is a thing, and out of control behaviour around sex and porn is also a thing. But out of control behaviour is a thing also associated with sugar, cleanliness, food, smells, upper management teams, internet trolls, text messages, online dating and just about anything else that affects us as humans. Out of control behaviour can stem from a variety of sources; most often responses to stress and anxiety. In fact, out of control behaviour has been around a long time in many guises, well before the rise of internet porn. Just ask Lady Macbeth and Van Gogh.
While I agree that there is some porn around these days that is truly awful, and some people struggle in their relationship with it, I also see a lot of TV shows, music, films and blogs which are truly awful, that wield extraordinary influence on the lives of many, yet this is rightly not referred to as a ‘crisis’. It’s just considered garbage. Like crap porn, this too is garbage. A crisis on the other hand is huge. Poverty. Racism. Sexism. Corruption. These are serious crises with large NGOs and global movements drawing attention to their needs. They are recognised as a crisis and treated accordingly. Porn and its rise is simply not a crisis. Porn is a response. Beyond that, smart porn (ethical, feminist, diverse and even mainstream that depicts equality, pleasure and consent) is a response to not only such crises, but to our inability to address the elephant in the room that is our sexuality. Smart porn is a way of expressing that which cannot be expressed in words. And this is what makes it powerful and necessary. Sex, intimacy and their associated complexities are not a crisis, but how we disregard that part of ourselves is. But there are no NGOs for bad sex because sex taps into our core; the parts of ourselves that leave us feeling uncomfortable at times – a vulnerability we would prefer would simply just go away. We so rarely get to see these parts of ourselves reflected back to us, but all porn addresses that need. The good, the bad and the ugly. This is, in my opinion, why it’s so popular and making up over 25% of all internet searches (Perrin et al. 2008). Smart porn is one medium that is picking up the slack and making sex publicly accessible and a powerful initiator of conversation and therefore change.
As consumers, the public and health and sexuality professionals, we do not have to agree about how we like our porn, if we like it at all. But what we do have to accept, is porn is not going away. For those who don’t like it, don’t watch it. And for those who do, let’s strive to talk about it more, to make it better, and to see versions of ourselves we would like to see celebrated.
If you are struggling with porn consumption and out-of-control or unhelpful behaviour around sex and relationships or feel shame about expressing sex and pleasure, get in touch with me for a private therapeutic consultation face-to-face or via Skype.
Perrin, P. C., H. N. Madanat, M. D. Barnes, A. Carolan, R. B. Clark, N. Ivins, S. R. Tuttle,
H. A. Vogeler, and P. N. Williams. 2008. “Health Education’s Role in Framing Pornography as a
Public Health Issue: Local and National Strategies with International Implications.” Promotion
and Education 15 (1): 11–18. doi:10.1177/1025382307088093.