The history of pornography is deeply entwined in with the collective human narrative since civilisation began. Emily Osborn takes a look at our relationships with modern pornography, and how it might be causing more harm than good. 

 

Since at least the early 70’s, pornography has dominated modern media. From Playboy magazine to society’s latest fling with OnlyFans, people love to consume porn. In 2018, PornHub.com reported just over 33.5 billion visits to its site, about 4 and a half times the earth’s population. Porn is great, don’t get me wrong. The porn industry provides employment to countless sex workers, and can be a way for people to explore their sexuality through masturbation. Most people who view porn regularly have a healthy relationship with this kind of media, however, more and more studies are popping up about the more unfortunate effects the porn industry can have on people’s ideas of sex, body image, and everything in between.

 

It’s no secret that children have unbridled access to the internet from younger ages than ever before, and because of this, internet pornography is often the first form of sex most kids ever see. While sex is a normal part of life, the pornography we see on our computer screens rarely depicts sex as it happens in the real world. Everything is airbrushed, the women ALWAYS cum, and consent or contraception is rarely ever discussed in any capacity. Sexual education in Ireland leaves a lot to be desired; and because of this, more young people are taking what they see on screen to be fact, rather than pure fantasy. This is echoed in international trends too: pornography has become a large contributing factor in sexual miseducation of school-aged children. 

 

Generally, porn churned out en masse by industry giants isn’t tailored to depict the kind of relationships humans actually have. It’s easy to forget that the actors are paid to look like they’re enjoying sex. The reality is aspects of sex can cause discomfort and even pain for a lot of people. But when all of this is conveniently cut out of porn, how are people who haven’t experienced sex supposed to know that it’s a case of practice makes perfect, and understand that not everyone enjoys the same thing? A particular study found that over 88.2% of top searches on porn websites contained terms like ‘gagging’, ‘choking’, and ‘submissive’. These more aggressive videos also leave out discussion of consent, and are filmed with a view to show rough sex as universally enjoyed. While BDSM and all its sub-categories are extremely popular, it should be a priority to demonstrate that consent must play a key role in the bedroom and should definitely not be left out.

 

In a world striving for perfection, a culture that aestheticises products and people: porn combines the two. The men are hyper-masculine, the women are akin to models, and non-binary people are seldom represented at all. Growing up and viewing pornstars for the first time, I’m confident I wasn’t the only person thinking, ‘Why don’t mine look like that?’ Over the past number of years, the demand for procedures such as labiaplasties and breast augmentation has grown exponentially, with breast lifts remaining the most sought-after form of aesthetic surgery worldwide. I was convinced as a teen that I would not be desirable unless I looked a certain way, both with and without my clothes. Apparently, this warped body image is attributable to the porn industry’s high standards for their performers, with many being encouraged to get different cosmetic procedures to maximise their attractiveness. We are not providing young people with the learning resources to understand that sex doesn’t look perfect, and it appears we’re too uncomfortable to admit how much of a mess it actually is. 

 

The solution to these issues is simple – placing pornography as a subject on the curriculum and providing fact-based and consent-led reform of Ireland’s sex-education. Unfortunately, such reforms have been continuously rail-roaded by conservative groups in Ireland, so I don’t think we’ll be breaking glass ceilings with this any time soon. In the meantime, we can all be more conscious of the porn we’re watching, and maybe before pressing play consider the implications that this major industry is having on the world around us.

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