Porn: destroyer of the sexual imagination. (First person piece on how pornography contaminates human sexuality).

I grew up with little pornography in my life. Nothing but a couple of ridiculous erotic novels and the occasional passing glance at a VHS when I was a teenager. Mostly I used my own thoughts and imaginings.

That’s all gone now.

With the mass of sexually explicit content on the internet, I can’t see how any older child or young teen could discover sex with any degree of subtlety or imaginative exploration nowadays. The times of a gentle erotic awakening are gone unless a young person is lucky enough to grow up away from the presence of unblocked screens or smart phones. Even if they don’t go looking for porn, they’ll be helpfully directed to it from a games or other site. Young people are slammed into a theatrical sexual arena worth billions of dollars, contrived in the main by men directing us to think what sex should be and how men and women should behave within it.

Sounds bleak doesn’t it? And not just worrying for those of us who are parents – it’s for anyone who enjoys any degree of intimacy and engagement with other humans.

My early sexual feelings were led by natural curiosity and exploration in late 1970s London. No one told me what to do, how to do it, what was expected of me or how I should look whilst doing it. Those notions were utterly alien to me. I was young, a precocious masturbator, well under 10, eight or nine, possibly younger. It’s one of my clearest memories, playing with my favourite doll in my brother’s bedroom, flooded with warm sunlight on a hot day, the open window sending in a gentle breeze. All I remember is kicking my legs up against the wall and fiddling with that warm fleshy spot (pardon the euphemism) until I had my first orgasm. I didn’t really know what had happened, only that it was delicious and delirious and made me want to do it again. The concept of sex was remote to me, least of all porn. It was my own secret pleasure source and nothing to do with anyone else.

How I long for girls and boys now to be disentangled from any adult notions of sex, just as I was. To be discovering sex for themselves on their own. The ultimate narcissistic self-discovery.

Later I discovered a few books; ‘Clan of The Cave Bear’ by Jean M. Auel, a ridiculous Neanderthal sexual odyssey, ‘The Pearl,’ a hilarious pastiche of Victorian erotica and of course that classic French ‘novel’, ‘Emmanuelle.’ My mum had a jumble sale copy with a graphic of a female bum on the front with a serpent coiling round it. Emmanuelle is a laughable text but at least it was told from the protagonist’s point of view and involved her pleasure. (Although it seemed to me she was all too ready to get down on her knees and sucker her mouth round a man’s cock.) Already I was trying to position my own desire and pleasure in amongst these characters, bored and alienated by any submission on the part of Emmanuelle. I was more interested in how she could get herself off.

What is interesting is how tame the book seems now, how gentle. At the time there were sections of the book which made me feel angry, especially the eager subordination of the female characters. It’s strange how the goalposts keep changing as we constantly readjust to what is considered acceptable in the current ideas about sex and its representation. How did we ever get to the place where 70s and 80s pornography seems relatively benign compared to what is out there now?

So, what is out there now? If you dare to glance or count yourself as a regular user of porn on the internet, you will find endless war-fields of fucking. It’s rough and painful-looking, endless GIFs looking more like rape and degradation than anything resembling real sex. Hairless young women with mannequin-like childish bodies and pneumatic breasts groaning and writhing in pain. Men ejaculating on them and abusing them vaginally and anally. Humiliation and submission, the norm. Male pleasure, the most important thing, their penises huge and hairless like battering rams. Coming over everything. According to this world, women like nothing better than to snort and slurp sperm. Womens’ bodies held up to continuous scrutiny just as they are in advertising and films. (Andrea Dworkin RIP.)

And what messages is this strange contrived world sending young people coming across porn for the first time? That all women should give blow jobs without question and be grateful for it. That they should simply expect to accommodate anal sex as the norm. That they should do anything a man wants. And what for young boys? That their penises are weapons. That there is no gentle way to treat a woman’s body. That all a vagina needs is rough penetration with hardly any clitoral stimulation. That women will be grateful to suck your penis and not expect anything orally back. That of course a woman should allow you to penetrate her any which way.

Think of your sensitive, imaginative sons and daughters and what this might do to their early ideas and feelings about sex. It kind of ruins everything.

In a recent BBC3 documentary  (‘Porn, What’s The Harm’) young teenage boys admitted porn was created for their enjoyment and the women portrayed in it were arousing but ultimately, ‘sluts.’ Last week this view was repeated in Kirsty Wark’s excellent documentary, ‘Blurring the Lines’ when teenagers, both male and female, agreed women performing in porn were both desired and despised. The girls looked uncomfortable discussing it. Of course girls have problems with porn – it’s mainly created by men, for men.

Strange also, that the word feminism wasn’t used once in the BBC3 documentary (‘Porn, What’s the Harm?’) neither the concept that porn is not real but a contrivance, a performance. But many young people seem to take pornography very seriously. In research carried out by the same programme, the young men said they used porn to ‘learn about sex’ and girls said viewing porn was a way to educate themselves how to behave in sex. In other words they are translating this to the real world and what they believe is expected of them. How disturbing. Hence a rise in the demand for waxing vaginal hair, vaginal surgery, breast augmentation etc

Of course we need open, progressive discussions about the dangers of  internet porn with our children and young adults.

But this idea of talking to our children early certainly isn’t without its problems. There is a sense with all these educative pre-emptive interventions that we are spoiling young peoples’ sense of independence and exploration about sex themselves, a kind of ideological premature (sorry) punch-line delivered too early for some children to be ready for it. And where are tougher controls on the internet from our governments? It shouldn’t be just up to us to try and control and navigate the endless ocean of explicit content for our kids. They carry these worlds around on their phones.

Porn sabotages and undermines real human intimacy. It cuts imagination dead and homogenises our notions of what sex is. It affects everything, has seeped into music and popular culture, films, advertising and the playground. Hardcore porn, no longer seen as a perversion, is now a narrative of the everyday. It affects relationships and expectations of those who watch it. According to reseach, young people are actually having less sex the more time they spend on screens and social media. Porn is addictive and alienating and I would argue is damaging a whole new generation of young peoples’ mental heath and well-being.

Sex is a million times more mysterious and erotic than pornography could ever represent. And like most other human beings I really enjoy it. Not all the time. Just when I feel like it.

 

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