Sometimes I wonder what the generation born in the first two decades of the 20th Century would make of this new-fangled millennium.
The majority of them entered a world without cars, commercial air travel, television or radio. The BBC didn’t exist, there was no electricity network and no telephone system. A letter might routinely take a week or more to travel more than a few miles and it would be nearly three decades before a publicly-funded health system was more than a twinkle in Nye Bevin’s eye.
There are a great many things that the war generation didn’t have and that we now do, but one commodity that wasn’t in short supply back at the turn of the last century is pornography.
That might seem surprising given the contemporary view of porn is that it’s very much a late-20th Century phenomenon. But if you can bear to sully your internet history, it’s clear that porn has been around since the mid-19th Century.
In fact, one might argue that porn has been around since the time of the Renaissance painters. While it may be artistically blasphemous to say so, it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t at least one or two gentlemen who didn’t schedule in a little ‘me time’ upon first viewing of a new Titian.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, our view is that there’s nothing wrong in principle with porn. Our fascination with the naked human form has been in evidence since time immemorial – just ask Adam and Eve.
On an objective, academic and therapeutic level, pornography is a perfectly legitimate way for many people to reconnect with their sexuality or to satiate a physical need that may not be satisfied in the real world of an intimate relationship.
The negative issues many of us have around sex as adults were actually sown in childhood. We heard messages that sex is a sin or that touching ourselves was not only shameful, but positively bad for our health (‘masturbation makes you go blind’, anyone?)
These messages run deep into our psyche and as a result we can end up feeling deep shame for being sexual. For these people, porn or ethical porn can be a permission slip to be sexual, to get in touch with sexual arousal and to make it all right.
We are social beings and when we see others doing something taboo it can make it more normalised.
Yet there is a genuine issue around sexual anorexia or sexual shutdown and for those who have closed the door on their sexuality for whatever reason, porn can be a temporary gateway to awaken dormant or repressed sexual energy and arousal. It’s not the long-term answer – but it can be a start.
To be totally clear: not all the porn is bad.
What’s wrong with bad porn is its rampant and perhaps inevitable commercialisation and extremism. And that’s why we should all fear for the sexual and emotional health of the millennial Generation Z.
Again, the briefest muddying of your browser will reveal any number of porn sites where you could, if you wished, watch virtually any act of sexual congress you might care to imagine. Almost without exception, the clips you watch will be crammed with advertising aimed at making you part with your money for exclusive access to even bigger, better and more ballsy (literally) video.
Let’s connect the dots here.
Advertising costs the advertiser money. The advertiser therefore expects their advert to be seen by more people. In order to attract more advertisers, the advertising platform (in this case a porn site) needs to attract more visitors than its competitors.
To attract more visitors, the platform must incentivise traffic through having the ‘best’ content. Having the ‘best’ content means playing to a kaleidoscope of different persuasions, proclivities and extremes.
So, what happens? Film makers ratchet up the on-screen jeopardy. The films become edgier, more outrageous, more shocking. Why? Because the audience is bored by routine.
Forty years ago, it might have been quite thrilling to watch a couple faking orgasm in a penetration-less stage show of what sex might look or sound like.
Now? You’ll see everything up close and in glorious technicolor.
Porn is the unreconstructed otherworld where #metoo never happened. By and large, sex in porn currently trends towards becoming an exercise in the objectification, exploitation and suppression of women.
If you want to find a video of a man in a gimp mask being abused by a stud-collared dominatrix, you’ll find it. But more likely and more routinely you’ll find a man abusing a woman – the only difference will be that the mask and the collar will be missing and the badly-dubbed enthusiastic shrieking of the actress suggests she’s enjoying her physical capitulation.
This is what passes for ‘normal’ sex in Pornworld and this can be the first introduction to sex and sexuality that a member of Generation Z has. And let’s face it – if your first visual representation of sex is anal sex in a porn movie then everything else is going to seem incredibly tame by comparison.
But it’s in the so called ‘tameness’ where we can experience sex that includes deep pleasure, whether or not we have an orgasm. It’s pleasure that makes us feel alive, revives and reenergises us, makes us feel on top of the world and fills us up with a concoction of feel good chemicals.
It’s pleasure that, for a moment or two, makes us forget all our stresses and brings us totally into the present moment.
We can – and do – debate, criticise and rue the presence of ‘bad’ pornography all we like, but while there’s demand for it, people will continue to make it and make money from it. It will continue to be uploaded and it will continue to be monetised.
The worry is in the effect it has on the viewer. Statistics now suggest that a person’s first interaction with hardcore pornography happens at the age of 11.
It’s no age. It’s a time when – spoiler alert – they have only just stopped believing their presents are delivered by a fat man in a red suit who somehow fits down their chimney on Christmas Eve. How on earth is that 11-year-old boy or girl supposed to understand that what they’re seeing is a gruesome caricature of what a real intimate relationship is really like?
Porn is a fantasy world of supersized plastic tits and now baboon butt implants, freakishly large dicks and questionable voice dubbing over acting that has more wood than the lead actor’s genitals.
It teaches the impressionable viewer that anal sex is as normal a part of life as tea and toast, or that the best way to get into the pants of a bored housewife is to turn up bare-chested in dungarees, brandishing a spanner and an oily smile, and offering to fix her plumbing.
And what they take away from this is a wildly unrealistic idea of what it might take, when they’re much older, to eventually have a fulfilling sexual relationship, as well as a false impression of the emotional journey that’s required in order to be able to connect with a potential partner in a place where mutual respect and trust are mandatory.
Back in the 70s, there was a thrill to finding a naughty magazine or two stashed behind the water tank in the loft, or the partially-charred pages of a discarded Readers’ Wives on the remnants of a woodland fire.
Now, porn is like technology. ‘New’ is nirvana, because if it’s more than a month old, it’s boring. Porn is addictive in that way. Ask any recovering addict or any sex addict in active addiction and they’ll tell you that you need increasingly bigger hits to find your high. Porn is no different.
The result is that we’re in danger of breeding a nation of numbed-out sex addicts who need to go to further and further lengths just to get their rocks off.
A lot of what we do involves the ‘de-hypnotisation’ of people or coaching people out of negative conditioning from their childhoods and the societal conditioning that reinforces those unhelpful messages and behaviours.
Porn is now a modern pandemic whose key symptom is mass hypnosis. What that means for us as therapists & coaches is that dealing with the effect on Generation Z is going to take another whole load of de-hypnotising and un-conditioning from a wholly pernicious trend that is now ‘technological’ and busy creating a generation of ‘erotic robots’ who know all the right show pony moves but are emotionally disconnected from sex itself.
That challenge is why so many coaches and therapists to help with intimacy & relationship issues are now in demand.
Like all things done to excess, if you overuse porn it fuels a disconnect. It disconnects people from what real sex is, or at least what it could be.
It disconnects people from their bodies because they now see their own physicality in the context of the artificially constructed ‘ideal’ who always gets his woman or her man.
It disconnects people from other people, because we judge them on what we see on the screen and they couldn’t be more different.
Worst of all, it breeds fear of sex in young millennials because they know, deep down, they can never, ever live up – physically or in ‘ability’ to what plays in HD on their laptop.
That doesn’t just create potential issues around maintaining realistic expectations around intimacy – it also carries a very clear and present danger of developing body dysmorphia through the vicious process of anatomical compare and despair that we inevitably go through.
And the tragedy is the reason for that is they aren’t emotionally mature enough to understand that what they watch in the solitude of their bedrooms is as far from the reality of a real relationship that it’s possible to get.
And if all this seems a bit hysterical, the following quote from Jared – a 16-year-old lad who featured in an excellent but emotionally gut-wrenching Reign Ministries article on the subject – might add some clinical perspective:
“Do I think this has changed the way I see girls? Yeah. Sort of. I haven’t had a girlfriend and it seems weird to think about the girls I know doing the stuff I watch. No girls in school look like the girls in porn films which is okay. But, I love how girls look in porn.”
If that’s the future, then maybe we need to do something about the present, and we can start that by highlighting the really wonderful breakthroughs in the form of rising numbers of pleasure focused sex educators, sex coaches and programmes on mainstream TV more people talking about ‘real sex’.
Once we know what real sex looks like then we can come to realise that sex is so much more than performance and orgasms. Great sex includes great communication, learning each other’s arousal patterns, erotic preferences, sexual styles, and what creates a sense of emotional safety for each other.
The thing is, real sex is messy and vulnerable and sexy and wild and joyful and many other things too.
When we have sex, we bring our whole selves and that includes our daily stresses, frustrations and resentments, as well as our desire to connect and share and enjoy pleasure so communication is essential.
Bringing our whole selves to sex is when it can be a really beautiful, connected and magical experience. Which, Paging Captain Obvious, we can be missing out on if relentlessly & obsessively knocking one out to a video on PornHub.
Our jobs as therapists and coaches is to provide a safe place where you can learn how real sex driven by great communication will always be better than the disconnected façade you see on a computer screen.
The issue with porn is that it’s got way out of balance.
The call here is to begin countering its negative effects by reinforcing the message that valuing real sex and being sex positive is the key to ending its social domination and right-sizing it so there’s room for us to actually connect with ourselves and others.