Becoming desensitized to degradation has never been so easy.
by: Penny Garza
I’m not gonna lie — I feel kinda awkward talking about this. As a girl, I’m supposed to play the role of “little miss innocent,” unaware of what porn actually is.
But here’s the deal — nearly everyone has watched porn.
Our generation is nicknamed the Zoomers: digital natives whose neural network developed alongside the world-wide web. The first to have full online access to whatever we wanted growing up, many of us quickly developed sticky fingers for content our young brains were not quite equipped for.
I remember sitting in my sixth grade class hearing the typical class clowns joke over our underpaid literature teacher. One of the usual suspects uttered an unsurprisingly out-of-pocket remark containing the previously foreign term, “PornHub.” Confused while trying to listen to the allegory behind The Chronicles of Narnia, I naively questioned the meaning behind it. I soon found out that it was a website the boys would visit after class, using the laptops given to students for homework. Catholic school couldn’t derail me from my youthful curiosity, and I *cough cough* looked into it when I got home using the same scholarly device that has now extended its purpose to supposed sex education.
This story encompasses a larger trend that our generation and those younger than us share: early online exposure to explicit sexual content. Children commonly view pornography at home by accidentally clicking a link, mistyping a Google search, or after hearing about it at school.
Don’t get me wrong, past generations had access to porn through things like magazines and DVDs. However, magazines don’t provide full-scale depiction of sexual acts, and DVDs were much harder to acquire than tapping a few buttons. Additionally, these items were bought in-person, revealing your intentions to the creepy cashier or stealing it from people who may catch you in the act. Websites provide a safety blanket when consuming porn. As long the door is locked and private browsing mode is enabled, you could secretly watch whatever you want. So, curious children with easy access to technology did.
1 in 10 kids watch porn by the time they are 9. The average age of a child's first exposure to pornography is 12. Children under the age of 10 comprise 22% of online porn consumption for those under 18. A tenth of 12 and 13 year-olds are worried they are addicted to porn. Kids become avid porn watchers before they hold hands.
Kids exposing themselves to this explicit content before encountering sexual activity in real life establishes preconceived sexual templates from the get-go — ones that extraordinarily amplify gender stereotypes. Men are conveyed to be hypermasculine, violent dominators toward submissive women who only feel pure pleasure from whatever is enacted on them, including abuse. Kids believe established gender stereotypes by 10, integrating what they have consumed during a critical development period. These videos provide education for children unaware of anything else, and they subsequently base their attitudes on what they watch. As porn becomes more violent and degrading, so do real-life expectations in future intimacies.
Having an extremely false idea of sex through watching motion pictures of paid actors, perfect lighting, and kinky scenarios begins the sexual idolization of patriarchal simulations. As each new generation explores their sexuality, their desires increasingly intertwine with whatever videos may — or may not — be in their browser history. Sex education for children has turned into watching-and-learning from porn portraying problematic behavior as normal and natural.
According to a 2021 study, 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time site visitors described acts of sexual violence. It's estimated that between 33.9% to 88.2% of porn videos show acts of physical aggression, while 48.7% contain verbal aggression. This study found that despite the levels of aggression, the targets — 97% being women — almost always responded with pleasure or neutrality. There is a reason "post-nut clarity" exists: it's the reaction upon acknowledging the reality of what you are watching.
These pornographic trends are especially problematic considering men are 20% more likely to view pornography than women, making women even more prone to sexual violence and objectification. Men may feel more turned on by incorporating violence, coercion, or exploitation during sex as a result of watching such aggressive attitudes toward women as they grew up. For women, it could also put pressure on them to conform to the treatment mirroring that in porn, making it much harder to stand-up to sexual violence because it is widely perpetuated to be okay.
According to a study utilizing college-aged fraternity men, those who view pornography are significantly less likely to intervene as sexual assault bystanders, more likely to acquire sexual assault intentions, and commonly abide by so-called sexual assault “myths”—like the lack of explicit consent equals a greenlight.
Moreover, there is a strong link between porn consumption and poor mental health, exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, lower life satisfaction, and low self-esteem when watching porn. This correlation is particularly strong when porn is utilized to distract one’s self from negative emotions or when watching becomes compulsive.
There’s a falsely perpetuated idea that porn is strictly a “men’s issue.” Women in society are not seen as people who freely discuss sexual matters, nonetheless partake in porn viewership. In reality, many tune in in silence, and even if they don’t, women overall disproportionately struggle with the societal normalcy of porn due to its extremely toxic, widely consumed depictions of harmful behavior seemingly deemed “sexy.”
Porn pressures women to hyperfocus on their sexuality and behave using exaggerated sexual mannerisms, regardless if they actually experience pleasure or not. The sexiest woman is portrayed as one who does not turn down whatever is wanted from her, and enjoys absolutely every second of sex while being devoid of any genuine thoughts or emotions.
In reality, women are people who have complex, multifaceted personalities governing their own personal sexual desires, opinions, and preferences during sex — if they want to have sex at all. Yet, porn has led women to feel pressured to be hypersexual and more commonly encounter acts of sexual violence that is increasingly hard to recognize due to such normalized viral media portrayals.
Furthermore, pornographic content fuels body dysmorphia through actresses’ exaggerated physical features. Women believe that those features are the only ones considered beautiful, and if they don't look like that they won’t be attractive. Rates of invasive plastic surgery based on pornographic expectations increase year after year as a result of overall declining body image from competing with hugely popular porn stars praised online.
The societal opinions of porn stars also exhibit these core sexist attitudes. Society undoubtedly praises porn stars who set sexual standards online, yet they are not allowed to escape these boxes they’re put into to live as real people. Most porn stars are young women in search of money to support themselves. During a vulnerable time, they sign contracts to give porn companies the legal right to profit from their content indefinitely, trapping themselves within a harmful industry for the rest of their lives. When they later decide to end their career, they are still seen as one dimensional objects to be used for the pleasure of others and are not treated with the same respect as everyone else.
When consuming pornography, rarely do we consider how the actresses themselves are doing, if they are okay, and what their future holds for them. They are viewed as mere pawns for our sexual satisfaction, not worth a second thought. These actresses, at the end of the day, are people: humans with inherent dignity who deserve grace as anyone else.
89% of women in the sex industry said they wanted to escape but had no other means of income. 69% of women in the sex industry experience PTSD — a rate as high as combat war veterans. Sex workers also have a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence on the job. A previous sex worker stated, "I got the shit kicked out of me…most of the girls start crying because they're hurting so bad...I couldn't breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset and they didn't stop. They kept filming. [I asked them to turn the camera off] and they kept going." Think about that next time you finish to a screen.
When people watch porn, they can get bored with more popular videos that don’t give them the same initial thrill as when they first discovered it. This leads to quenching these unsatiated sexual cravings with more intense material, reinforcing dopamine releases induced by wild videos meticulously crafted to maximize their sickly sexual appeal to the human brain. This cycle subsequently builds a reliance on watching more shocking videos in order to excite the brain. Without in-person stimuli to interact with, watching normal porn turns mundane as it becomes more casual; thus nicher and kinkier videos that could embody even more harmful attitudes are more attractive to de-sensitized viewers.
This article isn’t meant to kinkshame anyone. Rather, it aims to uncover why we have certain preferences and if it’s harmful to our well-being. It’s okay to like whatever you want, but it is detrimental when it is innately harmful to perceptions of yourself and others. Sex should be something where everyone is on the same page and having fun without anyone getting genuinely hurt. However, porn leads many to enter sex thinking they must act a certain way to fulfill a widely perpetuated fantasy. This can leave many disappointed with the real deal, under-stimulated when confronted with the reality of most sexual encounters.
A porn director once said, "No one has ever died from an overdose of pornography." Porn consumption is only in the control of the viewer. With no safeguards to measure when it becomes too much, it can unknowingly affect lives when consumed mindlessly. Prevention of porn overtaking our lives can only come from within as there are no outward restrictions.
This unspoken porn phenomenon makes everyone confused about what sex is supposed to be like. Weary about how to really act, we become actors within our own sexual encounters. Playing up what is actually a mere fantasy, we feel the need to copy what we grew up seeing: enacting scenarios that, at its core, glorify violence, misogyny, and enslavement. Sex is losing its intimacy from its online sensationalism.
Partners can put too much weight on unhealthy elements of sex and ignore the beautiful, diverse pieces involved in such an intimate, exciting act between two people. Understanding and caring should be at the forefront of each party’s minds during sex to ensure good, comfortable experiences for everyone involved.
Equality, dignity, and identity are key markers of our humanity. They enable us to develop intrinsic value that we can extend to those around us. Porn kills these humane qualities, turning three-dimensional people into faceless entertainment.
Penny is an online and print writer for Rowdy Magazine. She recommends internally inspecting our sexual attitudes, gaining awareness of their origins, and evaluating their impacts in order to free ourselves from the sexual shackles we so often enslave ourselves to.