So what’s the big deal with porn?

Back in the day, when you actually had to talk to people, like face to face, most sex ed was learnt through your ‘village’ – at school, at home or through the kids in your neighbourhood. But nowadays, most young people learn more about sex from porn than anywhere else. So with giant porn companies stepping in and taking over as sex ed teacher, it’s probably time we actually started talking about it and asking some important questions.

But isn’t porn normal?

Well – yes and no. Porn’s not new, but online porn is far from what used to be considered ‘normal’ – like old-school R18 mags or buying erotica DVDs from the video store. Now you simply turn on a device and within seconds, you and your mates are blasted with a smorgasbord of millions of free, private and full on X-rated pornos. But this is where we run into trouble…. because porn’s everywhere, it’s so easy to think it’s ‘normal’.

Got consent?

  • Great sex: You may think... great, here comes another consent speech but seriously, saying ‘yes’ is an important and legal part of great sex. Consent means your partner is all good with everything and you have checked this out before and during sex by say something like; ‘are you into this’ or ‘do you want to try doing this’?
  • Porn sex: It’s all an act - porn sex is performed by actors and there isn’t much “yes” or consent going on. In fact, heaps of porn makes pressuring someone into sex or lack-of consent look sexy – and then porn actors pretend they enjoy it. This gives pretty messed-up messages about consent and how important it is for great sex. It’s pretty easy to understand consent – if it’s not yes, it’s no

Emotional connection:

  • Great sex: Yup, trust and connection are the foundations for ‘feeling the love’ in the bedroom. When you’re connected, sex is way more likely to be fun - you can say what you like or don’t like, there’s no pressure to act or look a certain way, and you both feel good about it.
  • Porn sex: With porn, the screen’s your lover and it can become a ‘me, myself and I’ situation. Porn might give you a quick fix, but it’s a poor replacement for being emotionally and sexually connected with someone. And the more time you spend focused on your own wants and needs, the harder it can be to be satisfied with a real person.

Pleasure:

  • Great sex: It’s about hitting the sweet spot of giving and receiving pleasure; you show care for each other and can talk about what you want and don’t want. There are realistic expectations – and no one is pressured to do things they aren’t into just for the other partner. The expectation is always that it will feel good for you both.
  • Porn sex: The thing with porn is that the more you watch, the more ‘normal’ you think it is so that porn starts to shape your expectations . The bummer is porn is just not realistic and can lead to disappointment and/or downright failure in the bedroom. Watching lots of porn can end up taking the pleasure out of the real deal – with guys not being able to ‘get it up’ anymore, girls disliking their bodies, feelings of inadequacy compared to what’s on screen and/or trying things that are degrading or painful in real life.

Safety:

  • Great sex: Safe sex means you make your own decisions, you’re listened to and you can say stop at any point – even if your partner is really into it. You’re physically comfortable, you can talk about using contraception and you can feel good about the type of sex you are having with no lingering worries or regret afterwards. You feel emotionally respected and your partner makes you feel good about your gender, sexuality and culture.
  • Porn sex: Straight up - porn sex is often not ‘safe’. Condoms are not always used and a lot of porn is violent, verbally aggressive and degrading. There can be sexism, racism, domination and power imbalances in both heterosexual and gay porn – and porn actors are paid to look like they are enjoying it, even if it’s painful and degrading. So, you get the message…. lots of porn sex just isn’t that safe. It doesn’t show what people actually like or want – so if you think you’re learning some great sex techniques from porn, it might go downhill when it comes to the real thing.

Can porn affect us?

Short answer – yes! Porn can affect us in a number of ways, and the more we watch the more we might be affected. Here’s what the research shows:

  • Porn and behaviour:  Studies show that watching porn can change our sexual behaviour. Young people who watch a lot of porn are more likely to have sex earlier, have riskier sex (e.g. without a condom) or sex where their partner gets physically hurt. They’re also more likely to be coercive (put pressure on their partner to have sex even when they say no), be less concerned about consent and to try out sexual practices seen on porn sites.
    “If I watch porn and, like, I see a male porn star, and sometimes, like if I’m with a female, I try and do the exact same thing as they’re doing, cause I figure that they’re stars.” – male, 17 years old.
  • Porn and sexual aggression: There’s people being strangled, hit, yelled at and most of the time the actors respond as if they like it – because that’s what they’re paid to do. This can be confusing to watch, especially if we’re learning about sex from porn. Aggressive porn can suggest that it’s okay for sex to be violent, it’s okay if sex hurts, and it’s okay to pressure someone – when the reality is it’s not okay. The long-term impact of this isn’t great, with lots of studies now suggesting that young people who watch a lot of porn are more likely to be sexually coercive and aggressive in their own relationships.
    “A couple of weeks ago one of my friends had a fight with his girlfriend because she wouldn’t do things with him that he’d seen in porn films. He thought it was okay to force her to do it.” – male, age 15 years.
  •  Porn and sex: People who watch a lot of porn can end up with unrealistic expectations and feel pressured to look a certain way or ‘perform’ for hours, limiting their chances for great real-life sex. Some high porn users find it hard to get turned on without porn, they can struggle to get an erection with a real-life partner and end up preferring porn to actual partners. They can find that over time that the more porn they watch, they more they need increasingly violent and extreme porn to get aroused. Watching lots of porn can also result in real sex not seeming as good as online sex, leaving everyone disappointed. In fact, 20% of young people in NZ agreed that porn leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex. You don’t even have to watch a lot of porn to be affected – a 2018 study recently reported that young adults who watch porn monthly experienced reduced sexual satisfaction.
    “I watched porn because it was fun, and it was normal really. The more porn I watched, the more I needed it. I had no idea it was having a negative effect – I had no clue. With each year I needed more hard-hitting stuff because the normal stuff didn’t work anymore. I didn’t realise it was a problem until I met someone I really loved and was attracted to – and well yeah nothing worked in real life anymore. Just porn.”- male, 25 years.
  • Porn and sexual attitudes and beliefs: Most studies say porn is the biggest sex ed teacher of this generation – so it has a massive role in shaping ideas about sex. A lot of porn is sexist which can make those who watch porn regularly more likely to be sexist. In fact, one study showed that 70% of young people believe porn encourages society to view women as ‘sex objects’. Porn can also make us think that male sexual pleasure is more important than female pleasure. An analysis of many porn sites showed that while most porn videos portrayed male pleasure, female pleasure was only shown 13% of the time. Some porn is also racist and reinforces racial stereotypes. Porn also teaches us that sex is a transaction, only about our own pleasure – which isn’t reality and doesn’t make for great sex with a partner.
    “I’m always watching porn and some of it is quite aggressive. I didn’t think it was affecting me at first, but I’ve started to view girls a bit differently recently and it’s making me worried. I would like to get married in the future, but I’m scared it might never happen if I carry on thinking about girls the way I do.” – male, 13 years old.
  • Porn and body image: Lots of porn actors have had surgery on their bodies to make themselves more appealing for porn work, so if we compare ourselves to those types of bodies, it’s easy to feel pretty disappointed.
    “It affected the way I felt about myself, and I began to feel insecure. I used to want so much to look like a porn star. I am slowly learning that that is not how all girls look.” – female, 14 years old.
  • Porn and mental health: Young people who watch a lot of porn are more likely to feel isolated, distracted, become antisocial and get worse grades because they can’t stay focused. Some young people are also now saying they feel ‘addicted’ to porn. They feel they can’t go without it or they try to stop watching it, but can’t. In a recent study with NZ young people, 42% ‘would like to watch less porn but find it hard not to’, and 71% want restrictions on porn so it’s not as easy to see. Our recent survey of NZ therapists showed that more young people are now accessing help for problematic porn use.
    “I thought that porn was harmless. It’s not like pornography could kill me or hurt anyone around me, right? What I came to find out the hard way is that porn became a very real addiction with very real effects in my life” – male (33).

Need help?

If some of the stuff you’ve read has made you feel anxious or worried, you think you might have a problem with porn, or you just want to find out more – here are three simple steps to help you out:

‘Getting this topic (porn) out of my secret life into the open, and talking, talking, talking has been the biggest impact in breaking the cycle.’ Nick Willis, two-time NZ Olympic medallist

1.     Know the signs:

  • Here are some key signs that porn may have become a problem for you:
  • You feel you have to watch more and more porn to be satisfied
  • You feel agitated or stressed when you’re unable to watch porn
  • You’ve tried to stop watching porn but haven’t been able to
  • You need to watch increasingly violent and extreme porn to get aroused
  • You think about porn a lot and miss it when you don’t watch it for a while
  • You neglect other activities as a result of watching porn.

2.     Make Changes:

The ABC‘s are a handy, easy-to-remember way to help someone change their habits around porn:

Access 
(Limit your porn access)

One of the easiest, yet hardest, things to do is to restrict your access to porn. It takes a lot of discipline, but it is 100% possible, so here are some tips on how to break the cycle:

Limit your access

The most common time to watch porn is between 10pm and 12pm. So a simple trick you can get in the habit of is to leave your devices in another room. Then your bedroom becomes a place of sleeping. More sleep, less porn. Win-win. If you can’t access porn, you won’t see it.

Put a filter on your device

There are heaps of apps out there that help block your access or plug-ins that work as a filtering device for your modem. One option is SafeSurfer which is fast, free and super straightforward.

Take away the Internet

Ouch. How could you live in a world without the internet! Changing your device to one that has no internet capability may seem a bit extreme, but it’s the fastest way to create change. Many retailers sell devices without 3G/4G, which are only $25.

Removing temptation will demand a lot of self-control, however remember you don’t have to do this alone. Point ‘C’ will cover that.

Brain

(Knowing how it ticks)

Porn often fills a void. It’s super common to watch porn when you feel bored, frustrated, lonely, or stressed. It can be a comfort, stress relief or a time filler. But is it healthy?

Continuously viewing porn over and over can create unhealthy ‘brain pathways’. Feeding the cravings doesn’t help you kick the habit. If you want to change a porn habit, you’ve got to ‘get out of the rut’ so to speak and teach the brain what it really needs when you’re feeling low. It sounds a bit cheesy, however it truly works. A few ways you could do this:

Surround yourself with friends and whānau

There will be people in your life who will want the best for you, keep them close and in the know about how you are doing.

Find a new form of stress relief

Do something that makes you feel good (sport, a hobby, music, reading).

Burn some steam

Exercise can really take your mind off things and a bonus is that you’ll feel better too.

Just remember…

you’re not the only one in this boat and no craving lasts forever. You’re in control.

Connect

(With others)

Mates are awesome, but they’re not always the best source of advice.

Don’t be shy to confide in someone with a few more pearls of wisdom. If you don’t know who to turn to, a good place to start could be school counsellors, trusted family members, youth workers, sports coaches or a helpline. We’ve put some numbers below on Step 3.

Just start the convo. It’s an important step to making changes.

3.     Get support

  • Talk to a friend: Talking to or texting a real person is an important step towards kicking the habit.
  • Connect: The Light Project hosts a bunch of support services, apps confidential phone chat/text line services available to support you. 
  • Find a resource: The Light Project has helpful video clips, books and websites with supportive information and stories. 

 

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