Top of the Ticket

Internet porn is an experiment in dehumanization

America's kids have easy access to images of extreme sex

You do not have to be a prude to worry about porn. Thanks to the Internet, Americans have been pushed, unwittingly, into a vast social experiment testing whether unfettered access to the most freakish and foul pornography will warp sexual relations for generations to come.

The days of boys sneaking peeks at Playboy on a drugstore magazine rack are long gone. Years ago, the Playboys got wrapped in plastic and stuck behind the counter to keep the glossy images of naked “girls next door” away from children’s eyes. How quaint that now seems in a world where the family computer has become a quick portal into a far more raunchy sea of sexual images. 

Raunchy actually does not begin to describe the things that any kid can find with a few search words and a couple of clicks on a track pad or mouse. It’s a quick descent into an endless display of photographs and videos depicting sex in every variety, but dominated by perverse male fantasies of women performing like whores for men whose sexual techniques appear to have been learned in a prison cell. The worst stuff seems to be coming from Eastern Europe -- misogynistic, obscene little movies reveling in the abuse and degradation of young women.

This is soul-disturbing stuff most human beings have never seen or experienced before. But now, any 14-year-old boy or girl can access it easily on a laptop in the privacy of a bedroom. And, though it costs money to get inside the websites where the porn industry rakes in its billions, there is so much free stuff available that no wall really exists to keep anyone away from the images.

It is not fashionable or cool to suggest that there is a problem with porn. Comedians such as Bill Maher make fun of conservative religious people who suggest that there is. Feminist objections get dismissed as harangues of sexless harpies. Libertarians defend the pornographers’ right of free expression. But common sense and a growing body of evidence suggest that there is a negative cost being paid that only begins with the sex trafficking and exploitation undergirding the lower depths of the porn industry.

A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior says that porn has become “a primary source of sexual education” that is embedding new codes of sexual behavior in young men. The survey of 487 American males of college age indicates that “the more pornography a man watches, the more likely he was to use it during sex, request particular pornographic sex acts of his partner, deliberately conjure images of pornography during sex to maintain arousal, and have concerns over his own sexual performance and body image. Further, higher pornography use was negatively associated with enjoying sexually intimate behaviors with a partner.”

In other words, young men who immerse themselves in porn develop disturbing expectations about sex and what they should demand from sex partners. College-age women who have to deal with these young men confirm that this is true and one wonders if the epidemic of sexual assault that has hit so many campuses might be exacerbated by the ubiquitous presence of porn, especially in fraternity life. There is some indication, as well, that porn has been a factor in sexual assaults in the military.

Here’s another disturbing fact: Law enforcement officials in Los Angeles are finding that, among very young perpetrators of sexual abuse -- we’re talking 12-year-old boys here -- access to porn is a very common driving force in their actions. Too young to know what normal, healthy sex might be, they become hyper-sexualized by pornographic videos of abusive sex acts. 

Kids are not the only ones being affected by easy access to porn. Grown men become porn addicts, risking jobs and family because they cannot look away. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2013 movie, “Don Jon,” is an entertaining but honest portrayal of a young man who finds it impossible to have an intimate relationship with a woman because of his porn obsession. It’s worth a watch.

Erotica is not bad. Sexual imagery can be artistic, enlightening and just plain fun. But get beyond the sexy surface of Internet porn and you will find one dominant message: Women are no more than a set of orifices intended for the use and abuse of men and men are nothing more than anonymous phalluses demanding to be serviced.

That’s the philosophy delivered to young Americans by a very profitable industry using a very powerful communications tool that reaches into every home. Some people call it free speech or “adult” entertainment; I call it dehumanizing.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
75°