November 11, 2015

SEX ON THURSDAY | How Porn Actually Affects Us

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By DONG BURGUNDY

Feelings and opinions surrounding pornography vary wildly depending on who you talk to. Some people think porn is harmless, innocuous erotic entertainment used for masturbation or just viewing pleasure. Others say porn is immoral, a dangerous fantasy which produces unhealthy and unrealistic sexual expectations in both teenagers and adults. In all likelihood, the truth is almost certainly somewhere in between. If used sparingly and correctly, pornography can be a fun diversion to be enjoyed either solo or with a partner. But if abused or mishandled, pornography has the potential to harm and negatively affect one’s life or the health of one’s relationship.

Before we can get into how porn affects us, we need to understand who the primary consumers of pornography actually are. In general, porn is predominantly consumed by men. That’s not to say women don’t view porn — they just view it proportionally less. While there are many reasons for this, some major factors are that statistically, men are more interested in sex than women are. More men masturbate than women, and men masturbate more often. The famous biologist and sexologist Alfred Kinsey reported in his studies that men were also aroused by visual stimulation more readily than women. The fact that men use porn more than women also makes sense biologically. From an evolutionary/reproductive standpoint, males have much more to gain from mating with multiple females, whereas females gain the most reproductive success from mating with one high quality male. In other words, men’s brains are genetically hardwired to desire sex with new and attractive women, making pornography a perfect fit for male sexual psychology. Some may argue that the gender gap in porn consumption is a self-fulfilling prophecy rooted in sociological factors, namely that porn has always been produced with men as a target audience. In the end, all of these causes likely play a role in the disproportionate consumption levels.

How does porn affect individuals, and how does porn affect our relationships? The jury is still very much out on these issues. In my opinion, porn can be best thought of as a drug, like alcohol. While most viewers are not addicted to porn, real world evidence has shown that porn addiction is very real. But even for casual consumers, porn can have negative effects. Frequent consumption of porn (3 to 5+ times a week) has been shown to increase anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness, while decreasing happiness and life satisfaction. Additionally, some evidence has shown that porn negatively affects healthy body image. Most men in porn have giant, oversized penises far removed from the average man’s size, while women have massive fake boobs that seem to defy the laws of physics. Uninformed viewers, especially younger kids, may see these ‘porn bodies’ as normal, and feel worse about their bodies as a result. In relationships, some people report that finding out their partner watches porn increases their sexual and emotional insecurities. Many people feel as though their partner watching porn is somehow a sign that they are dissatisfied sexually, or that watching porn is a gateway to infidelity.

While these negatives are all very real, I believe that porn can be a healthy and even fun diversion if thought about and used correctly. First, it is important to understand that porn is a fantasy. No aspect of porn is meant to simulate what real sex looks or sounds like. Porn can also be sexually liberating. Many people who grew up in repressed environments where sex was not discussed in a healthy, open way report that viewing porn actually helped dispel the stigma surrounding sex, alleviating the feelings that their sexual desire was somehow unnatural or wrong. While porn is no replacement for proper sexual education, porn can be beneficial as an outlet for some people.

I truly believe that if used correctly, porn can be a fun, natural and even helpful aspect of committed relationships. While viewing porn solo is fine, you need to make sure you are communicating what you are doing to your partner. Porn shouldn’t be a dirty little secret that one person is keeping from that other — a dynamic like that will only increase feelings of betrayal and anxiety. But porn can also be awesome as something you view together with your partner. Based on personal experience, watching porn with your significant other can be an easy way to learn about your partner’s fantasies, especially if your partner is normally shy about the subject. Watching porn with your partner also actively dispels the myth that you should only be attracted to each other. Just because you are in a committed relationship doesn’t mean you don’t find other people attractive, and accepting that fact together is much healthier than pretending otherwise.

In the end, the positive and negative effects of porn are largely controlled by the conscious decisions we make surrounding it. Seek help if you have an addiction. If you are a casual user, don’t be ashamed of your sexual thoughts and desires. The bottom line is, watching a bunch of attractive people bang it out is fun and exciting to most people. Being open and honest with yourself and your partner about your sexual preferences as they relate to porn should only produce positive results.

Dong Burgundy is a student at Cornell. Comments may be sent to dong.burgundy@cornellsun.com. Afternoon Delight appears periodically  this semester.  

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