Matthew made in interesting post today on the subject of porn. It got me thinking... as he often does. Lots of random thoughts popped into my head as I read it.
One of them was how much porn is perceived has changed, I think because of the internet. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was growing up, it was something dirty and nasty. Everyone knew it existed, but no-one would admit to watching it, because it was watched by dirty old men and perverts, or lonely inadequate men who, for whatever reason, couldn't get a woman. Women didn't watch porn. It was considered in the same way as prostitution, almost an extension of it.
The people who participated in it were seen in the same way; with a grudging, sort of sympathy (if you were lucky), victims of circumstance, desperate people who were willing to degrade themselves to survive or the harder line of corrupted degenerates who want to drag everyone else down to their level. Most cities had at least one seedy little shop tucked away on a back street with blacked out windows. We all knew what they sold, that they served rain-coated men who would scurry in and sidle back out bearing packages wrapped in brown paper.
Maybe the lads looked longingly at the blacked out windows, wishing they could summon up the courage to go in, while assuring their mates that they didn't need to go in a place 'like that'. Most of the lasses ignored it, pretending it didn't exist. It wasn't a place for us. If it was spoken of at all, it was in whispers, accompanied by lots of embarrassed giggling.
In the 80s and 90s feminists started becoming a lot more vocal, taking issue with how women were objectified by the sex industry. It wasn't something I took an awful lot of notice of at the time. While I've always considered myself a feminist, I've always shied away from preachy, extreme... well, anything really. Politics, religion, what I should eat or drink, whether I should take HRT - don't lecture me. It just gets up my nose and I end up concentrating on trying not to get pissed off, instead of listening.
Looking back, I don't recall anyone objecting to men being objectified by porn. Was the assumption that women were participating because they had to, but men because they wanted to? Or was it because it was watched mostly by men? Was it because women are seen as taking the more passive role in sex?
Do I have a problem with anyone being objectified? Well, like most things it depends. Do I have a problem with someone making a free and informed choice to embark on a career in the porn industry? No. I don't care whether they are in it only for the money or for the attention or they enjoy the sex or whether they get off on the idea of being seen having sex by thousands of anonymous people. If it's truly their choice, then their reasons are their own business. In a way, porn is like a dildo or a vibrator; it's a sex aid. Do I think a woman should view men merely as a walking dildos? Nope. Do I think men should treat women just as something just to stick their dicks in? No, to that, too.
So I suppose the question is, are people who watch porn more likely to treat men/women as objects who exist solely for their sexual gratification? I really have no idea! I'd like to think that people who watch porn (mostly men, if the figures are right) are intelligent enough to be able to separate reality from fantasy. On the whole, I believe they can. Like everything, there are exceptions.
And then came the internet. Porn is easily available. Some would say too easily. With regard to children, I would agree. The IT industry still hasn't come up with a simple, effective way for parents to filter what children can access on the internet. Often kids are more IT savvy than their parents. If the parent even understands that they can check the browsing history, the chances are the kid's one step ahead of them and has deleted it. My own solution has been to turn our spare room into a computer room. My kids have PCs built out of the cast offs from my own (they love the fact that every time I build myself a new PC, theirs end up going faster, too!). I can see their monitors from where I sit. This has it's downsides; I'm not always at my PC when they're at theirs. Any X-rated material I want to look at *cough* has to be viewed when they're out/in bed. At the moment it's a combination of me looking over their shoulder and using clunky, inadequate software.
How much leeway they gets depends on the child. My daughter is almost 18 (and would be most indignant at being referred to as a child!). She appears to have had an embarrassment bypass. Whatever thought comes into her head, comes out of her mouth. She's always been very open about what's going on in her head and, even at an age where I expected her to get coy, been incredibly frank in her questions. Over the years we've had some long discussions about sex and sexuality (this was help by a series aimed at teenagers aired on Channel 4 a few years ago that we watched together and discussed afterwards). I know she likes reading erotic stories and enjoys looking at nude photos on Tumblr (she even sends me links!), more what I'd call smut than outright porn. In 4 months she'll be 18 and, technically, old enough to look at whatever she wants.
While I know she's old enough, I'm not sure she's mature enough. I realise that I'm probably not very objective about her, but she strikes me as incredibly naive in a lot of ways, especially when I compare her to myself at the same age. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that if she comes across material that upsets her or that she's confused about, she'll bring it up and discuss it.
My son is a completely different kettle of fish, not so much because he's a boy, he just has a completely different personality. I see a lot more of myself in him (I think my daughter's a throwback or something!). He's a lot more introverted, especially about things that bother him. If my daughter wears her heart on her sleeve, he's completely the opposite. He's also almost 6 years younger, but about the age when his sister started asking me lots of questions. He'd rather cut his tongue out than ask me anything about sex! I've tried a couple of times to start some kind of discussion, only to be met with embarrassed shuffling. It wouldn't bother me so much if I thought he was talking to his Dad about this stuff, but I know that would just result in lots of embarrassed mumbling and shuffling on both sides.
At the moment, I'm as sure as I can be that he's not watching porn on the internet. The nearest he gets is watching Strictly Come Dancing with rapt attention, entranced by the skimpy outfits that the women wear. His Dad is from a generation (and a family) where they don't talk much about stuff, which doesn't help. It worries me, I suppose, that he will get most of his information about sex and sexuality from the internet, either directly, or via friends who are allowed greater access.
For me, that is one of the biggest problems about the availability of porn on the internet. I've seen reports with varying figures over the last few years, but it seems to be the case that more and more boys are watching porn and that it's giving them a distorted view of sex. It's where they form their ideas of what women should look like, what they should look like, of how sex is performed. One thing that sticks in my mind from the series that I watched with my daughter - there were boys that didn't realise that in 'normal' intercourse, the man usually comes inside the woman!
The upside of how freely available porn is on the internet is, is that all those people who used to walk quickly by the 'Adult Bookshop', can satisfy their curiosity! Especially women. We're told that women aren't interested in watching porn, that we're not the visual creatures that men are. I'm not saying that's not true, but personally, I don't think it's as cut and dried as that. I sometimes wonder how much of that belief is due to the fact that women haven't had the same access to porn (as consumers) as men, for whatever reason, plus the fact that a lot of women would have died of embarrassment, rather than admit to an interest in or enjoyment of porn.
Have I watched porn? Yes? Do I enjoy it? Sometimes. The reasons I often don't like watching porn isn't because I don't like to watch people having sex, it's more that it often isn't the kind of sex I want to watch. Personally, I find the sensual more erotic to watch than the sexual. I like lots of kissing, and touching/stroking more than genitals. Maybe it's because that's the kind of sex I like to have, although quickies are good too. I don't know if I'm unusual, but when I do watch porn I almost always turn the sound off.
Another aspect is how the men and women in porn films look. Yeah, we all like to look at something nice, but it's taken to extremes. I've seen it suggested that women watching porn are more likely to be turned off, because they can't identify with the woman in the film. On that same theme, one of the hottest porn films I ever watched, the bloke wasn't your typical porn fodder (and it wasn't an amateur film); he was mid-30s, grey-haired, slim but not built, and had a little bit of a pot belly, but damn, he really seemed to enjoy what he was doing! I can't speak for men, but I suspect that women would be more interested in watching more 'ordinary' men and women.
Matthew also touched on how judgemental women can be about men watching porn. I think this has several sources, which are hopefully starting to change. I think the idea that porn is watched by 'dirty old men' is still quite strong. Far too many women are insecure about how they look and worry that if a bloke is watching porn, that the 'perfect' woman in porn films is what he wants, rather than her. Of course, if a bloke would quite happily watch a short, slightly overweight woman getting pounded into the mattress, those films seem to be a lot thinner on the ground! Matthew's made the point before about men being made to feel that it's their responsibility to satisfy women, which I don't dispute, but another facet of that same issue is women feeling that they should be 'enough' for their man; there seems to be a belief among women that if their bloke's watching porn he wants something more than she's giving him (which may or not be true), rather than just accepting that blokes really like to watch porn and don't need a reason. I think women are judgemental about men watching porn and some of that is because they feel defensive about it plus they still see it as a 'man thing', not something that can they can enjoy too.