The Internet has made the ability to access pornography as easy as checking email. And with the advanced download speeds, today’s male youth (who are more aroused by visual pornography than women) find it provides them the ability to instantly access a display of sexual variety, even on their smart phones. Here, a whole range of bodies sexually interact in all combinations, styles, mixtures, manners and video quality. There are no age controls for these websites, and no need to register a credit card. Accordingly, Michele Dines, author of, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (2010) argues that boys access pornography on average at age 11.
Conservatives, such as Rick Santorum, are sure to view this as declining morality. Conservative commentator and activist Gail Dines highlights that the more men watch pornography, the more they want pornographic style sex (I agree with this point, but see it as a positive aspect, as I want sex to be good). Dines ads that sex with one’s partner looks boring or uninteresting compared to the sex one sees on the Internet, and that this leads some men to lose sexual interest in their partners altogether. In time, she argues, men would rather have masturbatory fantasies to Internet pornography than have sex with their partners.
Research on young men for my book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating (2012) seems to support this. Sexual habituation to one’s partner is likely hastened by pornography as it instructs them as to what they can do in bed rather than ‘discovering’ it on their own. But there are other reasons for sexual habituation too, and getting over sex with one’s partner might maintain the positive offshoot of helping us make decisions about marriage based on the more important component of the relationship, the emotional not the sexual connection to our partners.
Before I move to the point of this blog—how straight boys growing up with gay porn helps reduce homophobia—I should highlight one other category that porn’s detractors promulgate. Some suggest that there may be a neurological ‘addiction’ that comes with pornography. Those espousing this perspective can be found at http://yourbrainonporn.com. I’m leery of moral panics about sex, instead recommending Psychology Today blogger David Ley’s book, The Myth of Sex Addiction. I’ll stay out of neurological arguments, as I’m a sociologist, but I might simply suggest that much of this addiction terminology fails to make sense: after all, once a male is ‘done’ with pornography he generally loses his erection and often falls asleep.
Positive Impact of Pornography
Unfortunately, all of this pornography bashing media discourse fails to examine the positive impacts that pornography has on society. First, pornography on the Internet is mostly user generated today. The professional industry is under assault by users, posting their own images for free. This has the benefit of expanding who gets to be thought sexual. In this aspect, Internet pornography provides what some feminists concerned with pornography have been calling for all along: not its abolition but instead an explosion of the subjectivities of different kinds of people in pornography. Today anyone can be a porn star.
Another overlooked benefit to pornography comes from the fact that it provides gay youth a sense of sexual validation. As a closeted 13 year old, the only homoerotic pornographic images I could find were the shirtless boys in newspaper underwear ads. Gay pornography would have given me a visual understanding, not only of the operation of gay sex, but a confirmation that what I wanted to do was possible. Fortunately, today’s young gay males have that ability. This likely helps young boys learn that they are gay earlier in life, too.
Finally, the Internet, and its accompanying pornography, has likely been useful in reducing cultural homophobia. This occurs through making gay sex visible to straight male youth. Today’s heterosexual Porntube.com generation see, early and often, whether accidentally or intentionally, images of gays, lesbians and others once stigmatized by Victorian attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Often a heterosexual cannot find his preferred images of heterosexual intercourse without filtering through the images of the acts once so socially tabooed. Curiosity of the other, or perhaps a desire to simply see what others enjoy, also tempts the heterosexual-minded young male into clicking on the link, watching what their fathers imagined they despised so much. In viewing gay sex they grow desensitized to it; they remove the ‘yuck factor’ from it.
This is evidenced by the lack of ‘yuck’ expressed on surveys I gather from my sexualities undergraduate students, after showing them gay porn. None are bothered by it, and some are even aroused by it. Thus I propose the Internet has been instrumental in exposing the forbidden fruit of homosexual sex to heterosexuals, commoditizing and normalizing it in the process. And, with an explosion of gay porn featuring straight men having gay sex for payment, it erodes at the ‘one time rule of homosexuality.’ Increasingly, my research suggests that sexual orientation is more a matter of what you state you are, than what you do.
So whereas Dine and Santorum find pornography degrading and harmful, I suggest that the Internet is alive with real people acting out sex in ways that real people—in all their diversity—desire. The Internet finds a place for even socially stigmatized (aged, obese, or otherwise non-hegemonic) bodies to be exalted. The Internet validates real people’s sexual proclivities; and this includes gay men’s sex, too. Thus, even if pornography is ‘addicting,’ it means that, by nature of addiction, one would need to increasingly ‘expand’ their intake of pornography; this implies seeking out diversity of sexual imagery, removing the ‘yuck factor’ that was once used to so heavily stigmatize gay sex.