(SFW) When I was in high school, a group of boys in my class got hold of someone’s father’s Playboy collection and showed it around when the teachers weren’t looking. In response to their gloating, I lied about my age and bought a copy of Playgirl magazine. I taped the centrefold to the inside door of the last cubicle of the girls’ toilets, and there it was viewed with interest before the game was given away.
It’s laughable now to imagine how rebellious it was to buy Playgirl, when all you need is an internet connection to see a smorgasbord of sex organs. Those were the days of generic-looking ads for ”marital aids”, the euphemism for pornographic material and sex toys.
The notion of a couple buying a vibrator and renting a racy Betamax tape seems quaint now amid reports of increasing problems with internet porn addiction and ”porn-creep”, which means couples have difficulty becoming aroused without explicit materials to aid them.
Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. The amount of space it takes up on the internet is hard to measure, and perhaps less than commonly supposed, but nevertheless clearly substantial. Porn is so popular it is bursting from our .coms and into its own .xxx domain as of this month.
I clearly recall my late mother’s philosophy that she would rather her daughters see people having sex than see violence. It seemed to make little difference, since I would go on to merrily write about both. But now I am an adult, my mother’s logic strikes me as incredibly sound.
Yet porn – the bastard child of capitalism and sexual desire – is not quite sex, is it? On the ABC’s Q&A this week, Germaine Greer said pornography was ”the literature of prostitution”. She has a point. Pornography is not the literature of sexual love, and I suspect it never could be. Any activity built solely around making money is unlikely to inspire positive emotion, as good erotica can.
Where pornography is primarily a business, erotica can be a great marriage of art and sexual expression. It does not solely aim to bring about orgasm and a cash exchange. The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) defines porn simply as ”the depiction of erotic behaviour (pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement”, but the difference between the experience of being aroused by, say, John Cleland’s subversive and explicit novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and the clips available on YouPorn are as obvious as they are vast.
Like most people with an internet connection I have seen what passes for mainstream pornography. There appear to be an unreasonable number of artificially shaped women with slightly pained expressions and no pubic hair getting it at all angles from groups of bored and equally hairless men, while bent over cheap sofas and low-thread-count bedding.
This mechanistic, insert-part-A-into-part-B sex (with orgasmic cries of questionable authenticity) does not inspire much positive erotic feeling. Often the actors barely touch, except at the genitals, let alone take a moment to arouse each other or the viewer. You don’t have to look far, in fact you don’t even have to be looking, to find something to offend nearly anyone’s tastes.
I have found myself repulsed by what Google images brings up when searching for everything from ”Amazon” to ”zoo”, and the idea that children might stumble across these graphic images is enough to make even the most open-minded, and sexually liberated, person concerned.
The biggest problem with most porn is not that it is explicit, sexual and accessible, but that it lacks joy – basic, human joy in the pleasure of sex. And that seems tragically ironic.
Caitlin Moran suggests in her new book How To Be A Woman that we need ”a 100 per cent increase in the variety of pornography available to us”. Back on Q&A, Greer remarked: ”In some ways I think if we had better pornography it would work better, and it would not be quite so deleterious.”
Would better porn help? What if you found pornography you could actually watch with your partner? Something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to say you own?
Is it the taboo of admitting interest in sexual pleasure that encourages the most successful, money-making porn to be this furtive, degrading, impersonal thing accessed behind closed doors?
Hysteria about the evils of porn doesn’t help, and the argument that the porn industry specifically exploits and damages women strikes me as overly simplistic. Porn does not necessarily harm young girls more than it does boys. An impressionable young girl might be affected by the disturbing submission so often depicted in this kind of porn, but so would a young boy, I imagine, be disturbed by expectations of performance and needing to possess a large penis. This is not a good sex education.
And increasingly, it seems, mainstream internet porn can affect the way couples interact. Dr Gomathi Sitharthan, a senior lecturer in behavioural and social sciences in health at the University of Sydney, and her husband, Dr Raj Sitharthan, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Sydney, are studying the psychological effects of excessive porn use. They have seen a worrying increase in the number of clients suffering porn-related problems.
”Many clients are very reluctant to go to their GP and say ‘I have a problem because I watch a lot of porn’,” Raj Sitharthan says. ”It is not a topic people are very comfortable talking about.” Instead, clients present with depression and relationship problems.
”Usually, from there we pick up issues that are bothering them and the negative impact of excessive viewing comes up,” he says. As many people are reluctant to seek face-to-face assistance, the psychologists are developing an interactive treatment program as a first step to help people engage in ”self-change”. The program they aim to develop would be available online, as accessible and anonymous as the porn the clients feel is taking over their lives.
Like it or not, porn is a part of our culture. ”Better” pornography may well have a less damaging impact on the sex lives of Australians, but perhaps the real key is better, less judgmental discussion of pornography and the desires that drive us to view it.
This post was originally published here and is republished with full permission.
Tara Moss is the author of six bestselling novels, Fetish, Split, Covet, Hit, Siren and The Blood Countess. She also hosts the true crime documentary series Tough Nuts – Australia’s Hardest Criminals on the Crime & Investigation Network, and the author interview show Tarain Conversation 13th Street Universal.Writing has been a lifelong passion for Moss, who began penning gruesome “Stephen King-inspired” stories for her classmates at 10. She went on to an international career as a fashion model before pursuing professional writing.
Tara is a mum, self-professed geek, ‘forensic tourist’, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and ambassador for the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. Her 2nd paranormal novel, The Spider Goddess, will be published in December, and she is currently writing her 6th crime novel, with the working title of Assassin. Moss is a dual Australian/Canadian citizen. You can follow her on Twitter here.