It has become common knowledge within anti-pornography circles that the average age a young male begins viewing pornographic material is eleven-years-old.
I want you to think about that for a minute. Think about the porn you have viewed in your lifetime. Think about what you have seen – the specific sexual acts, the message those acts consistently convey, and the effect that message had on you personally when you first came across it. I want you to consider what it must be like for such a young boy to see today’s pornographic material for the first time, at a time in life where he has little or no understanding of human sexuality and intimacy.
If I remember correctly, I was right around that age when I first began regularly viewing porn. Well, at least attempting to do so. At that time, my family did not have a home computer or internet access, so my attempts at viewing porn were still old school – tuning cable television to the adult channels we did not actually have, and trying to make out images through the fuzzy white screen. With my hormones raging and my concepts of male-female relationships being shaped by popular media images, any body part or moan I could make out was hugely titillating.
Let’s consider what such early exposure translates to in today’s world. Eleven-years-old may have been the age at which I first started viewing sexually explicit video. But I grew up during a time when mainstream media was only beginning to be saturated with pornographic images. The television show Baywatch was popular at that time, essentially acting as a thirty-minute daydream for men, simply a video vehicle for male fantasy where submissive women ran around in bikinis with hardly an attempt at a decent plotline, and softcore sex on a beach was routine. They threw in an ocean rescue or two for good measure.
Sexually explicit magazines were common among my male friends growing up, and music videos on MTV and VH1 regularly featured scantily-clad women striking suggestive poses. For all intents and purposes, boys begin viewing porn-like images well before their double digits if left to the whims of their peer group and media.
So it should be no surprise then that these days young boys eagerly search out internet porn fairly early in life. But times have changed. The difference is the kind of material they are seeing. When I was a teenager, it was still difficult to find the extremely violent porn that is commonplace today. Certainly the images common to my adolescence were still violent; they were still focused primarily on male dominance and female submission, and the acts were specifically geared towards male pleasure in an aggressive, disconnected and objectifying manner. There is, however, a marked difference between what I was viewing way back then, and what young men are viewing today. Today, it is actually difficult to find softcore. Hardcore, gonzo and “kink” genres are on the front page of every pornographic site. Images of men choking, slapping, drowning, force-vomiting and causing the disfiguring of women’s genitals are the norm. And when young boys first begin searching for porn, this is what they see.
On Your Own With Shock and Trauma
This article is about choices. Specifically, it is about the choices mature, adult men make when they view pornographic material and what these choices say about us as socialized men and as human beings. These choices are different to those that are available to an eleven-year-old boy who is susceptible to the culture’s misogyny and violence against women as he is shaping his sexual template with no experience to fall back on. But men can and absolutely must begin to make different choices, regardless of whether or not we want (or desire) to do so.
Something happens to a young boy when he first comes across hardcore porn. Maybe he is simply looking for breasts and buttocks, the likes of what the media caricatures in such an exaggerated manner, and which he learns to accept and even desire. But what he gets when he goes looking is far beyond anything he can possibly imagine. And surely he will be shocked at first. No young boy is prepared for the kind of graphic, degrading material that is by now popular mainstream. And chances are, he sits there, betrayed by his body by unwanted arousal, having to deal with an onslaught of toxic images completely on his own. I don’t know about you, but most boys would not hurry to the living-room to tell their mother that they just saw the most horrific images, while they are in a state of arousal, even if that arousal comes with shock, terror, and prolonged anxiety – feelings we generally link to trauma.
A scene in the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation depicts a young male character and his friend coming across internet porn for the first time as they search for breasts. Their facial expressions when finally landing on a porn site says it all: they stand shocked, wide-eyed and with their jaws dropped open. They have no context for what they are viewing. That’s a scenario played out thousands of times each day.
Whether or not you agree that today’s extreme porn is violent and oppressive, I assume you’ll hardly make the case that it is okay for young boys to see the kind of imagery we know they’re seeing. Indeed, even adult men who regularly consume such material place parental restrictions on their family computers. They spend money on security software that makes it more difficult for their children to come across it. We frown upon the parents who left their son unsupervised while he used the family’s game console to view live-streamed porn. Television sets and mobile devices now also come with built-in parental restrictions and in the UK blocks are switched on by law at network level. And yet, men still manage to make the argument that ultimately there is nothing wrong with this institution we call the sex industry.
This begs the question: why is it so bad for our children, but okay for adults? What is it about the images that causes us to shield our children from them, and why do we not apply the same standard for ourselves?
How Pain Became the New Cool
It is a common argument of pro-porn advocates to state that human pleasure and sexuality is inherently good, regardless of the objects of that pleasure. The goal justifies the means, it looks like. Anyone who critiques the notion that there is something wrong with finding pleasure in these images gets labeled “sex-negative,” and lumped in with extremists of other calibers. And yet we do not want our children to consume these images and identify their own pleasure with it. So why is that?
As young boys, we lacked the proper experience to make better choices. We were influenced and, I’d like to say, groomed by the stereotypical roles men and women are portrayed in by pop culture and the media in general. I, too, was under the impression that all was perfectly fine. And since there is hardly anything in the culture countering the stereotypes, we grow up accepting it and eager to contribute to it. And from there you get a multi-billion dollar industry that rivals cosmetics and big oil in revenues and global influence.
There are now multiple generations of men socialized on gross-level violence against women, brought to their computers, phones and game consoles via the internet. Porn stars visit colleges and universities for “sex week”; sports events increase revenues for sex traffickers; sexual sadism is deemed chic, and men claim oppression when anyone challenges their right to watch films in which men use their penises to choke and mutilate women.
If we were to claim that it is okay for a man to sexually accost a boy simply because that is what gets him off, we would be labeled as the sexually perverted predators we are. But when we claim that it is also not okay to treat half the human population in the same manner, we are dismissed outright.
We grow up conditioned to make certain choices – the choice to objectify, denigrate and treat women as sub-human. Even when our parents try their best to protect us from such content, the culture makes sure we continue to have access to it. Our whole way of being and living and behaving in this world is directly informed by dominance of women.
But when we know better, we should do better. The harms of pornography affect all of us. It is time we start making better choices. Our choices are the first steps toward reclaiming our humanity, and shedding the skin of collective perpetration in this world.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn a different way of being in this world. I was given a different lens by which to see this culture, and I was taught how to develop a consciousness: I decided to examine my own behaviors in an effort to discover who I am outside the influence of patriarchal culture.
I saw through a pro-feminism lens that a fundamental part of women’s experience in this culture is that of objectification. Simply put, objectification is when you treat a living being as if they are an object. Objects are lifeless; one buys and possesses them. If you treat a living being like an object, cognitively you justify using them. Rather than treating them with dignity and respect, you use them for whatever you feel you need them for – and in the case of pornography, men objectify women for the purpose of sexual gratification.
On the part of consumers of porn, it is the placing of our most trivial selfish interests over the human rights of women. It is violence for the sake of getting off; it is objectification and dehumanization for the sake of getting off.
Most men do not have the opportunity to learn feminist theory in the formal setting I enjoyed. While radical feminist and anti-sex industry voices are more prominent than ever before, most men are still stuck in a cocoon of male-centric culture, i.e. “the patriarchy”, a culture in which their entire peer group accepts pornographic material as normal, desirable, even mandatory. There is hardly anything in the public sphere convincing men to make different choices.
Biology Is Not Destiny
I am one out of a growing number of men who are attempting to change the way we think of ourselves. Start by looking past the pleasure you receive from seeing another human being tortured on camera for profit. Consider the images outside of your sexual gratification, and instead consider them on the basis of how human beings should be treated.
If you take a hard look at the world of social inequality and constant struggle of prostituted women the arguments of choice and empowerment to justify socialized sexual sadism quickly crumble. Why delete the history on your computer, unless that lump in your throat that stays on even after you’re done masturbating informs you that something’s wrong?
Let’s be honest: most men would be aroused by these images and desire to view them. But we can make different choices. We are not slaves to our desires, even if the world is trying to make us believe that we just can’t help ourselves. No: biology is not destiny for humans. We don’t suffer from some kind of natural predicament that forces us to look. I found that there was a new, exciting world of intimacy and relationship to discover when I finally abandoned the hateful images that betrayed my body.
We live in a perp culture that normalizes torture and violence, and mocks its victims and survivors. The porn industry targets me, specifically, because producers know and publicly admit that only men watch the really hard stuff. They spend millions of dollars on sophisticated advertising campaigns to get us to click through to their sites. In capitalism, where there is demand there is a market. And the systematic oppression of women has a $90 billion price tag. Don’t be fooled: in this system, free films are no coincidence, and certainly not a giveaway by the oh-so-generous porn producers: they know that it currently takes on average 200 clicks on before some man gets out his credit card.
A Different Version of “Be in Charge!”
Over time, my choice to take porn out of the equation that is my life has changed my sentiments. It led me to ask more and more questions – about injustice, about patriarchy, and about the industrialized method of living altogether. I regained touch with what many will dismiss as too soft a part of my being, “soft” not being one of the cool traits us men are sold in a pop culture that prefers muscly, armed heroes—you know, the ones with what Gail Dines refers to as the “fuck-you-look” on their faces. It’s the part that connects me with human beings; the part that empathizes.
The changes then began to shape the way my body responds. The long, arduous work of uprooting oppressive desires and sentiments, when we finally regain some control of it, allowed me to discover a depth and joy of humanity that changed my life.
You will have guessed by now that my message is that we all can do this, and we must. I do not want to live in a world where women are tortured on camera for profit. Do you? When you look into it, most of you will probably find that you don’t. Imagine this: what if that was your mother, sister, or daughter getting choked and crying and being called names? Most men would not get off on that. One of the pillars of second wave feminism that I identify with is that we have a moral responsibility towards others in the society we live in. We have to do the work of enacting positive changes on our environments, on the social sphere, and, of course, inside of our own minds as well. We can, and we must. Let’s also hold pornographers accountable for their predation of young boys’ psyches, for their intentional marketing of violent images to them. We must work to dismantle this fabricated, abusive arrangement, and move towards a humane, compassionate and, well, sane way of living.