Porn Is Not Harmless. It’s Cruel.

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There’s a myth that porn is harmless. “It’s just a few consenting adults, doing what they want with their own bodies,” the thinking goes. 

But this simply isn’t true. In reality, pornography is deeply involved in the exploitation of women and children, and it’s destructive to its consumers. Porn is much more than an individual decision—it’s part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system.

1. Porn fuels the sex trade.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it’s the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the United States, sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually. Those numbers are incredible. I’ve written about the sex trade before.

The primary way porn fuels the sex trade is by building the demand. After all, the sex trade consists of supply and demand. The supply is women and children either forced into exploitation at home or lured away from their homes with promises of jobs, travel, and a better life. The average age of girls who enter street prostitution is between 12 and 14—even younger in some developing countries. Traffickers coerce women and children through a variety of recruitment techniques to enter the commercial sex industry in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way each year.

The trafficking industry wouldn’t exist without demand. According to researcher Andrea Bertone, the demand consists of men who feed a “patriarchal world system” that preys on women and children.

2. Porn shapes sexual desires.

Pornography shapes the appetites of men, women, and children to accept and even enjoy the exploitation of women. As Robert Jensen observes:

There are a few basic themes in pornography: (1) All women at all times want sex from all men; (2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and; (3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force.

It’s important to note that porn isn’t just a “men’s issue,” as 28 percent of people admitting to internet sexual addiction are women. Approximately 9 out of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed porn on the internet. The average age of first internet exposure to porn is 11, and in most cases is unintentional. The largest consumer of internet pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys.

Porn teaches its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement—and that they like it, even if they pretend not to. But this is part of the lie: Countless women in porn are there against their will and are being exploited. According to Jensen, “There is evidence that force and coercion are sometimes used to secure women’s participation . . . that psychological and physical damage is common and that heavy alcohol and drug use are routine.”

3. Porn exploits child sexual abuse victims.

Mary Anne Layden, director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that most women involved in the sex industry are adult survivors of sexual abuse. Research indicates that the number is between 60 percent to 80 percent.

Simply put, most women in the porn industry are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and porn perpetuates their exploitation. Additionally, 20 percent of all internet pornography involves children.

4. Porn supports ‘rape culture.’

The physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the women and children in porn is heartbreaking, but equally insidious is porn’s effect on men and society by normalizing the degradation and dehumanization of women. Jensen explains, “As pornography has become more acceptable, both legally and culturally, the level of brutality toward, and degradation of, women has intensified.”

The prevalence of porn means people are becoming desensitized to it, and are seeking out ever harsher, more violent, and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want. As one pornography director put it, “People just want it harder, harder, and harder . . . what are you gonna do next?”

Robin Morgan’s phrase “pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” captures the link between the production and consumption of pornography and violence against women and children. The point isn’t that porn causes all viewers to sexually abuse others, but that it creates what some researches call “rape culture” by normalizing, legitimizing, and condoning violence against women and children.

5. Porn hijacks children’s sexuality.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, explains the implications of porn: “We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn. . . . Given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behavior and attitudes toward women.”

Mary Anne Layden argues: “There is evidence that the prevalence of pornography in the lives of many children and adolescents is far more significant than most adults realize, that pornography is deforming the healthy sexual development of these young viewers, and that it is used to exploit children and adolescents.”

6. Porn limits men.

While porn is not just a “men’s issue,” it remains a pervasively male problem. William Struthers, a bio-psychologist, explains the effects on men: “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.”

Porn limits male self-expression and has proven to be psychologically detrimental to some viewers. Frequent pornographic stimulus changes the neurological makeup in the brain—it actually rewires the viewer’s brain.

Everyone in the supply chain, from production to consumption, is participating in the economic juggernaut that is the porn industry, whether they realize it or not. And many of them are unaware of the harm being done to themselves and others. This industry fuels the global sex trade, builds the demand for exploitation, severely distorts sexuality, exploits abuse victims, and normalizes the degradation of women and children.

That’s why porn is much more than a private, individual decision.


Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at JustinHolcomb.com

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