An Open Letter to W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu

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Dear Kamau and Hari,

Hi! Ismail here from the Reclaiming Sex From XXX blog. I’m a huge fan, both of your respective stand up careers and of the show. I really appreciate the way that you have both carved out space for people of color to think and laugh about life, politics and oppression. I’ve listened to every episode of politically reactive, it’s a contender for my favorite podcast (and I listen to oodles of podcasts.)

I’m writing because of something that came out of your Killer Mike interview. I loved the interview (and I’m a Run the Jewels fan) – I appreciated Killer Mike’s clear, smart, no bullshit take on a whole series of issues. Towards the end of the interview, Killer Mike took a moment to talk about how much he likes strip clubs and weed – and it occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to tell you guys how much I’d appreciate a conversation about the sex industry on the show.

I took to twitter to say so, but someone had already beaten me to it. What transpired (you can revisit the conversation via my twitter feed, @reclaimingsex) was a disagreement (wasn’t quite an argument) between myself and another guy on twitter (on one side) and three women (on the other side), two of whom are “sex workers” (if you’re wondering why I’ve put this in quotes, see the “contemporary debates” segment of this article).

The disagreement revolved around two conflicting arguments about the sex industry, both of which identify as “feminist”. I’m not trying to claim that I am a feminist, but as an ally to the women’s movement, I feel strongly that one of these arguments is right.

I’ll summarize both arguments as best as I can:

  1. The sex industry is, or should be, or can be a powerful tool for liberation. All people (women in particular) should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, including exchanging money for sex. The buying, selling and filming of sexual acts is a part of healthy human sexuality. Pornography is harmless fun and entertainment. Prostitution and strip clubs are a healthy way for people (in practice, mostly men) to get their sexual needs met.
  2. The sex industry is in it’s premise deeply rooted in sexism, male domination and misogyny. It is born out of the industrialization of sex and is driven by the super profits made by a small group of mostly white men and profits off of the labor of primarily poor women, and treats for women of color especially brutally. We are currently on route to a public health epidemic of massive proportions, in which children (starting at age 11 for boys and 14 for girls) are learning about their sexuality through the ultra-violent misogyny of free Internet porn.

These are brief and inadequate summaries, but you get the idea.  Anyhow, I think this is a really important conversation for us all to be having and almost no one is having it. “Sex workers rights activists” do speak openly and honestly and often about perspective number one. You can hear them on Podcasts such as the “Savage Lovecast” or Siouxie Q’s “Whorecast“. It is all also generally the opinion of third wave feminists.

The second perspective is from a group you might call “radical left second wave feminists”. Gail Dines, a professor at Wheelock College, seems to have become the most prominent international leader in the anti-porn dimension of this movement.

As men, we are both the key producers and consumers of pornography. The vast amount of money made, money spent, and content consumed comes from us. We drive this industry. But we are almost completely absent from this conversation. This is an industry that has a huge impact on the lives of women (and the society at large) and I believe we have completely abdicated responsibility in the conversation about whether or not we are participating in liberation or oppression. Or some combination of the two.

Anyhow, back to Killer Mike’s comment. Strip clubs are directly related to prostitution and pornography. Very often striping is a gateway for women to one or the other or both. I think it would be an important conversation on Politically Reactive. I think it’s important to have both of these perspectives represented for consideration. I’m happy to help in any way I can but there are many more people (mostly women but some men) who are more qualified than me to weigh in on the #2 perspective, I can help you contact them if you want. I’m also happy to speak on these issues myself, should you be interested in talking to me. Once you and your listeners have considered the two sides of the issues, I think a third conversation will be important specifically regarding men and our roles in the matter. This you’ll be harder pressed to find great speakers on, though Robert Jensen and Ran Gavrieli are both good examples of the #2 perspective. Dan Savage might be the ideal male voice on the #1 perspective.

Men (especially those of us who are parents) need to start thinking critically and  talking about the sex industry.

Thanks very much,

Ismail

reclaimingsexfromxxx@gmail.com

The Role of Pornography in the Election of Donald Trump

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When Trump’s Access Hollywood scandal broke last October, my wife and I gathered around my cell phone, reading tweets. We said, “He won’t be able to survive this – this has to be the end of his campaign.” We felt sure that this was a level of sexual predation and misogyny that no one could bounce back from.

Oh, how unpleasantly wrong we were.

It got me thinking – could any candidate, in any previous generation, have recovered from such a thing? Even as recently as Obama or Bush or Clinton? It just seems so unlikely. We’ve had a “celebrity president” before (who can forget old Ronni) but our first reality TV president – an unapologetic sexual predator – is taking the stage in the era of “Big Porn”[1].

“Anyone who doesn’t want to ‘Make America Great Again’ is a CUCK” 

I found the above quote in an “Ask Trump Supporters” thread on reddit.

In case you missed it, amidst the various insults being flung between democrats and republicans (snowflake, deplorable, nasty etc.), the word “cuck” has spent quite a lot of time in the spotlight in the last year. Far-right conservatives (the white nationalists who have re-branded themselves the “alt-right”) are calling non-Trump supporters “cucks”, meaning that we are cowards who would stand idly by, while the country is “f@%&ed by trade deals, immigrants, terrorism” etc.

This very old word, which is short for “cuckold”, comes directly from the vast and reaching influence of pornography, where this popular fetish category shows men being humiliated by being forced to watch “more manly men” having sex with their wives. In a recent episode of the FX comedy “You’re the Worst” (Season 3, Episode 8), a character with a cuckolding fetish humiliates her husband and it’s presented as a part of human sexuality that viewers are expected to be familiar, and to some degree comfortable with.

Isn’t it suspicious that the favorite insult of Trump supporters comes directly from porn?

Trump the Playboy, Judging Miss Universe

It is not widely known that Trump himself appeared in three Playboy “soft core” porn videos in 1994, 1999 and 2001, though he does not appear nude. (Incidentally, in August 2016 he signed a pledge promising to crack down on pornography if elected.) Again, doesn’t it seem like this would have been an issue that a candidate would have had to at least make a statement about in any past election? Not Trump and not in 2016.

In 1996 Trump purchased the “Miss Universe” beauty pageant, an event which is not generally associated with the sex industry, though I would argue they are inextricably related. What followed in the 19 years that he owned it was a list of outrageously sexist behavior on the part of Trump so long that Rolling Stone made a timeline of it all. This includes his personal behavior towards those women (i.e. walking into their dressing rooms unannounced) and his transformation of the already sexist event into a more dehumanizing and divisive endeavor. During Trump’s campaign, the story of Alicia Machado broke – the 1997 Miss Universe winner who gained 42 pounds the following year and was publicly humiliated by Trump, who described her to the press as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss housekeeping” (a racist reference to her Latinx heritage.) His 2016 response to this criticism was to increase his attacks on Machado, including this tweet:

“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?”

You can see Trump for yourself in those playboy videos (these are clips with no nudity or sex), but there appears to be no evidence that Machado was in any sex tape, not that it would be even remotely relevant to anything if she had been.

President Trump in the Pornified U.S.A. 

My point is not that Trump’s a sexist – this is blatantly obvious. This is a man who sexually objectifies his own daughter to the media[2] and has been accused of rape by his ex-wife in court[3]. I’m also not trying to point out that he’s tied to the sex industry in ways that are both concerning and hypocritical, though that is clearly true.

My point is that pornography has (relatively recently) become normalized in our society, we have had no national dialogue about it and it played an explicit role in desensitizing voters to Trump’s outrageous sexism this election cycle. It is possible that, without this shift in our society, Trump might not have been elected.

Though the numbers are not certain, a huge number of men in the U.S. (and certainly many women) watch pornography[4]. The statistics on children’s exposure to violent, hard core internet porn are staggering[5]. Largely because of the ease of access offered by the internet, for the first time in history a very large percentage of the population is immersed in the messages of pornography on a very regular basis. These messages are very clear in the vast majority of internet porn:

  • Women exist for the sole purpose of pleasuring men
  • A woman’s purpose is to be a sexual object in every arena of life (at work, at school, in public, in the family) and her consent in the matter is irrelevant
  • Men’s violence against women is not only acceptable, women find it sexually arousing
  • The degradation of women (insults, humiliation, physical pain) is a man’s sexual right – and it’s the expected standard of sexual interaction such that anything less is ‘unmanly’

Now, many argue that porn is just entertainment – “harmless fun”. Defenders of porn frequently insist that the messages in porn have no effect on the way men treat women in their lives. Evidence abounds that this is not so.

Studies show that college-aged young people are increasingly embarrassed by real intimacy[6] and feel pressured into porn-scenario sexual relationships[7]. Women, especially young women, increasingly report that their male partners request – and often insist – on more and more ‘extreme’ sexual acts that they were introduced to through porn[8]. Accounts from men abound, explaining how their porn consumption caused them to become desensitized to (and subsequently “enjoy”) more and more violent or degrading sexual acts[9].

Porn explicitly helped Trump get elected, from the many accusations of sexual assault levied against him, to openly bragging about sexual assault, to the calling women “pigs”, to making menstrual jokes about his opponent (a former first lady, secretary of state and state senator)…you could fill a book with this list. By the end of his term, I’m sure someone will.

Without our pornified culture, which excuses and glamourizes sexism, the voters who “were appalled by Trump’s actions but voted for him anyway” might have realized that it is inexcusable to vote for a man like that, no matter what. And the voters who just didn’t care about his treatment of women – they might have cared more.

In the meantime, what do we do as a society about the impact that pornography is having on our lives – even in the election of our most powerful leaders? Will we act? Or leave our children to deal with this problem, which is on pace to be totally out of control in another ten, twenty, thirty years.

Update: PornHub, Scholarships and Snow Ploughs

In 2015, the multi-billion dollar website PornHub offered a well publicized $25,000 scholarship to students through their “philanthropic arm”, PornHub Cares[10]. The porn industry is working hard to convince us that it is just like any other industry, and that it cares about us.

Just yesterday a snowstorm hit the east coast and PornHub announced that it would send more than two dozen snow ploughs into the streets of Boston and New Jersey, saying “we thought we’d lend a hand in getting our fans plowed[11]”. These ploughs, with PornHub’s logo on the ploughs and doors of the trucks, drove through the streets of Boston, advertising freely to a city full of children playing outside on a snow day – and to many appreciative Boston residents. I saw several friends on Facebook post “thank you’s” to PornHub that day.

What’s next? PornHub lunchboxes? Will they play PornHub adds before movies at the cinema? Will my son’s middle school sex ed class cover “healthy pornography consumption”? Will PornHub launch community trash clean-ups? All this seems distinctly possible to me.

[1] Reist, Melinda Tankard, and Abigail Bray. Big porn inc.: exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. North Melbourne, Vic.: Spinifex Press, 2015.

[2] Independent, UK

[3] The New Yorker

[4] See my article, “How Many Men in the U.S. Watch Porn?

[5] See the same article.

[6] Wade, L. (2017). American hookup: the new culture of sex on campus. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

[7] Dines, G. (2014). Pornland: how porn has hijacked our sexuality. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

[8] Again, see “Pornland”.

[9] See this Ted Talk.

[10] Time Magazine

[11] Boston Magazine

An Open Letter To Dan Savage About Porn

 

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Dear Dan,

I’m a long time Savage Lovecast listener and a big fan of yours. I’m a 38 year-old, straight, blue collar worker and man of color from Boston. I love the show and I look forward to it in my podcast feed every week. Your words have had a positive impact on my marriage and my personal relationship to sex and sexuality. It makes such a difference to have a place in my life where sex is talked about openly and thoughtfully. So thanks for that.

In your last episode (495) you began the show with a rant about this article by Gail Dines, where she claims that porn is a public health epidemic. You called her “paranoid” and “a liar” and cited two articles that disagree with her anti-porn position.  About two years ago I attended part of Gail Dines’ conference in Boston on Pornography (and Prostitution) and I was hoping you would be open to hearing, from a friend of the show, why I think she’s right.

First off, I’ve heard you say several times that you are not, yourself, a big consumer of mainstream porn (by which, I assume you mean mainstream gay porn). You seem to be saying that it just isn’t what makes your motor run. To boot, you started Humpfest, which clearly DOES make your motor (or maybe in some cases just your intellect) run. For me, the most important difference between between Hump and mainstream porn (and there are many differences) is that Hump is made by individuals and is intended to be a positive contribution to the cannon of human sexuality; mainstream porn, on the other hand, is really only driven by one factor: profit. A small group of (almost exclusively) white men are getting VERY rich off of mainstream porn, which makes up about 1/3rd of all internet traffic. These are generally the distributors of porn (the tube sites, hotel chains and cable companies, ISP’s) and not the producers, who make substantially less (though enough to keep them doing what they’re doing).

And I think this matters – the intention behind the porn matters. Because the folks making Hump-vids are generally trying to challenge our perceptions and excite our curiosities about the sexuality of other human beings. The mainstream guys are asking themselves “how can we sell more of this shit?” I suspect you are not drawn to mainstream porn because you are interested (as are many of us) in an authentic exploration of human sexuality, which is harder to find in the repetitive, predictable, vulgar universe of the mainstream.

When men call into the show with concerns about their porn use, you frequently impel them to be more choosy; to search out feminist or independent porn productions and to avoid porn where the actors are being taken advantage of. Similarly, you said at the top of this episode that people who have a problem with porn use should…well, stop over-using porn.

I find this curious because this is generally the way conservatives argue a position. It’s always about personal responsibility and how the society “doesn’t owe you anything”.  People are poor? They must be lazy and not working hard enough. Women get sexually assaulted at absurdly high rates? Stop dressing like a slut. Porn is having a negative impact on LOTS of people’s lives? What’s wrong with you that you don’t just stop watching porn?

You seem to be surrounded by a community of sex positive friends and fellow travelers and I wonder if you might be insulated from the experience of the majority of Americans, those who have not put in their 10,000 hours thinking about healthy sexuality and who have not devoted extensive work to the flourishing of their (and other’s) sexual health.

A digression is needed here, because I’m going to talk about straight porn and not gay porn. I assume that, since you don’t consume straight porn, your ideas about porn are most heavily influenced by gay porn. You obviously have a lot of information about straight porn, but when you jerk off, I’m assuming you generally watch gay sex. One important distinction between gay porn and straight porn is that sexism does not play the same role in gay male porn as it does in straight porn. It does play a role – sexism is at the root of homophobia, in that gay men are attacked for being female-like, implying the inferiority of women to men.

I’ve talked to a few gay men (I haven’t talked as much to GLBTQ women) about porn, including a very prominent international gay activist and it looks to me like mainstream gay porn poses many of the same problems as it’s straight counterpart. But majority of men in the U.S. who watch porn are straight (due to most men in the U.S. being straight), and the incredible majority of porn produced is for them[1]. When Gail Dines talks about porn, she is focusing on mainstream, straight porn (this is clear from her book “Pornland, as well as from her talks) but when you disagreed with her article on the show, it seemed clear to me that you were addressing the broader category of porn – porn as you see it. Porn as a category of sexual expression.

Here are some VERY common themes in mainstream straight porn: sex with very young/practically underage girls (“Barely Legal”), institutionalized racism (“Pimp My Black Teen”), incest (this one seems to be gaining in popularity, “Sister and Brother Almost Get Caught By Dad”), sex with asleep or unconscious women (also increasingly popular), coercing women in desperate situations into sex (“Desperate Teen F@#$s Stranger For Cash”)…and the list goes on. “Abused” has become so common a word in the titles of straight porn videos (as in “[Insert Woman’s Name] Used and Abused”) that any straight male watching porn immediately translates this in his head to “someone had sex with that woman” and not that she was literally abused. If you type “porn” into google and click the first three links, then select the first three videos from each of those sites, you will almost definitely find one of these themes in more than half of those 9 videos.

You have been an outspoken advocate for (among many communities) the fetish community and I am well aware that all of these themes have been defended as, for lack of a better term, reasonable fantasies. People in the fetish world would say that a responsible adult has the right to fantasize about and consensually act out fantasies of rape, slavery, incest, physical abuse etc. And I agree that consenting adults should have that right. And as a result, this kind of porn is often defended as an extension of those reasonable, consensual fantasies.

I’ve heard you speak about teens and porn on several occasions, and your attitude is clearly that teens watching porn is both inevitable and an acceptable part of their sexual awakening/development. While I would agree that it is at this point inevitable, I would say that it shouldn’t be. No 11-year-old boy should be exposed to videos of men choking women during an act of rough penetration – and most teen boys are seeing this and worse. This is a far cry from the playboy magazines, (sexist in their own right) of my youth.

Porn has become the de-facto sex education in our country and I think this should worry all of us. A lot. Girls having their first sexual experience deserve to have a shot at a loving connection with someone they care about, and not a guy who thinks it’s his obligation to call her bitch and cum on her face – because that’s what he’s learned from porn. Studies with teenagers and college students are finding this to be more and more the case. I’m not saying that sex must be between people who are in love in order to be “healthy”, but surely young people deserve better than what we as a society are setting them up for. Ran Gavrielli in his terrific Ted talk about why he stopped watching porn says something like, “we agree that it’s a bad idea to put unhealthy foods into our bodies, why do we accept casually putting violence and degradation into our minds?” And I’m not talking about adults who have decided to investigate consensual violence and degradation, I’m talking about children who didn’t ask for this.

I often hear porn advocates say that it’s a parent’s job to protect their children from porn. Good luck with that! Porn is so easy to access at this point, if young people want to see it they will see it. The average age boys see hardcore porn is 11 and for girls it’s 14. There are piss poor regulations for porn distribution and I believe the society needs to take responsibility for protecting our children from porn and stop dumping this impossible job on parents. My 2-year-old is an expert with my iPhone (and we have made a gigantic effort to minimize the presence of screens in our lives) and I suspect this will be even more difficult for his generation. Much is being tried in other countries to this effect (David Cameron’s ISP “opt in” system, for example), though our government has shown next to no concern on the issue.

You spoke at length about an organization called “Fight The New Drug”, an anti-porn group from Utah that is backed by the Mormon Church. You called them “the biggest anti-porn group in the country” – and I think you have been misinformed about this. They do appear to be the most well funded anti-porn group, which makes sense given their ties to the Mormon church. There is, so far, very little money in anti-porn work; the people who do that work (overwhelmingly women) do it because they (like you) are fighting for their vision of a better world and this issue matters to them. They have a wealth of analysis and information on this issue and they have shared it, though books and talks (like this Gail Dines talk) and other work. The foundation of the movement is not religious, it is largely academic and concerns itself with building a social movement.

From inside the movement it is crystal clear to me that Fight The New Drug is not the center of the anti-porn movement. The Stop Porn Culture conference that took place in the summer of 2014 (that I attended) did feature a talk by Fight The New Drug – and they stuck out like a sore thumb in that very academic, feminist conference. I won’t speculate here as to why they were invited to the conference, though I have guesses. Anyhow, to regard them as “the biggest anti-porn group in the country” is misleading, I think. They are trying to be sort of a cool and hip anti-porn organization are clearly trying to appeal to young/college aged people…but their message is convoluted and their program seems to be more about making it cool not to watch porn than really addressing the issues or talking about sexism. They are clearly one of the more visible groups, but they are on the periphery of the movement at large. There are plenty of religious anti-porn efforts, and they are really very separate from the secular anti-porn movement, for which Gail Dines is probably the most important leader, domestically and abroad.

As a side, questions regarding the production of porn and the health, safety and wellbeing of porn performers (mostly women) is a relevant part of this discussion, but I think it needs to be treated separately, as it risks derailing this particular conversation.

Lastly, I think it is important to say that being anti-porn is not the same thing as being anti-sex. I can say with confidence that Gail Dines and almost all of us who speak out against porn are emphatically pro-sex. We are though, as I know you are, anti sex-ism. Yes, some anti-porn activists are against all porn (which would include humpfest) and view it all as a vehicle for sexism and male domination. I think that is also a separate conversation. This conversation is about finding a common ground regarding heterosexual, hardcore, mainstream internet porn (the bulk of the porn on the market), it’s lack of regulation (both in its production and distribution) and fact that we as a society are not taking seriously the effect that this glamourized, sexualized violence and degradation is having on the world – particularly on children.

I wanted to submit my thoughts to this conversation before the buzz died down regarding those articles. I’m sorry it took a full week to post this letter to you, I’m a busy working parent and had to write it on my lunchbreak – and it took several lunchbreaks!

I would welcome any dialogue – on the phone or over email – with you on this issue. If you respond to me with your t-shirt size, I will gladly send you the “Fight the New Drug” shirt of your choice, to wear ironically.

Thanks for your time,

Ismail

reclaimingsexfromxxx@gmail.com

[1] I’ve made a “back of the napkin” calculation and my guess is that 90 million men and boys in the U.S. are watching porn, see this article I wrote, trying to crunch the available data.

A Letter To Young And Teenage Boys About Porn

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Dear young and teenage boys,

If you’ve seen porn on the Internet or feel pressure to look at porn, this letter is for you.

I’m writing to tell you that you don’t need to look at it.

It isn’t good for you and you have the power to say NO, I WILL NOT PUT THAT STUFF IN MY HEAD.

I know there is an awful lot of pressure on young people to watch porn, to have sex early in your lives and to conform to the odd sexual standards of our society. This is totally unfair to you. It is our responsibility as adults to create a safe environment where you are free to develop in your own way and at your own speed as a sexual person. Many of us are trying to make the world more like this, and I believe that one day we will succeed, probably with your help.

I’m not saying you should stop watching porn because it’s a sin, or it makes you bad, or that sex is gross or dirty – I don’t believe any of those things. I’m saying you shouldn’t watch it because it is a deeply unhealthy representation of sex. By watching porn you absorb distorted ideas about what sex is, what it means to be female and male, and how people should treat each other.

Porn is made by businessmen who want to make BIG MONEY off of us, and they work hard to make their porn videos disturbing and addicting. Most countries in the world do very little to protect children from being exposed to porn. As a result, most of you see it at very young ages (on average 11 for boys and 14 for girls). This means that for a lot of you, watching porn is your first exposure to sex and it becomes your “sex education”.

The incredible majority of the most popular porn on the Internet is violent, and all of it is degrading to women and girls. It is not about love or intimacy or romance or closeness or fun or pleasure (or any of the wonderful things about sex). Porn would like us to believe that hitting or choking or insulting women is sexy. Porn would like us to think women and girls are objects for us to desire and use for our sexual release. I want you to know that this is an ugly distortion of what a healthy sexual relationship should be about.

We are all born wanting close connection with other people and porn is about the exact opposite – domination, humiliation and objectification. Even if you don’t agree with the stuff you see in porn, the more you watch it and masturbate to it, the less bothered by it you will be. We get desensitized to porn over time, because it’s so connected to our pleasure. As a result we can learn to enjoy things that would otherwise really upset us.

It is very easy to get addicted to porn and the only real way not to get addicted to it is to not watch it. You may be under a lot of pressure from your friends to watch porn. There are organizations out there that help youth fight against porn and porn culture, that you can participate in. It might help to organize support around yourself. Who can you talk to about this issue? A parent? A close friend? An adult who you trust?

If you are watching porn or addicted to porn, YOU CAN STOP NOW. The sooner you stop, the easier it will be to quit.

Finally I want to offer some words of encouragement. You are a very good person. If you’ve been watching porn, it’s okay. You shouldn’t be hard on yourself about it, almost all men and boys (with access to computers) are bombarded with pornography and very few of us manage to avoid it. I am proud of you for thinking about this issue and for wanting to do what’s right for yourself and for the world. I believe in you and I encourage you to make a firm decision not to watch pornography. When the time comes for you to start exploring sex, I wish you all the best in discovering your own authentic sexuality.

How many men in the United States are watching porn?

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a ‘back of the napkin’ calculation

As I consider the issue of male porn consumption and the porn industry, a question occurs to me: How many men and boys in the United States watch porn? Let me just be clear that I am not a statistician or an expert in this field; this is just a thought exercise based on available data. Since no one else seems to be making a guess about this, I thought I’d give it a shot[1]. What We Know Here are some useful statistics about males and porn:

  • 9 out of 10 men aged 18-26 report using porn[2]
  • more than 70% of men ages 18 to 34 visit porn sites in a typical month.[3]
  • 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn before the age of 18[4]
  • The average age that boys first see porn is 12 years old[5]

What We Don’t Know

We don’t have good figures for men aged 35 and older. In order to make a guess about that group, we need to extrapolate from the existing data. We also don’t have information that tells us how much porn men and boys are watching in the existing studies. Did they just see it once? Are they regular consumers? I’ve heard many men and boys speak about their exposure to porn, and not once have I heard a anyone say “yeah, I saw it once and thought ‘No, that isn’t for me’ and never looked at it again.” The nature of porn is that it is addictive – it’s manufactured to be that way, that’s what makes it profitable. We are already being inundated with and manipulated by sex in our societies at large in the popular culture – in this way we have been groomed for pornography and porn takes it to the next level.  It is, of course, possible that a boy sees porn at 12 and then manages to avoid it for a few years before getting totally sucked in. This is all variation that we can’t account for.

What We Might Extrapolate

First, let’s look at the total number of men in the U.S.: 151 million, according to the 2012 census. If the average age that boys see porn is 12, let’s subtract the “0-9 year olds” category (20 million boys), leaving us with about 130 million males. Is it fair to guess that men who use computers are more likely to be looking at porn? Sure, there could be men out there still watching DVD’s and looking at magazines, but the vast majority of porn traffic is happening online where it’s free, anonymous, almost unlimited and easily accessible. We know that men aged 65 and up have a low rate of internet use, about 57%[6]. Let’s just subtract that whole demographic, just to be conservative. Clearly there must be men in that group who watch porn but I will not include them here. If we subtract the 18 million men over 65 from 130 million we get… 112 million men between the ages of 9 and 65. Our data suggests that somewhere between 70% and 93% of boys 12-34 are watching porn. Do we have cause to think men aged 35-65 are dramatically different? I don’t think so. If we take the average of 70% and 93% – let’s call it 80% – does it seem reasonable to guess that 80% of men aged 12 to 65 are watching porn? It does to me. 80% of 112 million is about 90 million men and boys. So this is my best guess: 90 million men and boys – 80% of the men and boys in the U.S. aged 12-65 – are watching (or at have at least been exposed to) hardcore internet pornography. And don’t forget, I’ve left out men over 65 AND made guesses that I believe are very conservative. I suspect that the number is actually higher than this.

What Does This Mean?

If these numbers are accurate (or even close), would this not qualify as a public health epidemic? 90 million men and boys in the U.S. alone being exposed to violent, misogynist, hardcore internet porn? Where women are routinely choked, slapped, degraded, humiliated and abused? With this as the main form of sex education that boys receive as they develop their sexual identities? What if my figure are way off – what if the real numbers are HALF what I’ve calculated? Is that not still a public health epidemic? Wouldn’t 40% (more than a third) of U.S. male’s aged 12-65 being hooked on porn be an issue for our society of catastrophic proportions? Gail Dines make an excellent point in this lecture – what will we do as a society when our doctors and lawyers and judges (and I’ll add politicians and military leaders), have all been addicted to this kind of ideological hatred from the youngest ages? I believe that the time has come for men to:

  1. Acknowledge publically that porn is harmful
  2. Stop watching porn and assist other men in doing the same
  3. Back women in their work to end sexism and male domination (and join them)
  4. Work on protecting boys and young men (and of course also girls and young women) from exposure to the predatory porn industry
  5. Take steps to eradicate porn from mainstream culture through education (on the harms of porn) and regulation:
    1. of porn on the internet, particularly in order to protect children from exposure
    2. of the porn and sex industries, which are inseparable

You’ve read my guesses – what are your thoughts?   [1] I’m focusing on heterosexual men and straight porn here; gay men make up a little less than 1% of all males in the U.S. (NHIS 2014 statistics) and I would very much like for a gay man to start blogging on the issue of gay men and porn, which is relevant and important. [2] Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults (from the Journal of Adolescent Research) [3] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition [4] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition [5] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition (note: other statistics suggest that the average age for boys is actually 11 years old, I’ve opted for the more conservative stat.) [6] Pew Research Center Internet User Demographics

What Does It Mean To “Be A Man” in our Society?

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Do you ever wonder, “what it means to be a man”?  Well I have news for you, there is no need to wrestle with this complex question anymore because PORN HAS DEFINED IT FOR YOU.  That’s right, according to the vast majority of pornography out there (which is straight, hardcore porn), being a man consists of these simple steps:

  • Have a huge penis.  This is key!  If you don’t have a gigantic cock, you are hereby doomed to lesser manhood.
  • Want to have sex constantly.  Make sure this is the only thing on your mind.  What, you enjoy singing songs?  Talking to a friend?  Cooking a meal?  You’ve failed the real man test.
  • Possess superhuman sexual stamina.  Don’t worry about the fact that no woman actually enjoys being pounded like a piece of meat for hours on end.  She really doesn’t matter in this equation.  Remember: sex is only about YOU.
  • Dominate women (and men too while you’re at it.)  Wait, you don’t enjoy yelling demeaning things at a woman?  Being physically abusive?  What is WRONG with you?

Consider this excerpt from a popular sex advice podcast, where a man called in for advice about his sex life.  He wants to be more like the men he sees in porn.

“My girlfriend and I have a great sex life, we’ve been slowly but surely getting into a little bit more kinky stuff… she wants it a little more rough, she wants me to talk dirty to her…which I don’t have a problem with, actually it turns me on a whole lot. . . . I guess my question is, do you have any insight in, like, framing myself mentally on how to do this, on how to be that a little bit more?  Because I guess it’s not necessarily in my personality per se, to be like, you know “suck that dick, bitch”, but I mean also, that’s the kind of porn that I watch too, and that’s stuff that I’m really interested in so, you know I could definitely do that, I want to be able to do that, it’s something that I aspire to, so any insight on that would be great, thanks a lot, I appreciate it.”

For so many men and boys, porn is re-defining so-called manhood.  This guy admires the men he sees in porn.  He “aspires” to be a man who tells his girlfriend, “suck that dick, bitch.”  He doesn’t feel like he is currently that kind of guy – but he wants to be that kind of guy.

This is the way pornography gets in our heads and warps our perspective on women, on sex, on life.  In this case both the caller and his girlfriend have been pulled deep into porn culture.  Pornography ties violent sexism and male domination directly into the sexual pleasure of both men and women.  No little girl looks forward to growing up and having her boyfriend dominate and degrade her.  And no little boy wants to dominate and degrade women when he grows up.  But because we are told so repeatedly from a young age that this is sexy, that this is “okay as long as it’s consensual,” that this is healthy, many of us get sucked into rehearsing this kind of abusive scenario.

Men are desperate to feel like “real men” – a seemingly unreachable goal in our present societies.  No matter how hard you try, you never seem tough enough, or handsome enough, or rich enough, or confident enough…and porn beckons to us with the message “it’s easy to be a real man” (steps listed at the beginning of this article).  Degrading women doesn’t come naturally to the caller.  But his addiction to pornography is making it seem sexy and normal.  And I think a lot of guys are stuck in a similar spot: porn is telling them what it means to be a man and there is no other voice in the conversation, no clear alternative. Guys – will you join me in being that other voice?

“This is a message to all the men in my life.”

We hear a lot from the sex industry and pop culture about how fun and great porn is.  I’m going to try hard to regularly post voices of real people, who have nothing to sell, who speak from the heart about their own experience living in our pornified culture.

This message from Suzanne Williams is taken from the Elephant Journal, you can see the original posting here.

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This is a message to all the men in my life.

All the beautiful men who I know strive for equality and who would never oppress a woman knowingly. This is a message for you because there is something you need to know.

Pornography terrifies me.

And it’s a deep terror—like someone has stabbed me in the gut; like a giant planet is about to collide with the Earth.*

The strange thing is that I didn’t even realize that I felt this terror, until I started speaking to other women and realized that the terror they spoke about was in me, too. “But why am I terrified when it’s just a normal part of society?” I hear you ask.

That is what terrifies me.

Porn is so normal that my male friends can easily talk about it in front of me, (I know what the ‘wank angle’ is). Porn is so normal that you can find it in sweet shops. Porn is so normal that even the musicians that my six-year-old goddaughter likes are doing pornographic moves in bikinis.

Porn is so normal that for a long time I believed that if I wanted to please a man in bed, I needed to act like a porn star.

But where did this come from? How was I convinced that pornography should be an everyday, normal thing?

When I dredge up my internal ‘knowledge of the world’ I’m told that pornography is the result of the sexual liberation movement and is an indication that we are free to explore our sexual lives. But when did four guys wanking into a woman’s mouth become sexual liberation? What part of us is liberated by it? And is it a part of us that we really want to liberate?

What about the young girls and boys who grow up into this world where both of them are subjected to twisted ideas of what it means to have a sexual relationship with someone?

I can tell you what it does to little girls: it terrifies them. But then we numb and accept, because what else can you do at such a young age when you’re faced with a cultural norm that is designed to humiliate and degrade women. The Stockholm syndrome takes over our sexual lives, and we go and practice our porn face in the mirror.

The feeling I have now, as a grown woman, is one of rage. But to whom can I direct it? Pornography in most forms is a symptom of an oppressive, patriarchal culture that affects both women and men. Porn humiliates women and desensitizes men. It’s not solely men nor women’s fault that porn exists, but when we find ourselves watching degrading acts towards women and men being shown as insensitive abusers, then it’s our responsibility to stop watching.**

I don’t mean that we should censor all erotic acts in the media. However, we need to start listening to women when they say they are terrified of porn. Any objectification of women is violence against them and porn seems to be one of the most violent of all.

I’ve known a sensitive lover or two in my time, so I know that intelligent men can bypass the misogyny they are presented within pornography. But we still need to ask ourselves the question: do we want little girls to grow up in a world where they know that watching the degradation and humiliation of women is seen as a pleasant way to pass time?

*Watch the film Melancholia if you want to know what this feels like.

**(If you’re not sure, ask a woman to watch it with you.  If you don’t want a woman to watch it with you then you’ve probably got your answer.)

“Tell me what happens the first time you see a woman naked.”

I was really moved by this piece of…you know I’m not even sure what to call it – potery?  prose?  vignette? – written by a blogger on Tumblr called The Clumsy Human.

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“Tell me what happens the first time you see a woman naked.”

“The first time you see a woman naked will not be like you imagined. There will be no love, no trust, no intimacy. You won’t even be in the same room as her.

You won’t get to smile as she undresses you and you undress her. You won’t get to calm her nerves with nerves of your own. You won’t get to kiss her, feeling her lips and the edge of her tongue. You won’t get to brush your fingers over the lace of her bra or count her ribs or feel her heartbeat.

The first time you see a woman naked you will be sitting in front of a computer screen watching someone play at intimacy and perform at sex. She will contort her body to please everyone in the room but her. You will watch this woman who is not a woman, pixelated and filtered and customized. She will come ready-made, like an order at a restaurant. The man on the screen will be bigger than you, rougher than you. He will teach you how to talk to her. He will teach you where to put your hands and he will teach you what you’re supposed to like. He will teach you to take what is yours.

You must unlearn this. You must unlearn this twisted sense of love. You must unlearn the definition of pleasure and intimacy you are being taught. Kill this idea of love, this idea of entitlement, this way of scarring one another.”

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What was it like the first time you saw someone naked? The first time you saw porn?  Tell your story here.

Here’s a link to the original Tumblr post.

Does porn make you happy?

Not “does it make you feel good (for a time)” or “does it turn you on” – does it make you happy?

I gave up watching porn two years ago and it was REALLY hard to do.  I had been trying for about 20 years, since I was a teenager.  Around high school I started to suspect that porn was messing with my head.  But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t kick it.

Have you had a similar experience?  Did you start watching porn and find that you couldn’t stop?  That it was starting to affect your life?  That you were looking at women differently, that day in and day out you couldn’t take your mind off of sex (and specifically porn sex)?

The porn industry would have us believe that pornography is “harmless entertainment”, a sort of ‘boys will be boys’ attitude.  Some part of me would like to believe that…but I don’t.  Not anymore.  Not one bit.

Many people will say that if you are anti-porn, you are anti-sex.  I think the opposite is true.  I think porn is anti-sex.  Pornography is made by men (almost exclusively), who’s only, single, specific, explicit, unmistakable goal is to make money.  They don’t care one shred about our sexual health, our relationships or even what is good about sex.  The content of most porn on the internet, full of violence, male domination and emotionless sex acts, is designed to hook us.  Every year we get more desensitized to what they’ve been showing us and they ramp it up, going to laughably great lengths to make porn more ‘extreme’.

The culture of pornography permeates our society – we are getting to the point that if you say “I watch porn”, people respond “of course you do – everybody watches porn.  It’s totally normal”.  As a man who doesn’t watch porn, or maybe is just thinking there might be something wrong with the whole porn situation, you run the risk of seeming prudish, or getting accused of being somehow less of a man.  For not wanting to fill your head with the objectification and violent sexualization of women and girls.  Well I don’t know about you but that’s not what I think a man should be.  I have higher hopes for us.

I wanted to have a place on the internet where men and boys could talk about these issues, to share our struggles and successes, to learn from each other and to be a part of building an alternative to our pornographic culture.

I love sex and I want to live and love and laugh and grow my sexuality to its full potential.  At this point I’m not even really sure what that means or what it could be.  I’m not sure anyone knows quite yet.  But I’d like to find out and I’d like to have a community of men to do it with.

I’m really inspired by this video, a talk by an Israeli man named Ran Gavrieli about why he gave up watching porn.

I’d like to hear your story or your thoughts.  You can fill out my questionnaire, leave it in a comment or send me an email.