Sex news: porn is having a ‘terrifying’ impact on men

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Today I spotted an article in the Independent that told me porn was having a ‘terrifying’ impact on men. Naturally, I clicked on the link to see just what horrors were pouring forth from the screen and into the laps of vulnerable guys. But hidden within it was something I found quite interesting…

There’s a lot of debate at the moment about the impact that porn is having on male sexual dysfunction. Meaning, of course, cisgender male sexual dysfunction. From the ‘NoFap’ movement of guys who have sworn off masturbation to concerned peddlers of sex addiction therapy, the general narrative seems to be that if men watch enough porn, their dicks will stop working.

I’m sceptical of claims that porn destroys your dick/sex life/etc, and doubly sceptical of the certainty with which they’re reported, for a few reasons:

  • I think the evidence is thin, and it is hotly contested. Dr David Ley has some excellent counterarguments to the ‘porn will destroy you’ posts, and he’s also written a book about the myth of sex addiction – he’s well worth following if you’d like a different view. I’m aware that my biases in this area will nudge me towards opinions like his, but I’m also confident that the ‘porn will kill your dick’ narrative is simplistic and inaccurate at best, and downright untrue at worst.
  • The guys who came of wanking age around the time that online porn started to surge are around the right age group to start developing sexual issues (the ones usually mentioned are erectile dysfunction and/or delayed ejaculation) about now anyway. Is this a correlation/causation thing? Is it one of many factors?
  • The study cited in this news story (as with others that have similar conclusions) is based on self-reported survey data, and frustratingly the article itself just links to a different news story as opposed to the study itself so it’s hard to get detail. There’s a bit more on newswire here – look at the frequency of porn viewing in particular, it doesn’t seem to me like many of the people surveyed were watching a huge amount, but that is just my interpretation.
  • Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of underlying health concerns such as heart disease. Unthinkingly reporting ‘porn destroys your dick!’ could easily lead people to conclude that their own erectile dysfunction/delayed ejaculation are simply down to porn, and put them off visiting their doctor to see if it’s a sign of something more serious.

But all that’s by the by. I wanted to pick up on one intriguing sentence in the Indy piece. Having explained the ‘terrifying’ effect that porn was having on men, with an implication that we should be terrified of porn/fight against it/stop watching it/etc, this line slips in a few paragraphs down:

“By contrast, watching pornography seems to have little effect on women’s sex lives.”

In case you think I’m cherry-picking quotes to back up what I believe, I’ll tell you I think this is bollocks too – porn can (and does) have a big impact on women’s sex lives – both positive and negative. I think they mean that women report no physical effects as a result of porn, whereas men do.

Porn’s effect on women vs on men

But what does this one line say about porn? Does it mean that we should ban or discourage men from watching porn, while women should fill their boots? Do we really believe that men and women are so different that one of them can be dramatically physically affected by this thing where the other isn’t affected at all? Maybe it says that women don’t watch enough porn for the comparison to really work? Maybe… Ah, I give up.

I mention it – and was fascinated by it – only because I’ve heard many arguments in the past in the ways that porn can harm women: by giving them unrealistic expectations to live up to, hurting their body image or views on relationships, etc. Now the prevailing ‘porn is bad!’ argument seems to be switching from ‘porn harms women!’ to ‘porn harms men!’

When did this switch begin, and why? Does it mean that feminist pornographers have largely won the argument, and managed to establish that porn doesn’t have to be this ‘big bad wolf’ that women should all rail against?

I have a post in draft about a debate I went to a while ago about porn ‘addiction’ – it was really interesting to see the (entirely male) panel give their perspectives on how harmful porn was, and the addictive nature of it. Not one person on the panel questioned why, given the specific physical responses they were talking about, only men would be affected while women were basically fine. Someone in the audience asked about women and feminist/alternative porn and was instantly dismissed: “that’s not what we’re talking about here.” Why not, though? You’re either talking porn or you’re talking about a very specific and distinct quality that a certain subset of porn (i.e. PornHub and other tube siteshas. Perhaps that question was dismissed because answering it would highlight the absurdity at the heart of this debate: that in order to accept that porn is harmful in this way, we have to accept that very specific types of porn hold a magical sex-drive-or-dick-killing quality that other types don’t, or we have to explain why some people are immune from this kind of addiction.

Or perhaps we just need to accept that our porn research – like our porn itself – is focused on cisgender guys, with women’s porn experiences warranting little more than a footnote.

More research required, I reckon…

 

5 Comments

  • Oxyfromsg says:

    I think porn is like most things, good for some, bad for others.
    Sweeping statements are not helpful to anyone.
    And giving a definition of exactly what you mean by porn might be a start for these reports.
    I shall continue on with my own research.

  • endymion says:

    But… But! (starts hyperventilating)
    Just like sex toys you *must* differentiate between male porn (bad!) and female porn (fluffy, organically grown, good!)! And since we all know (TM) that women only ever look at the nice porn (or no porn at all), and men only look the bad porn, it must affect men much more than women!!!1!!

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    At least this survey did also ask women about porn, even if they didn’t find any positive result… which is still a result in itself.

    As for the finding about men, it’s hard to comment without having the raw data, but I suspect there is a significant correlation/causation issue here. It’s not altogether surprising that there’s a correlation between ‘sexual dysfunction’ and porn use: wouldn’t you expect that men who find it difficult to have sex, for whatever reason, would be more likely to turn to porn as an alternative? (That’s not to say porn can’t cause sexual dysfunction, but the reverse causation seems to have mostly escaped attention here.)

    Also, *if* I’m reading the abstract correctly, it seems the correlation may only be present in the 3.4% of men who preferred watching porn to sex, and not in the other 96.6%.

  • Stu says:

    “The guys who came of wanking age around the time that online porn started to surge are around the right age group to start developing sexual issues ”

    Wait what? How old would this be? I’m pretty sure internet porn was fairly new when I started and I’m not 30 yet! How old do you have to be to get boner problems?

  • J. says:

    I just thought of something very funny…

    If I was a Christian protesting against porn, I could paraphrase ‘physician, heal thyself’ and say ‘pornographer, go fuck yourself!’ :p

    Anyone else think that’s clever? XD

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