Men’s viewing of pornography is widely accepted – or at least tolerated – as a norm. That is, most of us (men and women) assume that most men view pornography, at least at some point in men’s lives. We may not like it or may like it to varying degrees, but most of us sees to tolerate it. Many, it appears, assume that men’s viewing pornography is only “a little harmless fun” and that the only person who might be wronged is his partner.
I grew up in a sexual liberal household. My parents taught community-based sexuality classes (both through the local college and for the community more broadly) and Our Bodies Our Selves had a prominent place in our dining room book shelf. I was encouraged to see and recognize that sexuality was a natural part of who we are, and to see sex as a natural expression of the human experience. In the 1970’s and 80’s in Rural South Texas, gay men and lesbians were welcomed into our home. A part of my growing up was also my dad’s Playboys – something that was an accepted part of our home.
I didn’t have the language at the time (and suspect my parents didn’t either), but to borrow from today’s language, I was raised with the firm belief that sexuality is a human right. A belief I still hold. In the home that I grew up in, there was little tolerance for attitudes that were anti-gay and we supported a woman’s right to choose. Its fair to say that I grew up on a pro-sex home, and a part of this was access to pornography.
When I got to college, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the local rape crisis center, which opened my eyes to feminism and the first criticism I had heard of pornography that wasn’t also condemning of gay folks and “the homosexual lifestyle” and anti-choice. I started listening to women’s experience of being sexually objectified and the harms that this caused them. I was still viewing pornography at this point and living in an all-male dorm in which our pornography use was both common and expected.
Research suggests that the use of pornography by college men as rampant, and also shows that increasingly, adolescent and young adult men use pornography as a form of sex education (Owens, et al, 2012; Crabbe, M. & Flood, M., 2017). This data indicates both the widespread nature of men’s pornography use and some of the implications that result from men viewing pornography. To highlight some of what is troubling about men’s viewing pornography:
- Viewing pornography reinforces much of the sexual objectification that girls and women already experience (APA, 2010).
- Viewing pornography tends to set up men’s expectations as to how men are supposed to behave as sexual partners and what “success” means in terms of sexual encounters (Manning, 2007).
- Viewing pornography can result in men having lower self-image and self-acceptance (Cook, 2006; Manning, 2007).
In regards to the efforts to prevent gender-based violence or promote gender equality:
- Viewing pornography tend to increase men’s belief in rape myth, and the degree of support of these beliefs (Allen, 1995).
- Viewing pornography tends to decrease men’s empathy for women or men who are raped (Attwood, 2005).
- Viewing pornography appears to increase and strengthen men’s racist attitudes and beliefs (Bridges, 2010; Miller-Young, 2010)
- Viewing pornography appears to significantly reduce men’s willingness to be engaged in efforts to prevent gender-based violence or promote gender equality (Fourbert, Brosi & Bannon (2011).
- Viewing pornography is linked to men’s perpetration of sexual and domestic violence (DeKeseredy & Funk, 2017)
- Viewing pornography appears to be linked to higher rates and intensity of violence by men who perpetrate rape or domestic violence (Bergen & Bogle, 2000; DeKeseredy & Funk, 2017).
These are some of the values and content that men are consuming by viewing pornography. If they are using pornography as a form of sex education, then men’s viewing pornography has some troubling implications for what men are learning about how to flirt and date, how to negotiate sex and how to be in relationships. The values of mutuality, caring, connection, fun and intimacy as a part of healthy sexual relationships is almost universally shared; but these values are not only glaringly absent from pornography, but the very opposites are the values promoted and encouraged.
Those of working to end gender-based violence and promote gender equality, this evidence suggests, need to be working to integrate a critical view of pornography in our efforts and activities. Men need a counter-story to the pornography narrative they are receiving, and far too often consuming, on a regular basis.
What’s Wrong with this Picture is an initiative that does just this. Focusing on efforts with men and boys, WWWTP provides resources and services that can be used as stand-along efforts, and which can be integrated into other efforts to educate, engage or mobilize men and boys.
One core product of this initiative is “What’s Wrong with this Picture: The Impact of Viewing Pornography” – an 8-session curriculum for adult men that is based loosely on media literacy theory to support men to examine the values that are inherently a part of pornography and the degree to which these values do (or don’t) align with their own values. Content covered by the curriculum includes:
- Men’s first experiences of viewing pornography
- Pornography and Gender roles
- Pornography and Flirting
- Men’s views of women
- Defining the harm
- Pornography and Racism
The final two sessions invite the men who participate in this class to engage in activism to promote gender equality and/or to prevent gender-based violence.
The curriculum is available at rusfunk.me/WWWTP, as is more information about the broader initiative, and additional resources and services.
Allen, L. (1995). “Exposure to pornography and acceptance of rape myths.” Journal of Communication; 5 – 25.
American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2010). Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Available at http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf.
Attwood, F. (2005). “What do people do with porn? Qualitative research into the consumption, use and experience of pornography and other sexually explicit media.” Sexuality and Culture, 65-86.
Bergen, R.K & Bogle, K.A. (2000). “Exploring the connection between pornography and sexual violence.” Victims and Violence, 15(3): 227-234.
Cook, I. (2006). “Western heterosexual masculinity, anxiety and web porn.” Journal of Men’s Studies, 14(1): 47 – 63.
Crabbe, M. & Flood, M. (2017). “School based education to address pornography’s influence on young people: A best practice framework.” Unpublished manuscript, available from the author.
DeKeseredy, W. & Funk, R.E. (2017). “The role of adult pornography in intimate partner sexual violence perpetrators’ offending.” In McOrmund-Plummer, L., Lvey-Peck, J.Y., & Esteal, P. Perpetrators of intimate partner sexual violence: A Multidisciplinary approach to prevention, recognition and intervention. Routledge Press.
Fourbert, J., Brosi, M., and Brannon, R. (2011). “Effects of fraternity men’s pornography use on bystander intervention rape myth acceptance and behaviors intent to commit sexual assault.” Journal of Aggressive Behavior. 3 – 33.
Miller-Young, M. (2010). “Putting hypersexuality to work: Black woen and illicit eroticism in pornography.” Sexualities. 13(2): 219 – 235.
Owens, E.W., Behun, R.J., Manning, J.C., Reid, R.C. (2012) “The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research.” Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. 13: 131 – 165.