Ep. 9: Is Porn Good For Your Relationship? | Empowered Health - Empowered Health | A Podcast with Emily Kumler

Pornography in the United States is a massive business; some reports estimate it brings in approximately one trillion dollars in annual revenue. In this episode, we look at the differences in how women and men consume porn, how it impacts relationships and its influence on society at large. We discuss pornography’s cultural implications with Samuel Perry, professor of sociology and religious studies, Cindy Gallop, CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, and Dr. Gail Dines, anti-porn scholar and CEO of Culture Reframed.

Show notes + Transcript

 

Emily: This week we’re going to talk about pornography in America and usually our episodes are pretty family friendly. This one is not. So if you have young people around, might be a good idea to put on a different episode. Thanks.

 

Emily: I’m Emily Kumler and this is Empowered Health. Pornography in the United States is a massive business. Close to $1 trillion in revenue is reported every year. To give some context to this, if you think about the top websites that are visited, number one, Google, number two, Youtube, number three, Facebook, four is Amazon, five is Yahoo and six? Pornhub. When you take porn sites and you put them together and accumulative kind of way, they are viewed or consumed more than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. So we know this is something that people are consuming a lot of on a regular basis, but it’s not something that people talk a lot about. And so we thought, you know what? Let’s get into this. Let’s look a little bit about how women consume porn, how it impacts their lives. And in the course of working on this episode, we’ve also really been struck by how this has affected our culture and how this disconnect between our ability to be able to talk about what people are consuming in their private intimate moments is directly related to some of the big cultural problems that we are trying to overcome. So we were curious, like could this be positive? Could there be some sort of thing with sexual freedom and a new kind of intimacy and we know sort of women being more sexual, could this possibly be a positive thing? And I sorta think we have to forget some of the like mores of the past and just sort of accept like this is really here. So like this is being consumed by most people on a regular basis. So what is it? What are they consuming, what are the parts of it that are potentially good and what are the parts that are potentially bad? And I think one of the things that we cannot separate is the idea that we are living through a moment of reflection on sexual assault. And that through the #MeToo movement through more women getting into power, we’re all sort of looking at this culture whereby women have experienced a lot of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and that we as a culture don’t really know how to deal with it or fix it. And the more we researched this topic, the more it seemed like there was a direct connection, at least for me, between the images that people see online. So the most popular pornography is often images of women being choked or strangled or gang-banged. And if you take those moving images and you look at them as stills, there is no way that you can separate the violence from the sex. And if we’re telling kids as young as 11 years old, which is the average age that boys are coming across pornography now, that this is what sex is about and then we’re wondering why we have a problem with our rape culture, we’re just being ignorant to these underlying messages which are flooding kids. One really important piece of information that I think we need to share before we get into any of the research is that most of the pornography online today is of girls or women who look very young. So some of the most popular sites are things like, don’t worry, she’s my stepdaughter or making some overture to incest and to children. And it used to be that there was a law that said that if a woman looked underage, even if she wasn’t, she was not allowed to be in pornography. And in 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft basically overruled, won the case, that overturned the child online protection act on the grounds that it violated free speech. So we have a case whereby somebody has decided that your right to free speech overrules the protection of sexualizing children. And I mean I’m not being a hyperbolic when I say that is ridiculous. Like this is so dangerous. So we fast forward 15 years to today and child pornography is the fastest growing sector of the porn industry. To the point where one study that we came across referenced it as one of the fastest growing online businesses of all businesses. So this is a massive problem that our society needs to deal with. It’s like protecting women, protecting children. This shouldn’t be so complicated. And yet our government has made it easier to entice people into seeing young looking girls as sexual objects. And I really don’t think these things happen in isolation. And so then you look at like, okay, well if child porn is becoming such a big problem, how are we cracking down on it? And in 2009 there were 624,000 cases that were reported by law enforcement of people sharing child porn. Only 1% of those were investigated, gone after because there wasn’t enough money in the budget to go after them. I mean, that to me is insane, right? So like we’ve created this marketplace whereby people want to see young girls in violent situations and then we don’t allocate any money to go after when they start moving into children and child pornography. So I think that’s really important to just sort of put out there before we talk to any of the people who are going to say like porn is great or it might be useful or this kind of porn is okay, but that kind of porn isn’t because like I can’t, I cannot emphasize enough that most of the porn people are looking at or searching for is young looking girls and they’re putting them in situations that look very violent. So first up we’re going to talk to a researcher who’s one of the few people who’s looked at how porn influences women in relationships. Professor Perry is going to break down the research for us.

 

Samuel Perry: I’m an assistant professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma. And my areas of interest primarily are in transitions regarding kind of cultural definitions of the family, but also how religion intersects with that. And mostly I study conservative Christianity and how that particular subculture is trying to grapple with a rapidly changing demographic and cultural landscape.

 

Emily: I’d like to just get started by saying, it seems like some of your research indicates that women have a very different experience than men do in terms of viewing porn. Is that right?

 

Samuel Perry:Yeah. So, historically women view pornography a lot less than that. That is changing with the advent of the Internet and smartphones. Women who previously would have been more embarrassed to try to access pornography– and that used to common joke, people don’t remember this anymore, I’m not really young enough to have experienced it either or I’m not really old enough to have experienced either. But, people my dad’s age, if they were going to access pornography, I mean, you had to go to a store, you had to, you know,

 

Emily: Rent it. Return it.

 

Samuel Perry: Right. You had to go to that part of the video store, the adult section or you had to get a brown bag and put a hustler or playboy in there. And it would be this kind of thing. Only men would have the boldness to do that or not only but largely. So, there were all kinds of social constraints that would have kept women from, who might’ve been interested in accessing porn from accessing it. Well with smartphones and the Internet all the privacy and anonymity and accessibility and affordability, it’s completely free. A lot more women have been accessing pornography than in years past to where it is becoming a lot more of a noticeable thing and that is across different communities. So even secular women certainly have been doing that. But even in the research I’ve been doing, even more religious, even conservative Protestant women find themselves drawn to and more often now consuming pornography to where the gap between men’s pornography consumption and women’s pornography consumption is not near as stark as it used to be,

 

Emily: And so how do you measure that?

 

Samuel Perry: So you can measure this with various surveys. And so we different survey data that just shows that women who report having accessed pornography within the past year or charged in the past year, there’s still a difference to be sure. Men for some reason, whether it’s cultural or whatever, tend to be more attracted to pornography than women. Even in the current day and age where accessibility is no longer a problem.

 

Emily: I would imagine that like even like a religious woman who’s doing this because it’s accessible to her, but also she can kind of keep it private in a way. That’s sort of interesting that she would answer a survey. I mean, I don’t know how you kind of correct for something like that, but I would imagine.

 

Samuel Perry: Right. That’s a huge problem when we’re trying to study very sensitive topics that are sexual or like pornography or masturbation or that kind of thing. And we actually see two different trends among religious men and religious women. Religious men, especially evangelical men, there’s kind of a culture of accountability and confession within that group. When I was doing interviews for my most recent book on pornography among Evangelicals, I would find that conservative Christian men were all the more willing to sit down with me and tell me every little detail about what they had been looking at and how often and how much it bothered them and they saw it as kind of cathartic. Conservative Christian women, and this is what I argue in the book, they really wrestle with a double shame when it comes to talking about pornography. One they feel like they shouldn’t be watching pornography but they also feel like they’re struggling with a man’s sin. They feel even more dirty and shameful because of that.

 

Emily: And I was struck by some of the research you have done that looked at, and you have to correct me on this cause I was a little confused. There was one piece– a data point that basically seem to suggest that women who watch porn have a greater sense of greater enjoyment in their relationship. And I thought, you know, that’s interesting because that to me sort of translates into women are watching porn and then they’re imagining when they’re with their significant other that they can try these things out or that it’s sort of like a healthy way of consuming the pornography and then putting that into their own lives. Whereas it seems like men view pornography and it almost makes them wonder like what else is out there? Like rather than recommitting to their relationship, it makes them think like, oh well my wife won’t let me do that. So that’s pretty cool that that woman seems down with it.

 

Samuel Perry:  Right, exactly. Yeah. So my research and what others have suggested as well is that when women consume pornography, it tends to be, again, I’ve talked to lots of women who consume it privately to masturbate and that’s how they use pornography– kind of like a man traditionally does. But for the most part, women are more likely to consume pornography as a part of the relationship, as an aspect of lovemaking or to learn things. Like if they’re doing it privately and it’s like you said to, like, okay, type in this question, how do you do this so that they can learn what they like or learn how to enjoy sex a little bit more or they’re it with their partner kind of to get them both turned on or it’s just a fun intimacy building kind of thing. And so like you said, it seems to be a way to solidify the relationship and to build intimacy to the extent that women don’t feel like it’s gross or offensive or like makes them jealous. You know, what are you thinking when you’re watching these women do it? And so it can actually be conducive to, and studies show this, that kind of pornography use when it’s mutually participatory can actually build up a relationship, at least in the short term for women. Men tend to not experience those benefits in that way because men, most men are consuming pornography with the intent to masturbate to it privately. Most men, especially younger men now have been looking at pornography for years and years and years. I mean, women often feel hurt that they feel like their partners are cheating on them with porn. In reality, they’re kind of cheating on porn with that woman. They got a relationship with porn a lot longer than they had with that lady.

 

Emily: I think the other part of this that I just wasn’t sure of is that there was another data point I read that had something, and I’m paraphrasing or trying to remember this correctly, but it was in one of your research studies that women who viewed pornography in between the surveys, they were twice as likely to get divorced. And I thought that’s interesting. Is that because, I mean, I’m sure we can’t say anything about what it actually, what the cause is. But is the association something about the woman’s unhappy in her relationship and so she’s like I’m going to try watching porn and see if that helps. But really is it that she has a terrible sex life and so she’s eventually, the porn doesn’t make up for that. Or is it like, I mean, can you actually make a connection, I guess is the question?

 

Samuel Perry: Yeah. Well, the way we tried to explain it in the book and there’s a couple of different possible scenarios, I’ll give you a couple of them. One, like you said, it could be that this woman is kind of a last ditch effort to revive a relationship. It’s just not working out and so she looks at porn with her partner and see if I can spice things up. It doesn’t, and they ended up getting divorced later on. It could also be that if women to the extent that married women, look at porn. Most of the spouses and partners that I interviewed for my book, and this happened occasionally, that a married woman was looking at porn with her husband, but oftentimes it was just couples dating couples who were trying fun sex things. Marriage tends to up the fidelity standard a little bit to where like porn is no longer welcome in the bedroom, or at least the kind of people who get married just tend not to welcome porn as much. So it could be that married women who are looking at porn. It really is an indicator that things have gotten so bad that they’re already heading in that direction, that the woman is sexually unsatisfied and is engaging in pornography use because the marriage is almost on it’s last leg. Another possibility, and this is one that probably isn’t the case in this particular study that you’re talking about but I found is the case elsewhere. In my study with conservative Protestants, I found that conservative Protestant women were more than twice as likely as other women to divorce their husband because of porn, because of his porn use or that kind of thing, and so it could be that some women, if they are engaging in pornography use or if pornography is anywhere near the relationship, especially if they feel like it is something that is morally offensive to them. That is kind of an indicator that the relationship is going down the tubes. Kind of like the last explanation I gave. Men tend to, if they’re viewing pornography privately for the purposes of masturbating to it, there’s a couple of things going on. One most likely they’re consuming it enough and frequent enough to have some kind of sexual script influenced by that. So maybe their expectations for body image. Or there expectations for how sexual relationships work and that could lead them to negatively compare their own sexual relationship to their own partner or spouse to the pornography in ways that make them less sexually satisfied. Another one is just frankly just the physical consequence of masturbating. So like you are consuming pornography to masturbate to it, so you’re getting that sexual release and then once you have that sexual release you have basically just eliminated an incentive that you might have otherwise had to pursue romance with your partner to engage in wooing or in romantically for the purposes of not seducing your partner, but to encourage them to like respond to you sexually. And so basically I think it comes down to the isolation that men are doing this alone for the purposes of masturbation. Women are more likely to do that.

 

Emily: One of the things that’s really interesting about the research on pornography is this idea of escalation. So people get into one kind of porn, which is why a lot of the porn sites are free and then you want to get into some sort of niche or other type of porn and then you have to pay and there is research to indicate that this escalation happens and it leads to child porn. It leads to young looking porn, it leads to more violent porn. Our next guest grew frustrated with the porn industry and decided she could do better.

 

Cindy Gallop: I’m Cindy Gallop and I’m the founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn. We are pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference.

 

Emily: Okay. So let’s start by talking about the difference.

 

Cindy Gallop: Sure.

 

Emily: How would you explain the site and how it is different and a little bit of the background story of how you got into this would be great.

 

Cindy Gallop: Sure. MakeLoveNotPorn is a complete and total accident. I never conscious intentionally set out to do what I now found myself doing. It came about through my direct personal experience dating younger men. The men I date tend to be in their twenties. And I began realizing, gosh, about 11 or 12 years ago now, through dating younger men, that I was encountering an issue that honestly would never have occurred to me if I had not encountered it very intimately. I realized I was experiencing what happens when two things converge. And I stress the dual convergence because a lot of people think it’s any one thing. I realized I was experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to porn online meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. When those two things converge, porn becomes sex education by default in not a good way.

 

Cindy Gallop: And so I found myself encountering a number of sexual behavioral means in bed. I went, whoa. I know where that behavior is coming from. I thought, gosh, if I’m experiencing this, other people must be as well. I didn’t know that because 11, 12 years ago, no one was talking about this, writing about it. And so I decided to do something about it. So 10 years ago, I put up on no money a tiny clunky site at makelovenotporn.com that posts the myths of porn and balanced them with reality. So the construct was porn world versus real world. I had the opportunity to launch MakeLoveNotPorn at Ted. I became the only Ted Speaker to say the words “cum on my face” on the Ted stage. And the talk went viral instantly as a result. And it drove this extraordinary global response to my tiny website that I had never anticipated. [?} of people wrote to me from every country in the world, young and old, male and female, straight and gay, pouring their hearts out. And I realized I’d uncovered a huge global social issue. And so I felt a personal responsibility to take MakeLoveNotPorn forwards in a way that would make it much more far-reaching, helpful and effective. And I also saw an opportunity to do what I believe in very strongly, which is that the future of businesses is doing good and making money. And so I turned MakeLoveNotPorn into business and what I did was always emphasize that MakeLoveNotPorn, it’s not anti-porn because the issue isn’t porn. The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. If we did amongst a whole host of other benefits, people could then bring a real world mindset when they view what is simply manufactured entertainment, which is why our tagline is I said is pro-sex pro-porn pro-knowing the difference and why our mission is one very single-minded thing, which is simply to make it easier for every single person in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex. And to do that in two areas. First in the public domain, and by that I mean parents to kids, teachers to schools, everyone to everyone, but even more importantly to talk about sex openly and honestly privately in your intimate relationships. And the reason that’s so key is because we don’t talk about sex currently, it’s an area of rampant in security for every single one of us. We all get vulnerable when we get naked. Sexual ego is very fragile. People, therefore, find it [?} to talk about sex with the people that actually having it with while they’re actually having it. Because in that situation, you’re terrified that if you say anything at all about what’s going on, you will potentially hurt the other person’s feelings, put them off you, derail the encounter, potentially derail the entire relationship. But at the same time, you want to please your partner. You want to make them happy. Everybody wants to be good in bed. No one knows exactly what that means. And so you will seize your cues from anywhere you can and if the only cues you’ve ever seen are in porn– because your parents didn’t talk to you about sex, because your school didn’t teach you, because your friends aren’t honest– those are the cues you’ll take to not very good effect. So given this mission of talk about it, I decided to take every dynamic and social media and apply them to this one area that no other social network platform would go, in order to socialize sex and to make real world sex and talking about it socially acceptable and ultimately just as socially sharable as anything else we share on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. So, six years ago, my team and I launched the first stage of this vision, MakeLoveNotPorn.tv. Which is an entirely user-generated crowdsourced video sharing platform that celebrates real world sex. So anyone from anywhere in the world can submit to us videos of themselves having real world sex. But we all very clear what we mean by this. We’re not porn, we’re not amateur, we’re building a whole new category on the Internet that has never previously existed, social sex. So our competition isn’t porn, it’s Facebook and Youtube or rather it would be if Facebook and Youtube allowed you to socially, sexually self-express and self-identify, which they obviously don’t. So social sex videos on MakeLoveNotPorn are not about performing for the camera. They’re about doing what you currently do on every social capital, which is capture what goes on in the real world as it happens spontaneously in all its funny, messy, glorious, silly, comical, ridiculous, wonderful humanness. We curate to make sure of that. Our curators watch every single video submitted from beginning to end. We don’t publish them unless they’re real. And we have a revenue sharing business model. So our members pay to subscribe, rent and stream social sex videos. And then half that income goes to our contributors, or as we like to call them, our MakeLoveNotPorn-stars. Because we don’t currently talk about sex, people have no idea how massively, profoundly, fundamentally beneficial the impact of that would be. So as I said, I designed MakeLoveNotPorn around my own belief. There’s one of which is that everything in life starts with you and your values. So I readily ask people this question: what are your sexual values? And nobody can ever answer me because we’re not taught to think like that. Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, sense of responsibility, accountability. Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed, but they should because there values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty are as important as they are in every other area of our lives where we are actively taught and encouraged to actually act on those values. And so what we’re doing at MakeLoveNotPorn, in that sense, could not be more timely because in the era of #MeToo a huge dialogue has surfaced, quite rightly, about consent. Everybody is talking about consent. Everybody’s writing about consent. There are tons of thoughtful, nuanced, insightful, think pieces out there about consent. Here’s the problem. Nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed. Nothing educates people about great consensual, communicative sex about good sexual values and good sexual behavior like watching people actually having that kind of sex and MakeLoveNotPorn is the only place on the internet where you can do that. Every one of our social sex videos is an object lesson in consent, communication, good sexual values, good sexual behavior. We are education through demonstration. And so you’re curating those videos in the way that you’re basically, those are the things that you are looking for or are you vetting out the sort of negative content? Like can you talk to me a little bit about the curation process?

 

Cindy Gallop: Sure, sure. So, here’s the interesting thing about how we designed MakeLoveNotPorn, Emily. The young white male founders of the giant tech platforms have dominated our lives today, are not the primary targets of harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence, rape, therefore they don’t design for it. The people most at risk everyday design safe experiences: women, people of color, LGBTQ, the disabled. So, MakeLoveNotPorn is a female-founded adventure built by a team that was more female than male. We spent literally years concepting and designing MakeLoveNotPorn because we knew that if we were going to invite people to do something they’ve never done before– socially share their real world sex– we had to think through every possible ramification of that to create a completely safe and trustworthy space. So we operate unlike anybody else in the adult sphere, and quite honestly, unlike most people on the internet period. First of all, it is not actually possible to even complete our submissions process unless your video is fully consensual. legal, everyone’s over 18. We require full identifying details and two forms of official ID for every participant, including, by the way, if you chose to have somebody else behind the camera. Even if we don’t ever see them, we have to know exactly who they are. It is literally not possible to even finish submitting, let alone ever have published any video that is not fully consensual and legal. Then as I said, when you submit your video, our curators do something nobody else does: human curation. You know that is the absolute heart of MakeLoveNotPorn. They watch everybody video submitted from beginning to end and we do that by the way, purely to make sure it’s real. We have no other filter other than that because again we are what Facebook would be if Facebook allowed you to socially, sexually self-express.

 

Emily: I’m going to interrupt you for one second. When you say real, what do you mean by that exactly? Like that it’s not staged or it’s not sort of like porn stars, paid people.

 

Cindy Gallop: Right. Think about it as– you know how your friends share videos on Facebook in the moment of what they’re doing? Literally, this is how we have sex in the real world. And so it’s just the, as I said, funny, comical, awkward, wonderful sex that we all have in an everyday context. There are actually three broad reasons why we have to reject videos. And the first one is actually very interesting because, the first reason is too porn tropey. And what I mean by that is that has nothing to do with what anybody’s doing. Everything you see in porn, somebody, somewhere loves doing– millions of somebodies. It’s interesting to do with the fact that given point is so ubiquitous, people unconsciously internalize porn tropes without even realizing they’re doing it. So for example, people submitting videos will think, because this is what they see on the tube sites, that we want them to turn the camera on the minute they hit the sheets and turn it off the minute they’ve cum. And we go “no, no, no, no.” We go real world sex has context, it has a backstory, it has relationships. Start the camera running as early as possible. We want to see how you get turned on, how you interact and then leave it running as long as possible afterwards because we want to see the aftermath; the cuddling and the conversation and the shower. And then you know another thing people think mistakenly, because they see this in porn, porn obviously shows penetration shots in order to prove that the sex is real. And so people think that we want lots of genital closeups and we go “no, no, no, no.” We know you’re having real world sex. You don’t have to prove anything to us. Pull the camera back because we want to see how you interact with each other. The way you’re looking at each other.

 

Emily: And then is there any kind of protection in place in terms of like you guys, it seems like you own the intellectual property once somebody submits their video. Is that correct?

 

Cindy Gallop: No, it’s not. As a MakeLoveNotPorn-star, you own your content. We do ask to have permission to use parts of it for marketing promotion purposes. But that’s in our terms of service but we always ask again and if anyone doesn’t want us to do that then we don’t. And I should explain, because I began talking about our curation process. So more important things to know about how we operate, if you’re at all worried about your employer, your college. It’s absolutely fine to be anonymous. You can wear masks, faces in shadow, out of frame. About half our MakeLoveNotPorn-stars choose to do that. Your video is only viewable on our platform by our members and only by those members who have actually paid to to rent and stream it. And the reason we operate a rent-and-stream model versus a download-and-own is because our commitment to you, as a MakeLoveNotPorn star, is the moment anything changes– your relationship, your life, your circumstance, even just your mind– you tell us, we take your videos down. They’re gone forever, they’re nowhere else on the Internet. And we also build relationships with every single one of our MakeLoveNotPorn-stars. And here’s the really interesting thing about the social sex revolution, Emily, because our ultimate end goal is if we achieve our social mission at scale, one day, nobody should ever have to feel ashamed ever again about having a naked photograph or a sex tape of themselves on the internet because it’s simply just the natural human part of who we all are.

 

Emily: And I think that’s incredibly positive. I think my concern would be more that you have somebody who’s say 19 and it’s a couple and they think it’s a great idea and then they break up and he has a copy of it and he decides to share it with everybody and it ends up not working out in that positive way.

 

Cindy Gallop: Well, essentially, obviously we completely protect the security of anything published on MakeLoveNotPorn. We have no power over what someone chooses to do in their personal world, but A. no, that’s never happened at all and B. The interesting thing is that again, when we achieve our social mission at scale, it completely diffuses revenge porn.

 

Emily: Yeah. No, I mean I definitely understand that and I think that that, I mean that is the mission and I think that that will be amazing when that happens. I just am wondering like along the way there’s always bumps in the road and there certainly are some evil people out there who will try to do what they can to sabotage your mission. I’m sure. And I didn’t know if there was any sort of, I don’t know, if you’d had to deal with this at all or if there was any legal protection for people, if that’s something like that did happen or what the sort of fall out would be?

 

Cindy Gallop: Well, the interesting thing is, Emily, in the 10 years since I’ve launched MakeLoveNotPorn, I mean it’s an original .com iteration before and then .tv. We have had a universally positive response from everywhere in the world. Our only negative responses […] in the business world and the finance world and in investors looking for [?]. Those are the only areas where we’ve encountered barriers. Otherwise, no, I mean we haven’t had any malicious actors try to do anything. I mean, also by the way we design a ton of security into our site and as you’ve heard we have put a great deal more thought and effort and care and empathy into how we built this site compared to the founders of Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp. Again as I said, young white men are not the primary targets of online harassment, abuse and offline. They don’t design for it. We design for it

 

Emily: Cindy’s point that programming from the perspective of protecting women I think is really an important one and I wish we had more of that kind of perspective in the tech space. But the idea that you could actually protect women completely or that pornography wasn’t harmful to women in any way, I don’t really buy that completely. And I think we are going to go back to Professor Perry and ask him a little bit about like what are the consequences of this?

 

Emily: And so one of the things that I was really struck by, especially I’m in Boston, so we just had this big Robert Kraft sex scandal in the massage parlors in Florida and I think it’s done a really incredible job of bringing some noteworthiness to the sort of idea of sexual exploitation of women in these massage parlors. And you know, do men realize it or not? And I had heard somebody who gave an interview and they were talking about how for men often porn is sort of like a gateway drug to going to actually hire a prostitute. And I thought you’d be a really good person to talk to about that because what you’re saying, there’s an implication it sounds to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, that what you’re saying is that men– this confessional idea is almost a relinquishing of control. That may be a little bit of a stretch, but let me see how I can articulate this. It’s like if you know you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, but you can’t stop yourself. Right. I mean like if you really acknowledging that this is wrong or bad or shameful, but you still keep doing it, that’s a tough place to be. Right? I mean that is, that sounds like addiction in some ways.

 

Samuel Perry: Oh, for sure. Well, okay, and so there is, and that is kind of in the argument of my forthcoming books is really that for these groups, like Evangelical Christians I’ll say for example, they only look at pornography slightly less often than the average American who is not an evangelical and that’s men and women, but they hate it. Their attitudes not changed in 40 years on pornography. I mean they still hate it and they despise it, yet they find themselves constantly in the situation where they hate it and yet they are just as much a part of the world as you and I might be just in terms of like our internet use and that kind of thing. So they find themselves in a situation where they are constantly doing something and repeatedly doing something that they feel ashamed for and so they wrestle with what a co-author and I call moral incongruence.

 

Samuel Perry: That is this constant experience of violating one’s own deeply held and sacred morals. And it’s a killer. I mean it’s a killer in their mental health. Like they are more likely to suffer from experiences of depression or withdrawal from religious things because they kind of give up. They say like, I’ve been praying about this and I can’t seem to kick this habit and I don’t know why God would let me keep struggling with this even though I’m begging him to take it away from me. And yet I still do it. And so they deal with, is this even real? I mean they kind of even back away from church because they feel like I’m so ashamed. Who am I to continue to go to church when I am constantly kind of return to this thing. So it’s just a, yeah, the constant like cognitive dissonance of having to face this fact that they have repeatedly gone back to something that they find abhorrent. Now, there are lots of debates though, so I’m going to get into a little bit of the weeds with the research on this. There are lots of debates on whether or not pornography is an addiction. Pornography use is an addiction like say substance use, it’s a really controversial topic. You talk to certain scholars and I would say people who are anti-pornography activists, they would say, yeah, there’s no difference. Pornography is just like heroin. It maps on the same and like an fMRI scanner and it just looks indistinguishable. Then you’ve got other people that say there are extremes of problematic pornography use, but that’s not where most people live. Like most people, even people who feel like crap for going back to pornography and they’re doing it more often than they would like to and they really use it because they’re sad or they’re depressed or that’s just a way to fall asleep, or they how they spend their time. Most people are not suffering from symptoms that we would say are associated with like a behavioral disorder. They’re not like selling their kids’ toys to try to access pornography or, or getting fired from jobs or like committing- you don’t see examples of escalation that is they keep on having to go to harder and harder things to keep getting a high–

 

Emily: That would be like this idea of going to prostitution from porn. Right? I mean that would be an escalation.

 

Samuel Perry: Right, okay. And so yes, exactly. So, and that is another kind of part of this debate, right? Some people, and again this is a politically charged kind of thing or at least ideologically charged, like you’ve got some anti-porn activists and scholars. I don’t want to say that there are no scholars among this group, would say that pornography use inevitably leads to more and more, as you become desensitized to the pornography that you’re using, you become, you have to keep on going to more and more risque and even deviant expressions of sexuality. And so that would be the argument that like, hey, it starts with pornography and then it goes to violent porn or maybe paraphilic porn like child pornography. And then you’re going to touch children or you’re going to actually sleep with prostitutes or you’re going to do these kinds of things that are more and more extreme just to continue to be stimulated sexually.

 

Samuel Perry: Then you’ve got other people that say no pornography really can be more cathartic in the sense that maybe people who would otherwise be out there trying these things with people, maybe people who have in years past gone to prostitutes or who would it been years past actually tried to interact with another human being in a sexual way that is unwelcome, can now just watch porn in the privacy of their home. And so it’s more of a safety valve that keeps them from doing that kind of thing. And there’s some evidence to suggest that that is the case. The 2018 general social survey just came out, so all the sociology nerds are diving in and trying to get as much data as possible. Well, for another year, sexual frequency or the frequency of sex among young people has gone down again. Right? So like people, young people are having less and less sex but they’re watching more and more porn. Right. So like there doesn’t seem to be a connection between more pornography and massive kind of engaging in sexual activity. It seems like you’re replacing one for the other.

 

Emily: Well and that’s fascinating. I feel like there’s the example in Japan right now, which I’m sure

 

Samuel Perry: Oh yeah, for sure.

 

Emily: Of like basically everybody just watches porn and like nobody dates anymore. I mean it’s like I’ve read a great story about how the Japanese government is putting on these nude model drawing classes so that men can realize what is a real woman look like naked because a lot of them are virginal in their thirties and are so used to looking at this sort of like anime porn that is not what women really look like. I think that is fascinating, right? Because there was a great quote where it was basically like some guy was like, yeah, I took a woman out for dinner, it was a total pain in the ass. Like why would I do that again? And I’m like, whoa. But the government is basically like they have a crisis of babies not being born. So it’s turning into a real problem.

 

Samuel Perry: Yes, I tried to be as objective as possible and kind of what is pornography doing and how can we understand its consequences and social life. And so in my professional opinion, I don’t see the primary negative consequences of pornography being like, well, it’s going to make men exploit women in prostitution or it’s going to lead to sexual assaults or violence, kind of expressions of sexuality. We don’t have a lot of evidence that that is the case, but I think there would be more evidence to suggest that to the extent that pornography, lots of it since I was a kid, is my first exposure to sexual interaction is through online limitless digital pornography. And I consume that in large amounts and I embraced the sexual scripts of like what is portrayed in pornography, how women look, the kind of sexual acts they apparently like to perform in pornography. And then eventually that could map onto like, you know what I find exciting, what I find attractive, and what turns me on. So a classic example of this is the visual climax scene in pornography movies, what you might call the money shot, which often ends up being a, what would we call a facial, right? So that is like women having men ejaculate on their faces. There is no way a young man would think to do that if they hadn’t witnessed it countless times in pornography. And yet we have lots of interview data in multiple studies showing that women describe their dating life or their what their boyfriends and they do sexually or what men want to do sexually. And it involves this kind of wanting to ejaculate on their face or like a woman’s boyfriend asking her to do that. Like, hey, can we try that? That kind of thing. And so that’s kind of an example of like life imitating art there. You’ve got the scene in pornography that is in many ways I don’t see how you would not see it as a degrading thing in its essence being performed and being requested to be performed by men to women that really is coming from pornography. So you’ve got kinds of examples like that of men trying to replicate what they’re seeing in pornography. And I don’t necessarily think that is violent in some ways. It could be degrading, it could be hurtful,

 

Emily: Not enjoyable.

 

Samuel Perry: Yeah, it’s not mutually enjoyable. So you’ve got some potentially negative social consequences there. Again, I don’t think are necessarily as extreme as sexual assault. And yet with a great example, I think that people were talking about was Aziz Ansari scenario a couple of years ago or maybe a year ago, this guy Aziz Ansari takes this woman out and it seems like he’s trying to, in their interaction as she describes it in her article, he seems to be trying to replicate what he witnessed countless times in pornography and she didn’t want to, I mean, she didn’t want to be treated that way and she found it offensive and hurtful and made him come off as kind of a jerk and insensitive and that kind of thing. Not to my knowledge was it like a sexual assault scenario. And yet it was something where the lady just kind of felt degraded and may not have had this guy not been trying to replicate what he had witnessed. countless times.

 

Emily: Professor Perry’s point that these messages that men get from watching pornography sort of repeatedly banged into their heads has a real effect on their sex life in real life was something that we wanted to explore more and we wanted to talk to somebody who is really well versed in the research, literally in the data. So it’s like this isn’t personal, this is just like what is going on.

 

Gail Dines: My name is Dr. Gail Dines, I’m professor emerita at Wheelock College and I’m now CEO and precedent of Culture Reframed, a health-based organization, building programs for parents so that they can build resilience and resistance in their kids to porn culture.

 

Emily: What I would love is you have done so much research into the sort of the violent culture behind this and the demeaning sides of it. And I feel like even in a shared healthy relationship, like how do you see this impacting women, men, and the relationship?

 

Gail Dines: Well, I would first begin to say that men don’t need porn. Okay, we have this image in our heads that if men don’t get x number of sexual acts per day or year or month or whatever, somehow you know, you get this concept of blue balls. That’s a whole sort of made up construct about what masculinity is and what masculine sex needs are. So I don’t think men need porn. They need love, they need intimacy, they need connection, they need sex, like all human beings. But to think that men are somehow born with like a homing device for porn is absolutely an ideological construct that is being pushed out by the porn industry. Secondly, I would say that that is women capitulating to men’s needs and women are socialized to capitulate to men. You know, in our mother’s generation, they always said, you know, what’s the best way to a man’s heart was to make great food? Well, today it’s what’s the best way to his penis? Watch porn. So it’s always telling women what to do. So I’ve spoken to many women whose husbands use porn. So there’s two problems here. First of all, the porn he often uses with her is not the porn he then watches on his own. So if you think you know what your husband or partner is using forget it, because he goes to a whole different thing called gonzo porn when the women’s not around. So He’s more likely to use what’s called feature porn, which is pretty hardcore but not anything like the porn we know men use when they’re alone. Secondly, why are you not enough for him to have sex with? What is it about the women in porn? What is it about porn that he needs that in order to get stimulated to have sex with you? And what we know from the research is that there is a built-in boredom factor in porn. They want more, they get desensitized.

 

Emily: So an escalation?

 

Gail Dines: Absolute, into looking at more bizarre, more violence stuff. And this has been documented over, I would say even 40 years now before the Internet this was documented. So imagine what it looks like now when you’ve got access to just every kind of porn you can imagine. So I think women need to start talking about what it means to say, no, I don’t want to do that. And I think if women do want to do that, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at why.

 

Emily: So that you talk a little bit in your Ted Talk about how like the porn that like Hustler or Playboy, that kind of thing was, that’s what still people maybe think of as what their children are consuming. But it’s not like that at all. It’s something that is much more violent, degrading and not even human in some cases. I mean you look at some of the stuff that’s being consumed in Japan, it’s animated, right? And so I think that’s sort of where I’m going with this idea of like there is this need or this acceptance of a voyeuristic culture, whether it’s good or bad.

 

Gail Dines: Let me compare this to the fast food industry.

 

Emily: Okay.

 

Gail Dines: Because you’ve got to think of the porn industry. You can’t talk about just images. So, I mean it would be like having a discussion around fast food and say people are born with a need for hamburgers that are high-fat, high-calorie. No, there is an industry out there, the fast food industry, that spends billions of dollars promoting his products and that is basically, you know, everywhere you go, when you need to stop for food, the first thing you see is a Burger King or McDonald’s. So you’ve got an industrial product here. Now if you’re talking about the need for eating, that’s a human need. And I would say we all desire sex, love, intimacy. And I don’t mean like sex with somebody you’ve known forever and you’re gonna get married, you know, creative sex, fun sex. But I would not argue that we born with the need for pornography just as we all want to eat, but why we eat fast food is a product of a very complex system within capitalism of how the fast food industry has basically taken over food, especially for poor people in that case. But in this case, pornography has taken over and hijacked the sexuality of men. And by doing so is hijacking the sexuality of women and kids as well. Because when men are bought up on porn, they want porn sex. We know that from the research. And so what I would really sort of like to look back at more is, first of all when I started this work, Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler was what was out there. And I never thought I’d live to say this, but I’m nostalgic for those days. Who knew he was going to get to this?

 

Gail Dines: I mean if you would’ve told me when I started, what, 20 odd years ago researching this, that you could go to this thing called a computer or a smartphone and in five seconds for free watch, hardcore violent, brutal, misogynistic pornography for free, I would have said, don’t be ridiculous. The culture’s not going to stand by and let that happen. And I would have been wrong. I mean many of the men I’ve interviewed who were porn addicts at said to me, I did this in a prison in Connecticut, I interviewed eight men, all of whom were in for downloading child pornography. And then raping a child and the average time between downloading the first child porn and raping a child was six months to a year.

 

Emily: Wow.

 

Gail Dines: Yes. Now the interesting things about this, first of all, every single one of them said to me, if you would’ve told me two years ago that I would be in prison for child pornography because they were not pedophiles, none of them had ever looked at a child sexually or raped a child. What had happened was they were porn addicts who got bored. And I said to them are you pedophiles? And they were insulted. They said, of course we’re not. So I said, then why did you rape a child? And they just looked at me and they said, we got bored. Wanted something other than those whores in porn.

 

Emily: What is the root cause of that? I mean, that is so crazy to think that we’ve lost any sense of morality because of this sort of virtual experience.

 

Gail Dines: Well, I think we’ve lost a sense of sanity as well as morality.

 

Emily: But is there something neurological that is happening?

 

Gail Dines: Yes, the neuroscience research now, which we didn’t have even five to ten years ago to the level we’ve got today is the way pornography. You know, they did some research, Cambridge University in England by Dr. Valerie Voon and she’s basically mapped the brains of porn addicts, cocaine addicts, heroin addicts, methamphetamine addicts. And what she found is that porn produce more dopamine than heroin, than cocaine and on the same level as methamphetamine. So you are giving a meth hit because it’s in the bodies orgasm, it’s arousal, it cements itself neurologically, limbicly everywhere in the body. So what we’re seeing is that what happened in 2000 when the porn industry went online and basically the porn industry was behind a lot of the technology that developed the Internet and also the cell phone. Every major technological shift, the porn industry has been behind as a way to promote pornography because the more affordable, accessible and anonymous you make porn, the more you create a base for porn use.

 

Emily: Given how accessible this pornography is and how enticing it is and that it has this escalating effect. It makes a lot of sense that Dr. Dines new big project is trying to help get this kind of information to parents so that they can find ways of talking to their kids about it.

 

Gail Dines: And what we do at Culture Reframed is we build programs for parents so that they can build resilience and resistance in their kids to porn. Because public health research shows that the best way to build a robust adult is to have educated, skilled, knowledgeable parents. Now, wherever I go, parents are A. Overwhelmed by what’s going on, B. terrified, and C. clueless on what to do. So our organization was given startup quite considerable money by a group of women philanthropists. And they said, what is missing? And when we sat down and I pulled together a group of world’s major, well the United States, actually it’s the world now I think about it, we’re all spread over, all of us who work at culture reframed from Australia to England to Canada. We brought together the top people in public health medicine and psychology and we said really what is missing and what was missing was this education for parents.

 

Gail Dines: So now we have one and a half years later, we have built a culture reframed the first ever online program for parents of tweens. That’s nine to 12 years old. You can go in for five minutes, five hours, 20 hours. It explains what’s going on with your tween. It talks about pornography, hypersexualization, consent, violence, sexting. And then at the end we have the 13 modules, then at the end. We have scripted out conversations you can have with your kids about porn, about sexting, about consent, about bodily integrity. And it’s a funny story where we scripted them out because I do a lot of work in LA because LA, the something in the water in LA, they are ahead of the game that I speak in schools all across LA. Parents really want this. Whereas in Massachusetts it’s very hard to get into schools anywhere. But I’m regularly in LA with a packed schedule of sometimes 15 events in nine days. And so last year, just before we’re about to launch our parents of tweens program, I spoke to around 1500 parents in LA And every time I said we’re about to launch our program. At the end, we have bulleted out conversations. The parents would jump up and say, no bullets, script them out, tell us what to say. That they was so unsure of how to do. So we went back to our parent educator and we said, sorry, they wanted it scripted out, which we did. So we have 12 conversation scripted out, but we recognize that your kid would rather be anywhere else in the world than talking to you as a parent about pornography. So with then each conversation has a second conversation attached to it. If it’s not going well on how to bring it back and we even give tips on how to have these conversations. So this is the way we’ve approached it in the United States.

 

Emily: Yeah, I mean I think one of the things, so to take it back to this sort of grown up relationship, like that sphere too. There’s something about the taboo of it that during adolescence people want to be rebellious, right? Like they want to form their own identity, right?

 

Gail Dines: As they should be, it’s healthy.

 

Emily: And so to have sort of some secret thing that you’re doing on the side that’s sort of interesting and devious and maybe makes you feel like you have some inside track to like what manhood is, right?

 

Gail Dines: Well the pornographers tell you that. You want to be a man? This is what it means. They often say things like they’ll show the most violent porn and they’ll say are you man enough for this.

 

Emily: Right. And so like that feels, I would imagine to an adolescent brain like, oh, this is the real story. Like my parents don’t know this, but this is what it takes to be a man. And countering that narrative is the trick, I would imagine.

 

Gail Dines: Well first, yes. But let’s begin, where we really need to start, is why have we got no mandated good sex education? I mean, abstinence-only was the best gift for the porn industry. Kids absolutely need to rebel, that’s part of a healthy kind of separation from parents, right? Around adolescence. However, what happens to that very healthy need to rebel when you live in a toxic culture. This is where the parenting problem is impossible. This is the first time parents have ever had to bring up kids in a porn-fueled society. So, and also think about just how everything you do is documented You always, you know, the craziness of the selfie. But you know, but remember those times you used to take pictures of other people? Now everyone’s, you know, young people, especially. The statistics on how many selfies all uploaded onto Instagram and Snapchat a minute almost. I can’t even remember them. They’re so ridiculous. But what’s happened today with the sort of move to social media and porn is first of all, just let’s talk about social media. Documenting every move you make. Really, when you think about your adolescence, did you really want every fucked up thing you did documented and uploaded onto Youtube? I mean, we’re not giving them the chance to breathe and make the mistakes that adolescents need to make. In fact, we’re documenting it and it forever gets out there and you can’t get it off. That’s number one. Get off the internet. Number two is that kids of course are beginning to think of themselves as sexual beings. They’re beginning to wonder whether they’re gay, straight, bi, that you know, I mean at the beginning to- as they should. However, what you’ve done is you’ve taken what should be an wonderful exploratory time where you develop the authorship of your own sexuality. And you’ve handed it to the porn industry, a group of slimy predators that you wouldn’t want near your kids are determining the sexual template of boys all over the world, not just in the United States. And that is a hijacking of what these kids have a right to own for themselves, which is the authorship of their own sexuality. And that’s what makes me crazy in all of that because if lay waste to boys, which is what they’re doing, you lay waste to girls and if you lay waste to boys and to girls in this generation, you lay waste to the culture eventually. And it was a very interesting sort of story to to tell is I was in Australia, my book “Pornland” was picked as one of the books at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

That was years ago. And you have to do three gigs. And the first one, was like over a thousand people were there, and I was on a panel. It was a bit of a setup because it was mainly all women and they were all pro-porn except me. And I’m listening and we’re arguing backwards and forwards. And the actual moderator was the worst of them all. And I’m explaining, and I had actually gone with some printed out the research, just the titles. And it’s like huge amount of research to show what I’m saying is backed up by psychologists, neuroscience, sociologists, et Cetera. And they kept saying, there’s no research. And I kept pointing at this pile saying, well, we have thousands and thousands of studies. No, no, no, blah, blah, blah. And at one point the actual, I think it was the moderator turned to me and said, Gail Dines, you’ve just got anecdotes. Because I had said, you know, you’re all here, older women on this panel, talking about how great porn is. You are not talking about the world of young people. And they said, oh you’re just full of anecdotes. And then I couldn’t see cause it was so big. A young woman gets up and shouts, “I’m an anecdote” and another one and another and the whole room starts getting up and screaming “I’m an anecdote.” This is what happens when you speak to young people. They are overwhelmed. Nobody has ever done this before. This is a social experiment. We have never pulled up kids with access to hardcore porn before. Never. We have never asked parents to parent in these conditions before. And let me ask, did you ever sign a consent form, cause I know I didn’t sign a consent form for what is one of the biggest single mass social experiments of our time. This has been foisted upon us by the porn industry and when we fight back they have the cheap to call us anti-free speech and anti-sex. No I am pro-sex. That’s why I’m anti-porn. You can’t be pro-sex and pro-porn, you have to pick something because the most anti-sex imagery you ever find is in the porn industry. I do believe this goes against the moral compass of many of us to argue that boys are born with a desire to watch women being brutalized and degraded through pornography is to argue that there is something biologically wrong with masculinity with men. And I will say absolutely without question that I know as a feminist, I know as a sociologist and more profoundly, I know as a mother of a son that my boy was born with all the capacity for humanity that girls were born with.There is no question. If my boy was, your boy was. So we as feminists are men’s best friends. We’re not man haters. We are the only group that have rooted for men’s humanity. We are the only group that say to men “you are better than this.” We know that the porn industry does not speak for you and that what we asked for boys and men is to rebel against the porn industry. Do not allow them to say that you are nothing more than bankrupt immoral life support systems for erect penises. You are not. You are full human beings with the full capacity for intimacy and connection. You are equal to girls and women and you demand that and you have to take on the porn industry as well. Do not leave it to a bunch of impoverished feminists to fight the porn industry.

 

Emily: This episode has brought up a lot of different stuff. I feel like when we first got into the research, we were really excited about this idea that like porn could be fun for women too, and then the more we got into it we sort of realized like, no, that’s probably not right and that there is something really wonderful about the intimacy and the privacy of sex. And so even taking things like MakeLoveNotPorn, I’m skeptical because I feel like when we looked up what are the most popular search terms that people are looking for when they’re trying to find porn? It’s things like gang bang and anime and Japanese girls. It’s not like loving relationships or like silly sex. And so I think like there is a demand for this because there is such a commercial machine that is generating the demand and then they’re starting by being predatory with young kids. And I think the biggest takeaway for me in all of this is just like so many other issues that we talk about with women’s health. This isn’t just about women, it’s also about giving men enough credit to say, hey, you don’t really want this. You don’t really want violence against women. Somebody telling you that this is like the cool thing to watch. And then it sort of builds upon it. But just like all of these other sort of addictive substances that Dr. Dines mentions and that we also know from the other research, which we’ll certainly link to on the site, this is a substance that needs to be kind of controlled and should only be permitted for grownups. And the idea that men want all of this doesn’t seem quite right. Like I don’t think this is like a feminists hate porn and men love porn. I think this is like some sort of weird thing that has seeped into our culture without us realizing the extent to which it is permeating relationships. The narrative it’s building about what men want. If I were a man, I would be furious. I would say like that’s absolutely not what I’m interested in. I’m interested in, you know, whatever, but not violence against women. So I kind of feel like we all need to come together on this issue in a major way and at least demand some protection for children. I’m Emily Kumler, and that was Empowered Health. Thanks for joining us. Don’t forget to check out our website at empoweredhealthshow.com for all the show notes, links to everything that was mentioned in the episode as well as a chance to sign up for our newsletter and get some extra fun tidbits. See you next week.

 

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