It seems that porn’s everywhere and really easy to access. While it might seem cool or exciting or turn you on sexually, porn is not reality, and it can impact in a range of ways that aren’t all good.
Porn is a performance
Porn ‘performers’ are just that – performers. The porn script usually requires them to look like they’re having a great time – even when what they’re doing is uncomfortable, painful or degrading. For many performers, faking it is just part of the job. Most porn gives a mixed up view of sex. It doesn’t show what most people enjoy and how they like to be treated.
What is it like for the performers?
Life for a performer can be pretty rough. Being paid to have sex with beautiful people might seem like an ideal job. But in reality, being a porn performer is often far from glamorous. Performers regularly catch sexually transmitted infections, find it hard to maintain relationships, can find themselves under pressure to do things they don’t want to do and can end up with serious and lasting damage to their bodies or emotional wellbeing.
Drugs are often used to facilitate extreme sex acts and drug use is a normative part of the porn community. Drug use contributes to pressure to stay in the industry because there isn’t a whole lot of other jobs in which you can do drugs during work.
Impacts of pornography
Masturbation is completely normal, however masturbating to porn is different than masturbating without porn. Your brain reacts differently when you masturbate to porn, than when you masturbate without porn (2). There is growing evidence that masturbating to porn creates a “high” that is more “neuro-chemically” rewarding than other sexual behaviors, making real sex less enjoyable. There is a growing body of research on how pornography affects the brain or how people who use a lot of pornography have different brains from those who do not (3).
Studies show that when people watch porn more often, they think the porn-type sex acts are more prevalent than they actually are (1). They link what they see with arousal and pleasure. It is then common to think that’s what they would like to do in real life.
The type of sex that occurs in porn is supposed to shock audiences in order to compete against all the other porn sites. Porn often shows men being aggressive and in control and women happily being dominated.
- 88 per cent of scenes in the most popular porn show physical aggression.
- 94 per cent of the aggression in porn is directed at female performers.
From the porn industry’s perspective, it doesn’t matter how unrealistic, rough or degrading it is, as long as it sells. In fact, the industry is pretty open about the fact that the rougher stuff sells best.
Even if you know that porn is fake, it can shape what you find sexy. In reality, much of what’s shown in porn is not what most people – particularly women – like or want.
Free and full consent is crucial. If you watch porn, you might get the impression that everyone wants to have sex all the time. But they don’t. Working out if you and your partner both want to have sex, and what you both want to do, can be difficult – but it is really important.
Research by the universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire concluded that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five harbouring "extremely negative attitudes towards women". (4)
The bodies of porn performers – like those of models and sports stars – are not how most people look. The men in porn almost always have a huge penis. The women are usually young and thin. They may have over-sized breasts and their genitals often look small and even.
Porn performers do all sorts of things to make their bodies look like they do – like waxing, weight-lifting, bleaching or botox. Sometimes they’ve had surgery to make their breasts or penis bigger, or their vulva smaller! In reality, people come in all shapes and sizes – and adults grow body hair.
Porn often shows people doing all sorts of unsafe things, such as anal sex followed by oral sex, or ejaculation in mouths and eyes. Often porn shows multiple partners having unprotected sex. Only 10% of scenes show condom use. Porn performers often catch sexually transmissible infections. Some performers experience long-term damage to their bodies.
(1) Brown J. D., & L'Engle K. L. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with US early adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36, 129-132.
(2) Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction-a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 11-16.
(3) Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S. & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLOS ONE, 9(7), e102419.
(4) STIR. (2015) Briefing paper 4: young people's views on intervention and prevention for interpersonal violence and abuse in young people's relationships. Preston: STIR.