What is Pornography?

By Cindy Pierce

The term “pornography” covers a broad spectrum of material ranging from naked photographs to videos of sexual acts. A fair amount of the most available internet porn features physical and sexual violence. For some people there is a gray area between erotica and porn. A clear difference is that the porn industry is focused on the commodification of sex and naked images or making sex into a product that sells. The most accessible internet porn often depicts people, usually women or people of marginalized groups, as objects who are used and abused for sexual pleasure.

A less discussed category of porn is the sending of nude or partially nude photos It is important that teenagers understand that it is illegal for minors (under 18 years old) to create, possess and share sexual images online, including your own nude photos or those sent by someone else. Sending a photo of your own genitals or breasts or passing along someone else’s naked photos is considered the “distribution of porn,” and the legal consequences currently align with those of sex offenders in many states. If someone sends you a nude or partially nude photos, the safest choice is to tell an adult and delete it from your phone.

For more information, check out Quitting Porn and Why Kids and Teens Watch Porn.

Why are some people worried about internet porn consumption?

It is normal for kids and teens to be curious about naked people and sexuality. However, most porn on the Internet is full of misinformation and misleading ideas about sexuality. Masturbation is healthy and normal for all genders, but internet porn fuels people’s fantasies in increasingly unrealistic, nonconsensual and violent ways.

Many of the teens and young people I encounter as a speaker are concerned about how internet porn affects them. One of the most common concerns I hear from biological boys is that it only takes about a minute to get off watching porn, but it can take an hour with a partner. Erectile dysfunction has become a common complaint for boys and young men, sometimes starting in high school and lasting all the way through college (see Quitting Porn). The number of girls and young women who report concerns about feeling addicted to porn is also increasing.

Parents are often unaware of or choose to overlook what kids view online, therefore kids and teens are forced to navigate their relationship with porn and how it impacts them on their own. Teens are even surprised that adults consider internet porn to be a modern version of the magazines and VCR tapes viewed back in the day. When teens and college students are more concerned than adults, it is clearly time to pay attention and have conversations.

Because almost all kids and teens have access to a cell phone or a laptop, porn is accessed with regularity and ease. Young people have become desensitized to violent content. As a result, expectations about what should be on the sex menu for young people has shifted. It is alarming to hear teenagers and college students declare that they would be considered “prudes” if they aren’t willing to partake in some form of rough sex, including choking, hitting, slapping or forced restraint in a hook up. There is a lot of confusion between what young people are taught about consent and the normalized sexual behaviors that fit the definition of physical and sexual assault.

The porn industry aggressively and intentionally tries to engage your attention. Efforts to find factual, helpful guidance and information about sexuality from a reliable online source often leads to porn sites. The porn industry is able to redirect people’s attention because they have co-opted so many common search topics and words. Despite the seemingly unavoidability of porn, one’s own imagination is the healthiest fantasy fuel for masturbation.

Things to consider:

  • Communication, connection, respect, trust and a balance of interest between partners are the foundations of healthy sexual relationships. These are not portrayed in most porn.
  • Sex is a healthy and important part of respectful, loving and consensual relationships. Sex in the most-accessible and most-viewed porn would not be described by any of these words.
  • Porn consumers report how confusing it can be to watch videos of people who appear to enjoy and be aroused by being held down, hit, spat on, choked and forced to have sex. A lot of internet porn content meets the definition of sexual assault.
  • It can be challenging to get aroused with a real-life sexual partner when sex doesn’t match what porn has conditioned your brain to find arousing.
  • Most young people are well aware of how algorithms sort information in users’ feeds based on relevancy evidenced by their previous searches and viewing. Yet feelings of unworthiness are reinforced by what is consumed online, including social media and porn. The pressure to appear a certain way with a specific kind of body and to have a lot of sex to feel sexually confident is constant.
  • Despite the hype of “getting sexual experience”, it turns out that having a high number of partners rarely converts to sexual satisfaction (both receiving and giving), sexual understanding or sexual confidence. “Getting off” with a partner is very different than being sexually fulfilled and understanding how to give pleasure to a partner. Sexual fulfillment requires open communication and vulnerability.
  • Porn consumers are often confused and misinformed about sex.
  • Teens who quit porn and spend less time on their devices report dramatic improvement in their emotional wellbeing. For a deeper understanding of how social media dictates what we see online and therefore shapes our interests, check out The Social Dilemma.

Resources for accurate information to answer your questions about sexuality and pornography us:

Special thanks to Nicola Smith for her keen eye in editing.