Sex education in Pornland


Enraged accusations such as 'man hating feminist' have been hurled at Gail Dines for her emphatic stance on the tough stuff of pornography.

Dines is professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College, Boston, and the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. She comes well credentialled and with 20 years of research under her belt.

Dines was in Australia for the Sydney Writers and Festival and appeared on the ABC's Q&A this week. Her anti-porn message has been attacked with pitbull-like ferocity.

Admittedly Dines pulls no punches. She was here to tell us that the voracious consumption by young men of 24-hour on-tap, hardcore internet porn is fouling their minds with sadistic and hateful views of women and sex. Women, said Dines, are feeling increasing pressure to behave and look like porn stars, which had led to the banishment of pubic hair and the rise of the full Brazilian wax.

Dines contends that consumers of porn are coming to expect that real-life sex ought to replicate the contrived marketed fantasy of the enormously erect man indulging in aggressive and often painful (for the woman) sexual congress. This is the sexual revolution down to the wire: sans tenderness, sans intimacy, sans love and sans human vulnerability.

What can only be described as a feminist fight ensued over assertions of what was 'old' and 'new' feminism, while tweeters barracked from the sidelines. The attacks on Dines centred on two themes. She was denounced as demonising men; and of promoting a wowserish, anti sexual liberation stance.

The first point is reminiscent of early critiques of feminists as 'man haters'. The second implies that all open and unfettered approaches to depictions of sex are progressive, and that any moves towards 'censorship' is retrograde and inhibitory of a healthy sexuality.

Dines argues that the hardcore porn industry promotes a damaging view of sex that shapes young men's (and women's) fantasies and expectations of how sex should be, at the cost of healthy intimacy. While she makes her point with some feisty statements, she raises important issues.

No-one would wish to return to the sex education model of the 1950s, which erred on the side of suppression and sterility. But neither is the opposite extreme, of sex that eliminates all emotion other than aggression, a desirable alternative.

I am not in favour of censorship. It does not work, and the lines drawn can be arbitrary and absurd, and can result in the withholding of important stories, facts and communication. I see erotic art, literature, movies, theatre and sensuously arousing depictions as being an important part of our consciousness, with the potential to enrich all our lives.

What of artistic revelations of violence, including sexual violence? In the context of engaging with the true reality of violence and the harm it brings, these revelations can help promote our understanding, compassion and values. Such images have prompted us over time to evolve our civilisation, through, for example, promotion of human rights, gender equality and denunciation of torture.

Positive portrayals including erotica can inspire and guide us by enhancing our perceptions and extending our narrow world view.

But like junk food, the fantasies in most hardcore porn are not good for us. They turn women and men into objects used in an emotionally disconnected fashion, and sex into a purely visceral activity.

I have seen clients who are addicted to internet pornography, who in fact prefer this to engaging with their wives or partners. It is quick and easy, and we can become habituated to it. Needless to say it can wreak havoc in a relationship.

Many women employed in the porn business are damaged physically and emotionally in the making of porn. Regulation is important, and consumers must ask whether support of this business is ethical, just as they might be concerned about the use of child labour in the production of consumer goods.

None of which is to say that we must never view pornography. Like fast food we may occasionally 'indulge' or, in my view, succumb. Too much junk, however, at the expense of the higher quality stuff of intimacy, can be harmful. Just as we encourage our community to eat more wholesome food, we also need an abundance of education and portraiture of healthy sexual relationships.

Lyn BenderLyn Bender is a psychologist and social commentator.

Topic tags: Lyn Bender, Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, Q&A, Leslie Cannold



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Lyn Bender presents a helpful perspective on this issue of pornography. I remember an interview with Graham Greene who spoke of the distinction between healthy erotica and unhealthy pornography.

I don’t remember his distinction, but I suppose it may have something to do with the character or focus of each. Eros is an important, integral and beautiful dimension in human life, where sex is the affirming of another, the giving of a chance for another to affirm oneself, that is, essentially, giving; pornos is “here take me!” which means, I suppose, that the way to distinguish between the two is by judging the result: if something induces our inclination to tend and assuage and to give, it is the former; if it induces a contempt or dismissiveness of other, anger and desire to hurt and hate or even simply cease to listen and care, it must be the latter.

For this reason, in this sense I think on the one hand it is right to say that pornography - however it is presented - is inextricably linked to violence but on the other hand, that it would not be right to conclude every depiction of the sensual and sexual was pornographic.

As many people would come to realise, pornography does not bring the satisfaction that lies at the deepest human need to be loved and to love, which in eros requires a real person in all their senses, voice, eyes and physicality.

Stephen Kellett | 27 May 2011  

An attribute that is a necessity for humans is healthy sexual relationships generated by love, not lust created from visuals of pornography.

Phillip J Attel | 27 May 2011  

Whilst pornography in the context of personal responsibility and consensual sex was argued, I think the debate lost the plot. Nobody argues that consenting adults indulge in pornography. However, the core of the argument is: is the availability of pornography, via the internet, shaping the minds, attitudes and expectations of young people to sex and relationships.

Kay Bushnell | 27 May 2011  

Yesterday, as a school teacher, I dealt with a situation in which a Year 3 boy, about 8 years old, was crying because someone had been bullying him. He said that the boys had been saying that he 'sexed other boys'. As I asked him a few more questions I was saddened to hear an account of 8 year old boys teasing and bullying each other with sexual talk and sexual labels that seemed astounding given their age. These boys have been exposed to sexual messages through all forms of media. Messages that once upon a time, you might not have encountered till later in your teens. The attempt by some people to depict pornography as simply a harmless adult past-time ignore the impact that its proliferation is having on children. Our society is awash with sexual images and talk. Children are exposed to material that robs them of their childhood. Parents - even so-called 'good parents - allow their kids to watch t.v and movies with sexual images and themes on a regular basis. I am deeply worried for the children of this generation. Whereas my generation understood a traditional view of sex - as being an adult act between a husband and wife in marriage - this generation of children do not have that message as the bedrock of their understanding. We had the option of rebelling against this traditional message, but for the children of today, the 'rebelling' has all been done for them! They are being served up a smorgasbord of sexual stuff ... anything is ok. Is it any wonder that we have widespread psychological and behaviour problems amongst our children and teenagers. When will a strong voice of reason be heard on this issue?

Advocate for kids | 27 May 2011  

Exposure to loving amateur porn may be the best education possible. The pre-internet generation has record divorce rates partly as a result of ignorance about relationships. Perhaps aggressive porn is a minority interest.

Danny Rose | 27 May 2011  

Well said, Lyn. I felt that Gail Dines was not given a fair hearing, frankly. She seemed to be interrupted and ridiculed much more than is usual for guests (including guests of far fewer credentials) on Q & A. She had something to say but was given little chance to say it over the cries of "wowserism" which were inappropriate, given her deep level of research and scholarship. It's interesting that, though our society generally accepts critiques on fora such as Q&A, there seemed so little space for critique and debate on sexuality. In some ways, that said it all. The debate is much more sorely needed than was accepted. Shame on those who threw such inappropriate "wowser" comments on Dines. She has raised important issues and deserves to be heard.

WicketWatcher | 27 May 2011  

It saddens me that Eureka Street would run an article promoting even the occasional viewing of pornography. I can understand, in certain circumstances, the need to show both sides of a debate. However, the views in this article are presented as being promoted by the magazine. Did Christ not say during the sermon on the mount, "You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." The very nature of pornography, even in the context of married life, completely breaks the unitive and procreative nature of the marital act. How can the inclusion of others in such a static manner unite a married couple. Furthermore, what a horrible way for a unmarried young man to start his "sexual life". This is because pornagraphy allows a young man to selfishly take but not give. If he eventually gets married, surely this will have an impact on how he treats his wife if only out of habit. Also, to entertain the belief that a young male will be able to show restraint in the viewing of pornography without recoursing to ceasing altogether, and even then it is difficult, demonstrates the highest naivety you wouldn't expect to see in a psychologist. We should never forget that Christ calls us to the highest chastity. This is not to create prudish laws to make us unhappy, but conversely to make us happy. The satisfying of sexual lust can only make one unhappy. This is because lustful desires can never be fulfilled. As the old saying goes "the more you get, the more you want". Christs love for us and his grace is infinite, and thus is the only thing that can make us happy.

Francis | 27 May 2011  

I think Gail Dines did feminism a great disservice. Of course, there are feminisms but her appearance on Q&A played into all the steretypes - man hating, wowserish feminist.As a sociologist I thought she did sociology a disservice - she spoke in simplistic slogans. Yes, pornography is harmful but hey it's complicated! She ignored the complexities and went for the cheap shots. Surprsingly - to me at least - Howard Jacobson and Lesley Cannold came out as more compassionate, sophisticated thinkers. What struck me about Gail Dines is that she didn't listen. Perhaps if she did she would develop a more nuanced understanding of the pressures that shape our lives. As Howard Jacobson said the interesting question is why pornography has become so powerful in (some) men's lives. If we could answer that then maybe we could begin to build more balanced lives.

Dr Dee | 27 May 2011  

I was quite frustrated by last Monday's Q&A. No one on the panel made any attempt to define pornography, so that it was ensured that they were all talking about the same thing. I found this particularly annoying, given the different perspectives of the panelists, as I could sense that they were arguing from some kind of perspective which, they assumed, all people clearly understood. As such, I found the program to have a lot of posturing as against reasoned argument. Given the profile of the program, I felt that a great opportunity to explore the essence of a respectful attitude to sexuality, from a range of perspectives, was lost.

Noel Will | 27 May 2011  

I have worked as a GP for the last 20 years and do a lot of Womens Health check ups, pap smears etc. It has become very rare to ever see a woman under about 45 with pubic hair any more. The usual answer to the question of 'Why'? is 'My boyfriend/partner likes it that way". my fellow GP's often have wondered if this is some sexual fantasy on the part of the partners where they expect the women to look like prepubescent children. I now realise that the images portrayed in pornography have a lot to do with expectation. Trying to empower women to take a stand against this is not easy. Brazilian providers are making a fortune out of the insecurity of women. I frequently see marriages that are under strain or break up because of the easy availability of internet porn, chat rooms, sites where you can post pictures of your naked wife for other men to see and presumably masturbate over and many other examples. The sites become an addiction and the user gradually desensitised to what they are viewing and hence the need for more increasingly more explicit images. I felt Professor Dines was unfairly criticized and dammed when certainly from my experience from working at grassroots level in general practice I feel the current pornographic culture has a lot to answer for.

GP | 27 May 2011  

Wicketwatcher, you and I must have watched different versions of Q & A. I thought Gail Dines did more than her fair share of interrupting and certainly had much more than her share of the time in the program. Perceptions can be inaccurate. Apart from some superficial banter at the beginning of the program, I thought Dr Dines deserved to be attacked by her unwillingness to concede that pornography is not a singular phenomenon and that there are some men who might have a reasonable position on pornography. Thoughtful uncertainty and willingness to hear other views are certainly not her strengths.

Frank Golding | 27 May 2011  

I was disturbed by the attacks on Dines on Q&A. In my opinion, she was not wowserish, but pointing to damage from a commonly consumed, addictive product. I suspect that the first people speaking about smoking received the same criticism. Perhaps people take personally the criticism of something they consume. A person's most powerful sexual organ is their brain. Constant thoughts and actions change the structure of brains. Norman Doige's book, The Brain that Changes Itself, is very insightful in this regard, including an example of distorted sexuality. Having read Doige's book previously, I found Dines to be quite credible. And finally, regarding the ethics of porn: I once read that 'no girl grows up saying she to be a prostitute'. Similarly I think that no one grows up wanting to be a porn star.

MBG | 27 May 2011  

Yes, well-said, Lyn and Wicketwatcher. Sad about Dr. Dee, though. I felt that there was no chance for debate, because Gail Dines was miles in front of the other panelists and instead of listening and genuinely searching for answers from her vast background of experience, we had Lesley Cannold and the others, though not to the same extent, warning us off with 'man-hater and wowser'! Where's the 'compassionate and sophisticated thinking' there, Dr. Dee? I would've been happy to allow Gail Dines time to deliver her argument and then allow time for the other panelists to question her - with a 'searching for the truth' attitude to enable each of us to deal with this topic in the best possible way.

I felt that Tony Jones, seemed out of his depth - nowhere near the compentant referee he usually is on the other Q&A shows. Millie

Annamaria McGregor | 28 May 2011  

Professor Gail Dines was belittled by most people in the audience and by the men on the Q & A panel. Old trick: belittle the one you disagree with and hey, one could win the debate.

The porn idustry requires regulation, just as we have roads and traffic lights.

Joyce | 28 May 2011  

One of the realities that no one seems game to observe is that lust, mediated within the context of a loving relationship, is one of the sine qua nons of healthy physical intimacy. It's naive to dichotomise and equate lust with pornography, just as it is a mistaken focus to equate pornography and sex. In cruder terms, we do need the other to "turn us on"! The essence of all kinds of pornography is the perversion of something fundamentally good and healthy. Lust - a normal, natural and necessary component of attraction and healthy physical intimacy - can, and does become perverted - but never necessarily so.

Alistair P D Bain | 05 June 2011  

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