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The intention of this article is to examine women's experiences of consuming pornography and to discuss what these tell us about female sexuality. The article attempts to open up a debate about young women's viewership of pornography in urban India, asking what are the dangers and risks for them in viewing pornography online; what are the possibilities for pleasure; and how are sexual subjectivities and bodies constructed through their consumption? The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood for their invaluable comments on various drafts.

Description

Critics say that porn degrades women, dulls sexual pleasure, and ruins authentic relationships — are they right? My memory might have been decidedly different. For the first time ever, Wilson explained, porn pleasure can track how ever-growing exposure to pornography affects sexual practices, appetites and trends. Wilson — who is neither a scientist nor a professor — is the founder of Your Brain On Porn, a site that popularises anti-pornography research. Instead of one or two possible sexual partners, now there are dozens, hundreds, all readily accessible in a single click.

Like any addiction, Wilson says, the result is a numbed response to pleasure, from lack of interest in real women to erectile dysfunction.

Ubiquitous pornography undermines natural sexuality. NoFap is a move away from masturbation, and the pornography that so often forms its backdrop.

Your ability to communicate with real sexual beings collapses. You become isolated — porn, after all, is a solitary pursuit — and your emotional wellbeing plummets. Refrain from those stimuli, and from acting on them, and you will find yourself rejuvenated and your sexual powers reawakened, your emotional equilibrium restored and your happiness rising. Today, there are more thanT he NoFap, brain-on-porn arguments are the latest in a common, critical refrain: that, for one reason or another, pornography is bad for you.

The more traditional critiques say porn pleasure pornography is inherently degrading to women — or whoever happens to be the object of sexual activity — and fosters unrealistic expectations of sex.

It decreases the quality of real relationships and the self-image of those involved — and increases negative sexual attitudes and actions. Porn-users compare real humans to the fantastical images, and either come out unimpressed and reluctant to have real sex, or, at worst, demanding the types of behaviours they see on screen, regardless of their desirability to their partner.

One poll from the US Pew Research Center in quantified the feeling, finding that 70 per cent of Americans said pornography is harmful. Do any of these criticisms hold water?

It would be nice to know. Reliable statistics about pornography are notoriously difficult to obtain — many people underreport their own habits, and many porn companies are loath to share any sort of viewership statistics. She estimates that 36 per cent of internet content is pornography. One in four internet searches are about porn. There are 40 million and growing regular consumers of porn in the US; and around the world, at any given time, 1. Cindy Gallop, the founder of the website Make Love Not Porn, told me recently that, in the past six months, the average age when children are first exposed to pornography dropped from eight to six.

The actual effects of pornography on attitudes, behaviour, life and relationship satisfaction are difficult to study, and for many years most data have remained purely correlational or anecdotal. InDenmark became the first country to legalise pornography.

In the years that followed, onlookers watched with interest and trepidation: what would happen to Danish society? As it turns out, nothing — or rather, nothing negative. When in Berl Kutchinsky, a criminologist at the University of Copenhagen who spent his career studying the public effects of pornography, analysed the data for more than 20 years following legalisation, porn pleasure found that rates of sexual aggression had actually fallen. Pornography was proliferating, but the sexual climate seemed to be improving.

If anything, Kutchnisky wrote, pornography was being used precisely as it was originally intended: as an expression of a certain fantasy. Porn pleasure it comes to porn, going beyond correlational evidence can be difficult.

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That needs to change. Prause fell into sex research by mistake: she followed a boyfriend to Indiana and found herself next to the Kinsey Institute, which happened to have an opening for a researcher. Soon, she was hooked. Today, Prause has become one of the few researchers in the US to study pornography in the laboratory.

A trained neuroscientist, she focuses much of her efforts on the brain. She has found that, in many ways, pornography is no different to a scary movie or a bungee jump.

We just view it differently because it happens to involve sex. For someone with lower sex drive, for instance, watching porn evokes the same magnitude response as eating chocolate, in similar brain areas. When Prause and the psychologist James Pfaus of Concordia University in Quebec recently measured sexual arousal in men, they found that watching more pornography actually increased arousal to less explicit material — and increased the desire for sex with a partner.

Prause has also studied the question of relationship satisfaction more directly: did watching pornography negatively impact the quality of sexual intimacy? Working with the psychologist Cameron Staley of Idaho State University inshe asked 44 monogamous couples to watch pornography alone and together, to see how it would affect feelings about their relationship. Pornography also increased their evaluation of their own sexual behaviour. As part of the Swiss Multicenter Adolescent Survey on Health, more than 7, to year-olds were asked about their exposure to online pornography over three-quarters of the males and 36 per cent of the females had viewed internet porn in the past month and then measured on a variety of behaviours and attitudes.

The researchers found no association between viewing explicit material and then going on to behave in more sexually risky ways. Likewise with sexually violent behaviours or negative attitudes toward women. In one series of experiments conducted by the sexologist Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii, viewing pornography neither made men more violent nor more prone to having worse attitudes toward women.

In a study of 4, to year-olds in the Netherlands, the psychologist Gert Martin Hald looked to see whether pornography-viewing had an effect on a wide variety of sexual behaviours, such as likelihood of adventurous sex threesomes, same-sex partners for self-stated heterosexuals, sex with someone you met online, etcpartner experience one-night stands, age of first encounter, of partners, etcand transactional sex being paid money or something else for sex, paying someone else for sex.

He found that frequency of pornography-consumption did indeed have an effect — but, once you controlled for other things, such as socio-demographic factors, risk-seeking, and social relationships, it explained only an additional 0.

The negative behaviours we blame on pornography might have emerged no porn pleasure what: porn is more symptom than cause. Indeed, in another study earlier this year, Hald and the psychologist Neil Malamuth of UCLA looked at the relationship between negative attitudes toward women and pornography use. They found that there was, in fact, a link — but only if a person was already low on a scale of so-called agreeableness. Those came as no surprise: inthey, along with the clinical psychologist Mary Koss of the University of Arizona, found that the only time pornography viewing was associated with attitudes that condoned any form of violence against women was in men already at high risk of sexual aggression.

The negative behaviours we blame on pornography, in other words, might have emerged no matter what; porn is perhaps more symptom than cause. Earlier this year, a group from VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands attempted to disambiguate cause and porn pleasure in relationship satisfaction: did frequent pornography viewing cause people to drift apart — or was it the result of their having drifted apart already?

For three porn pleasure, the psychologist Linda Muusses and her colleagues tracked just under newlywed couples, as part of a broader study on marriage and wellbeing. The happier men were in relationships, they found, the less pornography they watched. Conversely, more viewing predicted lower happiness a year later. It was a self-reinforcing cycle: get caught in a good one, with a satisfied relationship, and porn was a non-issue.

But lose satisfaction, watch more porn, and realise your relationship is further disintegrating. Muusses and her colleagues also noticed that higher levels of pornography use at the start of a relationship did not predict a less sexually satisfying experience later on, for men or women.

W hy, then, does the disconnect persist between theory, opinion and social sentiment, on the one hand, and empirical research, on the other? Part of the problem stems from the difficulty of saying exactly what pornography actually is.

Aeon for friends

When we go to the cinema, there are dramas and comedies, horror and sci-fi, thrillers and romantic romps — movies to suit any mood, any taste, any occasion. The experience and effects of each differ. I heard the same refrain over and over, from every researcher and every member of the pornography industry I spoke with: pornography is to sex as Hollywood films are to real life. Pornography is fantasy, pure and simple.

And just as any fantasy can be channelled in any direction, so too can pornography. Some are really great and have allowed incredible content and have been supportive of male and female performers, and help people make great careers. That short description porn pleasure to the heart of what makes pornography the kind of fantasy we can feel good about versus the kind we should actively question. What matters is that the people performing these acts enjoy their performance.

Increasingly, people insist that the product they host on their site or bring to their customers comes from a place of clear desire. Not all porn is created equal.

It only serves the idea that a woman who is sexual is being taken advantage of. Jiz Lee, recognised as one of the leading modern genderqueer adult performers, has been in the industry for more than 10 years, and says ethical pornography is a porn pleasure. The single biggest marker of such porn is that it costs the consumer something. Paying helps insure it, and helps the company be in good standing. In the absence of other options, pornography becomes a de facto way of educating yourself about sexuality. Ethical pornography is becoming increasingly less exceptional.

There are more women in charge, more readily enforced standards, and more ability.

But regardless porn pleasure what pornography insiders say, for consumers, especially younger ones who are growing up with a ubiquitous internet, the view is quite different. Any attempt to broaden the conversation was stonewalled. And therein lies the problem.

It becomes so only when it is the one thing adolescents see as they discover sex: they use it as a learning script. Until we do that, they will go to porn. Already, certain movements are trying to do just that. Jessica Cooper helps run ScrewSmart, a sex-education collaborative in Philadelphia that aims to foster open dialogue about sexual pleasure. The group meets with students, hosts workshops, discusses porn and its role openly and honestly.

We are giving them permission to say yes.

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