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Opinion: 'I'll lend Enda one of my DVDs so he can see what's out there in the world of porn'

Porn is not sex education, but it’s where people look for information when faced with silence, writes scholar in sexuality studies Caroline Ryan.

Caroline Ryan

Scholar in sexuality studies Caroline Ryan writes to the Taoiseach following his remarks this week that we need a national conversation about pornography. 

LET’S TALK ABOUT porn, Enda.

As I sit in a cinema in Berlin attending a four-day porn film festival, I can’t help be but delighted at the news that Enda Kenny finally wants to address the issue of porn.

In calling for a national conversation about porn, we can finally break the tradition in Ireland of staying silent when it comes to sexuality and its expressions, and abuses.

The unwillingness to talk honestly and openly about sexuality has lead to woefully inadequate sex education, in schools that are still subject to control by an institution that was locking up women for daring to explore their sexuality for far too many years.

I am currently undertaking a PhD in porn and feminism, and it is everything that porn can also be: frustrating, fulfilling, stressful, pleasurable, scary, confusing and thought provoking.

When I tell people what I study, the usual response is that ‘porn is bad’; ‘porn is full of violence’.

And then, within a few minutes, they also tell me how terrible their sex education was, and how they don’t talk about sex with their partners or sometimes even friends.

Some of them don’t understand the difference between a vulva and a vagina, let alone the nuances of a gangbang.

Research on porn’s effects show mixed results, with the majority of studies showing no effect, but some claim to prove a link between porn and violence. However, this proof is not accepted as it is so small, unreliable and only applies to those who have a predisposition to violence already.

These studies also suffer from issues such as methodological concerns, small sample sizes, and bias: sometimes the studies paid for by religious groups show negative results.

Out of almost 40,000 studies on the effects of porn, one research team found only 276 that weren’t biased or poorly conducted.

Most large-scale studies that show the higher availability of porn, the lower rates of rape are (as seen in USA, Hong Kong, Sweden, Japan, Czech Republic, and Denmark).

However, this isn’t so clear cut either as rape is underreported.

The reality is, there just isn’t the evidence there to say ‘all porn causes its viewers to commit violence’.

Porn is not consumed or interpreted in the same way by everyone, and may contribute to violence IF the consumer is already predisposed to violence- the same could be said for any form of media.

Here’s the thing: porn, just like sex, is not monolithic.

There are lots of different types of porn, from amateur porn with the laundry in the background, to slick, well-produced LA mainstream material.

There is misogynist porn, that is extremely problematic, just like how misogyny in Hollywood, TV, music, books, news and social media is extremely problematic. But painting all porn, or all of any media, means silencing the good stuff.

The type of porn that shows consenting adults enjoying mutual pleasure, in whichever form that takes for them. The type of porn that shows different body types, ethnicities, or genders in a positive light.

There is a whole world out there of this type of material. Porn that shows sexuality in a positive, realistic, creative and attractive way. Films here in Berlin this weekend showcase queer porn, kink porn, fetish porn, political porn, gay porn, arthouse erotica, and everything in between – including an Irish couple in a documentary looking at relationships across Europe.

Some are funny, some are thought-provoking, some are hot, some are most definitely not my cup of tea, some most definitely are.

Filmmakers like Shine Louise Houston and Tristan Taormino are making films that act as an alternative to mainstream porn, using porn as a site of resistance to challenge cultural norms around sexuality.

Google feminist porn and see for yourself that not all porn is the same.

But none of this open discussion on porn is relevant if we do not have good objective education that empowers people to feel comfortable talking about their bodies, their desires, and their turn offs. And if we don’t talk about consent, then by the time we talk about porn it’s too late.

Children need to be normalised to the idea of consent and bodily boundaries from birth so they feel comfortable applying these concepts to heir sex life when they are older.

How many parents are worried about porn, but aren’t talking to their children about sex in the first place?

Porn is not sex education, but it’s where people look for information when faced with silence.

Enda needs to begin this conversation by facilitating open, honest sex education that is not fear based, for children and young people.

Training for parents in how to talk to their children about sex is also essential, as most of the older generation grew up without any conversation about sex, or even the Internet to look for themselves.

Enda could address this by rolling out courses and training programmes, and there is a wealth of professionals in Ireland that would be happy to offer their input. Actions speak louder than words, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity to create a healthier society.

Enda is more than welcome to borrow my programme guide if he wants to see what else is out there in the world of porn. I might even lend him a DVD if he wants.

Caroline Ryan is a SALIS Doctoral Scholar in Sexuality Studies at Dublin City University.

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