This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
Advertisement

Opinion: It's been a poor start to Enda's national conversation about porn

There have been a lot of questionable claims about porn in the past fortnight, writes Caroline Ryan.

Caroline Ryan

IT SEEMS WHETHER he wants it or not, Enda Kenny is having his national conversation on pornography. In the past fortnight we have seen several media outlets cover this story, with varying viewpoints being put forward. But several questionable claims have also been made in these discussions, making it a fairly poor start to this national conversation.

In the interests of brevity, this article will focus on a few of the questionable claims about porn from Pat Kenny’s show on TV3 and The Late Late Show on RTE One.  This is additionally because I was in the audience for both shows, and spoke on The Pat Kenny Show from the audience.

Pat Kenny Tonight – 2 November

On this show, a study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin was mentioned as evidence that porn causes changes in consumers’ brains. The exact study was not named, but if one assumes this refers to the 2014 study on porn’s effects on a user’s brain, the researchers themselves would disagree with how their research is presented as one solid conclusion.

Pat Kenny Source: Pat Kenny via TV3

This study is presented as proof that porn changes a user’s brain through its reward centre; however, the researchers actually concluded that they could not prove if the people in their study had this type of brain before their exposure to porn, or if porn was responsible for changing the brain. To generalise about this small-scale study of 64 Danish men is disingenuous, as the experiences of 64 men do not speak for the experiences of the majority of men, and the experience of men cannot be said to be exactly the same as the experience of women. Therefore, this is not concrete or definitive proof of porn’s effects. Research in this area is extremely mixed, with studies subject to bias and methodological concerns.

It was also stated that there is research to show that women in porn are abused and mistreated, however no citations were provided. There is no large-scale, longitudinal research done with porn performers. The closest to this was the Griffith study  in 2013 which asked 177 female performers about their history of sexual abuse and their levels of self-esteem. They reported lower levels of childhood sexual abuse and higher rates of self-esteem, social support, sexual satisfaction, and spirituality compared to the control group of non-porn performers.

Pat Kenny 3 Part of the discussion on the show about pornography

However, as the number of performers in the industry is in the thousands at any one time, these experiences cannot be generalised to all performers. Other sources for this claim come from the personal testimonies of those involved in the industry, who report stories of abuse. But there are also several positive experiences reported by performers, some of whom state that it is society that has treated them more harshly than porn has. Sharon Abbott conducted a study into the reasons why people enter porn and found a mixture of reasons from financial goals, to fame, to exploring their sexuality, or to rebel.

However, much more current research is needed to examine these claims about why women enter the industry. One also has to consider the ethics of assuming someone has experienced sexual abuse, and reducing them to a victim without their consent or listening to their story. This nuance in itself contributes to the objectification of the performer, by positioning them as a person who cannot speak for themselves when in fact the question is if they are listened to or not.

Viewers saw at the end of the debate a statistic that claimed porn receives 30,000 hits a second –  but we must ask how is this measured. This statistic comes from a Christian website that campaigns against porn, therefore displaying a strong negative bias towards porn. They list a range of sources, however none of the statistics provided are individually cited, making their claims difficult to prove right or wrong. Most of the sources are news sites, who may report the findings wrong themselves. It also does not give dates for these statistics, and thus may be completely outdated.

shutterstock_364078322 Source: Shutterstock/MyImages - Micha

The use of potentially dead data, or ‘zombie statistics’ must be questioned as this is commonly seen in debates about porn to support hyperbolic claims of ‘avalanches’ of porn. The truth is, reliable statistics when it comes to porn use are hard to come by due to how porn is consumed in secret on a variety of mediums, and are often inflated by the media or anti-porn campaigners.

We also need to put these statistics in context with other forms of media, such as YouTube which receives a billion  views a day. To put this in context, last year PornHub received just over 4 billion hits for the whole year. PornHub also claims the average viewing time worldwide is about ten minutes each visit. We must also ask how much time people spend watching Hollywood films, social media, or Netflix, and what kind of content they are consuming on there. Violent, misogynist material can be found on all these media and this also needs to be addressed alongside misogyny in porn.

Late Late Show – 4 November

The Late Late show also addressed porn last week, and again we saw questionable claims made, alongside comparisons with the effects of watching ISIS beheadings and filmed child abuse. Instead of this scaremongering and faulty logic such as oversimplification,  it would have proved more beneficial to point parents to resources and to point young people to age-appropriate resources that talk about sex.

RTE Emily Power Smith, Brenda Power and Ian O'Doherty on The Late Late Show on the discussion about pornography

It was also mentioned that there is research to show a rise in injuries, such as damaged anuses, in recent years, which is believed to be linked to the rise in porn. This is commonly mentioned in discussions on porn, and feminist porn producer Ms Naughty addresses this on her blog.  Rather than solely focus on blaming an external source for people engaging in anal sex (which they have been doing for millennia), we need to talk to those causing the injuries about consent and communication, and their responsibility to respect the bodily autonomy of others. This conversation also needs to include the gap between professional porn and real life experiences of sex. We need to emphasise through sex education that it is not ok to do something to another person that they have not consented to and do not appear to be enjoying it. Our young people need to hear discussions that recognise that consent is active and ongoing, and that anyone can be a victim regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

While this may be difficult as Ireland has not had a history of open conversations about sexual consent, the landscape is thankfully changing. Consent workshops are now run at universities, and modern, objective sex education classes are available to parents. Louise O’Neill’s recent documentary Asking for It has made great strides in enhancing this conversation.

On the Late Late, panelist Brenda Power stated that like a lot of people, her approach to this issue is to stick her head in the sand and hopes it goes away. But this approach does not help young people. The conversations might be difficult, but they do still need to be had. If it does prove difficult to speak with your children, there are sex education courses being run, and workshops for parents to teach them how to talk about consent. There are accessible sex education books that are age appropriate here or here.

What Ireland needs to do

We need to recognise that people experience porn and sex differently, and some may have had traumatic experiences. We can accept that people have fear and negative reactions around sexuality and its on screen representations, especially if all they see are misogynist images, at the same time as we can accept porn can also be experienced and produced positively and ethically. This debate is not an excuse for personal attacks because of different opinions. It is a space to challenge claims that are being made, and the research used to support these claims, because misinformation can create panic and not necessarily reflect the true situation.

Surely we can all agree that we need to change the current Irish approach to porn and sex education- so let’s create solutions instead of panic. Let us use this opportunity to support parents with practical solutions that feel comfortable to them, and appropriate for their children.

No one person or organisation can possibly provide all the solutions to designing healthy conversations on porn and sex education, but we can start by questioning the existing discussion and research quoted, and campaign for funding for appropriate training for educators and parents alike to approach this topic with young people in their care, rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own. We have seen concern expressed that children can access porn easily on their phone- so let’s work together to design modern solutions for creating healthy conversations about this instead of adopting an ostrich approach and failing our young people on these issues.

Caroline Ryan is a SALIS doctoral scholar in sexuality studies at Dublin City University.

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

Read: Enda Kenny thinks we need a national conversation about pornography

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Caroline Ryan

Read next:

COMMENTS (32)