The term #foodporn always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I always figured it was because the term was designed to do so: the word “porn” is used for shock value. By applying it to something everyday and mundane like food, the two serve as a foil: something private and taboo like porn, mixed with something social and necessary like food. It was a little uncomfortable because it was supposed to be.
(For those who don’t know, #foodporn is a hashtag people use when putting pictures of delicious-looking food on Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere else that uses hashtags.)
But recently, I was reading an article about the media coverage of the city of Detroit after it declared bankruptcy. This article, in an in-flight magazine, was talking about how Detroit actually has a lot of positives, but the best way to sell news stories was to publish pictures of decaying buildings. It went on to describe this type of journalism as “ruins porn”. Suddenly, it hit me. We live in a porn culture! The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable this made me.
Pornography can be described as images intended to give a sexual response, rather than intellectual or emotional (paraphrased from Google). It’s impossible to deny that this is everywhere in our culture. Scantily-clad women (or nearly always women) are used to sell everything: beer, vacations, personal hygiene products… the list goes on. The San Jose Sharks are becoming the latest hockey team to add Ice Girls to their hockey games. When criticized, their defense was pathetic: there are a few men on the team (who don’t wear tight outfits like the women), and the girls’ outfits aren’t as bad some teams’. So many TV shows use nudity or near-nudity as part of the draw for viewers. “Porn”, in its many forms, is pervasive in Western culture.
The stats of porn use are equally shocking. (Stats are taken from xxxchurch.com, a fantastic resource for information, as well as resources for those looking to quit.) A quarter of all internet searches in the world are for pornographic material. Half of all hotel guests in the States purchase pornography. The average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11. And there are dozens more of these types of stats.
However, why does all this even matter? Porn is legal after all. It might be problematic for children, but those controls should be up to their parents, not society.
Well first off, porn has significant physical consequences for regular users. The idea that porn is a harmless, even potentially beneficial, activity is a lie. It’s taken a few years to get a true sense, but the damage porn has on users’ bodies is only starting to be studied.
Look back to the stats section: the average age of first pornography exposure on the internet is 11. A growing number of children are learning about sex from porn. With the above messages, children are learning that sex is all about their own personal (and unrealistic) demands.
But there is a much bigger problem at play here as a consequence of a porn culture.
An idea that has been slowly gaining steam is the idea that at least in North America, we live in a rape culture. I think there is a lot of truth to that claim. Over half of Canadian women report having been sexually or physically assaulted since the age of 16. A third of them were assaulted by a spouse or common-law partner. Almost two-thirds of rapes are committed by a person known by the victim.
Culturally, not a lot is done. Women get accused of “asking for it” because of how they dress. People blame the victim, especially when they try to get punishment for the perpetrator. Dr. Phil gained notoriety for his terrible question asking if it’s considered rape when the un-consenting girl is drunk. Perhaps this leads to why 93% of sexual assaults in Canada go unreported. At best, victims believe nothing will happen. At worst, their lives will be ruined.
Rape has also been desensitized as a word. Rape jokes abound. A difficult exam is said to have “raped” its students. Feminists who speak out are often mocked, or even threatened with rape. People on Twitter respond with things like #notallmen, as if somehow this discussion is about the men who don’t commit rape, not the women whose sense of worth has been stolen, possibly forever.
All this to say that it’s pretty hard to argue we don’t live in a rape culture. Sexual assault is common, glossed over, mocked, and sometimes even considered an accepted part of society.
And here’s my argument: a porn culture normalizes a rape culture.
After all, what is the message of porn? That sex is something that happens whenever you want it to, with whoever you want it to. That sex is violent, especially against women. Stereotypes like the sexy nurse or sexy secretary reinforce the idea that even professional women are really just sex objects, they want to be nothing more than sex objects, and they are always ready for sex.
Some school shooters have even said that they killed because they were tired of women rejecting them sexually. As if sex with the women they wanted was a right. I’m no psychologist, but this seems to line up with the message of porn. Many rapists claim this same idea: they thought it was their right to have sex with their victim.
As a committed Christian, I have many other things to say on this topic. But I know a lot of people who read this article won’t accept my faith-driven views. I think the argument is already compelling.
Porn is hardly victimless. It affects the user mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It perpetrates unrealistic views about sex. It normalizes things that should never be seen as normal. It sets the stage for rape culture.
And this was what frightened me so much about the realization that we live in a porn culture. Trying to fight societal views on rape may be treating the symptoms, not the disease.