This article is mostly about Lucy Kirkwood’s play NSFW which is due to open at the Royal Court Theatre in London soon, which sounds like it could be very interesting, by the way, but it also contains some to-the-point analysis of the pornification of society.
For example, Kirkwood’s friend, a teacher, had to leave her job when a 15-year-old stuck a camera up her skirt to take a photo. It’s unbelievable. I would say ‘that would never have happened in my day’, but at my school some boys two years above me were gently reprimanded, I’d say, for photoshopping their female classmates’ faces onto pornographic pictures and distributing them at school. Everyone laughed it off as a ‘boys will be boys’ prank and no action was taken.
I think porn and teenagers is a complex issue. Some might turn to porn to figure out how the whole sex thing is meant to work. Some might be pressured into watching or buying porn by their mates in order to test their bravado. Some, sadly, might be used to a page three culture from home so that objectifying and evaluating women is nothing new when they become teenagers.
One danger which comes from the general availability and ubiquity of porn, in my view, is the blurring of the line between socially acceptable porn consumption on the one hand, and behaviour more akin to addiction on the other. For example, some studies have found that boys who are sexually abused under the age of about 10 turn to internet sex addiction at some later point in their lives. Apart from the issues caused by the unrealistic expectations regarding sexual practices, power balance and women’s appearances which porn seems to elicit in some men, a teenager’s inappropriate behaviour relating to porn might not simply be the result of age-related experimentation, but rather an expression of something more sinister.
This is one of the reasons why porn becoming more acceptable and easily available can be risky: people become complacent. Women are dismissed as ‘uptight’ or, my least favourite word, ‘frigid’ for objecting to porn. But this so-called open-minded attitude (because it is not really open-minded to expect women to conform to a narrow artificial norm) to porn could lead people to miss the signs of something being wrong. If more and more porn becomes available in more public media (secret visits to dingy ‘specialist shops’ are no longer necessary), excessive consumption and preoccupation no longer seems excessive.
I don’t think porn should be banned. But to understand the absurdity of the current situation, imagine an alien spaceship landed next to a newsagent. If the aliens wandered into the shop, after realising the British clearly have some obsession with multicoloured foil bags filled with some kind of crunchy salty concoction, they would think that breasts are enormously revered, but their bearers are feared. Pictures of naked women’s faces are clearly thought powerful enough to exert some special power over the viewer; they are God-like, a golden calf: they must not be displayed. Pictures of breasts are prominently shown on magazine covers, but women are dehumanised and marginalised – not worth the same level of admiration as their body parts and much better out of the picture. And then imagine what those aliens would think if they had studied Freud before going into that newsagent’s…