RC: That’s a super thoughtful question; thanks so much for writing in! First of all, I want to name that this is a really subjective thing and only you can determine whether or not watching a lot of porn is something to worry about. I think what we can do in our response, which we will spread over two weeks, is to provide some basic information about porn exposure, the messages and norms most mainstream porn tends to communicate, some common outcomes or impacts of frequent porn watching, and some potential next steps if you are considering reducing your consumption.
AG: First, we want to note that there are many different kinds of porn available many of which depict completely different types of sex. For example, some types of amateur porn are created by people who use pornography to share their sexuality and appreciation of eroticism. However, when wondering about possible negative impacts of porn consumption, it is important to recognize that many forms of mainstream porn can be problematic.
RC: One common critique of many types of mainstream porn is that its creation is often extremely exploitative of vulnerable or at-risk people and reinforces problematic patterns of objectification and fetishization of people who are not heterosexual cis men. Often even porn that is labeled as porn created by or for anyone other than heterosexual cis men is structured in such a way that it is clear that it has been created by and for the male-gaze.
AG: Following this exploitation and objectification, most mainstream porn is also created in such a way that it depicts clear and unequal power dynamics, often between a dominant figure and someone else.
RC: Often, mainstream porn presents types of sexual interaction and sexual intercourse that is not reflective of the ways in which many people engage in sexual activity in the real world. Because of this, often people who watch a lot of porn report that their expectations of sexual interactions are not mirrored in their personal sexual experiences.
AG: With this unrealistic depiction, most mainstream porn simply shows sex in a way that is physically unsustainable. Within the industry, many people actually develop significant health problems as a result of this kind of sex.
RC: All of this matters because the average age of initial internet porn exposure in the US is 11 years old. This is a key developmental window, during which people are working on understanding themselves in relation to others, both psycho-emotionally and physically. Compounding this is the likely onset of puberty.
AG: Often the messages about sex, power, and relationships that someone would see when watching most mainstream porn are not discussed either in an educational setting or in other spaces. This can lead to a disconnect between expectations and reality, the impacts of which we will further explore next week.
RC: All this being said, we do want to reiterate that there are some types of porn that are characterized by equal power dynamics and deep mutual enjoyment of the sexual and/or erotic interaction. Porn is not inherently problematic and as we said at the beginning, no one can know how watching porn is impacting you other than yourself. If you want to contact someone with any concerns or questions, please reach out to us and we will be happy to help you find an appropriate resource.
Community Advocate, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response