Pornography

What is pornography?

Pornography, the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter, may use a variety of media, including books, magazines, postcards, photos, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video, and video games. Pornographic media content has become increasingly prevalent and available, particularly as a result of the volume of pornographic content made accessible via the Internet. Pornography use today is widespread and it is estimated that, in the U.S., every second, 28,250 users are viewing porn. Whether you use pornography yourself or if it is something that you notice that friends or partners use, it can be important to consider the potential impact of pornography use.

How is pornography affecting me?

People may use pornography to complement their sexual practices with partners or to provide a safe means of solitary sexual pleasure. However, just like other media, pornography has the power to influence our perceptions and attitudes.  In this case, it can influence our attitudes toward sex, sensuality and relationships. The type of sex some pornography depicts may be worthy of aspiration; other pornography may normalize sex that is unrealistic, harmful or illegal. 

Aggression and violence are commonplace in pornography, and in straight pornography, the targets of aggression are overwhelmingly female.  This aggression is typically associated with pleasure, and racist themes are frequently represented as well.  Content analyses have found that, in the most popular videos, violent content has increased over the past few decades.  (Source: Sun, Chyng, et. al. A comparison of male and female directors in popular pornography.  Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32 (2008), 312–325)

Because of the themes described above, it's important to think about how viewing pornography may be affecting you. Below are a few potential harmful effects of pornography to consider.

Consider if and how your own pornography use has affected your expectations of bodies, both yours and your partners’:

  • Does your pornography use create unrealistic expectations regarding female breasts, vulva, pubic hair, or body type?
  • Does your pornography use create unrealistic expectations regarding male penis size, capacity for multiple orgasm, stamina or body type?

Pornography may also change your expectations of sex to normalize degrading, violent or cruel sexual practices.

  • Does the pornography you consume glorify violence against sexual partners, depict rape, physically painful sex, cruelty, non-consensual sex, sex with children or sex with animals? 
  • Does the pornography you consume depict the degradation of those in the film or photographs by showing acts like ejaculation on one partner’s face or breasts?

One should also consider the nature of all pornography with respect to the models and actors in these films or photographs.  Pornography is most often the depiction of real people.  Consider the potential for the exploitation and physical and emotional harm of the people in the pornography you consume.

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How is pornography affecting my relationships or my sense of intimacy?

Pornography can provide a private and STI risk-free way to explore sex and sexuality on one’s own before seeking physical sexual contact with others.  As discussed above, pornography can provide positive and negative influences on your perceptions and attitudes about sex, so be aware of what pornography is teaching you. 

It is a good idea for partners to discuss their attitudes towards pornography early on in the relationship and agree to the role that pornography will play in their relationship. Communicating about this can be difficult, but these discussions can help set clear expectations about what each person finds acceptable.

Use of pornography in the relationship should always be consensual, with no one being forced or coerced into watching it.   You can find more information on consent here.

Adapted from: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/sexandrelationships/pornography.htm


What are some warning signs that pornography use could be a problem?

  • You decide that watching pornography is taking up too much time in your life and you try to cut back but you aren’t able to.
  • You’ve made promises to your partner that you will change your pornography habits but begin to lie about your use.
  • The time spent watching pornography is impacting your academic, work, social, and family responsibilities.
  • Your relationships are being negatively impacted as a result of your use.
  • Your pornography use, whether you are single or in a relationship, replaces or becomes preferable to sexual intimacy with a partner.

These warning signs could indicate compulsive sexual behavior.

The campus resources listed below can help Brown students better understand their use of pornography and its impact, and you can also contact Sex Addicts Anonymous for information and resources.

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Campus Resources

Psychological Services 401.863-3476
Psychological Services provides free, confidential individual appointments, referrals, and groups for Brown students.

Health Education 401.863-2794            
Health Education is available for individual appointments and group education on a variety of health issues, including sexual health concerns and understanding pornography use. The Health Ed office also has safer sex supplies available. If you have questions or concerns about pornography use and sexual health, please contact Naomi Ninneman (naomi_ninneman@brown.edu). If you have concerns about pornography use in the context of non-consensual situations or in relation to sexual assault, please contact Bita Shooshani (bita@brown.edu). We are located on the 3rd floor of Health Services.

Links you can use

Porn and Relationships
Two sex therapists from the UK discuss gender differences in thinking about pornography, how pornography can be part of a healthy relationship and problems related to pornography use.

Web MD: Is Pornography Addictive?

The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships
A documentary on pornography that includes the voices of consumers, critics and pornography producers and performers.  Brown students can borrow the DVD from the Health Education library, 3rd floor of Health Services.

American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists
AASECT offers a directory of certified sex therapists as well as links to sexuality resources.

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Disclaimer: Health Education is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Education maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Education offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.