Sex 101

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. 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 or harmful.

Aggression and violence are commonplace in pornography, and the targets of aggression are most often female identified. 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 breasts, vulva, pubic hair, or body type?

  • Does your pornography use create unrealistic expectations regarding penis size, capacity for multiple orgasm, stamina or body type?

Pornography may also change your expectations of sex by normalizing degrading or violent sexual practices.

  • Does the pornography you consume glorify violence against sexual partners, depict physically painful sex, or non-consensual sex?

  • Does the pornography you consume depict the degradation of those in the film or photographs?

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 harm of the people in the pornography you consume. 

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 and agree to the role that pornography will play. Communicating about this can be difficult, but these discussions can help set clear expectations about what each person finds acceptable.

Use of pornography in a 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 have not been able to make those changes.

  • 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 replaces or becomes preferable to sexual intimacy with a partner.

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. 

On-Campus Resources

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

Health Promotion 401.863-2794
BWell Health Promotion is available for individual appointments and group education on a variety of health issues, including sexual health concerns and understanding pornography use. The BWell 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 the SHARE Advocates. BWell is located on the 3rd floor of Health Services.

Related Links

Web MD: Is Pornography Addictive?

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

PHONE NUMBERS
  • 401.863-2794
    Health Promotion
  • 401.863-3953
    Health Services
  • 401.863-6000
    Sexual Assault Response Line
  • 401.863-4111
    EMS
  • 401.863-3476
    Counseling & Psychological Services
  • 401.863-4111
    DPS