Most of pornography consumed today involves some form of physical aggression or verbal degradation abuse, objectification and a power imbalance. So it’s only natural that frequent exposure influences young people’s idea of a healthy sexuality, says West Virginia University sociologist Walter DeKeseredy.
“Violence Against Women in Pornography,” a new book written by Dekeseredy, the Anna Deane Carlson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences and director of the WVU Research Center on Violence, delves into the impact the pornography industry has had on technology; how it has become more mainstream over time; and what it’ll take to reverse the “rape myth” that is pervasive in society.
The book, DeKeseredy says, is the first of its kind to closely examine the connection between violence against women in pornography and violent acts against women.
“The pornography industry is this juggernaut,” he said. “To me, pornography is a symbol of how we view our women in our society. It’s a very dangerous thing. Is this how we want 50 percent of our population to be portrayed?”
While DeKeseredy acknowledges that pornography has existed for a long time, he argues that the increasingly mainstream nature of it and technological advances have made it increasingly difficult for those who watch it to delineate between reality and fantasy.
“What worries me is that the average age at which young men start watching pornography is 11,” he said.
In the ‘80s, DeKeseredy said, pornography was largely constructed as features with music and titles similar to mainstream movies. But today’s pornography, available through streaming videos online, provides viewers with a stripped-down experience that is short on story and long on gratuitous violence.
“The producer will say, ‘take your clothes off,’ or make sexist comments and a man walks in and they start having sexual relations primarily around his desires. It’s so real. There’s no script. There’s nothing. It involves so much violence.”
Being introduced to that type of imagery at an early age, DeKeseredy said, threatens the development of a healthy sexuality.
Young people, he said, start believing that what they see in pornography is what happens in real life.
In “Violence Against Women,” DeKeseredy and his co-author Marilyn Corisanos, professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, also examine how the consumption of pornography translates to violent behaviors in real life.
The violence has become normalized to the point that more people are becoming accepting of rape myths, he said.
Rape myths are widely held and inaccurate beliefs about rape. Common rape myths include the ideas that sexual assault is uncommon and that people are typically raped by strangers.
“One of the scary things is that since rape is a very common theme in porn, and since pornography consumption has increased exponentially, more and more people are accepting of rape myths,” DeKeseredy said.
“I hear it all the time. People talk to me in my community, and I’ll talk about sexual assault on college campuses, and people will say, ’Well, why did she go to his room?’”
While some U.S. lawmakers propose that internet filters should be implemented to restrict access to pornographic content, DeKeseredy said government regulations won’t solve the problem.
Instead he suggests a multi-pronged approach to fight the normalization of pornographic content.
Among the solutions? Healthy sex education that moves beyond reproduction and addresses respect and consent.
“Sex is healthy, it’s not a question of policing people’s sexuality,” he said.
“I’m not against sex, I’m against how certain sexual behaviors are characterized and portrayed.”
“Violence Against Women in Pornography,” was published by Routledge and can be purchased on its website.