December 19, 2016

Porn? Only Ethical Porn, Please!



We're living in an era that you might call "peak porn." You can find just about any type of porn online and access it at any time, from anywhere. People watch the stuff at workand in fast food restaurants and at national political conventions. Even the GOP has called our fine nation's obsession with pornography "a public health crisis." (No, seriously—that language was amended into the Republican Party’s official platform last summer.)

What all that porn is doing to us, as human beings (and, particularly, as men) is not yet clear. That's especially true because while pornography has never been as ubiquitous as it is now, plenty of sophisticated folk still have a hard time discussing how they engage with porn.
David J. Ley, a psychologist who specializes in sexuality issues, wants to change that. His most recent book, Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide To Responsible Viewing Pleasure {See Amazon ad by adamfoxie}, is a humorous and provocative handbook for men who want to think more rigorously, or comprehensively, about their porn consumption—and whether there’s a right or wrong way to consume porn.

                                                                           



Ley told me he wrote the book imagining that he was "sitting and having a beer or two, taking with friends about porn." So, in that spirit, I got in touch with him to hear more about the book and what men can do to make their porn-watching habits more ethical.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VICE: For starters, what's "ethical porn"?David Ley: In the book, I talk about ethical porn in two ways: in terms of consumption, and production. Ethical consumption of porn is mindful, aware, responsible, and marked by sexual integrity. Ethically produced porn is porn made consensually, where the performers are engaging in acts for which they are paid a fair wage. Ethical porn production doesn't exploit people—neither the performers, nor the consumers—and it treats sexuality in a healthy way, recognizing the wide diversity of sexual interests, body types and desires. Ethical porn is about responsibly and intentionally supporting ethical sexual values.
Seeing as you aim to de-stigmatize porn consumption, I presume you won’t mind me asking: What are your own porn viewing habits?

Like most men of my generation, I first saw porn when I was an adolescent. Older males gave it to me. There have been times in my life when I watched what might have been too much porn, and other times when I might not have watched enough.

I also first encountered porn when I was quite young—a neighbor showed me a stack of Hustler magazines his father had hidden in the basement. Later on, we got our hands on some X-rated VHS tapes. I don't think I was harmed by those experiences, but of course, it's a different world now. Do you think there are consequences with kids accessing porn on their computers?
There's a tremendous amount of hyperbole around adolescent and child exposure to porn. It's a favorite tactic of moral panics to cry "save the children!" Hard data and cold facts are difficult to come by.

The best research I've seen finds the average age of first exposure to porn is around 14, and that's not inconsistent with the history of pre-internet exposure. But the internet offers greater access to porn. So, people who want to see it can find it much more easily—and at greater diversity and volume—than you and I could.

So, what does that mean?
We don't know, not really. People who want to see it a lot tend to be high libido people, and porn doesn’t change who or what a person is.

In the UK, they did a study, headlined: "Basically Porn Is Everywhere." They looked at 40,000 research articles on porn, trying to determine what effect porn has on kids. Out of all of those [studies], only 237 were deemed scientifically useful in answering that question. Ninety-nine percent of what is published on porn is limited by sample bias, poor research, and researcher bias. This is an important point to keep in mind—so much of the modern debate is shaped by poor research.
So the UK research couldn’t determine any effects of watching porn?

Right. But they recounted anecdotes of kids exposed to it—and it appears most kids are. Those kids are learning bad lessons about sex from porn. That's very unfortunate. Porn is not usually meant to be a teaching vehicle. The answer, though, is not to ban porn, which will never work. The answer is to teach young people what healthy sex is, so they understand that porn is just a fantasy.

Your book provides plenty of practical and hilarious advice for men, such as: Don't send dick pics to women you barely know, don't stalk porn stars, don't watch porn at work, and so on. I found a lot of that material amusing, but also kind of alarming. What does it say about us, as men, that plenty of people actually need this advice?

The thing is, we as people are made—by thousands of years of sexual selection—to be impulsive and use poor judgment when we're sexually aroused. I understand how sex can feel like a drug. When we're turned on, we lose track of time, often make bad decisions, and do things we might regret in the morning. We might have sex with the “wrong" person, fail to use protection, or engage in a sex act that we desire, but which conflicts with our morals or values.

 This is why I recommend that people think about their sexual values, desires and behaviors when they're not turned on. Think through how to resolve and integrate these things into who you want to be, as a person. Unfortunately, too often, sexual shame and stigma lead us to bury and deny our sexuality, except when we’re horny.

“I encourage guys to treat a visit to Pornland like taking their girlfriend on a tour of dive bars: One of you has to stay sober to drive home." — David J. Ley

If a guy is furtively watching porn without mentioning it to his partner, is that cheating?
It may be surprising, but I do believe that watching porn can be considered cheating, if the couple has never talked about and negotiated what role masturbation or fantasy about other people plays in their relationship. By that same standard, if the woman ever sexually fantasizes about someone else, or uses a vibrator or sex toy in secret, that could be cheating as well. The answer is really not to view these things as "cheating" or "dirty secrets," but to have conversations about their values and beliefs about sex, including sexual privacy that an individual holds in their own mind. It's important these conversations come from a place of sexual self-knowledge and acceptance, and respect of the other. Sadly, that's difficult, and most people aren't well prepared for those conversations. A big part of my book is meant to prepare them.

What should a guy do to get his partner to watch porn with him?
The best approach, which I explore in the book, is for men to talk to their partner about what porn is for them, and what it isn't. And to approach their partner, accepting and understanding that those fears are there, and that their partner is not stupid or ignorant for having them. I encourage guys to treat a visit to Pornland like taking their girlfriend on a tour of dive bars: One of you has to stay sober to drive home. I give some guidance on how a guy can be a good, responsible and sensitive tour guide, which might lead to return trips together. Couples who watch porn together actually have better, healthier sex lives and relationships, but it takes sophisticated interpersonal skills to get there.
It's still pretty rare that men have these kinds of frank discussions about pornography. What would you say to encourage more men to open up about it?

I'd emphasize that porn is just sexual fantasy made visual, made external, where others can see it. Our fears and concerns over porn are truly our fears and concerns over sexual fantasy. There are fantasies and desires that we think are unhealthy, or that people shouldn't have, or that we wish they didn't have. But, we all have fantasies we keep secret, and which we fear others will judge. The reality is that there is currently little to no evidence that any sexual fantasies—even the scary or illegal ones—actually change peoples' behaviors. And if our society is truly interested in reducing unhealthy sex, decreasing sexual violence, and protecting children, then we should focus on the strategies such as education, that will have the greatest impact, rather than panicking over porn.

John McMillian
VICE

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