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March 12, 2022

An Explanation of how Internet Porn leads to Male Gender Violence (& why we Need to Care).

Statistically speaking, a lot of men regularly look at internet porn (and quite a few women as well, of course).

That means that many of us have been turned on by images of women being objectified, disrespected, and/or abused, because, if you’ve looked at any porn sites recently, you’ll know that they’re not generally where you’d find examples of consensual female-friendly, non-violent, or gender-equal sexuality.

Does this mean that most men are sexist pigs who secretly want to dominate and abuse women? I don’t think so. But it did come as a bit of a shock for me to realise that I’ve never asked any of my friends if they get turned on by porn; and if so, by what kind? Which is strange, seeing as we encourage each other to talk about everything else that’s going on for us and are, otherwise, ready to bare our souls and share our deepest feelings—including the toughies like shame and vulnerability.

So why the reluctance to talk about our porn-watching habits? For one thing, I think it’s hard for men who think of themselves as (or at least aspire to be) fundamentally “good,” and have no interest in harming women in any way, to come to terms with the fact that they enjoy depictions of sex showcasing male dominance that are out of sync with their belief on gender equality.

For me, the ambivalence of male sexuality that’s represented in a lot of porn is the “dinosaur in the room” that we all know is there but try to ignore. And that is a mistake because looking closer at it could help us better understand the multi-layered nature of masculine desire and provide some insights into how we, as men, could celebrate and express our maleness without causing harm, and move us all closer to a time when no woman would ever need to be afraid to walk anywhere by themselves.

One thing’s for sure: a permanent “man-demic” of male gender violence has been raging around most of the planet for millennia, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Look at the increase in domestic abuse cases in recent years and the relentless news stories about random attacks against women.

So why is no one trying harder to understand the causes of this male dis-ease that causes so much harm, or to find an effective antidote in the same way that we’ve done—with such urgency and effectiveness—for that other pandemic that’s been such a big part of our lives?

 

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Going back to porn: we know that it affects our brains like a class-A drug, but I also think that porn creates a more insidious type of addiction, because although being a regular user seemingly has no physical side effects, it can still mess up the emotional and relational parts of our lives. This is an area that many men already feel uncertain about, so maybe any damage being done isn’t always apparent to them, although it may well be to their wives and partners.

Most porn promotes the objectification of, and disrespect for, women, and in that sense, it undermines the movement toward greater gender equality and safety.

We all know about the kind of damage that misogynistic attitudes can lead to and the enormous cost of those to the well-being of women and girls. So to change that, we surely need to understand what it is that makes images of women being dominated so appealing to some men and boys.

One possible psychological explanation is that because boys were pushed away from a mother’s breast at an early age, later on in life, they project the buried anger and resentment that gets projected on to any woman. It’s not the same for girls, though, because they have a stronger identification with the all-powerful maternal figure.

Combined with the deep anxiety that many men have about being “men enough” that is created by the absence of a father-figure who could pass on to them the mantle of self-confident masculinity, and a resulting primal fear of being passed over by women as a potential mating partner, this results in a hidden fear and hatred of everything “feminine,” which finds a release in looking at women who are being controlled, and is made safe in porn.

 

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For some anxious men, porn isn’t enough and terrorising a woman provides temporary relief from their feelings of shame and fear and gives them the comforting sense that they are stronger than their victim. Women’s fear of them is a distorted substitute for the respect they secretly crave.

Others get their sense of security from starting a war, killing innocent people, or manipulating citizens into overrunning their own government buildings. It feels appropriate—and unnecessary—to point out that current events and recent history is “littered” with all too many examples of this.

The truth is, however much we men may try to project an image of relaxed confidence, almost all of us need two kinds of reassurance: namely, that we are worthy of love and accepted for who we are; and that our personal expression of male-ness is “manly” enough and deserving of respect. When he is sure of these, a man can sidestep his fears of being inadequate and feel comfortable in being himself. This will make him safer to be around for women and girls he comes into contact with and may make the world a safer place for all of us.

By trying to explain male violence, I’m not in any way trying to excuse it. But without understanding what’s behind their harmful behaviour, we can’t know how to change it.

By recognising the male needs that are fulfilled by porn, individual men and society can look for more life-affirming ways of meeting them.

A good way I’ve found to gain more confidence in my value as a hu-man has been to participate in a regular men’s group, where I have the opportunity and encouragement to own up to my insecurities and be relieved to find that I’m not the only man there who feels them.

You can probably guess the first question I’ll be asking my brothers at our next gathering!

I’m genuinely curious to know how many of us look at porn and what we think about it. Answering honestly might not be easy, but in the spirit of aiming to change only those things we have any control over, I hope it will be a good way for us to learn more about our own buried needs and feelings, so we can reflect on how to manage them well as part of our shared aim to be good models of “healthy masculinity.”

 

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