Anecdotally, professionals in schools and criminal justice blame the prevalence of porn [for high levels of sexual violence]: if we accept that it’s everywhere, we need to spread more assiduously the message that normal sex isn’t defined by violence. There is a growing argument – distilled by the science writer Gary Wilson – that mainstream pornography does more than map toxic behaviour to people who don’t have much else to navigate by; that it actively depletes empathy and interrupts the bonds of intimacy. There’s a line too that this scornful misogyny is merely the sexual component of a broader possessive individualism. In a world where people are defined by their ability to consume, all relationships are transactional.
The Youtube video Williams links to is interesting, but doesn’t actually say anything specific about empathy or atomisation. Gary Wilson is the creator of ‘Your Brain on Porn‘ (YBOP), and the website amasses a large body of evidence – although the science is not conclusive (but then beyond A levels, science rarely is).
The problem I have with this approach to pornography is that it is only interested in how porn affects men; women are incidental, and only of interest in relation to men (whether the man has a satisfying relationship with one). Despite William’s summery above, I have not seen anything on YBOP about how men’s attitudes to porn hurt women: there is no obvious reference to sexual violence or unreasonable sexual demands, beyond the fact that the latter hurt a guy by scaring women off and stopping him having a fulfilling relationship.
There is also zero about how porn production harms the women used to make it (there is more than one joke in the video about ‘hot babes’), showing again that this approach is all about men (there is a section on YBOP about female porn addicts, but that still doesn’t address the harm done to women used to make porn).
The fact is, even if porn use was completely harmless to the men (and women) who used it, porn would still be harmful. It harms the women used to make it, it harms the women who are forced to reenact it, and it harms us all by reducing us to objects.