This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
It is nearly impossible to peel socio-cognitive development from exposure to media. It’s relevance echoes from our early infancy, where developmental researchers have found that children rely on these cues given by their caregivers to guide them on how and when act in ambiguous situations. The technical term for this is called anchoring, and it is a skill can be generalized well throughout the lifespan, as we are always subconsciously taking in information from our surroundings, and integrating it into our social network. We pick up on these cues from the community we are affiliated with, the newspapers we choose to read and with the media we are exposed to. The lessons we learn from media echos in our daily interactions all the time. It tells us that if we keep a beer in our hand, we could be conditioned to feeling less nervous. It tells us what kind of clean crisp shirt is appropriate for a job interview. It also tells us it’s inappropriate to shout in art galleries and grocery stores, but not concerts and birthday parties.
With that said, pornography is no exception to this phenomenon. Even an individual who is exposed to a resourceful sexual education cannot magically neglect the information one takes in while watching pornography. Can you blame us? Human beings are physiologically inclined to perceive and internalize visual stimuli more strongly than other senses, so it’s no surprise that sex we see on screen is something that ‘sticks’ with us. Pornography has now become the norm for youth, with 87% of boys and 31% of girls reported being exposed to it at one point.
More and more, I’m finding the underlying message of how porn is talked about in regards to sex education is it emphasizes the importance of segregating porn as ‘fantasy’ and sex as ‘real’. With that said, it is very tempting emphasize the degradation and objectification found in mainstream pornography, or perhaps has dismissed it as being “for entertainment purposes only”. The idea is peppered in any intro level social psych or gender studies class, and fuels a few of the spicier Tedtalks. I have two main problems with this well-educated (and, let’s face it, slightly presumptuous) attitude:
(1) If research tells us that we are learning from porn, but education tells us we shouldn’t, then what are we supposed to do?
This sounds like a mixed message that could definitely leave the audience confused. If we feel like we are learning a skill by using a resource that has been told is unreliable, then it leaves room for guilt and shame to creep in, which really doesn’t help open up a dialogue. Information comes from all walks of life, and oftentimes not all of it comes from academia and research. It’s important to embrace the lessons we learn, and provide a space where people can talk openly and share these experiences with one another.
(2) It tends to generalize all styles of pornography and lump it into one type.
Of course we know this is not true and that there are in fact, a plethora of pornography that exists, each carrying it’s own brand and message.
Nina Hartley* is an incredible example of this. Both a porn star and a registered nurse, she has always been a strong voice advocating the importance of creating sex-positive pornography that strengthens and educates us about sexuality. This is a powerful message, as not only does it create an accepting environment as a consumer of porn, but also it celebrates that multi-faceted understanding of sexuality as a whole.
Keeping to this theme, Blue Artichoke Films** is a production company that also aims to make films more sex-positive, and focuses more on the intimacy and emotional unfolding of the interactions. This quality is seen down to the nitty gritty real-time editing, in an attempt to captive the heat of the moment.
However, it should be noted that I’m not in the belief that pornography is a substitute for sex education all together, but I do believe the subject could be incorporated in the curriculum with a little more warmth. Sometimes I feel like porn is a subject that is not sure how to be dealt with within the sex education curriculum because of it’s artistic elements of fantasy, but it is not to say that it’s relevance should be dismissed entirely.
With that said, we are slowly coming to the small space where fantasy and reality meet. The trends in media are working towards finding ways to make it more interactive with the audience. We see it in how we watch sports, how we take in news, and how we interact with our friends and family online. This is a really exciting time for us, because now more than ever, it is so easy to gain knowledge, and create a message that can be heard. By generalizing and dismissing pornography, it leaves very little room to make it constructive, and certainly does not leave any room for change in the industry. Pornography is an industry just like any other, and akin to other industries, it changes and shifts based on our demands as a consumer. This leaves us with an incredible opportunity for us to support and direct it to a healthier outlet. This allows ample initiative as a consumer to educate oneself about what kinds of messages we want to see in pornography, and where we can go to support those who give this message.
*For more information on Nina Hartley: http://www.nina.com/
** For more information of Blue Artichoke Films: http://blueartichokefilms.com/
For one of Shanna’s posts on Feminist and Ethical Pornography (including what it is, companies making it, etc), check this out: http://shannakatz.com/2011/02/21/what-is-ethicalfeminist-pornography/