Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Porn & Pop Culture: A Deadly Combination

The following article is cross-posted with permission from Beauty Redefined and was written by Lexie Kite.  Lexie argues that pop culture has adopted the features of pornography to such a great extent that they have become the norm.

As I stated in my post “Victoria’s not so Secret,” this “pornification” of products happens very frequently. Women’s products are marketed as ways to gather power and value through sexuality. The movement of wide scale and public exposure of women in sexy lingerie is fairly recent. Even 20 years ago, the Sears catalogue featuring under garments was just that, a catalogue showing products. The modern Victoria’s Secret catalogue features women also wearing underwear, but frequently the models are in poses that are identical to those in pornographic magazines. The pictures are clearly designed to connect the product with the increase in the purchaser’s sexual attractiveness.

What’s disturbing to me about this is that the products and the sexualized images are now featured larger than life in local malls everywhere. When I walk through the mall with my six-year-old daughter, she sees a woman rolling around with only scraps of clothing covering her. This is not okay with me. It teaches my daughter to view a woman’s body as a commodity to be traded. Read on to hear Lexie’s view of the infiltration of pornography into  pop culture.

In the last year, I have spent hours on the phone with a good friend as she discovered her boyfriend’s heavy use of pornography and his eventual cheating on her.

I have cried with a colleague who carries the burden of finding out her dad, a long-time viewer of pornography, has cheated on her mom and she can’t bear to tell her.

I have listened to accounts of women whose lives were consumed by pornography that distanced them from any meaningful relationships.

I have been out with men who openly admitted to pornography addictions that broke up their marriages because they couldn’t resist the images.

I have spoken with women who stumbled upon pornography at age 6 or 7 that ended up teaching them how they should look, act and what they should value for a lifetime.

I have stayed up late into the night talking with a friend whose sisters were molested by her dad, a pornography addict who eventually committed suicide.

I have been invited to powerful meetings and heard about the staggering costs of pornography paid for by individuals, families, businesses and tax dollars.

Because of these heartwrenching experiences, I’ve directed my research to the ways pornography has infiltrated our lives and smoothly made its way into mainstream media, where it is presented as safe, normal and unquestioned. I know I’m not alone in my experiences, so let’s break the silence that surrounds this secretive, dangerous and addictive force in so many lives. Let’s break the silence about the pornography industry’s huge gains at the expense of the people within its grasp. Let’s break the silence on how such objectified, degrading images have become unbelievably prevalent and normalized in mainstream media. Though it may seem like an abnormal first step, we must begin by redefining our very definition of “pornography.”

Pornography Redefined

Before talking about the dangerous consequences of our porn-saturated culture – from sexual abuse to failed relationships and body hatred – we need to define what porn is. At this point, the average person hears the word “pornography” and imagines a computer, a vision of the World Wide Web, or a magazine hidden under a mattress. But scholars  define pornography as “a state of undress and a mode of representation that invites the sexualized gaze of the viewer” (ex: Mooney, 2008). Webster’s Dictionary describes it as “the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement.” Working from these definitions, we find these dangerous messages in many other places than just behind closed doors.  In fact, we find them everywhere. Academics and journalists seem to agree the line between pop culture and pornography has blurred in just the last 10 years. The last decade of our lives has been called “the rise of raunch,” “porno chic society” and “striptease culture,” which marks the way media makers incorporate sex into their messages while totally denying they are pornographic.

In the last 10 years, porn stars are now mainstream icons; the music industry continues to push the limits to the point of “soft-core” pornography in words and images; and, as author Gail Dines (2010) describes, the pornography industry has worked carefully and strategically to “sanitize its products by stripping away the ‘dirt’ factor and reconstituting porn as fun, edgy, sexy and hot.” Today, the Playboy brand is a hit phenomenon for men and women – featuring the hit TV shows “The Girls Next Door” with Hefner and his harem of blondes, “Kendra,” a former Playmate, “Holly” a Playmate of the Year and her Vegas Peep Show – or any number of movies (2008’s “House Bunny,” for example). Little girls adorn themselves in Playboy bunny T-shirts and young women apply to be Playboy Playmates every day as the ultimate in feminine accomplishment.

Playboy and companies like it openly celebrate their status as pornographic, while other powerful media corporations feature the same images packaged as “safe.” For example, Playboy, SI Swimsuit Issue, and Victoria’s Secret share many of the same models from year to year – all wearing little or no clothing. But Sports Illustrated is the “most respected voice in sports journalism,” so when the hotly anticipated Swimsuit Issue hits mailboxes and coffee tables, pornography quickly moves from beneath the mattress to your kitchen table. Victoria’s Secret is “for women” and they specifically claim their images are far from the “cheesiness” of pornography, but represent “beauty and artwork,” all while featuring women who also pose for Playboy and other pornographic outlets with nearly-nude poses perfectly reflecting porn, as discussed in my recent analysis.

But the “pornification of culture” goes SO much further. We’re not just talking about Victoria’s Secret’s ever-present images, nor are we only referring to the SI Swimsuit Issue as examples of normalized pornography. Many of the most popular TV shows feature pornography, or sex-focused images and talk, at every turn without censorship. Considering again that pornography includes any “mode of representation that invites the sexualized gaze of the viewer” or “the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement” (Webster’s 2011), we have to recognize that those images and messages are literally everywhere. Reality TV brings us “Jersey Shore,” “The Real World,” “Bad Girl’s Club,” etc.  Even basic cable TV shows that find their way into otherwise conservative households bring very sex-centered content at every turn, including “Desperate Housewives,” “Gossip Girl,” “90210,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and the list goes on for days.  Top movies every year feature women’s naked bodies and private acts watched by millions: “American Pie,” “Black Swan,” “Good Luck Chuck,” “Love and Other Drugs,” among thousands of others.

Television commercials don’t shy away from these images, either. Ever seen an Axe Body Spray commercial? They exclusively feature women in sexually degrading ways and are shown on TV all hours of the day. (And don’t forget Dove – the company that sells “self esteem” OWNS Axe Body Spray! Really, Dove, really?!) Pick up any number of popular men’s and women’s magazines, from Esquire andRolling Stone to Cosmopolitan and Shape, and you’ll find pornographic images and messages on display. Drive down the freeway and you’ll see sky-high billboards with parts of women’s bodies made to represent women themselves in sexually objectifying ways.

When we understand that pornography includes ALL of the depictions (in images or words) that are meant to invite a sexualized interpretation and incite sexual feelings, then we see that otherwise “mainstream” media choices are actually working as gateway drugs to more secret, addictive forms of pornography. These constant pornographic images and messages are causing boys, girls, men and women to be desensitized to images and messages that people would have RUN from just a few years ago. If seeing sex acts or nearly nude, zoomed-in images of objectified female bodies on network TV or billboards isn’t that shocking, then XXX Internet videos or blatantly pornographic magazines won’t seem like that much of a shock either.

We can’t forget that the Internet has contributed to skyrocketing rates of production and consumption of pornography, with an estimated 420 million pages of porn online, and 13,000 porn videos released annually while more than 900 million videos are rented (MEF, 2008).  In the 90s, hits on pornographic websites outranked ANY other website by 10 to 1. And today, the most powerful media corporations like CBS (who gains massive profit from airing the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show each year), Time Warner, and News Corporation collectively earn $1 billion annually from pornography, either by direct distribution or by producing and licensing porn-related content and cross-promoting it through their media outlets. Today, pornography has redefined itself as just another safe media message, and many media powerholders thrive off keeping it that way.

This is not just a feminist argument calling out all the harmfully objectifying messages we are exposed to every day in the name of female equality. This is a fight for male and female mental and physical health, for safety, for meaningful relationships, for women’s worth, for the power to recognize and reject these proven harmful influences if we want to. The power of pornographic images — presented to us as normal and natural in the last decade of our lives – is REAL and is worth fighting against.

Here’s why we must fight back:

* One in three American girls will be sexually molested by the age of 18 and 87 percent of convicted molesters of girls admit to viewing pornography (MEF, 2008).

* In 2009, a neurosurgeon revealed alarming evidence that pornography triggers changes in brain chemistry and functioning like those caused by cocaine and meth. These changes result in an “enslaving addiction” that damages the brain, reducing the size of the brain essential for self-control and prudent judgment. Other psychiatrists around the world echo these findings claiming that today’s ever-present pornography “is a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before.” (Dr. Donald Hilton, The Lighted Candle Society)

* Research tells us girls and women who learn from media to pay extra attention to the way they lookhave fewer mental resources available in their brains for other mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning and athletic performance (ex: Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003).

* Studies claim men and women who viewed just six hours of pornography (one hour each week for six weeks) reported significantly reduced satisfaction with their present relationship, both with their partner’s sexuality and appearance.  Participants also reported being faithful to their partner was less important by study’s end and their view of sex without emotional involvement rose in favor (Bryant & Zillman, 1988).

* A study of 813 college students across the US revealed 66.5% of college-aged men agreed viewing pornography is acceptable and 48.7% of college-aged females did. In all, 87% of men reported using pornography at some level, with one fifth reporting daily or every-other-day use and nearly HALF reporting a weekly or more frequent use pattern. One third of women reported using pornography at “some” level. AND these results revealed connections between porn acceptance/use and risky sexual attitudes and unsafe behaviors, as well as connections between pornography use and alcohol and drug use (Carroll and Padilla-Walker, 2008).

* A survey conducted by Employment Law Alliance found 25% of employees in the US visit pornographic sites during office hours in 2004.  Six years later, an investigation found the US Securities & Exchange Commission had 31 employees who were “serious offenders” of porn on the job: One senior attorney spent up to eight hours a day accessing Internet porn, an accountant attempted to access porn websites 1,800 times in two-weeks, another uploaded his own explicit videos onto porn sites on his work computer, and yet another attempted to access porn sites 16,000 times in a single month.

* Studies demonstrate repeated exposure to sexualized female bodies encourages women to view and value themselves from an outsider’s gaze, positively endorse sexually objectifying images in the future, and experience body hatred (for recent reviews, see Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Holmstrom, 2004).

* In 2003, the top 1,600 U.S. divorce attorneys submitted data showing 62% of the divorces they handled claimed the Internet as a major cause of divorce and 56% of those went further to claim “one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” Keep in mind the current no-fault divorce statute in place makes it advantageous for attorneys to entirely ignore and never record the causes of divorce, which means this 62% statistic is shocking and most likely drastically higher.

* Adolescent girls who value themselves primarily for how their bodies look to men, based on years of objectifying media images, make unhealthy sexual choices, measured by decreased condom use and weakened sexual assertiveness – the ability to say “no” (Impett, Schooler, and Tolman, 2006).

HOW YOU CAN FIGHT BACK!

RUN from Normalized Pornography: Sexual images and dialogue are now a normal part of media all hours of the day. You now know research is very clear that pornography changes the way men and women view each other, it gets in the way of us forming loving and healthy relationships with family and friends, it skews our perceptions of female bodies, our sense of self-worth, and leads to unhealthy choices. Do not just walk away – RUN FROM IT! We give power to media messages and images when we continue to view and read them. Recognize the ways pornographic images and content show up in regular, “mainstream” media and continually remind yourself to turn off those shows, put down those magazines, throw out those movies, block those websites, cancel those channels, etc. Recognizing and rejecting those normalized pornographic depictions can prevent us from falling into the trap of more blatant pornographic content later.

Be an Advocate for CHANGE: If this information is alarming to you and you’d like to get involved in fighting it on a larger scale than simply turning away, volunteer or apply to join with organizations that support civil litigation against those that profit from pornography, finance research to study the effects of pornography, publish information to help people combat it, and counsel those harmed by pornography.  A simple Internet search will give you contact information for many anti-pornography organizations that will help you get started in meaningful ways.

Go on a Media Fast: Choose a day, a week, a month, or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those you love. One group of male college students in Utah went on a “media fast” for three months, and at the end of that time, the men claimed they found the real women in their lives more beautiful while they were on the fast, and continued to find them more beautiful once the fast was over because they realized what real women look like when they weren’t bombarded with sexualized and unreal images of women in media.

Object to Objectification: Pay attention to media that is objectifying to women, which means it shows females as just PARTS of themselves. That happens when the camera pans up and down their bodies, or zooms in on certain body parts. This also takes place when magazines or movies and TV talk about women’s bodies in ways that degrade them and turn them into just body parts instead of thinking, feeling humans. Boys and men exposed to sexually objectifying messages learn to primarily view and value females for their outward appearance and actually endorse objectifying images in the future. The same goes for girls exposed to these messages. Yikes!

Take Media Into Your Own Hands: Post links or start discussions on blogs and social networking sites to continuously spark conversation about dangerous ideals like normalized pornography and to bring to light those who profit from us seeing those ideals. Join us on Facebook HERE for regular updates and links to share with your own friends and family. And when thinking about your future college studies and/or present career, consider going into journalism, advertising or media production so YOU can produce messages that uplift rather than degrade.

The Power of Media Makers: Media decisionmakers like editors, producers, writers, directors and web developers can and should disrupt the steady stream of sexualized messages by refusing to air or publish pornographic content, refusing advertising dollars from those that advertise with the use of sex-focused content, and use your voice to speak out against the onslaught of normalized pornography in media.

Make Your Voice Heard: If our suggestion to turn away from pornography is not enough for you, consider your fierce influence as an advocate for truth and uplifting messages. When you come across a company’s pornographic advertising or a magazine that objectifies women, speak up! Blogging your disapproval is a great start, and so is posting links to news stories that reveal harmful ideals or new research on social networking sites. If you’d like to go a step further, write to and/or call your local cable company, TV station, newspaper and any other media outlet perpetuating harmful messages. Get the word out that the media message you have seen is inappropriate and dangerous and threaten to boycott if it is not removed. If your complaints are not heard, do NOT patronize those institutions and suggest the same to your loved ones.

Check Your Vision: Be conscious of the vast amount of media we consume each day, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. In fact, the average American spends about 4.5 hours every day watching TV or movies and another 3.5 hours on the Internet, on top of being exposed to about 3,600 advertisements from every angle. As you go through your day, pay attention to what you see and what messages speak to the normalized pornographic images you read about here.

Get Help: If you find you are choosing to view pornography often, you feel addicted, or it is getting in the way of your productivity and healthy relationships, help is available. Hundreds of counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists specialize in treating pornography addiction and you are not alone. Though pornography addiction is dangerous and often “enslaving,” you can fight it and win. Speak to a health professional immediately and take your power back!

By Lexie Kite, 2011. “Let’s Talk About Sex: Pop Culture & Pornography” Published atwww.beautyredefined.net on March 1, 2011.

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One comment on “Porn & Pop Culture: A Deadly Combination

  1. Alvin Mc Lean SR
    May 24, 2011

    I would like to thnak you for your artical. Everything you said is true. For many years I have battled a porn adiction. In my case I was molested as a young boy. I grew up in a alcoholic family that did not show any affection toward me. So I thought that the molestation was a way of saying I love you. I got attached to porn at a young age and has struggled with it most of my life. I am married with three kids that I thank God. I did not molest. But my porn addiction has distence me from them. My first computer increased my addiction. In a time when I should have spent time with my kids, I was veiwing porn. My position in the community is very promonent, so I was affraid to seek help. I thank God for you and many like the Pink Cross organazation that I am on the road to recovery. As you said main stream media is a showing to much porn. This has been the biggest part of my battle. Every day media has been my biggest temptation. I have had to stop watching a lot of prime time tv because of it’s content. I want you to know that I for one thank you for your study. I am not closer to my kids and my wife and I have renewed our relationship. Thier is so much I want to share. But I am young in my recovery. Not many of my friends understand that they are part of my problem. I am at a very fragile state in my recovery now. I ame working toward the day I can use my recovery to help others in thiers. I aske your prayers and support in this fight. Your artical has so much truth in it. I pray one day I can open my full identity to the world and let them know I have overcome. Thank you for all you do

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