Skeptics of pornography’s danger point out that porn has been around a long time. After all, the ancient Greeks painted sexual images on their pottery. But comparing paintings on Greek vases to today’s endless stream of live-action, hardcore videos is like comparing apples to…um…kumquats. Technology is changing not only the content of porn, but how, when, and at what age we watch it.

The year was 1953, and Hugh Heffner had just published the first copy of Playboy.

Sex had just started to become a more prominent part of American’s cultural conversation, thanks partly to Dr. Alfred Kinsey who, five years earlier, had published a controversial but extremely popular book on sexuality. [1] He was heralded as one of the first scientists and writers to talk so openly about sexuality, and his books went flying off the shelves. [2]

Heffner saw a chance to make money from the changing cultural views about sex. But to maximize sales of his new magazine he had to change porn’s image from something your friend’s creepy uncle might read to something sophisticated and mainstream. So Heffner put his pornographic photos next to essays and articles written by respected authors. In Playboy, porn started to look like nothing more than a gentleman’s pursuit, a harmless pleasure engaged in by respectable and successful individuals.

Flash forward to the 1980s, when VCRs suddenly made it possible for people to watch movies at home. [3] For porn users, that meant that instead of having to go to seedy movie theaters on the wrong side of town, they just went to the back room at their local movie rental place. Sure, they still had to go out to find it, but porn was a lot more accessible.

And then the Internet changed everything. [4]

Once porn hit the Web in the 1990s, suddenly there was nothing but a few keystrokes between anyone with an Internet connection and the most graphic material available. [5] The online porn industry exploded. Between 1998 and 2007, the number of pornographic websites grew by 1,800%. [6] By 2004, porn sites were getting three times more visitors than Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search put together. [7] It was “big business” in a way the world had never seen before. Thirty percent of all Internet data was related to porn, [8] and worldwide porn revenues (including Internet, sex shops, videos rented in hotel rooms, etc.) grew to exceed the incomes of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink combined! [9]

As Internet porn grew more popular; it also turned darker, more graphic, and more extreme. With so much porn available, pornographers tried to compete for attention by constantly pushing the boundaries. [10] “Thirty years ago ‘hardcore’ pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse,” writes Dr. Norman Doidge, a neuroscientist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself. “Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes … all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.” [11] In our post-Playboy world, porn now features degradation, abuse, and humiliation of females in a way never before seen in the mass media. [12] “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago,” Doidge explains. “The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear … now show up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.” [13]

As the popularity of Internet porn grew like wildfire, so did its influence. Network television shows, pay-per-view channel series, and movies began to up the ante with more and more graphic content as they scrambled to keep the attention of audiences accustomed to Internet porn. [14] Between 1998 and 2005, the number of sex scenes on American TV shows nearly doubled, [15] and it wasn’t just happening on adult programs. In a study conducted in 2004 and 2005, 70% of the 20 TV shows most often watched by teens included sexual content, and nearly half showed sexual behavior. [16] And for the first time, porn was becoming a routine part of teen life and a major way adolescents learned about sex. [17]

By now, porn’s effects have soaked into every aspect of our lives. [18] Popular video games now feature full nudity. [19] Snowboards marketed to teens are plastered with images of porn stars. [20] Even children’s toys have become more sexualized. [21]

Technology has changed not only the content of the porn young people watch, but also how, when, and at what age they watch it. By the time they turn 14 years old, two out of three boys in the U.S. have viewed porn in the last year, [22] and many are watching it on devices they have with them 24 hours a day.

The argument that porn is nothing new—that it’s been around forever and never caused any great harm—seems pretty silly when you think about how different today’s porn is from anything that existed before. Porn is incomparably more accessible, more widespread, and more extreme than anything that existed even a generation ago. Those dog-eared bra catalogs or centerfold magazines that your dad passed around with his friends when he was a kid were nothing compared to what youth can look at today. [23]

This ain’t your daddy’s porn.

The good news is that in response to the unprecedented spread of pornography there are an unprecedented number of resources and people who want to help, whether by spreading the truth about pornography or helping those who feel caught in its undertow. Today’s pornography is a new phenomenon unlike anything humankind has ever seen, but the values that can push porn back are as old as humanity itself: wisdom, vigilance, and a commitment to real love.

Citations
[1] Brown, T. M., & Fee, E. (2003). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Pioneer of Sex Research. American Journal of Public Health 93(6), 896-897. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447862/
[2] Brown, T. M., & Fee, E. (2003). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Pioneer of Sex Research. American Journal of Public Health 93(6), 896-897. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447862/
[3] Kalman, T.P. (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4) 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593; McAline, D. (2001). Interview on American Porn. Frontline, PBS, August.
[4] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Kalman, T.P. (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4) 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold & Co., 3; McCarthy, B. W. (2002). The Wife’s Role in Facilitating Recovery from Male Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 9, 4: 275–84. doi:10.1080/10720160216045; Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of Cybersex Addiction on the Family: Results of a Survey. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1-2), 31–58. Retrieved from http://www.jenniferschneider.com/articles/cybersex_family.html
[5] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[6] Websense Research Shows Online Pornography Sites Continue Strong Growth. (2004). PRNewswire.com, April 4.
[7] Porn More Popular than Search. (2004). InternetWeek.com, June 4.
[8] Negash, S., Van Ness Sheppard, N., Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2016). Trading Later Rewards for Current Pleasure: Pornography Consumption and Delay Discounting. Journal of Sex Research, 53(6), 689-700. doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1025123; Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined. (2013, May 4). Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/03/internet-porn-stats_n_3187682.html
[9] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184
[10] Woods, J. (2012). Jamie Is 13 and Hasn’t Even Kissed a Girl. But He’s Now On the Sex Offender Register after Online Porn Warped His Mind. Daily Mail (U.K.), April 25.
[11] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[12] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184
[13] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[14] Caro, M. (2004). The New Skin Trade. Chicago Tribune, September 19.
[15] Kunkel, D., Eyal, K., Finnerty, K., Biely, E., and Donnerstein, E. (2005). Sex on TV 4. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
[16] Peter, J. and Valkenburg, P. M. (2007). Adolescents’ Exposure to a Sexualized Media Environment and Their Notions of Women as Sex Objects. Sex Roles 56,(5-6), doi:381–95.10.1007/s11199-006-9176-y
[17] Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441; Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., and Nelson, L. J. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(1), 6–30. doi:10.1177/0743558407306348
[18] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 102; Caro, M. (2004). The New Skin Trade. Chicago Tribune, September 19.
[19] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.
[20] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.
[21] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[22] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
[23] Price, J., Patterson, R., Regnerus, M., & Walley, J. (2016). How Much More XXX is Generation X Consuming? Evidence of Changing Attitudes and Behaviors Related to Pornography Since 1973. Journal of Sex Research, 53(1), 12-20. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.1003773

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