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Sex Sells, But in Today’s Porn Culture, Objectification and Dehumanizing Violence Sell More

By May 31, 2019 No Comments

In wake of the #MeToo movement, society has become quick to condemn sexual violence yet reluctant to acknowledge what drives, legitimizes, and eroticizes this violence.

Porn reinforces the attitude that if you diminish someone’s humanity, you can do whatever you want to them. After all, objects can’t have feelings or respond—since they are, by definition, objects.

Related: How Porn Dehumanizes Women Through Sexual Objectification

Here’s what research shows about porn contributing to objectifying attitudes and behaviors, its impact on real people, and what this could mean for society’s future.

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Recent research on objectification and violence against women

Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of the Australia-based movement Collective Shout, is a writer and speaker against the objectification and sexualization of women and girls. She recently spoke at the 2018 Coalition To End Sexual Exploitation Summit where she highlighted recent research on how porn fuels and legitimizes violence, specifically against women.

The research she shared is staggering, and if we care about ending the normalization of violence in society, we should be paying attention.

One study found that adolescent consumption of internet porn is linked to the attitude that sex is “primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational.” Porn consumption is also linked to the acceptance of male dominance and female submission, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires.”

In 2012, the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn negatively impacts attitudes about sex, relationships, and body image. It also desensitizes young people to violent and sexually aggressive acts and diminishes their sympathy for sexual assault victims.

A recent meta-analysis examining the link between porn and sexual violence found that porn consumption was associated with an increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression.

In a 2013 study on the effect of access and exposure to porn on young people, researchers “found compelling evidence that too many boys believe they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys demands, regardless of their own wishes.”

Dr. Jill Manning, a psychologist from Colorado, reported, “I’m witnessing more female adolescents tolerating emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in dating relationships, feeling pressure to make out with females as a way to turn boys on, looking at or producing pornography so that their boyfriends will think they are ‘open-minded’ and ‘cool,’ and normalizing sexual abuse done to them because they see the same acts eroticized in pornography—after all, how bad can it be if the larger culture around you finds abusive and demeaning acts a turn on?

Related: Sexual Objectification Linked To Physical Aggression, Research Shows

Many young people look to porn as their primary sex educator long before they’ve had their first kiss. For a lot of them, their first sexual encounter is seeing rape, torture, or incest on a screen.

It’s not difficult to understand how they perceive what they’re seeing as “normal”—especially when these attitudes and behaviors are reinforced through popular media.

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In Reist’s interviews with teens, girls reported feeling pressure to put what someone wants out of them physically above their own self-worth. In porn, women are willing and eager to try anything, and girls feel “prudish” if they don’t participate.

Girls also said they want romance, but they usually have to pay for it first with a sex act. How is this acceptable or healthy?

Reist also observed that the way many boys talk about sex mirrors a porn script—“hounding” a girl to get what they want, or giving her a “pounding” in place of authentic love and intimacy.

The impact of sexualization in mainstream media

Why is it that these harmful attitudes reflect how so many people think and act today? It’s likely in large part due to objectification and porn culture being reinforced in everyday life. And if you think this is far-fetched, check out the data.

A 2016 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that sexually objectifying portrayals of women occur all too frequently in mainstream media—raising critical questions about how exposure to this content can impact others impressions of women and women’s views of themselves.

“A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed. The findings provided consistent evidence that regular, everyday exposure to this content is directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women…Exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.”

Related: Study Shows Men’s Porn Habits Increase Their Partner’s Objectification & Body Shame

Think about where you’ve seen normalized objectification in the media.

Chances are, the answer is everywhere—like sexualized clothing advertisements, misogynist t-shirts, or movie posters that show a woman’s body but not her face.

Sexual violence, often toward women, is reinforced in puns, memes, and degrading sexual innuendos on social media. Women are objectified in pop culture and song lyrics, window displays in shopping malls, and advertisements on city buses. Women are often raped and beaten in video games and blockbuster movies.

Related: Can You Tell The Difference Between #MeToo Stories And Porn Plot Lines?

Female bodies are commodified and commercialized throughout popular media—fueled by porn culture and rationalized by the idea that “sex sells.” But we’re learning that sex isn’t the only thing that sells—dehumanization and objectification sell, too.

Is it any wonder that researchers find an astonishing increase in violence against women when these attitudes and behaviors are consumed by millions every day through porn and mainstream media?

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What you can do

It’s time we put an end to the porn industry getting a free pass when it comes to the dehumanization of women and girls—and men and boys, too.

People aren’t products or simply a collection of body parts to be used, consumed, and discarded. Each person exploited through porn and the resulting mainstream media—and each of you reading this, right now—deserve so much better than that.

With research continually showing how harmful porn is, we can take a stand against these harmful ideals, fight for our humanity, and give a voice to those who can’t fight for themselves.

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