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The Normalization of Incest and Violence in Porn Made Me Give it Up Forever

“I chose to give up porn, in part, because of the growing trend of extreme and disturbing sexual content to web visitors. Today, it’s no longer a trend. Extreme pornography is here to stay.”

By September 1, 2021No Comments
This post was originally published in the Chicago Tribune. It has been shared with the author’s permission.

Many people contact Fight the New Drug to share their personal stories about how porn has affected their life or the life of a loved one. We consider these personal accounts very valuable because, while the science and research is powerful within its own right, personal accounts from real people seem to really hit home about the damage that pornography does to real lives.

This guy's experience sheds light on how porn has rapidly evolved in the last 20, even 10, years. Whenever porn is talked about, it should be understood that Playboy centerfolds are no longer the norm, but violent, extreme, and humiliating content is.

Eight years ago I made the decision to stop viewing pornography.

I chose to do so, in part, because of the growing trend of offering up extreme and disturbing sexual content to web visitors. Today, it’s no longer a trend. This extreme form of pornography is here to stay.

My journey to stop viewing porn started when I followed a suggestion from a friend to check out an adult website he had discovered. I had viewed a lot of videos, but my favorite porn medium was to read stories. I preferred the anticipation and back-story over jumping straight into the action the way a lot of adult videos do.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

That night I logged onto the site my friend suggested and I went straight to the “most popular” sex stories section. I was disturbed when nearly every story subtly introduced a theme I had never encountered in porn before: incest. No matter how carefully I first checked the title, category tag, or story description, that theme kept popping up.

I decided to leave the “most popular” section and quickly discovered that some of the other categories were even more alarming. I never visited that website again, and within a few months, I made the decision to stop viewing pornography altogether.

I haven’t seen it in any way, shape or form since then. I could write a book about the benefits I’ve experienced in my life as a result, but I’ll save that for another time.

Store - General

The sheer magnitude of porn

Fast-forward to April 2018. I was doing research for an article I was writing when I did a Google search for “most visited websites in the world.”

I clicked on a link from the data-tracking website SimilarWeb that showed the top 50 most frequently visited sites worldwide. I wasn’t surprised to see Google, Facebook, and YouTube in the top three, but I was surprised to see an adult site in sixth place and especially surprised to see the name of that site I had encountered all those years earlier in 11th place. I clicked on the stats.

It was the 11th most visited website in the world and the eighth-most visited site in America. Then I saw the estimated number of visits that site receives: 2.74 billion monthly. (Contrast that to the kind of porn that was popular in my father’s generation. Playboy.com currently ranks as the 28,943rd most visited website in the world today—a far cry from 11th place.)

Related: How Porn Can Become An Escalating Behavior

I clicked on the link to go to the porn site. I had no temptation to view any of the videos or read any of the stories. I went straight to the “sex stories” section to see if any of those extreme categories I remembered were still being featured. They all were. Worse, I discovered several more disturbing categories to choose from.

Many are too graphic to print, but here are a few samples: mind control, murder, slavery, violence, bestiality, nonconsensual sex, body modification, cruelty, drug, rape, reluctance, snuff, torture, young, blackmail, males/teen females, humiliation and a category dedicated to what I now know is one of the site’s favorite themes: incest.

The evolution of porn

I was disgusted. I thought, how is it possible that enough people have an appetite for such things to dedicate entire categories to each one?

That’s when I saw that the site shows you how many people have viewed each story. The first three stories I saw listed—ranked only by most recently published—had been viewed a combined 1,090,332 times. I didn’t click on any of the individual stories, but some of the titles suggested rape, torture, and capturing young victims.

I was seething. I set up a time to sit down with two friends who are struggling with what they describe as “pornography addiction.” I met with each individually and told them about what I had discovered. I asked if they had encountered any of those themes in the adult sites they frequent.

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

They both confirmed that extreme sexual themes are now everywhere. What surprised me most was that they confessed they encountered such themes so often that they’re no longer aroused by anything else. They told me they had never gone online seeking anything like it in the first place, but found these disturbing themes were introduced so frequently, and in such subtle and unexpected ways, that eventually they stopped being interested in anything else.

I’ll let the experts debate what impact the mass consumption of such pornographic themes may have on society, and I’ll stick to what I do know—that these extreme sexual themes are viewed millions of times every month on a site more popular in the United States than Twitter, Instagram or Netflix.

That thought keeps me up at night.

Daryl

Store - Trafficking

The guinea pig Pornhub generation

The Playboy generation is now having to address extreme content with the Pornhub generation.

As the internet has grown, it has also allowed for more graphic and more extreme pornographic content. With so much porn available, pornographers compete for consumers’ attention by constantly pushing boundaries and exploiting taboos.

According to studies analyzing the content of popular porn videos, it’s estimated that as little as 35.0% and as much as 88.2% of scenes show acts of physical aggression or violence, while 48.7%—about half—contain verbal aggression.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence against women, 16(10), 1065–1085. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  

These studies also found that women were the targets of aggression or violence about 97% of the time.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  And yet another study found that 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

“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… involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.”Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 

BHW - The World

In our post-Playboy world, porn now routinely features degradation, abuse, and humiliation of people in a way never before seen in the mass media.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY  “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago,” Doidge explains. “The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear.”Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 

Today, porn’s effects have permeated nearly every aspect of our lives. Technology has changed not only the content of porn, but also how, when, and at what age people begin consuming it. Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14-18 year-old males and 57% of 14-18 year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY 

But what’s the big deal? What’s the harm in a little violent, humiliating fantasy?

We’re glad you asked.

Like it or not, porn has real impacts

So how does this normalization of sexual violence affect porn consumers? Well, according to neuroscientific studies, with repeated exposure to porn, consumers can become desensitized to some sexual content and may need to consume increasingly extreme content in order to get the same rush as before.Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY 

By watching scene after scene of dehumanizing or violent content, it can start to seem normal.Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001COPY Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860COPY  In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.COPY Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598COPY  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538COPY  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8COPY Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198COPY  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2COPY  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4COPY Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111COPY Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY 

Related: “In This Industry, You’re No Longer Human”: Study Reveals Many Performers’ Exploitation In Porn

Get The Facts

Research also suggests that increased pornography consumption is associated with the enjoyment of degrading, uncommon, or aggressive sexual behaviors.Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860COPY  Another study indicated that teens often report trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, and that the pressure to imitate porn was often an aspect of unhealthy relationships.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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY  And according to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, 16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCOPY 

Of course, not all porn features physical violence, but it’s important to recognize that even non-violent porn has been shown to be associated with negative effects like increased sexual aggression.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY  And whether or not porn portrays sexual violence, it often glorifies other toxic narratives, including racism, sexism, incest, and the fetishization of marginalized people.

See the issue, now? Porn is not an issue of private, harmless fantasy—it’s a public health issue. The collective habits of millions of people are undoubtedly having an impact in society, and it’s up to us to raise awareness that a porn-free life is healthier for everyone.