Porn lessons

Showing adult films on campus debases both men and women

April 05, 2009|By Gail Dines

So the porn industry is now in the business of educating our youth. A spokesman for Digital Playground expressed disappointment with the cancellation of a public screening of one of the company's porn movies at the University of Maryland, College Park, claiming that showing such a movie "opens up a discussion, a discourse on sexuality and gender roles."

Actually, it does no such thing. Showing porn movies on campus creates a hostile and dangerous environment for its female students, it distorts how students think about sex and it debases both men and women.

This generation of college students has grown up with hard-core porn just a click away, and the men who use it (the average age of first downloading porn is 11.5 years old) begin to see the world through a pornographic lens.

Whereas previous generations had to go to seedy porn shops or movie theaters to view porn, today there are thousands of porn sites that depict anything from images of couples having sex to violent and degrading images of women being verbally and physically abused as they beg for more. The porn industry has reported that more-violent porn is the most popular among male users and that porn fans are demanding harder and harder images. This is not good news given what we know about the ways that porn shapes how men think about themselves, about women and about sex.

Over the last 30 years or so, there has been a wealth of research into the effects of porn, and the weight of the evidence suggests that men are negatively affected by the images. Pamela Paul interviewed hundreds of men in her book Pornified and found that regular users reported desensitization and habituation to porn and boredom with their sex life and their sex partners. Some even admitted to pushing women into doing sex acts that they were uncomfortable with.

In my own interviews, I have found that college-age men are increasingly becoming addicted to porn, often spending huge amounts of time and money they could ill afford surfing the porn Web sites.

Psychologists Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz state that therapists are increasingly seeing porn addicts become a major part of their practice.

One of the main problems with porn is that it presents unreal images of men and women. Women are reduced to a series of body parts, devoid of any humanity, bodily integrity or free will. They exist only for sex. Women are eager to do whatever men want to do to them. Men, on the other hand, are shown as totally lacking any empathy or connection to other human beings. Porn images transmit the message that women like to be sexually brutalized and debased and that sex for men is a way to conquer women. These images are potentially lethal in a society where women are the victims of male violence.

It is no surprise that college students want to see porn; they have grown up in a world saturated with pornographic images. Turn on MTV, flick through a fashion magazine or just watch the ads on television, and what you see is a barrage of hyper-sexualized images of young, barely clothed women gazing provocatively at the camera.

Discussions about sex and gender roles should take place at a university because, after all, this is where students learn - or ought to learn - to become critical thinkers about the world they live in. Classes need to focus on the pop culture images that form our visual landscape, and the ways that pornography is seeping into our mainstream culture. What we don't need is to add legitimacy to the porn industry by showing one of their movies just for fun.

Gail Dines, a sociology professor at Wheelock College in Boston, is the author of the forthcoming book "Porn Gone Wild: How Pornography is Shaping our Sexuality," and founding member of Stop Porn Culture. She can be contacted at

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