Porn Literacy
Feature Articles

Porn Literacy

April 26, 2024

By Sunita Menon, Psychotherapist – Specialised in CBT & Sex Therapy

Pornography (sexually stimulating material) is only one form of Cybersex. Albeit the most well-known one. But cybersex also includes other online sexual behaviours like sex shops (purchasing sexual toys and materials), sex work (online sexual activity and marketing of offline sex work), sex education (information related to sex), sex contacts (finding contacts for online or offline sexual activities in chat rooms, dating apps and other online communities) and sexual subcultures (connecting with others who have similar sexual preferences).

In other words, all sexual activity conducted via internet or with the use of a computer or mobile device comes under the umbrella term of cybersex. Cooper (1998) referred to the internet as the triple A engine for it allows the user (of cybersex) Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity.

But before we consider Porn all evil, let’s attempt at getting Porn Literate. To begin with, it’s important to remind ourselves that Pornography:

•             Can also be a form of entertainment.

•             A way to satisfy our curiosity (different bodies, different sexual activities and scenarios etc.).

•             A way to experience kink/fetish vicariously.

•             A path to greater understanding of one’s own sexual self.

•             Can help in interpersonal relationships.

•             An aid to those who don’t have a partner to act out their sexual fantasies with or to those who have a partner but is unwilling/uninterested to participate with in their fantasies. 

•             Is fiction and not real.

•             Does not cause sexual dysfunctions (research has debunked that).

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•             Is not sex education. And does not lead to unrealistic expectations of sex (true only if the person also lacks porn literacy or comprehensive sex education).

Both adult men and women watch porn. And if we must view porn, then let’s watch ethical porn (made legally), feminist porn (not something that is done to women and for men, but as something that people do together) and make sure it’s pay-per-view.

That brings us next to children. Research tells us that the average age for the very first exposure to pornography is 12 years. Some of the ways children stumble upon cybersex material is when using gadgets of parents or other adults in the family, peer sharing or upon interaction with sexual predators. But some pornography companies also have strategies to attract young users. For instance, the act of cybersquatting — using domain names that young users are familiar with to funnel them to pornographic websites thereby causing accidental exposure. Like in the case of barbiesplaypen.com (porn website). Mattel (a toy manufacturing company) won the case on trademark infringement against the pornographic website forcing it to shut down.

The reward experienced by our brain in compulsive sexual behaviour (pornography in this case), encourages for the behaviour to continue. And over a period of time the brain develops a level of tolerance that further drives the individual to seek more  to achieve the same levels of arousal as before. And therein sets addiction as we know it.

Interestingly, most clients who walk into a session with a self diagnosis of ‘porn addiction’ suffer from what we call ‘moral incongruence’ instead, “The thing I’m doing is bad but am yet doing it.” According to the ICD-11 Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder is ‘Characterised by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive behaviour….And distress is significant in personal, family, social, educational, occupational and other important areas of functioning.’ Not distress based on moral judgements and disapproval (‘moral incongruence’).

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There are psychometric tests available to formally assess pornography addictions. Like for instance, the Problematic Pornography Use Scale, Pornography Consumption Effects Scale-Short Form and the Pornography Craving Questionnaire. Some of the approaches in therapy to deal with cybersex addictions are Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy and the 12-Step Support Therapy (support groups). Meanwhile, some self help strategies that could help with the compulsive urge to view porn are: keeping laptops/desktops in a public space at home, enabling content restrictions on smartphone settings, using a filtering system on the home wi-fi network and disabling the ability to download applications on smartphones without  a password.

[Disclaimer: This article does not discuss Child Pornography, Human Trafficking in porn and young people who view porn].

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