Saturday, January 21, 2023

Digital natives' early and continuous exposure to pornography: Porn literacy seems an ability that they developed over time, which allowed them to critically engage with pornography and observe how it had affected them

Digital natives' experience of early and continuous exposure to pornography. Fredrika Hedberg. Master's Thesis, Sociology, Lund Univ. Department of Sociology, Spring 2022.

Abstract—With the technological advancements of the 21st century, online pornography has become increasingly available to children and adolescents, and this research aims to investigate how individuals who started watching pornography at an early age experience pornography. The study implements a phenomenological approach and is based on 13 qualitative interviews with participants who started watching pornography before the age of 15. In doing so, this research utilised Simon and Gagnon’s (1973) sexual script theory and Porn Literacy theory as the theoretical framework through which to analyse the data. The results indicate that the participants´ sexual scripts evolved over time through their consumption of pornography and sexual interactions and incorporated various aspects of pornography that had an influence on such things as their expectations of sexual encounters, gendered perspectives, body image, and amount and type of pornography sought out. Porn literacy seemed to be an ability that the participants developed over time, which allowed them to critically engage with pornography  and observe how it had affected them.

6.0 Conclusion
While not all participants felt as though pornography had a significant impact on their lives, it seems to have informed and shaped their sexual script in some manner, be it the assumptions they developed about how sex was going to be, how they should act, how their future partner would act, what acts would be pleasurable to their partners, and how to draw boundaries with partners. Pornography was some of the first visual representation of sex they received, and some were too young at the time to recognise it as sex, although most reported that it was something exciting and something they knew they should not be watching. Being exposed to pornography at an early age had sex seem less special to some prior to experiencing it in contradiction to other forms of media as outlined by Garceau and Ronis’s (2019) that portray the loss of virginity as something special and meaningful. It shaped their assumptions about how sex was going to be before they experienced it, making it seem like something intense and a little intimidating for some depending on what type of pornography they were watching. With this assumption came the sexual roles that the participants thought they should play that they derived from pornography, which seems to have been a distinctly gendered dichotomy where they would emulate the gender roles they viewed in pornography to some extent. For the male participants this meant taking on a more dominant or leading role and for the female participants, it meant that they were more submissive and tolerated their partners behaviour despite their discomfort. While the participants claimed that these roles were largely inspired by their porn consumption, it is possible that it could, in addition, have been derived from other forms of media that promote the gender stereotype of man as dominant and women as submissive and the aforementioned sociocultural standards pertaining to women’s sexual agency. Although the participants performed these roles, there was a discrepancy between how they thought they should behave and how they wanted to but felt pressured to conform to the gendered roles. This pressure to fill these roles, however, seemed to dissipate over time as the participants had more sexual experience and gained confidence in their sexuality and actual preferences. Some participants did not see it as an issue or something negative to perform these sexual gender roles but rather perceived it as the natural order of things. The participants used pornography as educational to varying degrees, as many lacked the representation of sexual acts in their education and assumed that some of what happened in pornography would overlap with regular sex, and some used it for inspiration in specific sexual situations. Most of the participants stated that this was not beneficial for them, and that they eventually had to be re-educated as they had developed what Garceau and Ronis (2019) referred to as an “atypical” script (Garceau and Ronis, 2019, p.39). Based on this I would argue that the studies that tout pornography as ‘educational’ ought to use word ‘inspiring’ or the like as when pornography is used by children and adolescents as sexual education it is not always beneficial. In terms of porn literacy, the participants´ narratives suggest that they all could critically engage with the content they viewed, and that this ability had evolved over time. The participants who had little notion of what sex was when they started watching pornography seemed to have developed a sense of porn literacy later on in life as porn was their primary source of information about sex. As their porn literacy developed over time, there were times in the participants´ lives when porn had a more significant effect on aspects of their sexuality and sexual script such as their body image, sexual behaviour, and assumption about gendered sexual expectations; it appears as though some participants still experience these despite their porn literacy. It is important to note here that these sexual standards and power dynamics not only exist in mainstream pornography but correspond to the general western standards of beauty and sexuality portrayed in mass media which porn mirrors and exaggerates. The most common aspect of the participants´ body image that was raised as an insecurity caused by pornography was genital appearance and function, although some participants noted a negative influence on their physique as a whole. Although not all of the participants reported any desensitization to pornography and mainly watched the same type of porn over time, some participants had experienced a desensitization that encouraged them to seek out more niche genres. Some of them experienced a cognitive dissonance between what they watched in pornography and what they thought was acceptable to do or wanted to do in real life. Some felt shame because of this type of pornography that they felt did not represent them as people, but they kept returning to, and they in many cases chose not to think about it after watching it, compartmentalising it to a very private sexual experience. Two of the participants, Nick and Toby, practiced what they watched in real life and belonged to different sexual subcultures categorized by BDSM practices and feminisation. The participants who had a problematic relationship to pornography were the ones with the most negative outlook on pornography, although most participants noted that they regretted started watching it at such an early age.


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