urlThe one thing I had previously heard from my female peers about pornography’s negative influence was that it shapes expectations of girls’ bodies–more specifically their body hair. Looking back to 70s models of porn you can see they were all about the bush, but as time has progressed interest has shifted to the shave. This aspect of pornography alone has given rise to some backlash, and criticism as to the subtext of such expectations. At its most extreme level there is the argument that the desire for women to be shaved, smoothed and polished infantilizes them, and legitimizes more perverted fantasies of younger girls. Some believe it feeds into what is known as ‘paedophile culture’ (detailed further in Alicen Grey’s article over at Feminist Current.).

Grey speaks of how women are pressured to shave or wax various parts of their bodies–seeing adverts that promote ‘touchable legs’ (as with hair they are, of course, untouchable), while cosmetic companies push anti-ageing creams and lotions that will make you ‘baby soft’. This is not something we have been oblivious to, though it is sadly something which may have become normalised. Many of my female friends complain about the necessity of shaving every day, but continue to do it as they find their own body hair unattractive. It would be difficult to point specifically to porn for causing this insecurity, as even girls who don’t watch porn are constantly bombarded with images in the media of an idealised version of their bodies (hairless, sleek, toned). However the standards set by pornography of the ‘norm’ are of importance as they often constitute adolescents’ first exposure to what sex is like, and we may view pornography and the media as directly feeding into one another as the underlying motivation behind both is sex–though porn is just more upfront about this fact. Though many adolescent girls feel almost afraid of porn–or at least feel it is taboo–they are still vulnerable to a prescribed image as promoted through magazine and film, yet they are not raised to think these forms of media are at all damaging. My point is that issues centering around female body image are not solely down to pornography–and my aim is not to make it seem this way, however it is also of interest to explore how porn may also have influenced our societal expectations.

It would of course be unfair and more than a little extreme to tar every male with the same brush of being repulsed by female body hair, and for feeding into a ‘culture of paedophilia’. Similarly it would be incorrect to say that all women allow their self-image to be dictated by the standards of pornography or men’s demands.

However, it is interesting to consider that the most popular form of pornography is amateur porn, filmed with girls that are known as ‘teenie-boppers’, generally around the ages of 18 and 19, with the appeal lying in the fact that they seem innocent and virginal in the videos. (More about this can also be seen in the Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted which follows a house in Miami that recruits new porn actresses, often around the ages of 17-19.) The most popular categories on the website PornHub are ‘Barely Legal’, ‘Teen’ and ‘Virgin Manipulations’. Additionally certain surgeries–namely labiaplasty and hymenoplasty–are seeing a surge; operations which reduce the labia minora to slivers, and the latter tightening vaginas to virginal sizes. A dual problem arises out of these facts; that of increased pressure on female appearance to adhere to a certain standard, and the accessibility of perverted material to adolescents. The very fact that these categories of ‘barely legal’ are the most popular means that they are the most likely to come up when teenagers first search pornography, and some have said that this makes a healthy sexual development increasingly difficult. Indeed, many of the early arguments that emerged with the pornography boom of the 70s and 80s focused on its potential to promote a ‘warped’ view of sex, normalizing sexual aggression towards women and teaching its users that women were passive objects to be utilized at the male’s disposal.

Of course, since the 70s and 80s pornography has expanded to include a greater scope of fetishes and dynamics, and so there is more opportunity for the expression of female desire. Indeed, a positive effect of pornography is opening up the discourse surrounding sex and encouraging sexual experimentation. Additionally many feminists did not agree with an anti-pornography stance, warning that it had the potential to infact enforce gender stereotypes, treating sex as an act that men desired and women avoided–insinuating that women were able to ‘handle’ sex only if it had an emotional undercurrent, incapable of experiencing it as a purely physical thing.

Many of my female friends have said that as they got older they found they were more capable of expressing their sexuality, and acting on their desires without inhibitions or fear of judgement. However a prevalent problem of today is girls being pressured into sexual experimentation before they are ready, and being expected to enjoy it. The main criteria among many young females with their first sexual encounters is that the boy had a good time. Many have linked this directly to the consumption of pornography, with adolescent boys watching scenarios of anal and/or group sex where the women are shown to climax, or at least seem to have a good time. A director of a domestic violence centre on the Gold Coast in Australia talks¬†about the increase in porn-related injuries seen in girls ages 14 and up, in which they say ‚Äúthe biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality…ascribing to the myth that ‚Äòno means yes and yes means anal‚Äô‚Äù.

A main problem in this seeming inability to separate porn from real life is the lack of discussion that surrounds it. It generally still exists as a taboo subject and though female porn directors and producers are making their mark on the industry, the assumption still exists that girls will have little to no interest in it, while boys’ interest‚Äìoften obsession‚Äìin it is to be expected. Without the space to discuss what they may be exposed to however, the potential for violence and manipulation can emerge, as many don‚Äôt understand the physical and mental damage that can be caused in sexual experimentation at too early an age. If these sexual ‚Äònorms‚Äô are presented to adolescents without any counter-information until a much later age (or at least the comfort to feel they could discuss this information) this is when pornography negatively alters perceptions of sex. It is not until a more mature age that girls find they need not be excluded from this side of sexual development, that female desire is not necessarily sidelined in pornography, and that they have as much right to express their sexual desire as males. Rather than ignoring pornography it would be better to acknowledge it as something which the majority of young teens will experience, and a better education as to the potential harm it can inflict would ease the divide that seems to exist between male and female sexual desire. To pretend that pornography is not something that young teens will come into contact with would be, in this technological age, an extremely naive mentality. Porn sites regularly pop up while you‚Äôre simply browsing other things, people of all ages are welcomed into viewing them. The development of online sites and increasingly tech-savvy younger generations means pornography is not the inaccessible mystery it once was to young teens and as such it should not be a subject people fear to broach. Adolescents should be made aware that what is demonstrated in porn is not necessarily a universal truth on what sex is like, how people should act, or how they should look. Perhaps when this is achieved, pornography may lose some of its power and it can become more a tool for mutual pleasure than aiding male dominance.

-Scarlett Evans
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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