CEASE has just launched a new online forum called Expose The Harm. Based loosely on the Everyone’s Invited website, this is a space for people to share, safely and anonymously, about how pornography has harmed them in some way.
CEASE set up this website in order to give voice to the thousands of men, women and children whose lives have been negatively impacted by pornography. For too long, the adult industry and its vested interests have controlled the narrative, making pornography out to be “harmless fun”. But the reality is that pornography represents the public health crisis of the digital age, undermining the health and well-being of individuals, communities and culture as a whole.1https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/432/ETHI/Brief/BR11135952/br-external/CultureReframed-e.pdf
How we got here
The internet made pornography accessible, affordable and annonymous. It meant that anyone with an internet connection suddenly had access to a free buffet of limitless porn and was spared the embarrassment and inconvenience of trips to seedy stores or video rental shops.
Unsurprisingly, the impact of this on the pornography industry has been nothing short of revolutionary. Today, porn sites receive 130 million visitors per day2Financial Times P.Nilsson (17.12.2020) MindGeek: the secretive owner of Pornhub and RedTube and the industry is worth an estimated $100 billion globally.3 NBC News (business news) (updated 20.01.2015) Things Are Looking Up in America’s Porn Industry Porn sites received more website traffic in 2020 than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Zoom, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined.4SEMrush, 2020; Visual Capitalist, 2021
Whereas analogue porn was a hushed, hidden and private affair, the influence of online pornography is now very much felt everywhere. This is very much the result of a concerted and sustained PR effort on behalf of the porn industry. In her book Pornland, Campaigner Dr. Gail Dines explains that “[w]hat we see today is the result of years of careful strategizing and marketing by the porn industry to sanitize its products by stripping away the “dirt” factor and reconstituting porn as fun, edgy, chic, sexy and hot.”5G.Dines Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (2010): p.58
Living in a world pornographers have made6C. MacKinnon, X-UNderrated: Living in a World the Pornographers Have Made p.9 Big Porn Inc ed. M. Tankard Reist and A.Bray (Spinifex, 2011)
As its viewing has become normal and ubiquitous, pornography has steadily migrated from the pop-culture margins to the mainstream. Soft pornography has blurred into light entertainment, and there’s been a marked rise in hypersexualised portrayals of women and girls. We see porn’s influence in art, music, film, television and fashion.
We even see it in the endorsement of pornography by certain sex therapists, sex educators and academics. Despite the vast amount of academic research from a range of disciples exposing porn’s negative effects, certain groups and individuals (“akin to climate-change deniers” according to Dr. Gail Dines)7Cadwalladr, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/jun/16/journal-editors-attacked-promoting-porn refuse to concur. Instead, they evoke “complexity arguments”, creating the illusion of scientific uncertainty and undermining public confidence on the issue.
Those who do publicly criticise pornography often face a backlash. As legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon observes, they are generally shunned as “befuddled if well-intentioned moralists” whose “serious approaches to the problem” are written off as “evil censorship”.8C. MacKinnon, X-UNderrated: Living in a World the Pornographers Have Made p.9 Big Porn Inc ed. M. Tankard Reist and A.Bray (Spinifex, 2011) When it comes to challenging the prevailing narrative that pornography is “harmless fun”, speech is not so free. Speaking out against pornography has become the last taboo.
The tide is turning
But evidence of pornography’s harms lies all around us- in popular culture, contemporary news and criminal law cases. Taken together, these examples create a compelling picture of pornography’s multifaceted harms that’s increasingly hard to deny:
- Sexual health practicioners and GPs are reporting soaring rates of young men seeking help for porn and sex addiction and porn-induced erectile dysfunction.9https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/number-of-londoners-seeking-help-for-porn-addiction-soars-a3841541.html
- Children’s charities such as Barnardo’s are identifying pornography as both driving harmful sexual behaviour and increasing vulnerability to abuse.10https://www.barnardos.org.uk/news/barnardos-survey-reveals-harm-done-children-harmful-pornography-culture-sec-must Police and practitioners are noting the increasing trend for young men to acquire an interest in child sexual abuse material via the route of mainstream pornography.11https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8213645/Young-British-men-emerging-new-group-online-paedophiles-says-police-chief.html; https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/15/how-extreme-porn-has-become-a-gateway-drug-into-child-abuse
- In its 2021 review, Ofstead described the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in English schools, which are often so normalised that pupils fail to report it.12https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges The website Everyone’s Invited has collected over 50,000 stories from girls and young women who who have experienced “rape culture” at schools and universities.13https://www.everyonesinvited.uk/
Celebrities such as Billie Eilish14https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/dec/15/billie-eilish-says-watching-porn-gave-her-nightmares-and-destroyed-my-brain and Terry Crews15https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-9569121/Terry-Crews-details-porn-addiction-ended-marriage-wife-Rebecca.html are increasingly breaking the conspiracy of silence that surrounds pornography’s harms. As a charity, we at CEASE want to give ordinary members of the public the opportunity to join them.
In the course of our work, we hear many heartbreaking stories about the harms of pornography. Porn users tell us how their lives have been devastated by addiction, isolation and poor mental health; parents share their deep concerns about how pornography is hindering their child’s emotional, social and cognitive development; and girls express how they feel that pornography is fuelling sexual harassment and “rape culture”.
We are painfully aware that what we hear is only the tip of the iceberg. Some stories are scattered in forums all across the internet and others have not yet been told.
It’s high time that we exposed the harm being driven by online pornography in the hope that we can wake governments and policy makers up to the urgent need for intervention and industry regulation.