Monday, February 15, 2010

Human Matters: The ‘Pornification’ of Healthy Sexuality

The issue of pornography is no longer a benign high school essay topic about censorship and the rights of consenting adults to watch erotic movies to boost their libidos and enhance their dull sex life.

The proliferation of internet pornography in the last 10 years has become an insidious force for personal depravity and addiction and the tip of the iceberg of a multi-billion dollar sex industry, which is enmeshed with paedophilia, human trafficking and organised crime.

Pornography is even more ubiquitous than that other much-revered drug, alcohol, which can be obtained cheaply at any corner liquor store or supermarket. For access to pornography you don’t even need to leave the house. Your drug of choice is just one click away on your computer day and night.

With the spread of broadband internet in the last decade, there is an escalation of availability, perceived anonymity and affordability.

Abrupt magazine reports that a survey by Nielsen Online found that nine million British men had viewed online pornography in 2006 compared with two million in 2000.

‘Sex’ is the most searched word on the internet while 12 per cent of all websites, 25 per cent of all search engine requests and 35 per cent of all downloads are pornographic.

Hollywood releases 11,000 adult movies per year; 20 times more than mainstream movies. Adult bookstores in the US outnumber McDonalds three to one.

Worldwide pornography sales are reported to be $57 billion annually. Porn is big business.

Are we just being prudish about pornography? Is porn merely harmless pleasure or is it causing the worst kind of human damage and misery?
An Issue of Harm
Human sexuality is easily manipulated. Such is the malleability of our biological system, arousal can be associated with any number of fetishes or perversions. It is just as easy for the human brain to link arousal with a five year old child as it is be turned on by a feather or a shoe.
Brain activity during orgasm resembles a shot of heroin. The sexual pleasure stimulated by screen images is addictive. Cravings are caused by the hormone dopamine.
Individuals watching porn combine it with masturbation to orgasm, which triggers a release of dopamine, giving a feeling of wellbeing and setting up a link between porn and feeling ‘good’. If exposure to pornography starts young, the association with pleasure is hard-wired and feels normal.
However a porn user will also be racked with confusion, inner conflict and self-loathing when feelings of fear and shame surface. Resolving this sense of dopamine-induced wellbeing with a guilty conscience is a source of torment.
Alarmingly, one third of British teens are now learning about sex from porn and embracing the degrading images as normal sexuality and forming a value system about relationships based on sleaze.
The Effect on Men
When boys and men are stimulated by the fantasy images of porn stars, they mentally substitute these comical book images for real women, making them dissatisfied with their girlfriends and wives and expecting them to perform porn tricks.
Exposure to porn takes the mystery and intimacy out of real-life sexual experiences between committed loving partners. Sensual tenderness and heartfelt passion in the flesh can not compete with the tantalising, illicit thrills of cyber world.
Feminist writer Naomi Wolf says orgasm is the ultimate Pavlovian conditioning reward and what gives someone an orgasm will reinforce human behaviour.
While the majority of men who view porn might not abuse women (although some do) they are absorbing the misogynous myths that pornography peddles. And much hardcore porn depicts children, endorsing and encouraging paedophilia and the acting out of sexual abuse of infants and children. A vast array of sexual perversions to suit all tastes and flaunt all taboos is also widely available courtesy of the internet.
Women View Porn Too
More and more girls and women are viewing internet porn too, perhaps with a misguided sense of liberation and equality. So now ‘liberated’ women can degrade themselves as much as men!
When women secretly view porn, they feed their shame and dissatisfaction with their ordinary-looking husbands and form the idea they must become whores in bed. And the education is starting young.
Pornography has started to influence young teenage girls to believe that the sexual tricks of porn stars are normal. In a disturbing article published in The Times, August 5, 2009, Janice Turner writes: “More than 25,000 users of Bebo, the social networking site, use “slut” in their usernames.” Many of the users are as young as 13.
Lap dancing has become a legitimate career aspiration for girls along with dreams of becoming a famous celebrity, being snapped by paparazzi as they stagger out of nightclubs, paralytic and dishevelled.
Sex is not to be saved in the old-fashioned way as something meaningful, even sacred, for marriage but reduced to a manipulative game for trapping boyfriends. Impressionable young minds can not distinguish between the fantasy world of porn and real life. Girls want to please their boyfriends by allowing them to ejaculate in their mouth, have anal sex and engage in group sex and same-sex.
Turner writes: “Girls pride themselves on how well they give head and handjobs, such as the singer Kelis, whose ‘milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.’ And anal sex, that Act 4 of every porn movie, which gives little pleasure and often much pain, is now firmly in the sexual repertoire of many 16-year-old girls.”
An insidious message has crept into our bedrooms. Love-making is no longer a mutual exchange of sensual pleasure between a committed couple, but circus tricks performed by a compliant female mimicking a lusty porn star in acting out male masturbation fantasies.
The fashion industry has also been enlisted to dress girls and woman as tarts in skimpy boob-flashing tops, skin tight jeans, micro mini skirts, raunchy lingerie and exposed thongs, excessive make-up, crass jewellery and killer heels.
Even pre-teen girls, aged eight to 13, called ‘Tweens’, are pressured by new fashions to look slutty to appeal to sick male fantasies. A little girl’s natural instinct to flirt to attract Daddy’s attention, affection and admiration is being commercially hijacked and sexualised.
Turner uses the term ‘pornification’ to describe the invasion of porn culture into our everyday lives. This movement is a massive step backwards for feminism, every bit as oppressive as shrouding women in heavy black robes and veils.
If widespread personal degradation is the effect on our culture in the developed world, the impact of pornification in poor countries is far worse.
Exploitation of the Poor
The website Do Something reports facts about human trafficking. It is estimates there are approximately 27 million slaves around the world. The average cost of a slave around the world in $90.
Trafficking primarily involves exploitation including forcing victims into prostitution and compelling victims to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography. Up to 80 per cent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation.
Around half of trafficking victims in the world are under the age of 18. More than two thirds of sex trafficked children suffer additional abuse at the hands of their traffickers.
Trafficked children are significantly more likely to develop mental health problems, abuse substances, engage in prostitution as adults, and either commit or be victimised by violent crimes later in life.
Women who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation experience a significantly higher rate of HIV and other STDs, tuberculosis, and permanent damage to their reproductive systems.
Global Angels is a fundraising charity founded by Molly Bedingfield. The website reports that 8.4 million children work as slave labourers, child sex slaves or soldiers worldwide. 1.2 million children are kidnapped, sold or smuggled each year. These trafficked children may end up on the other side of the world, working in sweatshops to make cheap clothing, in underground mines to salvage precious stones for jewellery, picking the cocoa and coffee beans to feed Western cravings, or scrubbing floors as housemaids.
Slavery today is also a six-year-old girl in Cambodia sold by her parents into the sex industry as a sex slave and servicing nine men a day.
These are the shocking images we should keep in mind when questioning whether pornography is harmful. The exploitation and abuse of countless women and children in the ‘sex industry’ is the tragic underbelly of this new wave of pornification.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Human Matters: The Art of Normalising War

Like most couples we enjoy snuggling up together with a good movie. With video stores and online rental services bursting with tantalising movies, it’s hardly worth venturing to the cinema these days. Home entertainment, along with the Internet, is the new conspiracy to keep us isolated and socially disconnected within our own four walls.

However I’m more disturbed by a conspiracy of another kind: Hollywood’s indoctrination of the masses to accept violence and war as ‘normal’.

It was my turn to choose a movie. Sultry screen siren, Catherine Zeta-Jones and swarthy hero, Antonio Banderas offer the perfect combination of romance and swashbuckling action in The Legend of Zorro. But I felt cheated with a massive dose of macho violence and just a tiny splash of feel-good romance.

Another night, I wanted to see the tiny-waisted Nicole Kidman in the sweeping epic, Cold Mountain and unwittingly unleashed endless scenes of Civil War butchery in our own living room.

I succumbed to my husband’s choice of the crime thriller, Man of Fire because it starred the yummy Denzel Washington. Imagine my shock when that same sweet guy systematically sliced off the fingers of a crook and in another gruesome scene rammed an explosive up a bloke’s rectum and we watched him explode. But don’t worry, they were Baddies.

I usually like the laconic Kevin Costner, so we got cosy with the Western, Open Range. The pleasant vistas of rolling plains and peaceful campfires abruptly ceased when the cowboys, driven by revenge, got down to the serious business of killing. The classic show-down is no longer restricted to just two gun slingers. This shoot-out escalated into a massacre. But don’t worry, they were all Baddies.

These are just a smattering of the countless movies laced with toxic violence we have endured in the name of entertainment. I’m not squeamish about blood and guts. I know it’s only clever special events; that no one REALLY gets hurt…and besides, they’re all Baddies. But what does worry me is the pernicious underlying themes we are relentlessly spoon-fed and mindlessly swallow.

We, passive consumers of Hollywood pap, are being indoctrinated to accept the notion that violence, more specifically, warfare is a natural part of life. The message is loud and clear; war has always been around and always will be. Moviemakers are on a mission to normalise war. For goodness sake, don’t protest. What are you, some kind of na├»ve wimp?

Furthermore violence is pleasurable. We are meant to enjoy seeing multitudes of fellow humans stabbed, shot and mutilated in various fascinating ways. Insidiously mix up romance and violence and you can capture the female audience too.

We are being educated to enjoy, not just the odd murder, but MASS slaughter. Sophisticated Computer Generated Images (CGI’s) serve up a feast of gore. What about the graphic battle scenes of the “historic” flick, Kingdom of Heaven? God help us if that’s a glimpse of the afterlife.
Even the latest acclaimed CGI masterpiece Avatar has its obligatory spectacular battle scene.

The mega scale of death and destruction has reached giddy new heights. We are privileged to see buildings demolished, cities crumble and the whole world destroyed in such doomsday celebrations as Armageddon, War of the Worlds and Independence Day.

Don’t you just love bombs? We know from real-life tragedies in Bali, Baghdad and London that bombs inflict the worst possible injuries on fragile human beings; searing flesh with agonising burns, blowing off limbs and deforming those who have the dubious luck to survive.

And here is the concept I like the most. Put aside your conscience and any moral compunction or Sunday school echoes of that quaint old-fashioned rule “Thou Shalt Not Kill” because the enemy are not REAL people.

Using the ever-reliable psychological device of demonising and dehumanising the enemy, we (governments) have license to kill. More than squashing the odd pest, we can invade countries and eradicate, not men, women and children, but vermin. It is a simple trick. You just have to label people Jews, Commies, Terrorists or Muslims.

Moviemakers have all the fun. They can invent aliens, monsters and even machines that the Good Guys get to slaughter by the truckload. Like those grotesque mud-formed Orcs in Lord of the Rings and the legions of metallic villains in I, Robot.

Self-righteous vengeance is another reliable theme that works a treat on the human psyche to justify and rationalise murder. There’s nothing more satisfying than a good revenge movie where the hero, enraged by the killing of his wife and kids or other outrageous offences, blasts to bits the low-life scum who crossed him. This is apparently Mel Gibson’s speciality.

And if invincible, virtuous heroes are not wreaking revenge, they are “protecting” America. For such a noble cause, anything goes, in movies and in real life. We now led to believe that the war in Iraq, seven years on, is acceptable and normal. The death toll for the Iraq war is 1.5 million men, women and children (but this shocking figure is seldom released in the mass media).

Be warned contented movie buffs: don’t dare question wars in far-flung countries. While Hollywood grooms soldiers to commit atrocities, the rest of us are being groomed as enablers, as we sink into our comfy chairs and enjoy a feast of violence. Don’t worry. It’s just special effects…and they are all Baddies anyway.

If adult minds are meant to discern between movie fantasy and reality, and this is debatable, can the impressionable minds of children and teenagers discern the difference between the non-stop screen violence they consume from movies and video games and real life? When are the boundaries blurred? When does the real blood of real children spill onto the streets? Fantasy becomes reality when the child grows up and picks up a weapon.

Don’t believe that violent movies are harmless entertainment. Your sensibilities, your conscience and your humanity are being dulled with every violent movie you consume. We in the developed countries are all enablers in the triangle of perpetrators who victimise the poor in the lucrative Business of War.

It is time to wake up from our pleasant mindlessness on the sofa in front of the Big Screen and take a stand against the insidious indoctrination by Hollywood. Lets all get educated about the atrocities happening every day in the real life drama of our precious world.