If you’re reading this, you’ve probably watched porn. I mean that not as a value judgement but as a statistical fact. We are living in the 21st century. We are curious creatures, resourceful ones, we have broadband, and a lot of us (including myself) have very high libidos. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t. I would posit, however, that this does not make any of us despicable perverts incapable of love. Mariella Frostrup appears to believe otherwise.
I write this in response to today’s article in the ‘Dear Mariella’ section of the Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/10/boyfriend-addicted-to-porn-so-i-left-him-mariella-frostrup – where Mariella Frostrup gives life, health and relationship advice. In this article, a 17 year old teenager, clearly upset that her boyfriend has been watching porn and is claiming that he is ‘addicted’, has broken up with him. Mariella is in full agreement and proceeds to impart her wisdom on why ‘porn is poisoning our culture’.
First of all, the letter itself is very short and very undetailed. Whether or not this has been edited down by the Guardian, I’m not sure, but it fails to give any insight into the details of the relationship. Did this girl discuss these issues with her boyfriend, try and ask him for an explanation as to why he had been watching porn and what he felt about it in relation to her? Why was she examining his laptop in the first place? Has she spoken to her peers about this? Her boyfriend ‘acted like he didn’t care’ when she broke up with him (which, if it is true, is admittedly dickish behaviour whether or not he genuinely means it or is just putting up a male front; I’ve been through the same thing myself.); however, we are given no additional details of this either. So, even just at the start, we and Mariella Frostrup are given a basic issue on which to form a basic argument.
In Mariella’s mind, the act of watching porn as a teenager or young adult and being ‘totally adrift from the intimacies of a loving relationship’ are one and the same. This seems not only just a misinformed generalisation but a huge insult to the emotional capacity of young people, or anyone who is an occasional viewer of pornography. It is true that online porn has the potential to give people a skewed idea of what sex consists of (and how the participants should look, and act), but to assume all teenagers will take it as automatically realistic or aspirational is to label them as extremely gullible and misguided. When they reach the point of having sex with someone for the first time, whether as a one night stand or within a relationship; if they are misguided enough to use porn as some of kind of teaching aide, they will quickly realise it is the opposite of helpful. I had watched porn before I had sex, and I found the real life experience more intimate, more beautifully nerve-racking and full of joy and lust than anything I’d ever watched online. In my opinion, porn doesn’t ruin real-life sex; it’s the other way around.
A teenage boy (or, indeed, anyone) who watches porn whilst in a relationship is not inherently a bad person. Anyone who watches porn and lets it affect their relationships and perceptions of sex and love in increasingly brutal and sadistic ways, without the full consent of their partner, IS someone best avoided. The frustration stems from media figures such as Mariella Frostrup lumping these two groups of people together in the same category. Yes, many killers and rapists have viewed violent pornography and have gone on to commit awful acts; however, this was combined with violent, psychopathic tendencies, long-term misogyny, and more often than not severe mental health issues. These are the minority. To label porn-watchers as inevitably heading towards that state of being is hugely simplistic. It’s reminiscent of the incredibly irresponsible media reporting of Mick and Mairead Philpott’s manslaughter of their six children. To create sensationalism, scores of politicians and the right-wing media placed the blame on ‘benefit culture’, on unemployment, and an entitlement to state hand-outs which made Mick Philpott act this way; ignoring the fact that it was domestic violence, intimidation, borderline sociopathy and bullying on his part which fuelled the act in question.
We are fallible, all of us. Watching some porn whilst in a relationship does not necessarily indicate boredom with your partner, or an inherently unfaithful state of mind. It may indicate a sense of curiosity, a relief or pressure-relieving exercise elsewhere. I have plenty of friends who I know have watched porn before, and may still do so from time to time, but are good, faithful, honest people who would die to protect their long-term partners. The world is not a sea of emotion-free sex drones. And, as is the case within this letter, if this is capable of causing a rift between two partners, TALK. Discuss the reasons behind it, how your sex life could be improved, whether your partner is satisfied by you or not. A relationship will thrive on honesty and openness; condemning and turning your back will not necessarily solve the issue. This is not to blame the girl for the end of the relationship, but to encourage both to communicate more if there are problems stemming from this behaviour.
Finally, I’ll address Mariella’s point of ‘the extent of human misery beyond their viewing delectation’. She is correct; unfortunately, lots of porn is made off the back of exploitation, violence, drugs and coercion. Not all, but certainly a proportion of it. And of course, this is despicable behaviour on the manufacturers’ part, and we cannot always distance ourselves from it or ignore these facts. However, to single out porn as a poison on society due to the suffering inherent in its making wilfully ignores our positions of privilege in every other aspect. We wear clothes which are made by slaves on less than minimum wage. We buy and use i-pods made under appalling conditions by long-suffering workers abroad. A huge portion of what we consume is manufactured through suffering; porn is by far not the only example of this. This does not make any of it justified; as I said, we are fallible, and we are trained by capitalism to turn a blind eye. However, to focus on porn and to ignore everything else is irresponsible – if you are travelling down a particular path of logic, you cannot pick and choose your arguments.
I can’t necessarily argue with all of Mariella’s points; however, to give this teenage girl a tract based on her own judgment rather than a more empathetic, more well-rounded worldview with the possibility for human error, is narrow-minded and irresponsible.
I’d welcome any debate on this.