When the stories of sexual assault, harassment, and general impropriety began to surface, often with #MeToo, neither of us were particularly surprised. We really, really wanted to be. We wanted to be shocked that figures representing films and television series we enjoyed could be guilty of such horrendous offenses, but we weren’t, not in the slightest.
It’s difficult to be surprised about #MeToo when we are living in a culture which does not encourage a respect for human dignity in sexuality. A culture which is saturated with things such as pornography and casual sex, diminishing the value of intimate relationships. This has led to people, especially men in positions of power, believing that they have the right to sexually take advantage of women without repercussions. If we don’t expect people to stand for human dignity in public, why should we expect them to do so in private?
By this point, if you’re someone who consumes pornography or has casual sexual relationships, or at least don’t think there’s anything wrong with these, you’re probably getting a little peeved (at the very least) and thinking we’re a couple of prudes who need to get our minds out of the 1300’s. While you aren’t entirely wrong on our preferred century, the problems with the attitudes that accompany a flippant use of pornography or consistent participation in casual sex are well documented. The harmful effects of pornography in particular are well documented by psychologists and behavioural scientists.
In case you’re doubting the truthfulness of this claim, we’ve selected just three of the worst effects that pornography has been shown to have. There are many, many more to be found.
1. Even non-violent porn makes men more likely to use violence, drugs, and alcohol to coerce women into having sex with them.
2. Porn is addictive in the same way that drugs are, because of the release of dopamine in the brain, sending users on a destructive path towards more and more dehumanizing porn to satisfy their addiction.
3. Porn contributes heavily to the sex trafficking business, with even many of the women who do consent often being coerced into doing things they don’t feel comfortable doing.*
These numbers do not represent fringe research. In light of this growing body of research, four states (Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee) have declared pornography a public health crisis, and Florida has similar legislation introduced at the moment. Virginia has passed a resolution recognizing porn as having harmful effects. Similar efforts are being discussed in Texas and other states.
The second attitude that contributes to the acceptability of sexual offenses like those highlighted by #MeToo is the prevalence of hookup culture and an assumption that sex can or should be casual. Admittedly, some of our issues with extramarital sex are religious in nature, and to hide that would be disingenuous. However, even allowing for sex outside the context of marriage, the fact remains that hookup culture approaches a person as a mere means to an end. It degrades a human person to simply a tool that provides sexual pleasure. While these fleeting relationships do have the important aspect of consent, no amount of consent to an activity can change the attitude with which one or both parties approach it.
There is a whole host of issues that come with our generation’s hookup culture, in which 80% of today’s college students take part. According to the Kinsey Institute, having a high amount of previous sexual partners is one of the top five factors leading to infidelity in adults. It also increases your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which is one of the reasons that 23% of American adults have some form of HPV. Consequences of having casual sex spill out into your emotional life as well—as a study from Durham University shows that 80% of men had overall positive feelings the morning after a one night stand, while only 54% of women felt satisfied.
By participating in this culture, young men and women open themselves up to brokenness and falling away from the original purpose of sex. "Lust and sin increase the rupture between body and spirit. When we use our own and others bodies as objects for pleasure or to fill the emptiness inside us, there is an increased break," says Katrina Zero, who is the coordinator of the John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture.
It is for this reason that hookup culture has frankly eroded the morals of our generation. It has created an environment in which one night stands are not only viewed as normal but also as healthy, as was shown in a popular article from babe.net, an up and coming young women’s lifestyle site. The same site that, ironically, that posted the non-sexual assault story about Aziz Ansari. It is true cognitive dissonance that a publication can discuss the negative consequences of a poorly thought out hookup, while at the same time lauding casual sex as a necessary and positive thing for women.
Rape and other violations of a person’s bodily autonomy ultimately originate because the perpetrator does not truly believe in the dignity of the person they are attacking. This is not to say that everyone who uses porn or has casual sex will be a rapist—neither logic nor the statistics supports this. However, the prevalence of these two things, among our age group and in society as a whole, certainly do not help decrease the number of these violations. Moreover, the statistics surrounding the higher propensity towards a lack of concern for consent among men who use porn, and the commodification of the human person that occurs with pornography and hookups make it clear how someone could go down the road to justifying more and more egregious offenses against the individual.
Offenses against the dignity of one person are offenses against the dignity of all—we should all take issue with the way that women and men are portrayed as mere vehicles of sexual pleasure, if we wish to truly be a society that cares about the rights of each person. One of our country’s founding values is individual liberty, which means that respecting the basic human decency of our fellow man is paramount to who we are as Americans. This must extend to our culture in regards to casual sex and pornography, as these are the things that are holding us back from eradicating the problems of sexual abuse and harassment in the times of #MeToo.
*Sources for Pornography Statistics:
Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15, 3: 289–304
Check, J. and Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann and J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36, 1: 14–20
Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E. (2016). Liking, Wanting, And The Incentive-Sensitization Theory Of Addiction. American Psychologist, 71(8), 670-679. Doi:10.1037/Amp0000059; Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767. Doi:10.3402/Snp.V3i0.20767; Pitchers, K. K., Et Al. (2013). Natural And Drug Rewards Act On Common Neural Plasticity Mechanisms With DeltaFosB As A Key Mediator. Journal Of Neuroscience, 33(8) 3434-3442. Doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013; Salamone, J. D., & Correa, M. (2012). The Mysterious Motivational Functions Of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 76, 470-485. Doi:10.1016/J.Neuron.2012.10.021
Peters, R. W., Lederer, L. J., and Kelly, S. (2012). The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography. In M. Mattar and J. Braunmiller (Eds.) Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society 5: 1-21.
U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). Two Men Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences for Enticing Women to South Florida to Engage in Commercial Sex Acts and Distributing Date Rape Pills. Press Release, Feb. 17.