The benefits and dangers of pornography, according to experts

Since the beginning of the health crisis, rate of viewing pornographic movies on some sites soared, boosted by the free access offered during this period

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In order to escape boredom, but also to fight stress or cope with their feelings, people who were shut-in were consuming more pornography, as shown by statistics. But what are the effects on their viewers? In other words, is watching porn bad for your health? The Conversation interviewed five Australian experts on the subject. And the opinions are divided.

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A skewed view of sexuality

According to Meredith Temple-Smith, a professor at the University of Melbourne, the effects of pornography vary greatly ‘depending on gender, maturity level, type of pornography viewed and propensity for addiction.’ For teenagers who have not yet had their first sexual experience, for example, watching such material may raise unrealistic expectations of what their partners want to do, says Megan Lim, head of youth health research at the Burnet Institute. Porn can also be a source of body image problems and eating disorders, or reduced relationship satisfaction.

Michael Flood, associate professor at Queensland University of Technology, says several studies have already shown that male porn fans were less satisfied with their relationships and sexuality than other men. Their partners reported a lower level of intimacy, feeling ashamed of their bodies, and being pressured into certain sexual practices.

Moreover, since most pornographic films are based on unequal gender relations (men are dominant and women are submissive), they are said to inculcate sexist conceptions of gender and sexuality, the expert adds. Not to mention a potential addiction to porn.

And what about benefits?

However, according to Andrea Waling, a sexuality researcher at La Trobe University, pornography can be very positive if it is ‘consumed’ properly. In particular, it can enhance the intimacy of couples who want to explore their erotic fantasies together, creating a more open and tolerant environment.

By providing a valuable and significant support to masturbation, it also helps (indirectly, but nonetheless) to reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem, better understand one's sexual physiology, and identify one's most erogenous zones.

Finally, explicit non-violent videos can be a real source of education, says Chris Rissel, a researcher at Flinders University. They provide a lot of information about anatomy and sexual positions, especially for people who don't have the opportunity to access information about sexuality elsewhere, such as heterosexual and especially LGBTQI+ youth. And since they rely on the internet (and therefore pornography) to access this valuable information, ‘providing them with positive and diverse information about sex, pleasure and relationships,’ in schools, for example, could (partly) alleviate the problems mentioned above, concludes Megan Lim.

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