Beauty Redefined Blog

Lessons from Porn: Women are Objects to be Used, Abused and Dismissed

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We are unapologetically anti-porn.

It may be one of the most profitable and powerful industries in the world, and one that is embraced by otherwise like-minded people as an acceptable personal choice, but we are not afraid to state that pornography is one of the worst and most degrading forces against women today. 

Against not only women, but against men, and against real relationships, real love, and real sex. There are undeniable links between sexual assault and pornography use by the perpetrators. There are further undeniable links between pornography use and decreased sexual satisfaction, sexual function, relationship satisfaction, attraction to real-life partners, and acceptance of terribly dangerous myths about rape. Further, the pornography industry works hard to keep up a glamorous image, but behind the camera is a reality of violence, drugs, and human trafficking.

Most pornography searched for online today depicts people, but usually women, as objects for sexual gratification and consumption. It is well-known that most porn has a predominantly male perspective. The directors are usually men, and most of it is made for men. As a result, the camera often embodies the “male gaze:” It looks where a man (a stereotypical straight man, that is) would look. As Jean Kilbourne famously stated, viewing someone as an object is “almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”  We have no doubt that sexual objectification promoted and normalized by pornography is playing a role in the sexualized violence against women that is epidemic across the world.

Porn Stats Beauty Redefined

For our work in particular, which deals with female body image issues, we know there are undeniable links between sexual abuse and serious body image disturbance. Sexual abuse alienates a person from his or her own body and very often leads to harmful coping mechanisms to deal with that body shame, such as disordered eating, self-harm, body anxiety and depression. As many as 60% of women treated for eating disorders have been sexually abused.

We see repeated exposure to pornography playing out in these ways for straight men and women:

(Though simplified and generalizing, and acknowledging that correlation does not equal causation, these correlations hold truth that is backed up in decades of research and countless personal experiences. Consider  as meaning “may lead to”)

For Men:

Porn consumption ⇒ objectification of women* ⇒ violence against women + and/or justification of violence against women + and/or sexual dysfunction + and/or lack of satisfaction (emotionally and physically) within real-life relationships

For Women:

Porn consumption ⇒ self-objectification ⇒ body anxiety ⇒ adoption of harmful coping mechanisms

First, let’s talk about some of the darkest effects of pornography on straight men, and, in turn, their relationships with women. Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Dept. of Psychiatry at UPenn, was interviewed by Jonathon Van Maren here and offered some profound insight. She described feeling a call to study the damage that sexual violence did to the patients of her psychotherapy practice about 30 years ago, and realizing that she had never treated a case of sexual violence that did not involve pornography.

Men are not born rapists, but for some reason, many are increasingly justifying sexual violence. Why? Because pornography has turned the bodies of women and girls into a commodity. It is shaping the way men see women. This is a business and I think that a lot of pimps would stop doing this if there wasn’t any money involved, but it’s a business and as soon as you tell somebody it’s a product, as soon as you say, ‘This [is] something you buy,’ then this is something you can steal. Those two things are hooked … So the sexual exploitation industry, whether it’s strip clubs or prostitution or pornography, is where you buy it. Sexual violence is where you steal it – rape and child molestation and sexual harassment are where you steal it.

 

So these things are all seamlessly connected. There isn’t a way to draw a bright line of demarcation between rape and prostitution and pornography and child molestation. There are not bright lines of demarcation. The perpetrators are in a common set of beliefs, and when we look at the research, we can see some of those common beliefs, so that we know that individuals who are exposed to pornographic media have beliefs such as [thinking that] rape victims like to be raped, they don’t suffer so much when they’re raped, ‘she got what she wanted’ when she was raped, women make false accusations of rape because it isn’t really rape … no one is really traumatized by it. All of these are part of the rape myth. People who use pornography accept the rape myth to a greater degree than others. So we have a sense that pornography is teaching them to think like a rapist and then triggering them to act like rapists.

 

When you cheapen sex and you cheapen women’s bodies, when you treat people like things, there’s a consequence — and one of the consequences is sexual violence, but one the consequences is also relationship damage. There’s an interesting series of studies that actually highlights a bit of the phenomena of how this works. They were showing people just mildly sexualized pictures. They were men and women in swimsuits, men and women in their underwear, sort of relatively mild sexualized pictures and they showed them either upside right or upside down and looked at the processing in the brain, because it will display a phenomena of which part of your brain you’re using to process that picture that you see.

 

What we see with men, when people look at men, and look at them in their swimsuits or in their underwear, they’re using the part of their brain that processes humans and human faces but when we look at women in their swimsuits and their underwear we use the part of our brain that processes tools and objects and when you process a woman as a tool or an object you use. The rules that we use when we deal with tools or objects is if it’s not doing its job then throw it away, get another one. So the feminists years ago said these men are treating women as sex objects and we thought that was a metaphor. It wasn’t a metaphor. It was an actual statement of reality, that they’re using the part of their brain which they use to process objects and things and there’s a consequence in the society when you start treating sex as a product and women as a thing.”

magazines

Here’s where we interject to make sure this study she cited doesn’t get twisted. The images of women’s bodies in that study were just as sexualized or undressed as the images of the men’s bodies, but it was only the female bodies that were viewed as objects. This is significant, because our culture has a tendency to blame women for men perceiving them as sex objects. It isn’t their fault. It’s the way we’ve been trained to perceive women, even when they’re in the same state of undress in the same circumstances as the men. We’ve been surrounded since birth with media that sexualizes women’s bodies incessantly, depicting women as bodies to be viewed and consumed first and foremost, while men (though sometimes sexualized as well) are presented as active agents who are valued for many things aside from the appearance of their bodies. Women’s bodies are not naturally or inherently any more sexualized than men’s bodies, yet we see them that way. Blaming women for this tendency doesn’t make any sense or get us any closer to a solution. We need to take responsibility for how we see people, how we think about them, how we talk about them, how we act toward them, and then work to change it. We also need to take responsibility for the messages and media we’re taking into our brains and how they affect the way we view other people. Porn will absolutely keep our brains in object-viewing mode. If we don’t want to see people as objects and fall into the trap of thinking of them and treating them as such, then we can’t keep viewing stuff that upholds those lies. Dr. Layden continues:

The desire for love is built into us. [One of my colleagues] said, ‘The real damage is that it threatens the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.’ That summarizes what we are doing, that everybody is hardwired to love and be loved. That’s what feeds our hungry heart, and we have a generation who are starved and have hungry hearts and yet they are eating the sexual junk food and becoming sexually obese because they’re so starved they would eat junk food if that’s all that’s available to them.

 

And so partly we need to have people talk about the glory of good sex, the wonderfulness of good sex, of how it bonds committed couples together and helps them keep their promises to each other, that there is a thing called good sexuality that is enhancing and enlivening and is love-based, but all of this sexual junk food that is out there is not it. If I said to people, ‘I want you to eat healthy food and don’t go to McDonald’s,’ they wouldn’t call me anti-food. They would say you just want to promote healthy food and … find out if you eat McDonald’s every day for 30 days you’ll have a fatty liver. Well that’s what I want to do with sexuality. I want to promote healthy, loving, enhancing, soul-feeding sexuality, not sexual junk food.

 

I think we’ve got to educate ourselves, we’ve got to tell the truth to others, you’ve got to speak truth to authority because once you know this stuff, if you’re silent, silence is complicity.

 

We’ve got to go in to our schools and our libraries and say you’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to say to our governments, ‘you’ve got to stop spreading permission-giving beliefs and that means don’t legalize prostitution.’ It tells men that it’s fine and more men will go to prostitutes. We’ve got to have laws against things that damage people; we’ve got to have outrage in this society when sexual violence is swept under the rug, when a professional athlete does it. We’ve got to come together and have the journalists, the lawyers, the parents to get together as a mighty team and say, ‘this society is worth saving, our children are worth saving, sexuality is sacred.’ We’ve got to do it together and so it takes a concerted effort … When I hear people say we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, I say, ’50 years ago, 60% of the people in New York City smoked; today 18% in NYC smoke.’ Put the genie back in the bottle. We can do this one as well and it’s worth doing.”

We wholeheartedly agree. We’re not going to tiptoe around this issue for fear of the trolls who will undoubtedly accuse us of being jealous, ugly, prudish religious zealots who are anti-sex (which is among the kinder things we get called). We recognize the harm done to many men and their health and their relationships by porn consumption. We also recognize the harm done to many women by men who learn damaging messages from porn about women’s worth. Women are not only hurt by porn through their relationships, but by their own exposure to the stuff as well. We recognize the harm done to women by exposure to pornography that convinces them to turn inward, to focus on the appearance of their own bodies and prioritize their sex appeal to others over their own sexual health or satisfaction.

Consider this example candidly e-mailed to us by a young woman:

Porn Email

Just as men and women learn to objectify each other through exposure to media that presents us in terms of our parts, women in large numbers learn to self-objectify and monitor their own appearances at the expense of all other aspects of their lives. This is an area of research we speak and write about every chance we get. It is an epidemic reality for girls and women of all ages, but it can be fought once we recognize that it is happening.

We can work against self-objectification in similar ways to how we work against objectification. Let’s do this together and heal our relationships just as we heal ourselves from the lies we’ve bought and held against ourselves and those we love.

  • Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
  • Encourage your partner, friends and family to join you in objecting to objectification, including avoiding all forms of pornography, degrading magazines that feature women on display as ornaments, and any other media that devalues women. People have to recognize what objectification looks like in media before they can root it out of their own worldviews and interactions.
  • Speak up when you see a woman being used as a prop or a sexualized nobody in that TV show you’re watching together.
  • Point out the disparities in the numbers of women vs. men featured in any media, as well as the disparities in what those people have to look like to qualify for that screen time.
  • Watch where the camera zooms, pans and focuses on bodies of women, regardless of which gender the program or movie was intended for.
  • Listen to how the dialogue differs when it’s about women from when it’s about men.
  • Remind yourself and your partner, friends and family that regardless of what a woman looks like or what she is wearing, each individual is in control of what she/he looks at, thinks about, and does.

If someone views you as an object to be ogled or judged or acted upon, that’s on them. Not you. We are all in control of what we look at, what we think, and what we do with those thoughts. In all this talk about objectification, men are very often being sold short as helpless, weak, and hopeless in the fight to see women as humans and not as a collection of body parts to be ogled. This is a lie.

We have to quote our previous post by Nate Pyle here:

A lot of people will try and tell you that a woman should watch how she dresses so she doesn’t tempt you to look at her wrongly. Here is what I will tell you. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning.  It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.  You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing – or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim. You are not a helpless victim when it comes to your eyes.  You have full control over them.  Exercise that control. Train them to look her in the eyes.  Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body. The moment you play the victim you fall into the lie that you are simply an embodied reaction to external stimuli unable to determine right from wrong, human from flesh. Look right at me. That is a ridiculous lie. You are more than that.  And the woman you are looking at is more than her clothes.  She is more than her body.”

To stop viewing and treating others as objects, and to stop treating ourselves as objects, we have to acknowledge the influence of pornography and sexual objectification on our relationships, health and safety. And once we recognize that influence, we have to reject it in all its forms. We can retrain our minds to see humans, rather than just sexualized body parts. We can retrain our minds to prioritize our own health, safety and satisfaction, rather than a fixation on our sexual appeal to others. But we can’t retrain our minds when we’re allowing powerful, hugely profit-driven sources to perpetuate lies about sex and bodies and our worth. 

For lots more research-backed information about pornography’s effects on all aspects of our lives, check out Fight the New Drug. For ways to join the fight through public education and the application of law, visit Porn Harms.

*And more rarely, self-objectification among men as well. For both gay and straight men, this is especially manifested in fixation on sexualized body ideals highlighted in pornography, such as the size of sexual organs and muscularity.

 

  1. Kiss & Make-up
    Kiss & Make-up02-02-2015

    Yeah, porn definitely isn’t healthy for us in the sense that it can really affect our idea of what is normal, what a naked body should look like and what sex should be like.

  2. Jessica Church
    Jessica Church02-02-2015

    I read the original article and loved it, also loved your commentary. Pornography ruins lives.

  3. Rebekah
    Rebekah10-23-2015

    Absolutely agree!! I’ve had this discussion out time and time again, wonderful to see others with the same views.

    Rebekah

  4. The_Gent
    The_Gent12-15-2015

    Pornography spiced up my love life; it seems like a personal choice for individuals and couples to make. Ain’t freedom great?

    • Julie
      Julie12-17-2015

      To The_Gent:

      Our agency and freedom to choose is one of the greatest gifts we can have! And happily, those of us in some parts of this world enjoy that gift. I’m so grateful.

      A lot of people aren’t as lucky as you and me.

      How can you be certain the porn you are using to “spice up your love life” is created in a free environment with consenting individuals?

      How do you know if the “actors” or “models” are not underage and/or victims of sex trafficking? How do you even know for certain their ages? Was it developed under the threat of abuse or violence? Was there rape? Are the pictures you’re viewing taken with the complete knowledge of the person in the photos/video?

      Were there illegal drugs involved? I have personal experience working with recovering drug addicts. A large percentage of the women worked part time in strip clubs and were paid for sex during and after the show.

      Do you have a mom? A sister? A daughter? A niece? Honestly, how would you feel about them posing for porn movies and photos?

      This is not a happy, peace-filled business where people feel proud and satisfied with their work. It is a dark environment, full of exploitation and violence. For women and men.

      • The_Gent
        The_Gent12-17-2015

        I think a woman should be in control of her body and have the right to do with it as she pleases. I think sex-positivity is a good thing to teach girls at an appropriate age (I’m a father of two girls).

        Regarding whether or not the actors are forced to participate, I highly doubt that is the case with any of the major production studios, particularly as they are required under title Title 18, Section 2257 to verify age and keep that verification on file. A major studio would never jeopardize tens of millions in long-term revenue (and long jail terms) in order to employee one minor. It just doesn’t happen with professional studios. My advice would be to only patronize materials from well-known studios.

        The drug issue isn’t really related, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from with that. I guess if you want to ensure that people aren’t using drugs on the job, the clearest thing to do is to lobby for drug testing in any industry (including restaurant or club work) where women work in large numbers and fire all of those who are not drug-free.

        Of course I have a mother, and daughters, nieces, cousins. But I don’t make choices for them – I’m a man! – they make their own choices with their own bodies. And I’m there for them if they ever need emotional support.

      • Lauren
        Lauren02-10-2016

        I think you are uninformed to the conditions that porn is made in. If you do a bit of research online you will find that more often than not, these women in the videos are coerced into doing acts that they did not sign up for, but then forced into doing or are told they won’t be paid. They also suffer a lot of injuries as much of what is done to them is harmful to their bodies, and end up in the hospital frequently. Not to mention the rape and assault they suffer at the hands of the men they work for/with.

      • W
        W03-02-2016

        Aside from issues with coercion and sex trafficking.

        Porn does treat women as sexual objects and it does warp your views of sex-no doubt. I’m not even talking about porn that seems very degrading or exploitative. But When you view pornography, you begin to see sex as not private and very casual. After watching porn only a few times, I began to think it was totally normal for someone to have sex w/ a person they had met the same day or only known a few weeks. I also began to see novelty as something very important to a sexual encounter. There were multiple negative psychological effects of viewing pornography.

        Even if you view a video like “married couple making love” or something non-offensive, it trains your brain to view others as a sexual outlet and not connect marriage/relationship or emotion to sex. And this makes sense even this married couple you’re viewing and gaining gratification from is totally unknown to you and/or you are not emotionally or relationally involved with them.
        I’m not sure how porn will spice up your love life. If viewing others sexually is spicing things up, then I’m not sure what that has to do with the sex between you and your partner. Just my thoughts!

  5. Julie
    Julie12-16-2015

    I cannot tell you “THANK YOU” enough, Lexi & Lindsay. Truly you are doing a great work and I would like to help you in the war against body objectification and pornography!!!

    I also think a valid point to bring up is that sex is intended to be a self-less, giving act. It is about connecting with your partner, finding out what pleases them, and giving them of your whole self. It is about love, sharing, and sometimes putting off your own satisfaction and fulfillment to see that their needs and desires are met. Sex is about giving and taking in a relationship full of compassion, charity, mixed sometimes with a sense of humor!

    Consuming pornography or objectifying another person’s body is a completely selfish act. It is not thinking about giving and pleasing the person in the pictures or the videos. It is not realizing they are humans with emotions, feelings, dreams, desires of their own, cavities in their teeth, a possible chronic illness they suffer from, someone’s daughter, sister, and/or mother.

    I so wish we could teach the Youth of today to stop seeing all people as objects, a means to an end, a tool. I wish we could teach ALL PEOPLE, of all ages this concept!!

    Keep fighting, ladies. I’m right there with you and doing what I can to help!

  6. Angela
    Angela12-22-2015

    Maybe we could all use a reality check, porn doesn’t lead to assault any more than females wearing skinmpy clothes in public. Once again we are trying to push an excuse over ignorant american tendencies. You wanna know what leads to girls dressing skimpy, guys being aggressive, and people watching porn, making porn, and even midget porn? What leads to this is Parents who are to self righteous, too self absorbed, too busy and too ungrateful to raise their heathens with faith. Teaching their kids about God isn’t a priority and so you have different levels of consequence based on status. You have your poverty kids, no faith, no God, chip on their shoulder maybe they end up aggressive. You got ur middle class kids no faith, never went to church, so he has an unhealthy addiction to nudey pics, then you have your rich kids, parents athiests, kids spoiled never answer to anyone. If these kids dont burn out in early adulthood eventually becoming porn stars, producers or just extras, then they probably end up addicted to prescription pills or die from mixing drugs and alcohol. So the nect time you wanna do a study, try considering whether your candidates are able to be compared, cuz obvious were not all created equal.

    • The_Gent
      The_Gent01-04-2016

      It will certainly come as a shock to you, Angela, but self-identified Christian men consume porn at about the same rate (or higher) than people who don’t identify as god-fearing. Clearly, men of all walks of life *do* like to view naked women, particularly women involved in sexual activity. It seems that men are hard-wired to place a premium on visual stimulation.

      • Freedom fighter
        Freedom fighter03-17-2016

        To The_Gent,

        ‘Ain’t freedom great’ – Yes, indeed it is! And that is the whole point of this topic here!

        Many females want the freedom to walk into shops, watch TV, buy magazines, shop for clothes, drive down freeways past billboards etc. without the constant sexualised image of women in our faces. You can choose to walk into a dark little shop to purchase your materials in a little brown paper bag and do so discretely. Like smokers should smoke away from non smokers and not intrude their choice on others, likewise porn consumers can remove themselves to consume their product privately and contribute to an industry according to their own moral compass.

        I’m not into women and don’t enjoy seductive gazes at me from every magazine stand as I buy groceries, just as heterosexual men would get tired of products sold to them with ‘come hither’ flirtatious masculine men staring at them when they buy the newspaper or plastered on bus shelters as they wait for transport or junior football players in bum cheek shorts and mesh singlets serving them beverages with a wink at their favourite sporting events.

        So good, you brought up a very important point, freedom is what we are after, just not your understanding of it!

  7. Susan
    Susan01-13-2017

    Hi,
    I am very interested in this topic and particularly interested in how current porn impacts on younger peoples relationships (or lack there of) and sexual desire in general. I am not sure though that I understand the excerpt I copied below. What part of the brain are you referring to exactly ?
    “What we see with men, when people look at men, and look at them in their swimsuits or in their underwear, they’re using the part of their brain that processes humans and human faces but when we look at women in their swimsuits and their underwear we use the part of our brain that processes tools and objects and when you process a woman as a tool or an object you use. The rules that we use when we deal with tools or objects is if it’s not doing its job then throw it away, get another one.”

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