Oh my goodness photos of Madonna and Keira and Dr Jan quoted as expert too
When 56-year-old Madonna posed topless for Interview magazine this month the public reaction was a stifled yawn.
Her erotic exposé was the latest in a recent swathe of celebrities stripping off. In November, Kim Kardashian bore all for Paper magazine, in a shock exercise subtitled Break The Internet. In September, Keira Knightley also posed topless for Interview – to expose the objectification of women and on the condition her breasts were not to be retouched.
A few weeks earlier, news that celebrities including actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton had been hacked and their naked photos posted online set the internet abuzz.
Are sanctioned celebrity nude images porn? Soft porn? Or something else entirely? Are they the chicken or the egg in a society that is becoming ever more visual and highly sexualised? And where will our seeming desire to access such images end?
Recent research has found more Australians are clicking onto online porn. The second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR), released last month, found 63% of men and 20% women had looked at pornography in the past year. Ten years ago, only 16% of men had visited an internet sex site and just 2.5% of women.
The ASHR researchers say the findings are not directly comparable. The first ASHR study, released in 2003, asked participants:
Have you gone to a sex site on the internet on purpose?
The current survey asked:
Have you ever looked at pornographic material?
This included magazines, books, pictures, films and internet porn sites.
But there’s no doubt access to internet porn is on the rise. A longitudinal study carried out by the ASHR team showed an increase in the use of internet sex sites between 2005 and 2010. And the research links a rise in experimental sex – in particular oral and anal sex – to what couples see on the internet.
Lead researcher Professor Juliet Richters, from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, told me:
Much readier access to porn means people can see things done and say: “that looks exciting, I’ll have a go at it …” It doesn’t mean they like it. But the number of people who are trying new things has increased.
Rising porn addiction
So why are more Australians looking at online porn? Is it deliberate, accidental or opportunistic? Because it’s freely and readily available? Because pornography is so highly addictive?
Psychologists say porn addiction is the stuff of modern clinical practice. Psychological researchers are still reluctant to impose the label, with studies to date showing poor experimental designs and a lack of methodological rigour.
But in July, Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon published a much-awaited paper showing that the brain-scans of men who describe themselves as porn-addicted revealed changes in the brain’s reward centre. Basically, their brain scans looked like those of alcoholics or drug addicts.
Nudity is everywhere. On billboards, in magazines, on our desktops and mobiles. Like the complacency and compassion fatigue that plagues news media images of war, we increasingly view nakedness with our eyes glazed over.
We click on nudity in our lunch hours and coffee breaks. Quality news sites usher us on our way. No hyperlink, no worries: Google is there to help. And what is the line between soft porn and hard? What is the difference between clicking on sanctioned eye-candy in the office and clicking on X-rated adult porn at home?
Porn is not all bad. At the same time, porn does raise issues for many people. The ASHR study found 60% of Australians believe porn can improve sexual intimacy; but almost half of Australians believe porn degrades the women who appear in it. One in three believe it degrades the men.
Psychologists, meanwhile, have seen a rise in couples seeking help for porn addiction. Melbourne clinician Dr Janet Hall says porn addiction is a case of “the more they see, the more they want”. Hall told me she estimates that in 40% of her couples counselling, porn addiction is a problem. Ten years ago, it was a handful of cases.
Porn is also changing how we make love. For young people in particular, anal and oral sex has become normalised. A decade ago, 79% of men and 67% of women had ever had oral sex. Now it’s 88% and 86% respectively.
For experimenting teens, porn and sex go hand-in-hand. But what does porn teach young men and women about body image, intimacy and gender relations?
“There are young men who have never had sex with an actual woman who are addicted to porn before they’re 20,” says Dr Hall. “Those in relationships have really lovely girlfriends but the kind of sex they feel confident with is watch and wank. It’s abundant, anonymous and free.”
So what’s the answer? The most recent revisions to the mental health bible, the DSM 5, did not include sexual addiction as a disorder.
But some social scientists say it may only be a matter of time. If porn is addictive and nudity is normal, where does that leave us?
Be careful where you click.