How Sexism in Pornography Affects Men and Young Boys
Dr. Robert Jensen has been part of the anti-pornography movement since the 80s. Since he started, he has taught, written books and articles, and done extensive research on how society has been affected by pornography, with a particular focus on how pornography shapes men’s behaviors and beliefs. Dr. Jensen explains how we’re living in an age of extreme pornography, how normalized sexism and racism have become in mainstream pornography, and how it’s affecting children and the way they’re growing up. In this episode, Dr. Robert Jensen discusses the importance of having conversations with our kids about the harmful effects of porn, modeling healthy interactions, and start changing the conversation about pornography in our own homes and communities.
FROM THIS EPISODE
Dr. Robert Jensen is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. Dr. Robert Jensen has been part of the anti pornography movement since the eighties. He has done extensive research on how society has been affected by pornography with a particular focus on how pornography shapes men’s behaviors and beliefs, teaching this topic through books, articles, and speaking engagements. In this episode, Dr. Jensen explains how we’re living in an age of extreme pornography, how normalized sexism and racism have become in mainstream pornography, and how it’s affecting children and the way they’re growing up. Listen, as Dr. Robert Jensen discusses the importance of having conversations with our kids about the harmful effects of porn, modeling healthy interactions, and start changing the conversation about pornography in our own homes and communities. With that, let’s jump into the conversation. We hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Fight The New Drug (01:10):
Bob, thank you so much for being here with us today and giving us some of your time. I’m really excited about this conversation, and for any of our listeners who might be unfamiliar with who you are, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in this work?
Robert Jensen (01:25):
Sure. I was, a newspaper reporter back in my twenties, in a previous century, and I wandered back to graduate school so I could become a college teacher, and my interests lay in, first Amendment law, freedom of expression. And at the time, this was the late 1980s, the feminist critique of pornography was a central part of the debate about what it means to have free speech. And so without any feminist background or any knowledge of the issue, I kind of wandered into reading, found it incredibly intriguing, ended up writing a dissertation and then making it a central part of not only my intellectual academic life, but my political life as well. So I consider myself to be part of the radical feminist anti pornography movement since the late 1980s.
Fight The New Drug (02:20):
When you first started analyzing pornography, what was that experience like? What did you find out at that time?
Robert Jensen (02:27):
That’s interesting because, like many, maybe even most American men, I had an experience of using pornography as a boy and a young man. and that experience always left me conflicted. Of course, it was, effective in producing arousal and orgasm, that’s what pornography does. But I had the experience that many men have of feeling, uncomfortable with it and, and, unsure of how to understand it. So when I first started doing research, I realized I shouldn’t actually analyze pornographic material itself. I didn’t think I was far enough away from the experience of being a consumer. And that was at a time when the pornography market for those who are younger, late eighties, early nineties, was primarily magazines and movies that you went to a theater to see. The content at that time was, misogynist and racist, as it always has been in the commercial pornography industry.
But I must say by comparison to today’s internet-based pornography, the material I would’ve analyzed was relatively tame. The intensity of the cruelty to women, had not yet ratcheted up as it is today. So I delayed an actual, analysis of pornographic material until the late 1990s when I had started working with Gail Dines. Now, probably the most important authority on pornography from the feminist perspective, Gail and I realized the market had changed so dramatically from some of the original work in the eighties, that we needed to do an analysis of, the commonly rented and purchased, pornographic movies that you could pick up in a, in a pornographic bookstore. And we did that. And Gail and I still recall, how emotionally difficult it was to sit with that material. and and that led me, I think I was probably the first time I said, you know, most men in the United States have never seen pornography.
And everybody always giggles when I say that. Like, what do you mean everybody watches porn? And what I meant by that was that men, of course, use pornography to produce sexual arousal and orgasm, but in doing that, they don’t really see it. And that was certainly true for me, that when you step back and look with a critical eye with an analytical framework, well then you see a whole other side of the pornographic imagination. And, that was a disturbing experience. So disturbing. I said, I’m never gonna do it again. later in the two thousands when I started writing a book called Getting Off, I realized I need to do this for the current wave of DVD based pornography. Right. And, and I did another study of that, and I’ve learned over the years that one of the things when I talk about pornography, I never know when it will happen, but I will always be hit with a very intense emotion.
And the emotion right there was remembering back in the two thousands doing that study of DVD based pornography and just being overwhelmed by the cruelty, the abuse, the degradation. and that was the last study of actual pornographic films I ever did, because not to be overly dramatic, I realized I just couldn’t emotionally handle it anymore. So since, since then, I rely on the work of other people who do this analysis. but my own experience of trying to grapple with contemporary pornography has been intellectual, of course, in the sense that, you know, research and, and analysis, is very important, but there’s also always an underlying emotional component. It’s different for men and women, obviously. for women, I think the kind of horror is to recognize that this is how much of the world sees you as an objectified body that exists primarily for male sexual pleasure. But for, but for men, if we open up to this, we have to realize we’ve been socialized to be the people who consume those objectified female bodies. And there’s a really disturbing, confrontation with ourselves. I think that is inevitable. And, that’s kind of the story of my interaction with, contemporary pornography.
Fight The New Drug (07:11):
Well, first of all, thank you for the work that you have done in that analysis. I can only imagine how difficult that would be to have had to consume that much content to be able to analyze it. And I think it’s really important to note what you just said, kind of on both sides of this issue. We often see this as a gendered issue. A lot of your recent work especially, is addressing the question that you’ve been asked primarily from women of why do men like pornography so much? And I think it’s important to note that, that we have been socialized in the ways that we have been. And can you talk a little bit about your work that addresses that question?
Robert Jensen (07:49):
I still consider myself part of the feminist movement. And, you know, a fundamental point of feminism is to look at who is most vulnerable, who is injured psychologically, physically by these practices. And of course, that’s primarily women and girls, sometimes boys, vulnerable men used in the porno in the pornography industry. But that said, there are negative consequences for pornography used for the primarily male customer base as well. And I don’t think we can go forward and try to, to take apart the pornography industry if we don’t recognize that reality for men, the men who use pornography. And so I mentioned that many men have a, a discomfort when they use pornography for sexual pleasure. And a lot of my conversations with men, both in informal research projects, as well as informally, has been to understand that, and you know, this, this goes back to, something I’ve said now about, a hundred thousand times in my career, which is I was raised to believe that feminism was a threat to me.
And what I came to understand from studying the feminist critique of pornography, and then feminism more generally, is that feminism is actually a gift to men, because it helps us not only understand the injuries visited upon women and girls, but it helps us understand how we have been limited with these, you know, norms of traditional masculinity. and so I, I’ve been thinking a lot about that and talking to men a lot about that. And, it, I think it helps open up, a discussion for men that can allow them to move away from being tied to a kind of habitual use of pornography, which is an increasingly common experience, men, especially younger men and boys who have grown up in such a saturated pornography saturated culture, that their sexual imaginations are essentially colonized by pornography, and they don’t know how to experience sex intimacy pleasure without it. And, and that’s a very sad state for anybody, man or woman. And that’s a lot of the focus of my work.
Fight The New Drug (10:10):
And, you mentioned this earlier, and a lot of your work talks about how pornography is inherently promoting racism. Right. Can you talk a little bit about that for someone who might not be as familiar with that idea?
Robert Jensen (10:23):
This is one of the curiosities about pornography. If you look at, Hollywood movies and, you know, television shows, if there is racism and sexism, it’s critiqued. But pornography, which is without a doubt, the most deeply misogynist and racist media genre that exists in the world usually escapes that kind of critique. It’s not hard to understand why pornography is sexist, after all it’s primary clientele is men and projecting an image of male sexuality that controls women. right. You know, I hate to say it makes a certain amount of sense in a male dominant culture, but one of the things the feminist critique helped me understand is it’s not just about sexualizing the male female dynamic. It’s about sexualizing power. And in this culture, men typically have power over women. And so you can eroticize or sexualize that by presenting women in scenes of, let’s say, sexual degradation, where men can do literally anything they wish to a woman sexually.
Well, once you’ve eroticized that power dynamic, right, then you can go into any power dynamic in the culture and sexualize it. And that’s the one thing I’ve said many times about pornography, any power dynamic you can imagine that exists in the world today, that is a relationship where one group or one person has power over another group or person. I can guarantee you there’s pornography made of that. And the primary one is, is racism. extremely, crass, harsh, vicious racism. that covers the gamut, you know, of various, you know, racial stereotypes about black, Latino, Asian, native, every category you can imagine. And so that means men over women, it means various kinds of racist scenarios, you know, doctors abusing nurses, teachers and students, every power dynamic sexualized. and, and when we look at that and people who have studied porn realize there’s something just profoundly sad about a world in which every person who’s in a vulnerable position can be made the sexual fetish of people in power. and, but that’s the state of the world we live in.
Fight The New Drug (12:52):
I think it’s so important that you pointed out that, there, it does seem to be an acceptance of those things in pornography where they are not accepted otherwise. And, and we really have to ask ourselves why
Robert Jensen (13:04):
I think that people who who refuse to critique pornography are acting out of fear. Now, I don’t pretend to be, you know, doing arm share psychology of individuals here, but if one looks at the issue and the way we’re talking about, right, it’s therefore incumbent not just to critique the porn industry or practices out in the world, it demands that we critically self-reflect about our own lives and how we’ve been trained to be sexual beings. And that is scary. I know this firsthand, when I first encountered the feminist critique of pornography, I was terrified because at some level, I knew this wasn’t just about, you know, an academic project. This was about me and who I was and how I had been trained. and I think breaking through that fear and realizing that on the other side of the fear is a richer, deeper, more meaningful way to live, to be sexual, to be intimate with another person. And so there’s an incredible reward in facing that fear. But my observation, again, based on my own experience, is facing our fears might be the hardest thing that we have to do.
Fight The New Drug (14:16):
Yeah, that’s very well said. Can you talk a little bit about, for young people today who are uniquely experiencing this content that the most extreme, that is the most extreme it’s ever been? What is that looking like for young people who are experiencing this? And what do you think that looks like in the future if we don’t address it, if we don’t help young people understand what this is?
Robert Jensen (14:39):
This reminds me of my friend Gail Ds, who I mentioned earlier, has long been saying, we’re, we’re running, the largest unregulated social experiment in history by, children, often very young children, to images of intense sexual experiences that they are not physically neuropsychologically developed enough to understand. And what, what happens? Well, it, the short answer is not good things. let me digress really briefly, because, the minute you mention pornography and its effect on children, there’s a certain component of the liberal left that says, oh, you’re engaging in, in, hysterical, you know, ranting about kids. And, and they often use the term moral panic, right? And it’s true in history. There have been all sorts of, you know, kind of crazy ideas. For instance, when comic books first came out, there was a critique that said comic books would destroy the minds of American children.
Well, that didn’t really happen. But the fact that there have been moral panics in the past that turned out to be unsubstantiated, doesn’t mean that a concern about exposing young children, and I’m talking about children, is, you know, as soon as they can get online, basically. And many parents leave their children, let their children, go online at very early ages. So 8, 9, 10, by their teenage years, virtually every boy I’ve ever talked to has seen pornography online in the contemporary era. Well, well, what does that do? Well, it has profound effects that I think we’re just starting to untangle. But, I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m not a psychologist. So rather than talk about it in kind of, research terms, I can talk about the young men I’ve spoken to over the years, and I’ve spoken to hundreds of them, after I’ve given talks, you know, people who email me.
And it is a now a, a very common experience for men to struggle with a conception of intimacy and sexuality that isn’t rooted in pornography, because they’ve seen that material from such an early age. I’ve had men tell me that they cannot engage in sexual activity in the real world without thinking about pornography. I’ve had men tell me that they developed an interest in certain kinds of sexual acts, often very aggressive sexual acts that they never thought of on their own, but are a direct result of seeing pornography. a a quick example of that is the increase in, strang, sometimes they call it choking or strangulation during sexual activity, where men will close their hands around the throats of a female partner that comes straight out of pornography. It’s a very standard part of the pornographic repertoire, right? So, without making claims that porn causes specific behaviors or, or pornography is responsible for people’s sexual dysfunction, that would be a silly claim.
The world is too complex for that. The pattern is quite clear that, there are, there are negative consequences for women whose male partners use pornography, such as demanding, more aggressive, and often painful and discomfort and uncomfortable sexual acts. and there’s also, you know, consequences, negative consequences for men from their own self-report. And I wanna make that clear. I’m not telling men what they should think. I’m telling you what men tell me. and it’s increasingly clear, so clear that as you’re well aware, there’s now, a number of online support groups for men who experience erectile dysfunction because of their habitual, addictive, like use of pornography, men who literally cannot perform sexually with a person because of their, pornography consumption. When you take the evidence from laboratory research of psychologists and neuroscientists, and put it together with these reports, self-report, I think at this point, it’s unquestioned that this social experiment we’ve been running by exposing especially young people to porn, is a disaster. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
Fight The New Drug (19:16):
And I think, you know, being so well versed in those stories and those experiences, can you speak a little bit about, I guess, to give people some hope that there is a scenario where you could recover from, you know, that compulsive behavior or that consumption. What does, what does that look like in the conversations that you’ve had?
Robert Jensen (19:33):
The one thing I always say to men is, you can get past this, but you can’t do it by yourself. I think, you know, if you think about the common addictions, alcohol, drugs, extreme behavior, gambling, nobody beats those by themselves. So the first thing is to talk, and I emphasize this with men, especially because men are often trained not to talk about difficult emotions, especially emotions that are attached to some sense of failure, you know, and men’s pornography use often is, attached to a sense that they’ve failed, as, you know, real men. so we have to start talking about this. And of course, once you start talking lots of stuff as possible, some people use traditional therapeutic interventions, which can be useful. Some people, gravitate toward 12 step groups. they’re also, you know, as I said, these online forums that aren’t really organized in any sort of professional way, but just allow men to share stories.
and I for one, also think this should always be engaged with understanding that pornography doesn’t look the way it does by accident. It’s because of this power imbalance. And of course, finally, for some people, there’s a spiritual component to it. I’ve known a lot of people who are secular, a lot of people who are religious, and they will draw on different ways of understanding the world for strength. But in the end, that strength, no matter where it is secular or spiritual, I think comes from a collective effort, opening up being vulnerable to other people and not being afraid to talk about, you know, things that are so deeply painful for all of us.
Fight The New Drug (21:20):
And I think that’s a good reminder for so many people. They feel alone in this. They feel like everyone in the world consumes pornography. It’s so normalized in our culture, but I think it’s a good reminder that there are millions of people who are actively talking about this, who are advocating against the harms of pornography. So you’re not alone if you’re listening to this and, and you feel alone in this, you’re not.
Robert Jensen (21:44):
Although it is, I think you made an important point. It has become normalized, and that that can make it difficult to see that the problem is not in you as an individual. You’re not a flawed person if you’re trapped in one of these cycles of addictive, like consumption of porn. The problem is the culture you live in, and you do have to take responsibility and, and seek help, but you, you can’t do it by yourself.
Fight The New Drug (22:13):
We often say, you know, despite pornography perpetuating fairly discriminatory stereotypes, the harms of pornography do not discriminate. You know, anyone, regardless of any diversifying factor can be negatively impacted by pornography. And so I think that’s really important to note. There are times that people will say, well, this is only, you know, someone’s only thinking pornography is a problem because of, of a moral concern or a, you know, a personal belief. And that’s simply not true. And I think that’s important to acknowledge.
Robert Jensen (22:44):
And one other thing, I I’m thinking of all the ways that people try to dismiss and denigrate the critique we’re talking about, and I’ve had so many people over the years say, well, what, what do you think pornography causes everybody’s problems? And I said, well, no, but is there any one aspect of our life that causes every problem in our lives, right? We, we live in, in, let’s face it, a fairly dysfunctional culture. We don’t live in a culture that promotes, you know, mental health and egalitarian interaction with others. you know, there’s problems everywhere. And, you know, people are drawn to, to addressing the specific problems that, that they feel, you know, able to address. And the critique of pornography is, for me, part of a larger personal and political life that looks at all of the various ways that people are injured in this world.
I just don’t think that denying the of the harms of pornography is going to advance any project. and I think, as I said, the evidence both from the laboratory and from real life is pretty clear about this at this point. And we know there’s a connection between how we understand the world in our head and how we behave in the world, right? That’s not hard to articulate. And for pornography, just like every other media, we can’t really get at the direct connections yet, we worry when there’s, for instance, too much violence in, you know, video games. Well, any decent parent who sees a child playing these intensely violent video games for hours at a time, is gonna wonder, is there a connection between this kind of image and the way my child is forming attitudes about violence? You don’t need to know these specifics to know that it’s a relevant question.
So all of these are ways that people try to divert from the reality of the experimental research I mentioned, as well as the experience people now are increasingly speaking about in public, that lead us to conclude that the, I think the overwhelming, effect of pornography is negative. Now, I also realize there’s a lot of, as I always say, there’s a lot of individual variation in the human species. I’m not saying that every person who uses pornography is going to act in certain ways or form certain ideas, right? But we don’t need to, to say this with a hundred percent certainty to see those patterns and to be concerned about the consequences.
Fight The New Drug (25:25):
And I think a couple things you said earlier, again, it can be difficult for people to confront this because it, there is fear there, right? About, well, what does it say about me if, you know, I’ve consumed this thing? But I think it’s important to remember, it is so normalized in our society, and, you know, we are socializing people to consume this content and to think it’s normal. So I guess I wanna add to this discussion kind of a disclaimer about shame. You know, it’s, it’s neither of our goals to shame anyone who’s consuming pornography. In fact, that’s what most of us have been socialized to do from the time we’re very young.
Robert Jensen (25:59):
I think it’s also important to distinguish between guilt and shame. Like you, I would argue very strongly that shame is largely, the product of a pretty dysfunctional culture that teaches us some pretty strange things about our bodies and our desire, right? so I tried to, to help in, again, my case. It’s usually talking to men, help men let go of that sense of shame, because I felt it as a child, as a, as a boy and a young man myself. like, there’s something wrong with me. so we can get past shame, but guilt, I think is a different question. And I think guilt can be very healthy. I don’t mean a kind of destructive guilt in which you feel, like you should be punished for, you know, your, your bad thoughts. But, I can look back at my own life as a man or as a white person or whatever, and see places where I behaved badly, right?
I ran into a few years ago, a woman I had known in college, and we were talking and laughing, and she, she started se telling me some things I had said to her when I was 20 years old. And I felt guilty, and that was appropriate because I was a dumb, sexist little jerk. And, and so I said, you know, I’m really sorry. And she, of course, you know, said, that was years ago, don’t worry about it. And I said, well, it’s important for me to recognize ways that I hurt people in my life and to feel guilty about it, guilt not, you know, in some abstract sense, but guilt as a motivation to not repeat destructive behaviors. And so, when I think about men’s use of pornography, I agree that there, we sh we have to let go of the shame and then ask real questions about how we’re implicated in a system where women are routinely exploited to make that pornography. And when as a man, you’re using that pornography, you are morally connected to that exploitation. And that’s a, that’s a part of being a responsible human being. So, you know, all of this stuff as we’re talking here, it, it’s complex. It takes conversation to understand it. And too often the pro pornography forces try to, to dismiss it with, you know, a quick quip. you know, you just want men to feel ashamed. Now it’s more complicated than that, and we have to talk through that.
Fight The New Drug (28:31):
And we see that in the research as well, right? That shame often keeps someone stuck in a cycle, but guilt can be a healthy motivator for change. So I think that’s really important to acknowledge. What are some of the things we should consider as a society before engaging in pornography? And, and what questions should we really be asking ourselves if after listening to this discussion thus far, someone is still thinking, yeah, I don’t really think there’s a problem with pornography. What are some of the questions maybe we should be asking ourselves?
Robert Jensen (29:00):
You know, when it comes down to it, I think, one of the most important things we can do is to talk honestly and openly with children in age appropriate ways, at ages younger than we are now, usually willing to do it because it is so uncomfortable. How do you talk to your eight year old child about what he or she might see when they log on to do, school project? and these stories, of course, are everywhere of, you know, a kid trying to find something to, to finish an assignment, and being confronted with hardcore pornography. Well, we have to be willing to talk about that, but I think there’s something even more difficult, and that’s as we have to think about as adults, especially as parents. But everybody, you know, even if you’re not a parent yourself, is in a sense of potential role model for younger people is how we behave.
how do we, you know, act in our own lives? the most obvious problem with this is when I talk to heterosexual women, women who are married often, who are afraid of this subject, not because they fear their, their boy is watching pornography, but they fear their husband is, and how are they gonna intervene and provide a healthy role model for a young man when the man of the house, the husband, isn’t trustworthy? all those things open up these really painful conversations we have to have, not just about a problem out there, but our own lives and our own relationships. We all know that kids pay more attention to what we do than what we say. You can lecture kids all day, and they’re watching modeling healthy, you know, interaction and intimacy among adults, parents especially, I think is probably the most powerful thing we can do.
but that isn’t easy. So I think we have to, you know, face reality. what is heartening, and I will honestly be upbeat about this, is when Gail Dines and I first started working together in the 1990s, we thought it was a lost cause. And we thought, well, you know, we’re gonna keep at this. But we weren’t very hopeful. Well, I look back, you know, in the 20 years since then, almost 30 years now, and there’s, both an explosion of the pornography industry and the images that produces the cruelty and degradation of those images. But there’s also an explosion of new conversations, new groups, Gail’s group culture reframed, is a good example, providing parent programs so that instead of being lost and having to figure it out themselves, parents can go online and download really useful, curriculum tips. Teachers, people are starting to wake up in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined. Now, it’s partly because of the depth of the problem, people are waking up. So, but, you know, that’s the human endeavor. We realize our failures, we try to address them, and we, we understand it’s never simple, easy, or quick to deal with these deepest of, you know, crises in our lives, and in this case, a sexual crisis that isn’t going to be solved overnight.
Fight The New Drug (32:37):
And you do have, you know, this group of young adults now who were kids when you first started this research, who experienced these harms of pornography themselves, who are becoming parents now. And so they understand to some extent, the degree to which, you know, kids can be impacted by this. But also, you know, we see there’s kind of a gap still in what parents think pornography is today and what it is today. So I think those conversations are so important. As you mentioned, younger kids are being exposed to pornography. We often say it’s, if not when your child will be exposed to pornography. A lot of parents think, well, not my kid. And unfortunately, that’s not the case. So these, these conversations are so important. And the more we keep talking about this, especially including those who have struggled with pornography, I think sometimes parents who maybe are actively, you know, consuming or struggling with it or have in the past are really hesitant to talk with their children about it because they think, oh, well, who am I, you know, to say anything about this? But to your point, kids are watching, right? And so what a great example to be able to set to say, I understand this because, you know, it affected me and I wanna keep it from affecting you. I think it’s so important to encourage those conversations.
Robert Jensen (33:52):
This may seem like a digression, but, I just thought of, of an example that I always found very heartening. there are, if still in many schools, proms, formal dances. And when I was a kid, the assumption was you had to get a date, right? And there’s all this pressure around dating. And, and I remember as a teenager, feeling unequipped to deal with sexuality at the moment, the culture seemed to be demanding that I do it. And this was, you know, 50 years ago. And then I heard, I remember the first time I heard about young people deciding on their own, not because their parents told them that they would go to prom as a group, a group of friends. And I thought, what a brilliant solution to the problem of all that pressure. Just get your friends and go together as, as a group.
And it may seem trivial, but I thought, that’s brilliant. What, what a in ingenious way for kids to deal with a culture they, they’re feeling at, at a certain kind of tension with. And it reminds me of something, a young man. This was, a boy who was in junior high, was talking about, dating and how kids were already dating. And, there was a girl who was asking him out. And I said, well, you know, we are, you know, sexual beings and this is part of life. And, and he said, yeah, I get that. He said, I just want to be a kid as long as I can. And that really touched me, because that boy knew that there was a cultural pressure coming mainly through his classmates, but it was from the larger culture that he had to be sexual.
Now, even though he internally didn’t feel it, he knew he psychologically, physically wasn’t ready at some level. And I thought, that is the human capacity to know oneself. That is what we have to rely on. I just wanna be a kid as long as I can. I’ve carried that line with me for 30 years now. And think about it often, when, when people say, well, you’re overestimating the effect of this on kids and everything. I just think kids just want to be kids as long as they can. And if you’re nine years old and you stumble onto a hardcore pornography site, that ability to enjoy being a kid has effectively been hijacked because you are being pushed into something you are not psychologically or physically capable of understanding. so here’s to kids hanging on to the right to be a kid. Maybe that’s the new movement, the right to be a kid as long as you can.
Fight The New Drug (36:37):
And I think that’s important. So many kids today feel pressure. You know, we’ve talked about how normalized pornography is. It’s almost like if they haven’t seen it by the, you know, average age of exposure, they’re feeling this pressure of like, oh, what’s wrong with me? But there’s nothing wrong with, with not seeking out pornography as a kid. You know, enjoy being a kid as long as you can.
Robert Jensen (36:58):
here’s another comment I heard from a, a junior high age kid who said he didn’t use pornography. And when he was talking to a group of his male friends, they were talking about porn and how much they liked it. And he said, I don’t do it. And they said, sure, you do. Everybody does. You don’t have to be ashamed to admit it. Just admit it, you do it. So, you know, that that normalizing of it, which was true when I was young, you know, a half a century ago, has intensified so much that, it can seem to young people, like there is no existence outside of it. And we know this is true, not just of explicit pornography, but the sexualized and objectified culture, there’s a lot of attention and more is needed on its effects on girls, on, you know, eating disorders, obsessions with appearance.
A lot of this has been ratcheted up by the importance of social media in the lives of some young people. the pornography question to me is not separate and distinct from that. It’s part of this larger question of how do we allow people to, to explore as human beings are want to do, yet explore in ways that are age appropriate without these pressures that come from the outside. because I don’t think these are pressures generated by kids. They’re pressures being put on kids, and that’s why we’re, as adults, we’re responsible. We can blame kids all we want for spending too much time on TikTok. you know, but kids didn’t create TikTok. They didn’t make it easily accessible, and they didn’t make it attractive. . these are the failures of adults and the failures of a culture. The one thing that this issue has made me realize is there’s, there’s no moral high ground on which to stand to say, ah, I have the answer, and thou shall follow me. we, we’ve all had a hand in creating this deeply dysfunctional and disturbing culture, and we’re all gonna have to take some accountability, if we’re gonna fix it.
Fight The New Drug (39:13):
Yeah, I think that’s such a good point. We spoke with Val Richie recently, and he mentioned this is a human problem with human solutions. And that really stuck with me because I think it is something that we’ve all contributed to in one way or another, the perpetuation of this and the acceptance of this. And it does take all of us to stand up against it and say, actually, I think, you know, maybe we can, maybe things could be healthier for us. Maybe we can rethink this.
Robert Jensen (39:38):
And one of the things I think, and it’s the reason I talk so much about myself, is not because I’m a narcissist, at least I hope I’m not a narcissist, although narcissist are probably the last people who recognize it in themselves. but we have to, especially those of us who are older, we have to model what it means to take risks in public, to speak about our own struggles, because that’s what keeps people trapped, is when they don’t see or hear any way out. And so, right, I talk about, you know, my own use of porn as a boy and a young man up until I found the feminist critique, not because I think my experience is so important, but precisely the opposite, my experience is so ordinary. you know, and, and from that experience, I had to struggle to see a different way.
And I, and I’ll say something I’ve already said, which is, you know, there’s a lot of struggle in life, but you hope there’s something on the other side. And one of the things I testify to constantly is how much better my life is because I’ve gone through those struggles. Confronting feminist critiques of male behavior was not fun. It was not easy. I still struggle with it today, even at the age of 64. I’m not perfect. I still make mistakes, but the life I have been able to build is so much richer and deeper. My relationships with women, not just the intimate relationship with my wife, but my relationship with women more generally are, are so much more positive. And that has benefited me. My life is better for this. A lot of the relationships I have in my life today, not only with women, but also the kinds of relationships I’ve been able to build with men. I don’t would’ve been possible if I hadn’t engaged feminism, taken feminism seriously, and gone through that often very painful experience. that’s kind of a truism in life that a lot of what we want, we are going to get only if we’re willing to walk through a certain amount of pain. it’s part of the human condition, and it’s certainly true in this arena as well.
Fight The New Drug (42:00):
That’s very well said. I think, you know, this isn’t comfortable for anyone to read this research or hear these stories or adjust these topics and confront within ourselves, you know, what, what biases we hold or where we stand on these issues. But it is important and it is necessary. So thank you so much. This has been such an encouraging conversation. Bob, is there anything else you wanna share before we wrap up today?
Robert Jensen (42:25):
I think the one thing I always want to end with is balancing, zeal, you know, the , the desire to change the world overnight, and a recognition of the impossibility of changing the world overnight. I think when we start to build from our own communities, our own families, our own lives, a different way of being, when we respect other people in new ways, I think that’s the base from which any social change happens. and so I’m always trying to balance the fact that I’m right and I know I’m right, and gosh, if only people would listen to me.
The instinct to lecture and demand of people, and open up to other people’s experience to listen, and to try to build those respectful relationships. that’s the long hard work, not only of political organizing, it’s the long, hard work of being human. but the rewards are powerful. and even if we’re not gonna change this overnight, we can be part of building a world in which that change is inevitable. And that’s what keeps me going, has kept me going for 35 years now in a movement, that it, you know, hasn’t won overnight and isn’t going to. So, hang in, I guess, that all reduces to the common phrase. Hang in there. It’ll be okay. .
Fight The New Drug (44:01):
And you know what? I think so many people who care about this work, that is what we need to hear from time to time. It, it’s a good reminder. So thank you so much for making some time to talk with us today. I’m really excited for our audience to get to hear this conversation.
Robert Jensen (44:14):
It, it really was my pleasure, and I’m so grateful. Thank you very much.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug. Fight The New Drug is a non-religious and a non legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects, using only science, facts and personal accounts. Check out the episode notes for resources mentioned in this episode. If you find this podcast helpful, consider subscribing and leaving a review. Consider Before Consuming is made possible by listeners like you. If you’d like to support, consider before Consuming, you can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount at ftnd.org/support. That’s F-T-N-D.O-R-G/support. Thanks again for listening. We invite you to increase your self-awareness. Look both ways. Check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.
Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.
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