Get Your Mind Right: A Little Porn Never Hurt Anybody

posted June 14, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 64 comments

Quick question: what do Snoop Dogg, Lil Jon, 50 Cent, and OutKast have in common?

Give up?

Porn deals.

That’s right, each of the prominent rappers listed above have a vested interest in the pornography industry. Lil Jon has the Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz American Sex Series. 50 has an interactive sex DVD, titled Groupie Luv, featuring G-Unit that allows the viewer to select partners, sexual positions, camera angles and even the dispositions of the women. In 2004 Playboy TV introduced a new hip-hop-themed series called Buckwild. The show features mainstream stars like OutKast, Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Busta Rhymes hanging out with a bunch of young women called the Buckwild Girls.

Hmm…

And that is just the beginning. In case you didn’t know, the porn industry is bigger than the film and record industries combined. Pornographic web sites in particular have shown tremendous growth in the past few years, increasing by nearly 300 a day and $700 million a year according to some experts. Today there are an estimated 372 million web pages devoted to pornography.

More quick facts:
• 12% of all websites are pornographic
• 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic in nature
• 28, 258 internet users are viewing pornography every second
• “Sex” is the most searched word on the internet
• Last year U.S. revenue from Internet porn hit $2.86 Billion
• 70% of internet porn traffic occurs during the 9-5 workday
*Source: Good Magazine

And if you’re the type who is still in denial about porn being mainstream, consider this: Jet magazine has been doing their Jet Beauty of the Week more than 20 years and BET has a section on their website called For Men, where you can check for more than 50 B-Girls: young ladies with names like Mahogany and Champagne.

There is debate over whether or not pornography has negative effects on individuals and society. The debate, like porn itself, is not new. Porn advocates (yes, there are porn advocates) point to increasing empirical evidence which suggests that negative effects of pornography on the human psyche are very small, if they exist at all. In fact, the 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that there is no relationship between exposure to erotic material and subsequent behavior.

That was 30 years ago. More recent data, however, tells the same tale. For example, a 1999 Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality study examined the effects of internet pornography on male college students’ attitudes towards women. The study found no effects whatsoever on men’s general attitudes towards women, their self-reported likelihood of sexually harassing a woman, or rape myth acceptance.

So then, where’s the debate?

In hip hop culture, the debate is often an awkward one. The music industry is unquestionably male-dominated. From label executive ranks to commercial sponsorship decision makers right on down to the starving artists one thing is crystal clear: sex sells. If you’re a woman, be sexy. If you’re a man, be sexy. If you’re a man but you’re not sexy, put sexy women in your video.

Outside of the hip hop community, social commentators, talk show personalities and politicians have all gone on the record denouncing the hyper-sexual content of the average rap video. Misogyny this, sexism that… blah blah blah. So much has been made of the recent proliferation of women seeking stardom as video models that household names like Vida Guerra, Esther Baxter, & Melyssa Ford immediately come to mind, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. Critics are quick to speak out against the “exploitation” of these women; but rarely do you hear any substance to their gripes.

What’s wrong with images of a woman flaunting her sexuality? That is, (hollow religious rhetoric aside) is there any actual downside to being exposed to erotic images?

Turns out that there is: a little phenomenon known as stimulus desensitization. Basically, psychologists think that when visual material is used as a source of arousal, repeated exposure to it inevitably results in lower levels of sensitivity. This desensitizing process is used routinely in psychiatric sessions to help cure phobias and anxiety disorders. The bottom line is that once desensitization takes place, more extreme levels of the material are tolerated.

You can say that again. One need only look at the evolution of cheerleading in the U.S. to see that Americans today tolerate a lot more than they did in the 1920s. Or better yet, take a look at some music videos from the 90s. There’s more skin on 106 & Park then there was in Tupac’s classic ode to sexual promiscuity "I Get Around".

But I digress.

There’s a similar psychological principle called disinhibition. Disinhibition occurs whenever something causes a person to be more likely to do something that they usually would not. If you’ve ever “loosened up” at a party after a few drinks, you know that alcohol is (among other things) a powerful disinhibitor. Experts believe that disinhibition is also a factor when if comes to viewing pornographic images. If the viewer originally felt inhibited by social constraints about certain acts – like, say, fellatio - then repeated exposure to the material in which these acts are successfully depicted serves to reduce inhibitions. The acts become increasingly less troubling and more acceptable to the viewer.

God forbid.

So let’s review. Viewing porn can cause one to become desensitized to it (need more to get the same effect) and disinhibited (less cautious about trying things out).

Of course, there is also research to suggest that internet pornography seems to reinforce traditional constructions of men’s power over women, objectification, submission, and violence. And there’s where the debate hinges. Not all porn is the same. There are many variations, genres and sub-cultures, far too many to discuss here. Many of these types are embedded with violence, gender submission and other psychologically harmful imagery. So then, is there such a thing as “good” porn?

Wait, don’t answer that.

One study of more than 100 pornographic sites found that pornographic materials on the Internet depict women as sexual objects and as willing, submissive, and subjugated to the needs of the male dominator. Clearly then, becoming desensitized to such negativity is not a good thing.

So the debate will rage on. Interestingly, research in this area also indicates that people tend to perceive mass media messages as having a greater impact on others than on themselves. This is particularly true when the communication is seen as socially less desirable or potentially harmful, such as rap music, pornography and media violence. This might explain why porn is so immensely popular yet so taboo- people believe that it might be bad; just not for them.

Meanwhile skirts will continue to get shorter, magazine racks will get racier, and hip hop will get naughtier as we continue our descent into the moral toilet bowl we call American culture.

Get Your Mind Right. References:
Chen, W. (1999). Web 547 is launched to combat pornography in cyberspace, China Times.
Lo, Ven-hwei (2002). Third-person effect, gender, and pornography on the internet. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.
McLeod, D.M., Eveland, W.P., & Nathanson, A.I. (1997). Support for censorship of violent and misogynic rap lyrics: An analysis of the third-person effect. Communication Research, 24, 153-174.

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