Is the glut of online porn turning us into a bunch of smut-snaffling perverts?
Lisa Byers wanted to know. Having studied sexually addictive Internet use as an undergrad, the Guelph University student is focusing her sociology/anthropology Masters thesis on what the rest of us plain old sexually curious folk are doing online. And, of course, whether there’s any truth to the “Triple A” theory — that the accessibility, affordability and anonymity of the Internet have made becoming a sexual deviant so much easier — that’s been popularized in most psychologically based studies on the subject.
“Most of the studies focus on the problematic use of sexual Internet content,” says Byers, who funded her undergraduate degree by working at a sex toy store in Brandon, Manitoba. “I wanted to move away from the stigmatized, problematic behaviour and just look at what people are doing online in general when it comes to using Sexually Explicit Material on the Internet, or SEMI.”
Byers came up with the term because porn seemed too limiting and negative. SEMI basically includes any online adult behaviour, from sending a dirty joke to sexual chatting, or viewing fist-fucking videos. .
Byers admits that the Internet has changed the way we access porn. Still, her research shows that greater access doesn’t automatically lead to greater consumption.
In fact, while 93.1 per cent of her 459 Internet survey respondents had received email advertising a porn site, only 7.4 per cent said they accessed Internet porn more than three times a week.
Disproving her own original hypothesis, Byers also discovered that people with more years’ experience using computers and the Internet aren’t accessing more porn either.
But it makes sense if you think about it, she says.
“The habits you had with [using or viewing] porn before the Internet are going to be repeated on the Internet, and having more access or more skill or years of experience doesn’t necessarily change that.”
Byers was also surprised to find that, while we still tend to think of non-Internet porn as mostly a guy thing, gender didn’t help predict whether or not someone accessed SEMI. Her theory is that because she conducted the survey via Internet, people feel more comfortable being honest.
“I think a lot more people are using porn than will ever admit in our day-to-day lives,” Byers says. “But because it’s still a stigmatized, closeted behaviour, it doesn’t come up in everyday conversation — especially for women.”
Women are especially more engaged in sexually explicit chatting with 29.2 per cent admitting they had initiated it online. “I think women are more comfortable initiating online because they feel anonymous and safer.” Byers figures more women are into communicating and interaction than are into visual stimuli.
Just more theories, of course. Still, it’s refreshing to have someone looking at online porn from a less alarmist perspective, and avoiding the prevalent fear in our culture that the Internet is increasing sexual addiction, breaking up marriages, and turning us all into creepy perverts.
Byers admits all this happens. “If you’re prone to addictive behaviour, then yes, you could be in trouble, and certain personalities will be susceptible,” says Byers. “There is going to be a percentage of society at that end of the continuum engaging in illegal or extreme behaviour, but I’m interested in what people are doing in general because I think there are more people like that online than there are the sexual predators or law breakers.”
And, sure, Byers says, the Internet has lowered the bar in terms of what’s “acceptable.”
When Byers first started working at the sex shop, for example, anal sex was probably the biggest taboo in the material they carried. Four years later, fisting and other extreme material was becoming more and more the norm and she credits the Internet at least in part for this.
“I think some people are inclined toward always seeking out further and further extremes and the Internet is perfect for that,” says Byers.
Still Byers can’t deny that the anonymity of the Internet does make us all ballsier. “For example, someone who would never tell you a dirty joke in person might [do so] online,” she says.
In fact, 63.5 per cent of her participants admitted they’ve sent a dirty joke or sexually explicit email.
But merely sending a dirty joke doesn’t mean you’ll also be into online images of women fucking horses. It’s more likely the person is just test-driving her inner naughty girl (or raunchy boy). In this way, accessing adult material online can sometimes be a healthy experience.
“Maybe you were too shy to go to the store and rent a dirty movie. This gives you a chance to explore your sexuality in a way you weren’t able to before,” Byers explains.
It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll become a sex addict.
Indeed, for most of us, accessing more and more out there porn is more about human curiousity than actually changing our sexual behaviour. I might hear about fisting and can see it online to satisfy my curiosity, but that doesn’t necessarily make me want to go out and shove my arm up someone’s butt
Curiosity, in fact, was one of the most common reasons the survey respondents gave Byers for using SEMI along with “entertainment,” and “to spice up their life with their partner.”
Funny, most the same reasons most of us consume non-Internet porn.
The biggest problem, says Byers, is that while we’re exposed to more and more extreme material, the gap between what’s out there and what people are comfortable talking about is huge. So the content is given no context and there are few outlets to talk about porn use openly and honestly.
Even Byers had to make things up as she went along because the people on her thesis committee just didn’t have any expertise in this area.
Then again, they were probably just to embarrassed to admit it.