Thursday, 1 May 2008

Wet dreams, pornography, pleasure and shame

Earlier this week I attended a debate about pornography run by fpa (www.fpa.org.uk) in conjunction with the Women's Library. There were different views on whether pornography is good or bad (and whether some is good and some is bad - soft = good/hard = bad; heterosexual = bad because of gender inequality, gay and lesbian porn = not so bad because it might be educational). These arguments are perennial and the opinions endless. There was also lots of discussion about sex education, and the importance of improving sex education so young people do not have to rely on pornography to find out about sex. Of course it is important to improve sex education, to be more explicit about sex with young people so they understand how it works. Little room for argument there.

But that is only half of the story because beyond educational purposes many people watch pornography because they get pleasure from it and yet it can also make people embarrassed and ashamed.

When I worked with young men on a fpa project over a decade ago, one young man said, 'pornography is good for a wank, but I hide it.' Another said 'my mum had been washing my sheets when I had wet dreams and not saying anything, then she found my mags and left me a note saying I was dirty - how confusing is that?'

In an age of ever increasing access to pornography and a growing number of the You Tubers making their own porn, how do we as practitioners bring together the different perspectives of pleasure, pain, inequality and education in a way that makes sense for young people and help them think about pornography in interesting ways, and reflect on the distance between the sexual prowess, stamina and low level communication in porn, and the realities of everyday relationships and everyday lives.

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