Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Is Porn Changing Women?

Is today's generation of women coming of age mimicking pornography?

This months Vanity Fair magazine has a provocative article about the effect pornography is having on young women. Nancy Jo Sales reports that women are facing tremendous peer pressure through social media to have meaningless sexual liasons devoid of any emotional connection like a pornography clip. Perhaps the greatest tangible outward sign of this relational sea change among our youth is the trend for adolescent girls and young women to shave their entire bodies, not to prepare for the big swim meet, but to mimic the images of women in pornography.

Among the many deleterious side effects of such a lifestyle is an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. A recent study by French researchers lead by Francois Desruelles, M.D., a dermatologist at Archet Hospital in Nice, France, showed a correlation between full body shaving and the sexually-transmitted disease molluscum contagiosum, a pox virus distinguished  visually by wart-like sores. According to Mount Sinai Medical Center Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, our body hair acts as a defense against sexually transmitted diseases as does our healthy skin. Shaving or waxing not only removes the hair defense but damages the skin, which becomes a port of entry for viral and bacterial infections.

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How did we get to this point where women want to imitate porn stars? Joan Jacobs Brumberg's "The Body Project" showed that once upon a time in America, girls saw goodness in terms of moral and emotional character. The literature of that era of the 1890s and the emerging Suffragette Movement reflected the emphasis on the internal. Fast forward a century later, after the advent of movies in 1914, radio in 1920 and television after World War II and there were big changes. Film critic Michael Medved observed that the media of film, music and television are corrosive on our culture by nature, emphasizing that there is "no tomorrow, no self-denial, no world to come. There is only this minute and this hour; appetites to satisfy and desired to be filled." These three media combined to slowly change the way girls saw themselves. Joan Jacobs Brumberg's research describes our current era where girls see goodness now in terms of the body and physical image. 

In addition to the deleterious effect on women by the media, by the 1960s and 1970s feminists linked up with pornographers to promote promiscuous sex in the culture as a means "to destroy women's dog-like devotion to man." The result was a culture in the 1980s that championed the sexually voracious, porn star-imitating pop superstar Madonna. The female role models that followed, up to 2013 with former wholesome teen role model Miley Cyrus strutting her stuff and "twerking" on stage with a foam finger before a world wide television audience, celebrate this vision of women as portrayed in pornography. Young women have been  taught by the culture that body image and physical beauty are now to be valued instead of moral and emotional character.  

Writer Dina Rickman interviewed feminist Sophie Bennett, who observed that "women and girls are constantly under pressure to worry about what they look like. Advertising, the media, music videos, and  video games all perpetuate the myth that, for women, to be beautiful is to be young, white or light skinned, able-bodied, thin and hairless, pressuring women to define success by how they look rather than what they have achieved."We saw this in a report by the Huffington Post on a recent Roxy clothing company ad campaign that showed vowueristic shots of world champion woman surfer Stephanie Gilmore's body in locations such as a shower, a hotel bedroom and on the beach without ever showing her face or revealing who she was and what she has accomplished. Fans were challenged  to guess who she was in the first promotional ad.

An army of plastic surgeons,dermatologists, fitness trainers, orthodontists and teeth bleaching and tooth-capping dentists are only too happy to keep women forever young, thin, fit and attractive. And now, hairless.

As girls began to de-emphasize the values of character over flash over the last century, is it any wonder relationships began to emphasize the superficial values of physical attraction and charm? We must realize that as a society we have gradually been changed by the media of movies, music, and television and now with the advent of computer, pornography. As University of Washington Professor of Communication Studies Katherine Heintz-Knowles observed, when the message of immediate gratification is marketed by desirable actors and singer, it is more likely to be imitated by viewers. Let us return to building relationships based on the lasting values of character and accomplishment over the physical and temporal.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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