How Women's Self-Esteem is Affected by Pornography

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Pornography refers to sexual graphic images, these images are very widely viewed by people of all ages and most individuals view it regularly for sexual arousing. Some people may perceive pornography as a positive influence with a lead way to one’s sexuality of fantasies or empowerment. Sexuality is nature that was once something that not many people spoke out about due to the disagreement of what sexual behaviors were and were not appropriate. Sexual acts and identities became so controversial that the disputes would have to be talked about. This led to sex from only occurring privately behind closed doors to the conflict of pornography being normalized into society through commercialization. In today’s media, porn has infected our culture to the point that it is so often seen and advertised that there is question of the negative effects it has on one’s self-esteem because of the unrealistic visuals presented. This question especially rises for the women who view porn due to the fact that the constant critiques of the media on women’s bodies may make women feel inadequate.

Since the normalization of porn into society, pornography has grown into a billion-dollar industry over the years dating back to the start of the Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler magazines in the 1950’s. In the book Pornland: How Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality the author, Gail Dines, discusses how these magazines were the first introduction into the popular culture of pornography. (2010). During the time of the pornography magazines taking off this was also a time of the economic boom and the consumption of cultural trends. Both contributed to the success of the lifestyle pornography magazines which first started with Playboy by Hugh Hefner. (Dines, p. 2). Huge Hefner introduced Playboy to a specific audience being the single white American male as an upper middle class described as the potential to be the ‘playboy’ surrounded by beautiful women.

Hefner’s idea for the Playboy magazine was made for males as a soft-core porn magazine that featured images of a pinup girl also consisting of lifestyle articles and events. The various pinup girls were not supposed to be the main attractions of the magazine but instead one of the many of the consumptions the playboy himself could have if he followed the advice from the editors in the magazine. Dines explained that the Playboy magazines gave advice to readers on how they should live their lives to become the playboy image that was wanted to fulfill a sexualizing consumption strategy. Men believed that once they achieved the conformed Playboy lifestyle image that they were able to attract the awarding beautiful women as well depicted in the magazine. (Dines, p. 10). As the pinup girl were the first seen images of pornography in the Playboy magazine the Playboy Bunny was the next representation that became the logo. The Playboy Bunny were made into costumes that women wear with corsets, bunny ear, collars and cuffs, and a tail. The bunny symbolizes a sex rabbit, resembling women as innocent but frisky.

As the magazines did have a lot controversy because of the explicit images of women and articles deliver it also gained a larger audience increasing the advertising revenue. Later Penthouse and Hustler magazine started to rise as competition for Playboy implicating more dangerous forms of porn. The magazines took it to the next level showing even more explicated images known as hard-core porn that also contributed to the mass distribution of the multibillion-dollar porn market.

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The Playboy magazine once indicated what kind of lifestyle men should live to uphold the ‘playboy’ image so they could one day have a woman like the ones seen in the magazine they fantasized about. The industry today looks different from what it once was during the time of the first introduction of the magazines. Due to the advancement of technology the internet has become a major source of change to the way porn is accessed and distributed with a high demand of harder porn. With the accessibility of porn, it has become so much of the public world that it can now be seen in not only magazines but art, books, movies, videos, and especially online websites by anyone. Men no longer have to go through the obstacles to read about articles and get advice on what car to drive, what events to attend, or dress a certain way to fulfill their sexual fantasies. Now that porn is so hard core and accessible any man can view it regardless of their qualities and requirements said that they must have and still feel some type of satisfaction.

So, what about the women in all of this… Women are ultimately the center of attention in pornography and just like other media indicates how one should look, dress, and act as women compare themselves to the idealistic visuals which isn’t unusual. Porn is centralized around the appearance of women to the point one can only assume that there are consequences that conform to the self-esteem and body image of women. Porn shows consistent commonalities of the way women are revealed. Often, the women in porn are young, busty with very fit or thin hairless bodies that are always ready to have sex at any moment given with enthusiasm to do whatever men want, regardless of how painful, humiliating, or harmful that act is (Dines, 2010). The normalized visuals of porn are viewed by individuals that then make comparisons to other women. These individuals then begin to have expectations of how women are supposed to look or sound. This is not only detrimental to the way others view women, but it’s extremely important in the effects they have on the way women view themselves.

Young women in particular are more involved in the age of technology with access of pornography that they may be at higher risk for negative effects to their self-esteem even without them actually viewing porn. With marketing and media having a central role in individual’s everyday lives porn has overflowed into pop culture as the conformities are seen everywhere. Women view these conformities, although unrealistic standards, of porn as having power because it is said to be the bodies that men desire and other women will envy (Dines, p. 102). Sociological influences have a lot to do with this because companies are looking to fulfill the image for the overall consumer being men. The sex industry has followed us into an image-based culture that is keen to tell women what clothes to buy, how to do our makeup, or how to behave to satisfy the needs of men. This concept infatuates expectation that if women don’t look this way or have these materialistic items then they aren’t good enough or pretty enough to be liked or let alone keep someone to even be loved. Dines says that the images of soft-core porn have been normalized in everyday culture that anything less is viewed as boring in reality (Dines, p. 105). The way that women ‘must be’ from the conveying messages have become a part of what we as women ideally believe we are supposed to be as a way of our own thinking. Women have started to believe that certain things that make us look or act make us feel good about ourselves with happiness and confidence that if we don’t then we feel less of who we are. Women have a sense of empowerment when they are wanted by men. There is fear of being isolated and alone for some women if the think they aren’t conforming to the fabricated femininity.

As porn culture has altered the way women view themselves in appearance porn has also reformed the way women act contributing to the hook up culture. Due to the lack of commitment and intimacy hook up sex has very similarities to porn sex. Pornography shows women and men both having sex for pleasure broadcasting that women like sex just as much as men. Alana Varley, an editor from the article Hookup Culture: The Dangerous New Relational Landscape explains that if a woman makes a demand for a relationship males feel as if they have the opportunity to leave and continue to participate in the hook up culture with another women who is willing to go with strings unattached (Varley, 2018). Women have learned to not have expectations of a relationship after hooking up separating their emotions. This has become an excepted norm for women because they would rather have some comfortability then none knowingly that they are not emotionally vulnerable.

Some women unconsciously involve themselves in sex as a way for external validation from another. This may reflect negative thoughts and feelings that they may have about their self-worth isolating themselves resulting in being intimate with someone just because. (Dines, 2010). It is believed that men and women try to fit emotional needs through having sex. (Varley, 2018). Luisa Dillner, a writer from The Guardian, expresses that while sexual intercourse in a relationship is said to have improvements in one’s cardiovascular health as well as reduce depression and boost the immune system there is also social science evidence from research found that there are casual sex encounters linked to having feelings of sexual regret along with low-self-esteem and psychological distress, this study is found especially in women. Men often regret the sexual opportunities as well but the ones they have missed or for physical reasons being that their sexual partner wasn’t attractive enough, while for women they often regret the casual hook up sex they did have. (2016). This is the direct result of the way porn culture has heavily influenced the way that women feel the need to involve themselves in the hookup culture as a view for acceptance with later having uncertain remorse.

Although sexual double standards aren’t as severe as they once were, they still exist today in the hook up culture. During pornography it is seen in the titles of the porn as well as the names women are called throughout the scenes of shaming women because of their hookups. Women are stigmatized called slut, whore, bitch, etc. because of their sexual behaviors and desires. For men the idea that they can have sexual intercourse with multiple people boost their reputation while this conforms to the socially construction idea of men. Women risk the possibilities of being judged viewed as slut shaming when they have sex with more then one person. The severity of the name slut has decreased but it still has a brutal effect when it is label to a woman. This in long term effects future relationships as a power disadvantage. An article called Campus hookups: Double Standards and Disempowerment from CNN’s writer Heather Hensman Kettrey, gives us insight that individuals that were previously judged after sexual behavior will have a difficult time expressing their desires to their future partners and setting limits. (2016). These individuals will mostly be women since they are generally judged harsher.

The effects on women’s self-esteem from pornography will also come into concern during the relationship’s women are involved in. Due to the ability for the porn culture to influence the pop and hookup culture women are very well aware that the porn culture will take a leap into their relationships. It is not uncommon for males to view pornography while in a relationship but for some this can result in their partner not feeling good enough. A study that Stephanie Pappas, senior writer from LiveScience, conducted found that women who knew there significant others watched porn were less likely to be happy in their relationships having low self-esteem and not satisfied with their sex life. (2012). This is not hard to believe due to the fact that men that are raised up in porn culture are likely to have distorted interpretations of sex. Porn shows explicit visuals of everyone having an abundance of not only vaginal but anal and oral sex with women that are down for just about anything regardless of the circumstances. This takes us back to the commonalities that are seen in porn that have conformed into society of what men think and expect of women. This can later lead men to think it is okay to objectify, degrade, and disrespect women.

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