5 Things That Helped Drag Porn Into the Mainstream

Not so long ago, “porn” was something you did not talk about. It was kept under mattresses, in private dresser drawers, and relegated to dark places along with everything else we were embarrassed to mention. At some point, porn was dragged out of the shadows into the mainstream, becoming a punch line in movies and pop culture, and so popular that almost everyone sees it at some point in their life. It’s easy to pin this change on the creation and advancement of the Internet because that’s what has made porn so available. But does availability equal societal acceptance? When there’s an influx of illicit drugs, does it suddenly become something that the world just allows to happen? No. A complex net of variables has gone into loosening public opinion on porn, which has allowed it to seep into facets of everyday life.

  1. Sexualizing childhood. Toys weren’t always gendered, but ever since we started separating things into categories for “boys” and “girls”, “girl” toys have become increasingly geared toward instilling certain gender roles. While the intent behind toy vacuums, kitchens, irons, and baby dolls can be questionable, toys like high heels marketed for three year olds, make up marketed for toddlers, and “dress up clothes” mimicking skimpy club wear has a pretty clear message: get used to being a sex object doll, because that’s all you are.  To be clear, dress up and imaginary play are absolutely intrinsic parts of childhood.  Play in general is super important to developing children, and that’s why making play for young girls all about being beautiful and desirable is so damaging: it tells them that that is what is important. The misconception is that little girls come out of the womb with an innate desire to be conventionally beautiful, but the reality is that the notion that they must be desirable is presented in TV shows, movies, and interactions with adults and other kids and reinforced in their sexualized toys and the normalization of vanity in their childhood play. All of this sets the stage for porn to become a normal part of life, both for the young girls who are seeking ways to be desirable from childhood, and for the young boys growing up alongside their sexualized female counterparts.
  2. Playboy, the “lifestyle” magazine. Branded as a lifestyle magazine and tailored to show men everything they should aspire to, and desire, complete with a pornographic centerfold, Playboy started blurring the lines between porn and mainstream in 1953. When later publications, such as Hustler, came on the scene with more extreme imagery to challenge Playboy, it only served to help label it as “other”. It helped to give Playboy an air of respectability it didn’t deserve, and helped push porn into the mainstream.
  3. Celebrity sex tapes. The worshipping of celebrities in our culture plays into sexualizing childhood: a lot of role models for young girls are hypersexualized. It went a step further when celebrity sex tapes started leaking in the ’90s. Instead of damaging their reputations, it made them more popular, so much so that other people have tried to leak sex tapes to get more fame. In a time where there was still a divide between mainstream and pornography, searching for a certain celebrity couples’ porn tape that leaked could be chalked up to innocent curiosity about a beloved celebrity. It was only a matter of time until the rest of it felt benign as well.
  4. Girls Gone Wild. The Girls (notice that the title is GIRLS, harkening back to that whole “sexualizing childhood” thing) Gone Wild team took porn and made it pop culture. The videos of college women drunk on spring break and flashing the camera were advertised on basic cable television where the strategically placed blurred spots did nothing to obscure the general levity of innocent collegiate fun the Girls Gone Wild team worked so hard to convey. In reality, the videos went beyond just momentary flashing and girl on girl make-out sessions- solitary and multiple female sex acts were the bread and butter of Girls Gone Wild. Just because there were no males doesn’t mean it wasn’t porn, and yet a young child could be watching television and see a commercial for it during the daytime hours. For a small boy, that may have meant an introduction to sexuality that came far too soon. For a small girl, it was just another thing telling her that her physical desirability was tantamount to her identity as a person.
  5. Jenna Jameson, the original crossover star. In a society that sexualizes childhood, looks matter. When someone has a certain appearance, we assume certain things, and when society saw Jenna Jameson, they saw a beautiful, girl-next-door blonde haired-blue eyed woman who, when in the public in the 90s, looked like she could’ve been any of the pop stars that were exalted that decade. She was known to be a porn star, but she was still able to gain fame outside of the industry: she was on Howard Stern, WWE, E! Cable, she was featured in an Eminem music video, she modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch, and she wrote a bestseller. Her crossover success inspired an Adult Movie Award to be named after her and brought her acceptance into mainstream culture. It gave boys permission to peruse porn and hang her posters on their walls, it told girls, yet again, that their desirability to the opposite sex was their best indicator of success, all while helping to bring porn the mainstream exposure that it continues to enjoy today.

Thanks to these factors, and more, porn is now ubiquitous in our society. It’s infiltration and subsequent escalating content is linked to devastating effects on individuals, relationships, and the world. At one point in our history, we knew porn wasn’t good. Then, slowly, small allowances in society led us to this point, where it is affecting the majority of society, either directly or indirectly. Understanding how we got here is important, but we can’t change the past. The important thing is to look forward and figure out where do we go from here?

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