It’s time to have ‘the talk’ about porn at Lehigh

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Lehigh students are watching porn.

In a survey conducted by The Brown and White, which asked members of the student body whether they have ever consumed pornographic content, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Out of a pool of 207 Lehigh students who responded to the survey, 90.8 percent said they have either watched or read pornographic material at some point in their lives. These high numbers are in line with the national average. A study by The Huffington Post found pornography-related search engine requests amount to 25 percent of daily Internet searches, which equates to nearly 68 million views per day.

Internet porn makes up roughly 12 percent of content on all websites and generates more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

Samantha Mazzeo, ’17, said she understands why some people may not feel comfortable watching or discussing porn. She said it’s a personal choice.

“I can definitely see why someone would think porn is gross or be offended that the person they’re dating is watching it,” she said. “I guess some people would interpret it to mean their partner isn’t attracted to them enough, which would be hurtful.”

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Infographic by Kelly McCoy

The Brown and White‘s survey also inquired about when respondents started consuming porn. The largest fraction of students, 23.2 percent, said they started watching at age 12 or 13. In a study performed by the BBC in April of 2014, a similar trend was found, concluding the average starting age for watching porn for  Americans is 11 years old.

When asked if she was surprised by these results, Mazzeo said she would have been more surprised if the starting age was at the other end of the spectrum.

“I heard people start talking about porn when I was in eighth grade,” she said. “I don’t know if they were actually watching it, but they talked about it. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me that kids (watch) it so young.”

While society may still deem most discussions of porn as inappropriate, the results of the survey suggest Lehigh students think otherwise. When asked if they felt comfortable talking about pornography with people with whom they are close, 77.8 percent of respondents said “yes.”

One anonymous respondent defended those on both sides.

“I think it really depends on your personality whether or not you share this information with friends,” the respondent said.

A majority 62.3 percent students surveyed feel as though porn discussion should be neither encouraged nor discouraged. For one respondent, even questioning the discussion of porn was confusing.

“I don’t understand why it is such a taboo topic to so many people,” wrote the anonymous respondent. “It’s just another aspect of life captured on camera for others to enjoy, just like sports or cooking shows.”

Brooke DeSipio, the director of the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support, said the discussion of sexual habits like pornography can be an effective means of prevention. She said the purpose of her office is to provide a place for students to talk about controversial topics that they may not feel comfortable discussing elsewhere.

Her office recently held an event called Popcorn and Porn: A Critical Analysis of the Role Pornography Plays in Sexuality Education and Gender Violence, where various campus groups were invited to participate in the discussion.

“It can be challenging when you are dealing with an issue that is controversial or taboo,” DeSipio said. “Sex is a good example of this.”

Discouraging these discussions can actually be harmful to the quality of our relationships and intimacy with others, she said.

“I believe we need space to discuss and explore our sexuality because it allows us to learn more about ourselves as sexual beings and helps us holistically and fully incorporate sexuality into our identities and lives,” she said.

Is there a correlation between gender and feeling comfortable talking about experiences with porn?

The survey did not distinguish between males and females for this particular question, but based on face-to-face interactions, it seems the topic is slightly more popular among males. Douglas Christo, ‘17, however, suggests this assumption might be flawed.

“I’ll talk about porn with my friends if we’re joking around,” he said. “I’m not actually going to talk to them about how it makes me feel or anything. It’s more like if we think a video is funny or something like that.”

Women and Gender Studies major Erin Conroy, ‘16, disagrees. It’s not a matter of gender, she said. It’s a matter of how females are brought up that might discourage them from being open about this kind of topic.

“We should be more open about (porn) and we should be less ashamed of our sexuality and sexual needs,” wrote an anonymous survey respondent.
People should not be ashamed of watching porn and masturbating, as it can be healthy, they wrote.
“We raise girls to be more dissociated from their bodies in a way that we don’t raise boys,” Conroy said. “So I think girls are probably more comfortable talking about it with other females.”

But that’s not necessarily only in relation to porn, Conroy said.

Despite its popularity, there are also people who do not indulge in porn consumption. Some survey respondents expressed their distaste for porn or the false representation it provides of sex.

Likewise, while a large percentage of the Lehigh population said they are comfortable discussing porn, nearly 22 percent of Lehigh students are not. Considering sex is prevalent on college campuses, why is conversation about a topic that is as commonplace still somewhat discreet?

DeSipio said the answer is the hesitancy to escape our comfort zones.

“I would encourage those students to start small with things that are in their comfort zone and, as they get more comfortable, continue to push themselves further outside that comfort zone,” she said. “Often people just need some opportunities to talk about these issues in a safe space with no negative consequences to realize that it’s okay to have these conversations openly on a regular basis.”

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